Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Camp So Far...

With a week left before the opener in Orlando, it's probably worth taking a look at how the Bucks roster is taking shape. In the interests of full disclosure, I've only seen the first two games and listened to the last four on the radio. So everything here is based on a vague mixture of visual, audio, game reports and second-hand evidence. As always, big credit to the RealGM posters who have shared their first-hand accounts. You can check preseason stats here.

The MACC Fund game gave us our first real insight into what the rotation may look like--Larry Krystkowiak not only had all his players available to him, but he also used them in a manner more consistent with you know, winning games. It looks like LK is looking at a 9-10 man rotation when healthy, with Mo, Redd, Simmons, Yi and Bogut starting. The two forward spots could certainly change, pending Simmons' health and Yi's continued improvement. It seems like the latest murmurs are that Simmons may not yet be physically capable of playing big minutes, so that's the biggest thing to keep an eye on. Off the bench, Bell, Mason (or Simmons), Villanueva, and Gadzuric should see action every night, while Royal Ivey would probably be the next option depending on how Bell fares as a PG. At the end of the bench, Michael Ruffin and Ramon Sessions have non-guaranteed contracts, but both seem likely to stick with the team after the waiving of Samaki Walker brought the Bucks down to the regular season roster limit of 15 players. The rotations were similar two nights ago in Denver, though the Gadzuric and Bogut injuries and Mo Williams' ejection required Ruffin, Ivey and Sessions to get more minutes. On to the players:

Mo Williams - Seems to be showing more hustle defensively and ran the offense very effectively last Saturday (12 assists, 1 TO, 20 points on just 12 shots). If anyone was concerned about Mo slacking off now that he's got his big contract, fear not. Unlike Bell, Mo spent his free agent offseason working daily with noted personal coach Joe Abunassar in Vegas, and looks poised to improve on his breakout season. He seems to be taking his responsibility as a team leader seriously and while he may never be the "pure" point some would like him to be, he has an excellent chance of earning that fat contract. And yes, I'm going to conveniently ignore his 0-5, 2 assist, 2 technical performance...

Michael Redd - Has coasted for much of the preseason, often times not looking for his shot as he tried to allow other guys to get involved in games. In the second Utah game Redd actually had more rebounds (6) than shots (5), which I can guarantee won't happen again this season. Then last night in Denver he tallied 7 assists and 6 rebounds, pretty unheard of numbers for the old Redd. While you don't want Redd getting too far away from the thing he does best, it's encouraging to see this newfound willingness to pass, rebound and defend. While he hasn't been scoring as much, he's obviously the last guy on the team to worry about in that regard. His knee was still a bit sore over the summer but overall he's in great shape, having dropped about 10 pounds and getting his body fat down below 10%.

Charlie Bell - Was admittedly out-of-shape coming into camp and doesn't seem over the stress of his contentious negotiations. Has generally been off. His biggest problem is probably that his wife and kids are in Michigan for the school year, so before we condemn Charlie to trade bait let's give him some time. He's still fairly inexpensive (and untradable until December 20), so the Bucks can afford to be patient while he comes around.

Royal Ivey - One of the bright spots of the early preseason games (low expectations help in this regard), Ivey has shown a willingness to defend and even stick open jumpers. Should Bell continue to struggle, watch for Ivey to possibly steal some of his minutes. Any injury to the backcourt will push him into a more regular rotation spot, and if Simmons misses time look for Ivey to play more PG as Bell slides to SG and Redd more SF.

Ramon Sessions - One of two guys with NG'ed contracts, but he's young and the Bucks seem to like him so all signs suggest he'll make the roster. Hasn't played much at all but should get an opportunity to play in the D-League barring injuries to the backcourt.

Awvee Storey - Just a guy. Hasn't played much but hit some shots in the preseason opener and hasn't played much since. Has shown his reputed chippiness a couple times already, and in general from what we've seen it's kind of hard to tell why he needed a guaranteed deal. Seems likely to be inactive most nights.

Bobby Simmons - Has shot the ball exceptionally well so far when he's played (a silly 63% from the field including 6/9 from three point range), but physically he's still working his way back from his foot injury. Missed a couple games out of precautionary reasons, so that's still a big question mark. Will his foot hold up all season? Will he miss games here and there? Will his minutes be limited in some way? Kind of hard to tell right now, but a healthy Simmons is arguably the biggest x-factor right now for the team. I can't say I'd be willing to bet on him playing 75 games, but I'd be thrilled if he proved me wrong.

Desmond Mason - Some say he's still got that jump in his step, others say he appears slightly older than he did in his first stint with the Bucks. Either way his shot has not been there so far (34% from the field, 60% from the line), which is somewhat disconcerting given his offensive efficiency was well below average the last two seasons. While he can still be a contributor for his defensive effort, athleticism and leadership, he's not likely going to be an above-average starting SF anymore. Fortunately he won't be asked to create much offense if he does have to start. LK has stated he prefers Mason at small forward, but hopefully he's not asked to be a 35 mpg guy.

David Noel - I'm not going to lie, I really haven't noticed Noel this preseason, in either a good or bad way. If Simmons misses time he would move up the depth chart, but something tells me LK will try Redd and CV at the 3 before Noel gets any burn. On the bubble to be active most nights. The Bucks took a flier on him in the second round last year and he has neither embarrassed himself nor given much reason to think he's a diamond in the rough.

