The streaking Bucks look like they're rediscovering their mojo under interim coach Joe (Mojoe?) Prunty. Next week his boss will get a chance to keep it going.
ESPN's Marc Stein reports that Jason Kidd plans to return next week after the Bucks complete their four game road trip this weekend in Houston and New Orleans. The Bucks play the Magic at home on Tuesday before traveling to Memphis on Thursday and then returning home to take on the Heat 24 hours later.
Offensively, the Bucks have been pretty good for a month now, ranking 14th in offensive rating during Prunty's encouraging 8-7 spell as interim coach. But we've still only seen fleeting glimpses of improvement on the defensive end: they've ranked 23rd defensively under Prunty, only hitting their stride over the past five games (97.3 pts/100, 5th overall). So what's different? Charles Gardner reports:
"Assignments we're picking up a little better. But it all starts with communication. We're starting to make sure we know where we are, get our coverages clean and execute what we want defensively."
Khris Middleton, who was part of the Bucks team that developed a reputation for stingy defensive work last season, said he sees improvement.
"We're getting back to our principles," Middleton said. "We're starting to figure out these rotations and how we need to play defense and getting back to stuff we were doing last year. It's been great these last couple games."
Bear in mind that the Bucks had a much more impressive nine-game defensive stretch in late November and early December, climaxing in their historic win over the then-undefeated Warriors. In seven of those games they held opponents under the 14/15 Bucks' average defensive efficiency, which is impressive when you consider how good they were a year ago. But a West Coast trip -- starting with a dispiriting blowout loss to the Lakers -- sent them into an immediate tailspin that lasted the rest of the month. The net result has been a defense that's ranked among the league's worst all season, which makes a full rediscovery of their 14/15 form seem rather improbable.
So while the Bucks have been good of late, it's a bit rich to claim the defense is back. In their current 7-4 run, they've matched last year's defensive efficiency numbers only three times, though two of those came in the last three games. The Bucks are definitely playing better basketball, but at this point it's been more of an offensive phenomenon fueled by the improbable emergence of Khris Middleton as a top-flight offensive facilitator and everyone else fitting in around him. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- and it certainly has made them more entertaining -- though it does leave the question of their true "identity" a matter of continued debate.
Speaking of which, we've deservedly talked about Middleton a lot lately, but just in case you've been under a rock:
Lowe: What the blank is going on in Milwaukee? | ESPN
As always, Zach Lowe's Bucks-themed post from last week is chock full of interesting analysis and behind-the-scenes chatter. It came right before the Bucks current hot streak, but the basic premise obviously hasn't changed. Much of the story revolves around Jabari Parker's NBA learning curve, though the part that I found especially interesting was the exploration of Greg Monroe's potential market value:
All three of Boston, Charlotte and Portland could offer combinations of players, picks and salary filler that might interest Milwaukee. One lottery-protected Boston pick wouldn't do it, and the Celtics aren't flipping those golden Brooklyn picks for Monroe. But what about two of their own picks, or one pick and Jared Sullinger? Would one unprotected Charlotte pick do the trick, since the Hornets are something like a 50-50 bet to end up in the lottery even with Monroe? Portland has chased Monroe before, and they have some interesting young guys and $20 million in cap room. After working to establish themselves as a player-friendly place, the Bucks would have to be careful about where, and how, they deal Monroe.
The odds of the Bucks actually trading Monroe were probably low even before they started winning games over the past week, and my guess is that an uptick in their form will only make them more hopeful of finding a way to make Monroe work with the rest of the roster. Then again, the Bucks are also seeing plenty of success with John Henson getting regular minutes with the rest of the starting five, so the Bucks could also feel a little more emboldened by the idea of Henson taking a larger role if they were to move Monroe.
For me, the big question returns to the defensive end. If the Bucks' brass thinks they're seeing evidence that Monroe's defensive shortcomings can be reconciled with Parker's limitations and the demands of their overall scheme, then I think they ride it out with Monroe and hope for the best (for the record: I'm skeptical they can ever be really good defensively with those guys together, but I'd love to be proven wrong).
All indications to date suggest the Bucks don't want anyone to think Monroe is available, but there's a real risk that the Bucks lose out in the long term with that approach, namely because Monroe's 17/18 player option effectively makes him an expiring contract next season. Even if things turn around, Monroe can bolt in 2017, and mid-tier teams with playoff ambitions like the Blazers, Celtics and Hornets could be interesting trade partners now or in the summer. All of them are in the playoff race now and have first round picks and surplus bigs who could be good fits in Milwaukee -- think Amir Johnson's two-way skillset in Boston or Meyers Leonard's floor-stretching ability in Portland. Finding a good value is important for the Bucks' long-term hopes on the court, while keeping Monroe happy matters for a team that is trying to build a reputation for taking care of its guys -- look no further than their willingness to get nothing in return for finding good homes for Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia last summer. Ultimately it's a difficult needle to thread, but one the Bucks should be considering regardless of their improved form.
Kirchen: Arena wins common council approval | Milwaukee Business Journal
The Bucks continue to make progress on their plan to have a new arena ready by the fall of 2018. Rich Kirchen writes:
The next step likely will involve the Bucks submitting a detailed design plan for the arena structure, which the team is required to do by March 1 under a development agreement with the city. That design will give the public and Milwaukee Common Council members the first look at an updated arena design for the first time since the Bucks unveiled design concepts in April 2015.
NBA PM: The trade deadline is nearing | Basketball Insiders
I'm not sure how much this even qualifies as a rumor, but the words "Bucks" and "Ty Lawson" have surfaced in the same sentence a few times lately. We had some discussion about this in the comments last night, while earlier this week Steve Kyler both started a rumor and refuted it within the course of a single sentence:
A name that continues to get connected to the Bucks is Houston Rockets guard Ty Lawson, but sources close to the Lawson situation say a deal to Milwaukee is highly unlikely at this point.
You can understand why the Rockets are trying to move the troubled former Nugget: he's been a shell of himself since arriving this summer, to the point that it became a big deal that Lawson started over Jason Terry in Houston's home loss to the Pistons last night (Pat Beverley was injured).
And while he's obviously a much more talented player than we've seen over the past year, I'm not sure the Bucks are the right team for him either. Much has been made of the veteran leadership the Bucks lost over the summer, and swapping one of their remaining solid vets (Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo or Greivis Vasquez) for a guy trying to overcome some serious off-court demons seems like a rather risky move.
Not to be missed:
New Quick Bucks: "The Continued Evolution of Khris Middleton" A closer look at why his recent play is so impressive. https://t.co/yND8hryZPR— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) January 21, 2016
Middleton & Monroe https://t.co/TFJXEuTXIu— Cream City Central (@CreamCityCtral) January 20, 2016
Khris Middleton said working out with Heat's Dwyane Wade last summer was big help. Wade said he's just giving back. https://t.co/fOqAqOgb6I— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 19, 2016