It took a summer of extreme patience, but the Bucks got their man. On August 29th, Yi Jianlian, the sixth pick of the draft, became a Buck. For the uninformed, the Bucks were strongly cautioned not to draft Yi by his agent and the team did so anyway, feeling he was the best prospect available when they selected. Yi subsequently threatened to not report to the team at all and demanded a trade. In the end, the Bucks were able to convince Yi and Chinese officials that Yi would be given every opportunity to play and develop as a Milwaukee Buck, and the stalemate ended.
So, with that hurdle cleared, where do the Bucks stand? Well, they were able to re-sign Mo Williams this summer to a very lucrative contract, $51.5 million over six years, despite overtures made to him by the Miami Heat. While this was an important signing for the Bucks since losing him would have meant they would have been left with no point guards at all, the fact remains they overpaid to keep him and now will have trouble financially filling out the roster. There is no obvious backup to Williams at the point, and Williams himself isn't much of a playmaker at that position, with his assist numbers being inflated by the excellent catch-and-shoot abilities of his backcourt mate Michael Redd.
As it stands, overall backcourt depth is going to be an issue all season long for the Bucks, an incredibly puzzling development considering that many within the organization believe that the reason this team was unable to reach last season's playoffs was because of a dearth of injuries. So if any team should know the importance to be placed on depth for their two best (or at least highest-paid) players, it's the Bucks. Nonetheless, this summer saw the departure of Ruben Patterson and Charlie Bell, and no effort has been made to unearth any replacements.
Fortunately, depth up front for this team is not going to be a problem. Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, Desmond Mason, Bobby Simmons and Yi are all looking to man spots in the starting five this year, with only Bogut looking like a shoo-in at this point. Joining that group in a deep-reserve role will be David Noel, who showed some things for this team last year with all of the injuries the Bucks endured.
What needs to happen for this team, then, is a refocusing of their offensive attack. Andrew Bogut is a skilled big-man up front who needs to be able to use some of his playmaking abilities at the position to both open up the perimeter for Williams and Redd but also keep him more involved in the offense than he was last year. For a number one overall pick in the draft, one would think that the team would be more inclined to utilize Bogut in their attack, but he was often the forgotten man last season on offense. For a player who shoots 55% from the floor, the team should be able to find more than nine shots per game for him during the 34 minutes per game he plays. This team gets very little production from its frontcourt, which is a glaring trend considering the talent that exists there. With Patterson and Bell gone from the line-up, as well as their 23 shots per game, perhaps the ball can now find its way down into the post a little more often.
Even if it does, however, the Bucks will be facing an uphill climb returning to the playoffs. Their defense has gotten worse with the loss of Patterson, and they were already second worst in the league in opponents' field goal percentage, and as good as their offense is, it doesn't make up the 104 points per game they let up last season. In terms of production they have proven they can put out onto the floor each night, this team ranks behind Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey and Boston with certainty, and will have to duke it out against Washington, Orlando, New York and Miami for the last two Playoff spots in the East. Given their inexperience and track record with Williams at the point, this might not be the year of the Buck.
PROBABLE STARTING LINE-UP
PG - Maurice Williams
Despite what it may sound like, I don't have a grudge against Mo Williams. He's a gifted scorer who would thrive on several other NBA teams (Detroit and the LA Lakers come to mind), but with the amount of offense already dotting this roster, the Bucks could really use a pass-first type here to get some balance out of the offense. Williams is a fine passer, but he isn't a floor-general. He isn't the guy you want with the ball in his hands making decisions for his teams' offensive attack. In the last 18 months, this team has traded away T.J. Ford and Steve Blake, both players that set the table better than Williams, and while neither one might be the ideal fit here for the Bucks, the same might be true of Williams.
SG - Michael Redd
A potent scorer who came on strong this summer with Team USA, Redd is a great asset for a team with Andrew Bogut to have. The problem is he is better than just a catch-and-shoot player but not good enough to run an entire offense through, so the Bucks are in something of a quagmire when it comes to deciding how to best use Redd. Some nights he'll go off for fifty and you just hand him he ball and stand back, other nights he can't hit the broad side of a barn and he doesn't have the all-around attack necessary to break out of a slump like that mid-game. While he'll no doubt continue to get the most shots allotted to him on the team (deservedly), the team should definitely try to balance his outside game with contributions going towards the basket from other players.
SF - Desmond Mason
The Bucks excitedly buried the hatched with Mason and any ill-feelings that may have stemmed from his getting traded to the Hornets two years ago. Today, all is happy for Mason and the Bucks and with Bobby Simmons having missed all of last season with injury the smart money is on Mason getting the nod to start at small forward. Mason is a perfect example of a player who knows his own limitations. He is a horrendous shooter, and so he simply doesn't shoot. He looks to attack, dish, grab boards and play defense. He isn't the most skilled player on this team, he's actually probably around the middle-of-the-pack in that regard, but he is effective at what he does and he'll be a nice re-addition to this roster this season.
PF - Yi Jianlian
The guess here is that if Charlie Villanueva couldn't beat out Brian Skinner for starters minutes, even when he was healthy, he probably won't be able to beat out the new kid on the block. Yi brings a lot of the same skills as Villanueva to this position; a perimeter-heavy offensive game, good passing, not a lot of defense and decent rebounding - although one will have to see how Yi does against NBA bigs in that department. As with any international big man, let alone a rookie, the jury remains out on what exactly he'll be able to contribute at the NBA level. If he can give the Bucks the kind of production that Andrea Bargnani was able to give to the Toronto Raptors last season, the Bucks will be laughing, but if Yi struggles out of the gate the team should remain patient with him and not shunt him aside like so many of the international developing bigs before him (Darko Milicic, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, etc).
C - Andrew Bogut
With all of the hype that surrounds Deron Williams and Chris Paul, it can be hard to remember that Bogut was the first overall pick in that draft. The notion that if a big is available he must be selected first has never held water with me unless that big is clearly the best talent available in the draft. In Bogut's case, it is unlikely he'd ever be able to reach the levels that Williams and Paul are soaring towards, and will have to be satisfied carving out an existence on a team that seems increasingly apathetic to his presence. With so many perimeter players surrounding him on this roster, perhaps his low-post skills will be featured more this season. If not, perhaps Bogut can continue to enlighten the world on the selfishness of the modern NBA player.