With the Warriors squaring off against the Milwaukee Bucks and The Yi Movement for the only time this season in Oakland tonight, I thought it would be a great time to talk shop with the good folks over at Milwaukee Bucks blog and SBN brother site Brew Hoop. Alex and Frank run this newest edition to the SBN hoops scene and we're lucky to have them blogging the Bucks on the network. As Wu-Tang Clan would say: "Brew Hoop Ain't Nuthin to Buck With!"
Make the jump for Frank's thoughts on how the Bucks stack up in the East, the Yi saga, and of course Milwaukee's finest brew.
Golden State of Mind: The Milwaukee Bucks come into tonight's match up against the Warriors exactly at the .500 mark with an 8-8 record. After the Eastern Big 3, the Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic, and the Detroit Pistons, there seems to be a big pack of teams in the East hovering around .500 as well. How do the Bucks stack up against those squads (Raptors, Nets, Cavs, Pacers, and Wizards)? Are they headed towards a return to the playoffs this year or are there some major flaws that they won't be able to overcome?
Frank (Brew Hoop): With all the injuries last year and new personnel this year it was really difficult to project how this team might fit together. The Bucks' five game winning streak a couple weeks ago was promising, and it should be said that even 8-8 is much better than most experts expected out of this team. Still, they've been wildly inconsistent and their scoring differential definitely raises some red flags. They've lost by 15 or more points six times while winning by more than nine points just once. So as of now I can't put them in the class of the Raptors or Cavs (especially with Varejao's return imminent) given what those teams have actually accomplished together in the past. Meanwhile the Bucks are still largely figuring out their identity as a team. I do think we should be competitive with teams like the Pacers, Wiz and Nets, who are all either inherently flawed, injury-hit, or both. But I'm also wary of the Bulls in spite of their terrible start, as they just seem too talented not to make a run at some point.
As far as flaws, the Bucks still have plenty. During the losing streak it was a different story every night: against Philly it was the starters stinking up the joint, against Atlanta the bench was atrocious, in New York they couldn't close out a team they had on the ropes and against Detroit second chances killed them. Still, some themes emerge. For all the work they've done on defense they still rank near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency, and their offense has also been shakier than a year ago. The bench should probably be a strength but Charlie Bell, Charlie Villanueva and Bobby Simmons have all struggled mightily to find any sort of consistency. Krystkowiak notably shortened the bench last night (Gadzuric and Ivey didn't play) and he will probably need to settle on more defined rotations to get this team into a better rhythm. Villanueva and Simmons were key guys in the win streak but you can tell CV has struggled at times with being a sixth man and Simmons has often looked like a guy who didn't play at all last year.
Another key to the Bucks getting into the playoffs is Bogut asserting himself as the second option offensively while continuing his excellent defensive play. That also gets to the team identity issue: can Redd be an alpha dog on the court and in the locker room while keeping the other guys involved and happy? With good teams those roles are clearly defined, but the Bucks are not quite there yet. Mo Williams has at least done a very nice job of late looking to get others involved, so I think he's starting to answer some of the questions about whether he can be a "true" PG. But I think beyond that the team needs to get Bogut more looks in the post and he needs to be more consistent when he gets them. There seems to be a subtle tension between Bogut and Redd about the team's offensive philosophy; nothing really overt but I don't think they always see eye to eye.
Alex and I independently both projected 40 wins before the season, and I think that's still a reasonable number, which should put them in the thick of the race for the 8th spot. They could definitely be better than that if healthy, but they have to straighten out a lot of things first.
Golden State of Mind: The Bucks made a bold, if not controversial move taking Yi Jianlian of The Movement fame with the 6th pick in this past draft, despite his camp clearly stating they didn't want him playing in Milwaukee. How did the people of Milwaukee and Bucks fans feel about the refusal and short holdout over summer? What's the local pulse on Yi now? Also, how has this much-heralded Chinese rookie been received in a predominantly white Midwestern city? How has he taken to the area?
Frank (Brew Hoop): I think there were necessarily very mixed emotions about the Yi saga after the draft, but not surprisingly everything's been positive since he signed. In the month leading up to the draft I honestly didn't think Yi was a realistic possibility. The Bucks said they wouldn't draft Noah because he didn't want to play in Milwaukee, so it seemed rather risky for them to gamble on a guy like Yi who wouldn't even work out for them. But I think most knowledgeable fans knew that he was the most talented guy left on the board and that the Bucks were in a position where they needed more than a complementary guy. The NBA is about superstars, and the draft is essentially the only place to get one. Plus there's no doubt that the halo effect of a Chinese star could pay off big time for a small market team.
I was very pleased with the pick on draft night, though obviously there was reason to be nervous. Having Yi miss even part of the season would have been a huge black eye for the franchise, so Larry Harris and company deserve a ton of credit for reading the situation right. Most Bucks fans at the time fell into one of two camps: those who were aggravated by all the BS and wanted to cut and run, and those who thought that the Bucks' hard line would win out (there's a bad Iraq war analogy in there somewhere). I think the latter was always the more educated read of the situation, but you can understand why people would be bitter about the stance taken by Yi's camp. Fegan and the Guangdong Tigers were also smart to the extent that they allowed themselves to be the bad guys, which made it much easier for Yi to appear less complicit in the whole situation.
In general there's been a huge curiosity factor surrounding Yi since he signed and he's immediately become one of the team's most popular players. The smallish Asian population in Milwaukee is certainly more visible at Bucks games now while the rest of Milwaukee seems somewhat fascinated by the novelty of a Chinese basketball star. The Bucks had over 7,000 people at their open scrimmage and Yi was the main reason for that, but that hasn't translated into big attendance numbers during the regular season. Still, you get the feeling that fans see him as the next great hope of the franchise. He's got a long way to go but the early returns have been very promising.
As far as how Yi feels about Milwaukee, he seems fairly settled. He's always been known to be a fairly introverted, hard-working guy, and while his English is OK there's still a bit of a language barrier with the media. He certainly won't make the all-interview team anytime soon, but communicating with teammates and coaches hasn't been an issue. He bought a Range Rover and his parents are staying with him for a while at the moment, and in general he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who will be out on the town much no matter where he lives. I think the most important thing is how his teammates have embraced him; guys like Mo, Redd and even Bogut seem sincere in their desire to help him adapt both on and off the court. Or perhaps they realize that they could parlay this into lucrative Chinese shoe deals. Either way the organization has worked very hard to make his transition as easy as possible and to his credit he's been incredibly professional and shown a lot of maturity throughout.
Golden State of Mind: Milwaukee is known for its beer and this fame has made a not-so-subtle appearance in the city's baseball team (Brewers) and loyal hoops following (Brew Hoop). Does the Bradley Center do the frosty beverages justice with respect to local standards? What's on tap at Bucks games? Anything you won't find outside of Milwaukee?
Frank (Brew Hoop): I polled some Bucks fans about the beer selection at the BC and the consensus seems to be that it's pretty good. The main stands sell only the homegrown Miller products, but if you know where to look you can get imported stuff like Guinness, Newcastle, and Heineken as well as smaller local brews. It's expensive, but I guess that's to be expected.
Special thanks to Brew Hoop for sharing their thoughts. Make sure to check them out anytime you're feeling the need for some Bucks brew. Should be a fun one tonight.