Enemy: Milwaukee Bucks
Coach: Scott Skiles
Potential Starting 5: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Mike Dunleavy, Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert
Other Key Players: Jon Henson, Drew Gooden, Doron Lamb, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, Joel Przybilla
Threats: Multitude of tall trees in the paint, Electric guards, Outside shooting
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 1-0
The Milwaukee Bucks hurled a bomb downfield at last season’s trade deadline, acquiring star scoring guard, Monta Ellis. In the process, they may have inherited the identity of the team that they snagged him from in the process. The Bucks figure to have a whole heck of a lot of firepower, but where is the defense? A little more rounded than the Warriors have recently been, the Bucks roster does contain a wealth of paint protection, and maybe that is what they believe will lead them to a better fate than the recent units in Golden State. The fact of the matter is they had to do something interesting. Point guard Brandon Jennings is prime time… he’s from California, and loves to be under the big city lights. To keep him interested with his contract set to expire at the end of the season, the Bucks had to do something gutsy and drastic. They did just that in acquiring Ellis. Even if this doesn’t translate to great successes in the win column, this electric backcourt is going to have a whole lot of fun lighting up the league.
Even with the Ellis acquisition, an on-court assessment of the Bucks’ chances has to begin and end with Brandon Jennings. His early rookie campaign was awe-inspiring, but from there on out, injuries have stunted his growth as a player to some extent. Given his frail frame, injuries are something that he’s likely to have to deal with throughout his career, so how he rebounds from them is going to be vital. When he is on the floor, he possesses the skillset and talent to turn any game into a playground track meet. He possesses very good vision for his age, elite athleticism, and a nose for putting the ball in the basket, while looking good doing so. For all of his strengths, it remained to be seen whether or not he is the type of guy that can lead a winning team on his own. I view him as a Mo Williams-type, in the sense that you put him next to an all-star, and he’ll look like one in his own right. It’s hard to say that Andrew Bogut could have been that guy, given the fact that due to his injury history, you can hardly call him a teammate of Jennings’ at all. Well the Bucks hope that they acquired just that guy, by trading for Ellis. Despite having yet to make an all-star team in his career, it’s undeniable that Ellis possesses the requisite talent to become part of the elusive group. Beyond how good these guys look individually, however, the team has to put up results for the pairing to truly be a success. While Stephen Curry and Jennings are far from the same player, Ellis’ lack of team success in a similar situation seems to be a bit of a red flag going forward. This duo provides some real lightning on the perimeter, but no thunder.
On the wings, these guys are complemented by the rejuvenated Mike Dunleavy, rookie Doron Lamb, and to some extent, combo forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Lamb and Dunleavy can shoot the ball with the best of them, and will surely benefit from open looks resulting from Jennings and Ellis’ dribble penetration and kick-outs. Ilyasova broke out towards the end of the season last year as a legitimate Most Improved candidate with his knack for shooting and ability to make an impact on the boards, and hopes to capitalize on that and cement his place in the Bucks’ rotation. His new contract won’t hurt his chances of doing such. My issue now with this group is the glaring lack of defensive intensity from the guards and wings. Luc Richard figures to get some minutes at the three, but whether or not he will see enough burn for his defensive ability to truly make a difference on the game remains to be seen.
We reach the post, and finally we see a bit of defense. Actually, we see a lot of defense. Samuel Dalembert, Jon Henson, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, and Joel Przybilla will all hit the court and block shots at commendable rates. Drew Gooden, while not much of a shot-blocker, factors in as another big body that will at the very least hit the glass. None of the aforementioned have refined offensive games, or even body-up defensive games to speak of, but the approach seems to be that since they have a weak perimeter defensive core, to funnel the opposition towards the post, which will be kept stocked with lengthy shot-hunters send the ball the other way. The result is a degree of redundancy, as the three-headed-Cerberus of Henson, Sanders and Udoh possesses skillsets that mirror one another almost too much, to where it creates a lack of versatility. However, on the plus side, it allows for the Bucks to “lock them in a room” and see which one comes out. Since a paint protector seems to be something that the Bucks would like to have on their roster long term, why not stock up for the time being and see which projects to best fit the bill? Finally, since I said in the first line of the on-court assessment that it has to end with Jennings, here’s a sweet circus layup from a few years back.
The Grizzlies and the Bucks are two teams with very different philosophies. When the two parties clash, it should make for an interesting show, as a result. With the Bucks gameplan predicated on super-athletic, scoring machine guards buzzing around, and the Grizzlies focused on pounding the ball into the paint. Defensively, the Bucks want to funnel the opposition into their long shot-blockers, where the Grizzlies want to pressure the ball and passing lanes forcing turnovers. Frankly when assessing how the matchup plays out, I place the major emphasis then on how each team will be able to counter the opposition’s approach. I don’t advocate doing this often, but against the Bucks we would be able to get away with running Bayless and Conley out there as a duo, enabling us to chase around Jennings and Ellis pretty effectively. What the Bucks do not have is the post prowess to make a similar adjustment to compete with us. As long as Zach and Marc are functioning when we take our talents to Milwaukee, the sun should shine bright on our Grizzlies.