The paint was a friendly area for Milwaukee's opponents last season: The trade that sent 7-foot Andrew Bogut, who played in only 12 games before fracturing his left ankle, to Golden State last March left the Bucks without a traditional center. The result: Milwaukee slipped from fourth in the NBA in paint defense in 2010--11 to 19th. To address the problem, the team acquired Samuel Dalembert and Joel Przybilla and drafted 6'11" North Carolina forward John Henson, a two-time ACC defensive player of the year.
Offensively, the Bucks' diminutive backcourt will be expected to shoulder most of the load. Both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis (acquired in the Bogut deal) are elite scorers, but they were inconsistent in the 21 games they played together. Milwaukee's point differential per 100 possessions with both on the floor was -2.4; with just one it was +12.2. With the duo most likely headed for free agency next summer—and playing for contracts—sharing the ball could become an even more pressing issue.
COACH: Scott Skiles (5th season with Bucks)
2011--12 RECORD: 31--35 (3rd in Central)
OFFENSE: 99.0 ppg (5th)
DEFENSE: 98.7 ppg (22nd)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 24.7 ppg (11th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Luc Mbah a Moute
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE BUCKS
I think Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis can coexist. The Bucks morphed a little after they acquired Ellis; they changed their philosophy, their style. They pushed the ball, got shots in transition, got a lot of secondary-break offense. They ran a lot of quick-hitter plays geared toward those two. Ellis is as close to Allen Iverson as anyone in the league. But can they hide the two defensively? ... Ersan Ilyasova matured and filled out last year. He used to be strictly a perimeter player, but last year he competed inside against bigger bodies—and he still had those perimeter skills. His effort is consistent, and his rebounding was fantastic.... Mike Dunleavy has always been consistent. He has a lot of skills: He handles, he passes, he has length. But I think he is going to have trouble playing the two this year; I don't know if he has the ability to stay in front of people anymore. He is going to have to play more three than he has before.... I like Luc Mbah a Moute. You can play him at two, three or four. His foot speed is terrific. He anticipates well. He's cut. He's a physical specimen, like a young Ron Artest. He sticks his nose in, doesn't back down.
The new big men shore up the D while Jennings and Ellis provide enough firepower to scare an East power in the first round.
The guard pairing falters, Skiles quits before the All-Star break, and Milwaukee stumbles to its third straight losing season.
Points-per-game increase for the 2011--12 Bucks from '10--11, the largest of any team. Only four teams boosted their scoring last year, with the Hawks' 1.6 the second-highest jump.
NED DISHMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (ELLIS)
KENT SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (JENNINGS)