Yi Jianlian - Having watched Yi play in both the summer league and a number of international tournaments later in the summer, I have to say I think he's got a great chance to be a special player. Whether he's 19 or 22, his skillset is phenomenal, especially given his size and athleticism. It all starts with a sweet stroke that he can use both on the perimeter and in the post, where he also can use his quickness and good footwork to create shots. Expect to see him used mostly in pick/pop and on the perimeter as a rookie, but rest assured he's got more in his arsenal.

He'll have to deal with culture shock and an abnormal amount of pressure (both here and in China) on top of the usual rookie troubles, so it's not easy guessing what he'll be able to do over a full season. He's still trying to sort out what he can and can't get away with against NBA players (and refs), so he'll have his share of growing pains. Rebounding, foul trouble, turnovers, and guarding strong PFs in the post will all be areas he could struggle with. But everything we've seen in games and heard about practice suggests he's an extremely intelligent guy who learns quickly. So far he's gotten much better over the course of camp, including his excellent 15 point, 12 rebound, 1 turnover game last Saturday. I initially thought he'd come off the bench and be perhaps an 8/4 type guy, but I'm probably going to have to revise that upward a little, perhaps to something closer to Andrea Bargnani last year, only slightly more rebounding and much less three point shooting. With the Bucks' personnel up front I'm really not concerned about him being able to earn the minutes that he's supposedly been guaranteed--the only thing likely to prevent him from getting 20-25 mpg will be foul trouble. He's going to be good, it's just a matter of when. Next year is a much better bet than this year, but as of now he's probably the favorite to start.

Charlie Villanueva - I was definitely in the camp expecting CV to win a starting spot by having a good camp, but so far he'd been losing ground to Yi until last night the Denver game when he went off for 21/11/5. On a good note he's going to do more than Yi at least this year, but it seems like Yi's effort on both ends gives him the edge to start. While you knew his soft defense would be a problem playing for LK, his talent is undeniable and he's got a lot to prove after an injury-plagued first season in Milwaukee. The Bucks seem to be using him largely on the perimeter thus far, which is somewhat disappointing because he has a terrific feel around the hoop (something he took more advantage of last night). I'm hoping we see more aggressiveness from him going forward, though it's possible he's still a little tentative inside after coming back from all the shoulder problems. Keep in mind he faced a difficult rehab from shoulder surgery, so he didn't have the chance to work out much until the end of the summer. While the word is he was privately upset with the Bucks' drafting of Yi, he's saying all the right things and being very professional about the hoopla surrounding a player who likely was drafted to replace him.

CV's always been a tough player to figure out, and unless injuries force him to play more at SF it seems like he's going to be again relegated to more of a supporting role. A year ago CV was being touted as the Bucks' PF of the future, but it's been a rough ride after putting up 18/10 in the first four games last year, mostly due to the shoulder injury he sustained last November in Atlanta (he also had hamstring issues early last year). You can only hope he keeps his head up and works hard on both ends of the court. Coming off the bench could be a good role, as Krystkowiak has said he likes how CV can be an offensive focal point for the second unit. If he doesn't start he's certainly capable of putting up 6th man of the year type stats, especially since he should still get plenty of minutes.

Michael Ruffin - Ruffin was signed to bring a defensive option to the end of the bench, and so far LK has spoken highly enough of him that you'd think he'll still be around on opening night. Ruffin's deal is only NG'ed through October 26th, so we'll know by the end of the week for sure if he's sticking around. Given both Yi and CV aren't defensive stalwarts, Ruffin could see minutes if both of the youngsters are getting killed by foul trouble or if someone on the front line is injured. Otherwise he's a good practice guy.

Andrew Bogut - Count me among those who think Bogut is primed to breakthrough with a 15/10, marginal all-star type season. Like last year, Bogut came into camp with extra bulk, only this time he's strengthened his legs more than his upper body; hopefully that means he'll be strong enough to bang with any bigs down low without sacrificing quickness. In the preseason so far two numbers jump out: he's blocked 8 shots in 5 games and he's shooting 67% from the line. Granted, the sample size is incredibly small, but if Bogut can be around 70% from the line he can afford to be much more aggressive (and efficient) offensively. And given the Bucks were last in the league in shot-blocking, Bogut's ability to average somewhere north of a block per game would be a big help. His shot release looks cleaner this year, which will hopefully mean his mid-range shot will finally be a weapon.

It seems like Bogut has been a year behind in meeting people's expectations his first two seasons; many expected last year's numbers as a rookie, and that he'd be around 15/10 last year. Bogut is the first to admit his consistency wasn't there last year, but now everything seems to be coming together: he's a year wiser, physically stronger, and playing for a coach he seems on the same page with. Now let's cross our fingers that the MRI on his wrist doesn't bring bad news.

Dan Gadzuric - Since signing his six year, $36 million contract in the summer of 2005, Gadzuric has struggled to find a place in the rotation but that could change this year. He actually started two games at PF alongside Bogut to start the preseason, but since then has settled in as the primary backup at center. While he still tends to foul too much, in limited minutes it shouldn't be a huge concern. Where Gadzuric can help most is on the glass; he had the best rebound rate (17.2) of anyone on the Bucks last year and his energy is difficult to match. And while Gadz isn't a lock-down defender he could provide some relief if/when Yi and CV are overmatched.

Jake Voskuhl - Jake's also just a guy. He's smart enough to know what he can and can't get away with, and right now it doesn't look like he'll be relied on very much unless one of the other bigs gets hurt.

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