Friday, March 30, 2012

The Final Playoff Spot in the East

I hope that the Milwaukee Bucks beat out the Knicks for that 8th and final Playoff spot in the East.  There, I said it.  Please don't mistake me for a fickle New Yorker who has jumped off the Knicks' formerly crowded bandwagon in recent weeks.  This has little to do with the six game losing streak, Amare's injured back, Melo's sore groin, or the fact that Jeremy Lin has gone from franchise savior to solid backup in a matter of weeks.  This has everything to do with the fact that this new look Milwaukee Bucks team is much more intriguing to me than the current collection of stars on the New York Knicks' roster.

Let us examine the trade deadline move that made this team so intriguing to me.  Both Milwaukee and Golden State were spinning their respective wheels this year.  Both had players with real trade value.  The two teams pretty much made an even swap.  Andrew Bogut for Monta Ellis.  This trade has undoubtedly left both GM's wide open for criticism from their fans.  Last week Golden State's new owner Joe Lacob was booed at a pre-game ceremony retiring Chris Mullin's jersey.  John Hammond will certainly come under fire from the Bucks' fans if this team doesn't show signs of improvement quickly.
Improvement could happen quickly.  Milwaukee now has a very talented tandem of guards.  Both are dynamic playmakers who can score with the best of them.  As a result, there are some understandable concerns about the two of them co-existing.  Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are both volume shooters and conventional wisdom says that having two shoot-first guards in the starting lineup rarely works.  Ask any Knicks fan how making Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury the highest paid guard combo in the league worked out for them.  Normally, I agree with this logic but I believe that these two could be very good for years to come.  Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond good.  Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars good.  John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek good.  I am being serious.

The two guards have styles that are more complimentary than people think.  Brandon Jennings is a scoring point guard but I think that this is largely due to the lack of Andrew Bogut and other playmaking options on the team.  The fundamentally sound Jennings has all of the tools to be a traditional point guard and had no problem deferring to John Salmons 2 years ago.  Monta Ellis is a scoring 2 guard who can single-handedly take over a game on any given night.  He is also a lightning quick slasher who is good at finding teammates on the perimeter after he gets into the paint.  A great spot up 3-point shooter like Jennings should get a lot more open looks with Ellis on the floor.  It will take time for the two to learn how to play together but when they do, they could become a dominant force in the East.

The Bucks will need more talent to seriously compete for a championship but I think that they are well on their way.  Scott Skiles is a good coach.  Eryan Illyasova, Drew Gooden, and Mike Dunleavy are quality forwards.  Epke Udoh and Luc Mbah a Moute are good defenders who will fit right in with the physical style of play that Skiles preaches.  Kwame Brown and Larry Sanders are probably not the long term answer at center but they are serviceable for the time being.  Getting some Playoff experience this year could help the team become more competitive next year.  It worked for Indiana.  In four weeks, I hope that the most exciting duo of guards in the Eastern Conference will still be playing games.