Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Off-Season Part One of Three

Unfortunately the Bucks regular season has become the off season for the last few years. Fans have been much more interested in seeing if the Bucks can do anything good in the summer to possibly save themselves from the wreck fans are expecting each regular season. When Richard Jefferson was acquired last summer that was a bigger deal than any individual game the Bucks played this year. This is not a good thing.

Why did I not make note of these last two games this week? The last few games of a season of mediocrity is like the last few days of sixth grade. You’re about to go into a nondescript grade that is really not much to look forward to. The next few days really don’t matter and won’t be the party you’re hoping for because teachers want to pretend like there is still schoolwork to be done.

See the Bucks don’t appear to have a lot to look forward to this summer. Their draft pick is going to be middling in a draft that has been described as anywhere from less than stellar to a class that can be done without. Their two best young players are free agents (kind of) and their large contracts do not come off the books. In the cookbook of NBA success this is not the typical recipe.

But that does not preclude certain doom. I feel like we can break the Bucks off season plan up into three sections: What We Know, What We Aren’t Sure Of and What We Hope For.

What We Know

1. The Bucks are Bogut’s

Bogut emerged this year as a candidate for a double double every night. In his 35 games he averaged a double double and threw in a block a game for good measure. The blocks went down but his impact on the team’s defense was incredible. When Bogut was healthy the Bucks for the first time in years were a top ten defensive squad and the league’s best rebounding team. While down from the season previous, his PER of 16.23 was considerably more than either Dan Gadzuric’s 12.06 or Francisco Elson’s 10.33.

That alone explains Bogut’s incredible value to this team. Gadzuric and Elson will both be back next year as neither of their contracts expires and the production of each player does not merit the money they will be making. When a player has no suitable replacement it makes them that much more valuable. With Bogut in the lineup the Bucks were a team that could at the very least seriously contend for the last spot in the playoffs; without him they looked soft and vulnerable to anyone they were on the court with.

Bogut has the point guardian skill of making the Bucks players better. He also has the Arenasian skill of connecting well with the fans and having a pretty sneaky cool sense of humor. Bogut was on the cutting edge of the Twitter NBA boom and showed serious comedic chops when he busted out his Pitino White Suit.

When Bogut is in the game he opens up the middle for Ramon Sessions to drive. His defender need worry that he’ll finish a play if said defender steps in Ramon’s way because Bogut has such skill around the hoop. Bogut has the presence of space and fluidity that Gadzuric and Elson lack. When he is on the court you don’t see the awkward moves to the hoop and missed opportunities resulting in frustration for the rest of the players on the court. If Sessions knows that his well-intentioned messes inside will be cleaned up by a teammate he can feel significantly more confident on his many forays to the hoop.

2. A Parade of Average Role Players Will Return

The following players are under contract for next season at a cost exceeding their worth: Charlie Bell, Luke Ridnour, Malik Allen (Player Option), Francisco Elson (Player Option), and as always Dan Gadzuric. (I’m not going to say Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson. I’m not saying them because they are not role players, not because they are not seriously overpaid.) What’s unfortunate about this is that it will likely prevent them from taking a flier on a second round pick with promise. Each of these guys offers something with regard to being a veteran or skilled, but they are end of the bench guys, not the entire bench.

Of this group I’d say Ridnour is most likely to go straight up. Allen or Elson have smaller contracts and could be peddled in a bigger deal to match up payroll figures, but Ridnour has six and a half million dollar deal that could be seen as savings for another franchise. He still has value as a backup point guard or possibly a starter if a team is looking for a one year stop gap before someone younger develops. Ridnour showed a spark a few times this season and can be relied on as a free throw shooter and average long range gunner.

Hopefully other GM's leaguewide paid as much attention to the Bucks as the rest of America did and John Hammond can fool someone into taking Ridnour for something of value. He was in the conversation when they were talking about revamping Team USA a few years ago. Can we just promote that a whole bunch?

3. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute Has A Future

Even more than Joe Alexander and Ramon Sessions the Prince will be a certainty for next year. It's likely the Bucks will find a way to bring back Sessions, but Mbah a Moute will be very undervalued for at least one more season, which is key for a franchise as cash strapped as the Bucks are. Mbah a Moute is the best perimeter defender Milwaukee has seen in years and someone for fans to be excited about.

The way he outplayed Alexander all year really created something of a dilemma around these parts. The second round pick was not suppose to look so much better than an athletically superior first rounder, even if he had more college seasoning. He and Alexander both play the same position ideally, but Mbah a Moute showed a lot of grit in being able to move up to the four to play.

Excitement has been rare on 4th street in these last few years, so this youngster's value is hard to measure. He's already a favorite of coach Scott Skiles and is probably the one guy I haven't heard anyone in Milwaukee disparage.

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