No rebounding...no defense...no running...no offense. If you want to diagnose the Bucks' on-court ills, this is where you can start...and end. The Bucks sit dead last in defensive rebounding and have generally been bullied all season long in the paint, a problem that dates back to Larry Sanders' issues opening night against Tyson Chandler in New York and culminated in the 96-72 gong show we saw Saturday night against the Bobcats. The gruesome details: Charlotte crushed the Bucks on the boards 52-36 while outscoring them 48-28 in the paint and 18-2 in transition.
And while the Bucks haven't generally been quite that bad, it's indicative of the problems Milwaukee has had all season. They don't rebound, so they can't stop teams. They can't stop teams, so they can't run. They can't run, so they can't score. And if you can't score and you can't stop the other team, well...you get the idea.
That makes the task facing them in Detroit rather clear. Thanks to Andre Drummond (14.3% offensive rebound rate) and Greg Monroe (11.2%), Detroit leads the league in offensive rebounding and figure to have a field day in the paint tonight. I don't know, it's possible the Pistons grab something like 200 offensive boards tonight. On paper, Drummond's interior dominance (66% shooting, 12 ppg, 12 rpg) has complemented Monroe's efficient 15.4 ppg on 55% true shooting thus far, though Detroit has been a disappointing -5.5 pts/100 with the pair on the court together in 311 minutes. Still, that might not be a reflection of some fundamental incompatibility; putting Josh Smith at small forward has exacerbated the Drummond/Monroe pairing, with Detroit -7.9 pts/100 when three play together. Throw some floor stretchers around the two big guys and maybe everything works out better, right?
Alas, there's the rub. Detroit has struggled mightily from the perimeter, ranking dead last in 3FG% (28.5%) and 25th in total threes. Of course, that should be expected from a team that starts Smith at small forward (29.2% on 5.0 attempts per game!) and has yet to see Brandon Jennings find his touch from deep (29.4% on 4.6 attempts). On the plus side, Jennings has been upping his assist game (more on him below) and Rodney Stuckey's flagging career has been resuscitated and then some with a team-high 15.8 ppg off the bench while posting a 20.0 PER and 57% true shooting.
For the Bucks, Larry Drew promised changes to the Bucks' starting five following Saturday's rock-bottom-hitting 96-72 home loss to Charlotte, so look for Brandon Knight to start against his old team and possibly John Henson as well. When you've lost 10 in a row, you have to do something different, right?
Brandons. Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings both looked like guys in need of a change of scenery after last season, but so far the grass hasn't been significantly greener for either. While Knight has barely played due to a pair of nagging hamstring injuries and has shot poorly in his limited run thus far, Jennings has upped his assists and turnovers while struggling with a familiar foe: missing shots. Anthony Fenech writes that Jennings blames his issues thus far (36.4% overall, 29.2% from deep) on a lack of confidence, though even that bit of realism comes with some typical Brandon-esque self-delusion.
"I feel like I'm just shooting when people are telling me it's time for me to shoot," he said. "I gotta want to shoot. I'm so into passing that I kind of forget I can score sometimes.
"My confidence level isn't high."
The best part of all of this: despite forgetting he can score, Jennings hasn't forgotten to shoot anyway. He's predictably hoisting up a team-high 15.7 shots per game, 2.2 more than Josh Smith, and the Pistons have been significantly better with him on the bench, mirroring what we grew accustomed to seeing the last couple seasons in Milwaukee. You know, when he was supposedly only shooting so much because he had no other choice. After four years I think we can just agree that Brandon is going to shoot a lot no matter what, though you do have to give him credit for upping his assists (8.0 apg). Either way, his three-point shooting should come around eventually and it's not like Josh Smith could be doing less offensively either (40.4% shooting, 13.5 ppg).
As for Knight, he's hit just 4/17 shots in 66 minutes thus far and hasn't started since opening night...when he limped off after two minutes. Obviously the Bucks have much higher hopes for him, so cross your fingers that he starts putting things together with good health and regular playing time. It may not matter for this season, but it behooves the Bucks to figure out ASAP if Knight can live up to his lottery pick potential or not.
Last but not least there's Khris Middleton, whose career-best 20 points were essentially the only thing salvageable from Saturday night's loss. Though his numbers have hardly been spectacular, Middleton continues to post rather mind-boggling on/off differentials: the Bucks are +1.7 pts/100 when he's on the court, and -22.1 pts/100 when he's off it. On the flip side, the Bucks have generally been terrible whenever Caron Butler, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal have been on the court, with each posting net differentials of -15.0 pts/100 or worse.