August 17, 2012 Ranking the Eastern Conference Front Courts, #14 Milwaukee Bucks
#14. Milwaukee Bucks
Centers: Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden
Power Forwards: Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh
Small Forwards: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Mike Dunleavy
The Milwaukee Bucks get the distinction of being the second-worst front court in the Eastern Conference, thanks in large part to them being incredibly one-dimensonal. The oft-injury plagued Andrew Bogut era is over, and while the Bucks may have more health up front, they are going to struggle terribly on offense. Sure, with a blocker like Dalembert up front, their defense may still be consistent, but the question of who will score points is going to pop up a lot this season.
Best Case Scenario:
The best case scenario is that this front court becomes one of the most defensively imposing unit in the league. Just a few years ago, Sam Dalembert was considered a very talented center. In ’07-’08, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Dalambert was almost a lock for a double-double every night, averaging 10.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Not only that, but he was an elite swatter, averaging 2.3 blocks per game and ranking in the top 5 among centers. Those were the glory days, as since then Dalembert has never averaged double figures in either rebounding or scoring. Dalembert got a big contract and settled into becoming just an average center, which landed him in the dregs of the NBA aka Sacramento before playing in Houston last season.
Dalembert hasn’t approached anywhere near those career highs since, but Milwaukee hopes he can be serviceable enough to start every game for them and reclaim some of his former glory. Dalembert is really the only true center on the roster, so he is going to have ample opportunity to accomplish that task. Given that, outside of last year, Dalembert has been incredibly healthy for a center, there is a good chance he will follow that trend next year. More games means more opportunity to succeed, right?
Plus, he is going to be playing for a hard nosed coach in Scott Skiles, who can light a fire under anyone’s butt. Skiles is known for having some great defensive units, and Dalembert could become the anchor of that formidable squad in the center. Dalembert still blocks almost 2 shots a game (he averaged 1.7 last year, and 1.9 for his career) and even though he over commits sometimes, which leads to goaltending calls out the wazoo, his pros outweigh his cons. He’s also a solid rebounder, and on a team that will likely need rebounding help, Dalembert could be just the guy for that task.
Perhaps the most critical factor in determining how good the Bucks front court can become is young Ersan Ilyasova’s continuing development. If you haven’t heard of the name yet, you might be wise to get hip to it, as the Turkish Terror aka Turkey’s Michael Jordan aka James Franco/Josh Hartnett had his coming out party last year. Averaging 13.3 points per game, coupled with 8.8 rebounds over 27 minutes of play Ilyasova was one of the top young power forwards in the league, establishing himself as not only a scoring threat but a very good rebounder.
At 6’9 with a lot of length, Ilyasova is incredibly tough to guard not for his athleticism, but because if you give him any space he’s going to score. He’s got such a high release point on his jumper that no one is really capable of blocking it. His quick release was one of the reasons he shot 45% from long range last year. Ersan also benefitted a lot from Andrew Bogut, as the now-Golden State big man always found Ersan cutting backdoor with his great passing. Dalembert, plain and simple, can’t pass, so Ersan is going to have to make up for that. It’s also worth noting that he cleaned up the offensive glass, averaging an awesome 3.3 rebounds per game. If Ersan develops into a premier scorer (which I think he can do), this front court will move up to the top 8 pretty quickly.
Finally, there is Luc Richard Mbah a Moute/Mike Dunleavy manning the small forward spot, and since they’re probably going to split minutes there, I’m going to just lump them together. Having been in the league for 10 seasons, Mike Dunleavy is what he is at this point: a sharp shooter who can’t play any defense. That’s why he has been coupled with Luc Richard, who actually plays relatively decent defense against wing players. Whereas Dunleavy is a cone, Luc Richard is a wall. If you could combine these two, you’d have a darn good basketball players, and I think that’s what Milwaukee is going for here. I think they have the potential to play off one another well and be used in specific situations very well. They’re both specialists, and can be interchanged when necessary. Neither one is going to really stand out and impress, but you can’t leave Dunleavy open and you can’t get open against Luc Richard.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario for this front court is that they are absolutely horrible on offense and defense. Dalembert and Luc Richard are the only players who can be considered solid defenders at this point in their careers. I’m not including Ekpe Udoh in this entire thing because, aside from killing the Wizards, he has done essentially nothing since entering the NBA. Dunleavy and Drew Gooden are cones on the defensive end, and Ilyasova can, at times, get manhandled down low.
Unless Dalembert can hook up with Steven Hawking in the offseason and create a time machine, he is only going to regress as a basketball player. He hasn’t been very effective since he turned 30, which is a very damning sign for a big ma with a lot of miles on his legs. What’s worse, Dalembert only plays about half the game now, anyway, and with him out Drew Gooden goes in and this front court becomes horrible defensively.
This says nothing about his offense, or lack thereof, as Dalembert couldn’t score on Kim Kardashian if he was the only guy in the room. He doesn’t bring anything to the table on that front, and it’s going to hurt the Bucks, who are used to Bogut (a relatively decent scorer when healthy).
Even though I have high hopes for Ersan Ilyasova, he isn’t exactly a Scott Skiles kind of guy. That is to say, he isn’t incredible on the defensive end of the court. He isn’t bad, but who knows whether or not Skiles is going to want him to split minutes with *ugh* Ekpe Udoh, who happens to be pretty terrible. I don’t see him as being nearly as effective without a lot of minutes, but if the Bucks go down big in a game that might not happen.
Ersan has been pretty darn good from long range up to this point in his career, so that’s unlikely to change, but you always have to be wary about players who linger around the three point line a lot. When they go cold, they become nonfactors in a game. Ersan is that kind of player. If he doesn’t continue to improve, he will still be the best option, but that doesn’t mean the team is going to progress as it should.
The Dunleavy/Luc Richard combination has a recipe for absolute disaster. When Luc Richard is out there, the offense could easily stagnate, and when Dunleavy goes in the defense is horrible. They can’t really play at the same time unless you move Dunleavy to the two, but then you’re looking at Monta Ellis (can’t defend), Mike Dunleavy (can’t defend), Luc Richard (can’t score), Ilyasova (can’t defend) and Sam Dalembert (can’t score). No matter how many points you put up, that lineup will give up a lot more. The issue with those two is that you can’t combine them in real life, and they are two different players who don’t bring a ton to the table.
Do I think all of this will happen? Not under Skiles watch, but it certainly isn’ t out of the question.