It's unfortunate that the first days of camp are already being dominated by injury news. It's a particularly troublesome development given the feeling of importance this camp has taken on. In just a few weeks, the Bucks will try to build on the offensive progress they made last season, constructing a gameplan that will maximize the abilities of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. At the same time, they need to drastically rework their defense around new center Samuel Dalembert and their stable of defensive-minded power forwards.
Those are the big questions, because those questions are basically what basketball is. Much of the emphasis is sure to be placed on scheme--historically, head coach Scott Skiles has whipped up a stifling defense everywhere he goes. The Bucks' high-octane style helped them climb out of the cellar on offense. A full, extended camp period and ample practice time should help in that regard.
So what about the players? Many of them are relatively known quantities. Dalembert, Dunleavy, Daniels, these guys are who they are. The same might be said for some of the younger guys, though we all continue to hold out for improvement (time to install a consistent system could have a synergistic effect).
The biggest mystery, at least in terms of our ability to predict much of anything about it, remains the impact rookies John Henson and Doron Lamb will have.
Both face obstacles toward significantly impacting the club. Henson's talent and versatility impressed in Las Vegas this past summer, but his position is the roster's most crowded. The players ahead of him (presumably) have a few years of experience and familiarity with the team. And the player facing arguably the most pressure among them seems to have a firm understanding of what he needs to improve on. A step forward for either Larry Sanders or Ekpe Udoh could eat up many of the minutes currently in limbo.
There's also the matter of Drew Gooden (that's a telling phrase, isn't it?). The Bucks might be well served in the long-term to scale back his role with the team, but as long as he remains marginally productive, a coaching staff trying to win as much as possible is going to have a hard time sitting him on the bench. Not to mention the inner torment sitting a nearly-seven-million-dollar man on the bench would bring a small-market team like the Bucks. It remains to be seen if he can recreate the magic of last year, but barring an unlikely collapse in ability and production, he'll be a factor in Milwaukee's frontcourt.
That puts the onus pretty squarely on Henson to prove he deserves a substantial role. So how can he do it? He'll have to play some defense, to be sure, but Henson's greatest chance to differentiate himself from the PF pack might be his offensive game.
In Vegas, Henson displayed a nice mix of mid-range shooting and post play. His most-hyped move, the lefty hook with a high, nearly-unblockable release, found the mark often enough to be maddeningly tantalizing. With so many of Milwaukee's forwards eager to hoist up from distance, an interior scoring presence at the 4 would be a welcome addition.
The best we can reasonably ask for from Henson as he goes through camp would be more of the same. He'll face stiffer competition and more rigorous drills than he did in summer league or the draft combine, and his teammates aren't going to hand him anything uncontested. It might be too early to expect big things of Henson, but it's never too early to make a good impression.
Doron Lamb's immediate future was already tough to peg. His skills were obvious, but he was a second-round pick for a reason. Still, the relative lack of depth at his position gave him an inside track toward contributing immediately. Then media day came around, bringing with it a disappointing reveal: Lamb suffered a torn ligament in his left elbow during a pick-and-roll defense drill and will miss all of training camp. Rough drills, I guess. There wasn't much Lamb had to do in camp besides sink a whole bunch of threes--that has always been his selling point. But his defense was going to be key to staying on the court.
Lamb's prognosis is unclear. If the tear is minor enough to avoid surgery, he could be available for most of the season. Surgery would require a lengthy recovery process that could take upwards of 4 months.
Truthfully, for a team in win-now mode like the Bucks, getting much of anything out of the rookies would be a pleasant surprise. If Henson really is the draft-steal Milwaukee management seemed to think he was back in June, now is time to prove it. We likely won't know anything concrete about the rookies until the early returns of the regular season, but it's sure to be on the minds of Milwaukee's staff every day between now and then.