By Herb Ilk
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Bucks began last season with some optimism, but that quickly died out, and they stumbled to a 28 - 54 record, third worst in the NBA. It was also their third consecutive losing season and fourth non-winning season in a row. Injuries to Michael Redd, Charlie Villanueva, Andrew Bogut, Bobby Simmons and Maurice Williams led to a 10-24 record after the All-Star break and didn't allow for any momentum heading into the 2007-08 season.
The one positive that came out of all of that losing was getting the sixth pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. The Bucks rolled the dice and selected Yi Jianlian, a player with a tremendous ceiling, but also a player who had told the Bucks he didn't want to play for them. It took over two months, but the Bucks were eventually able to get their man and Jianlian will be in camp and ready for the season opener in November. The Bucks are hoping that he can provide them with a true power forward and allow Andrew Bogut to move to center.
The Bucks didn't do much in the free agent market other than bring back Desmond Mason on a two-year deal. They made it a priority to sign Maurice Williams to a six-year $51-million contract despite his continual injuries. They would also like to keep backup point guard Charlie Bell, but have yet to work out a contract with the restricted free agent.
The Bucks are a team that could contend for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference, but they'll need to be much healthier than last season. The expectations for the upcoming season are fairly low. Making the playoffs while seeing improvement from Bogut and Jianlian would be something to build on for the future.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Playing time distribution for the upcoming season will likely be drastically different from the 2006-07 one, mainly due to the multitude of injuries that the Bucks sustained. Small forward Bobby Simmons hurt his foot before the season and never played in a regular season game for the Bucks. He'll likely rotate with newly acquired Desmond Mason at the small forward position, and it's still unclear who will get more of the playing time.
Charlie Villanueva was playing well at power forward until a shoulder injury derailed his season and eventually ended it early. The Bucks would love to get rookie Yi Jianlian as much playing time as possible (and rumor has it they promised him 20 minutes a game in his contract), but he may not be completely ready physically for the NBA. If that's the case, then Villanueva will see the majority of the time at power forward with Yi coming off of the bench. David Noel and Dan Gadzuric will see limited roles at power forward unless injuries by other players push them onto the floor.
Michael Redd will start at shooting guard and get the majority of the playing time while Maurice Williams will start at point guard. The Bucks would like to bring back restricted free agent Charlie Bell to backup both guard positions, but he still hasn't signed and may leave to play in Europe.
Andrew Bogut: Bogut improved on his rookie season, but still hasn't shown the dominance of a number one overall selection. Part of the problem is that he doesn't get many looks in the Bucks offense, attempting only 5.3 field goals per game. Michael Redd will always be the number one option for the Bucks, but they need Bogut to be a bit more aggressive with the ball on offense. Bogut only shot 57.7 percent from the free-throw line last season, which is the biggest hole in his game.
Jake Voskuhl: Voskuhl was a backup center for the Bobcats last season, and he'll fill the same role this year for the Bucks. He's big and takes up space, but doesn't do a whole lot of anything else.
Dan Gadzuric: Gadzuric is probably better suited for power forward than for center, but he'll be called upon to play center a little bit. Defense has never been his strong suit, though he blocks a fair number of shots for the amount of playing time he gets. Gadzuric is a high-energy guy who didn't see much playing time until the end of the season.
Charlie Villanueva: Villanueva hurt his shoulder in late December and never fully recovered. He eventually opted for surgery and missed the final month of the season. The shoulder appears to be completely healed now and Villanueva is ready to go for the start of the season. He'll compete with rookie Yi Jianlian for playing time at the power forward position, but odds are that Villanueva will get the bulk of the time while Yi learns the ropes.
Yi Jianlian: Many NBA analysts called Jianlian the highest risk/reward player in this past draft. Despite being told that he didn't want to play for the Bucks, they went ahead and selected him with the sixth pick. Now that he is officially signed, the Bucks must figure out if he can contribute this season. Reportedly, he was guaranteed 20 minutes per game as part of his deal, but he'll likely need some time to adjust not only to the NBA, but to life in the United States.
David Noel: Noel played in 68 games for the Bucks last season, mainly due to injuries to other players. His playing time will likely drop this year with the addition of Yi Jianlian and a healthy Charlie Villanueva.
Bobby Simmons: Simmons was the Bucks' big free agent signing before the 2005-06 season, but never lived up to expectations and then a foot injury caused him to miss all of 2006-07. At this point Simmons will need to prove something during training camp to regain his starter status, with Desmond Mason being his biggest competition.
Desmond Mason: Mason saw an increase in playing time last season and responded with a solid year. The Bucks would like to use Mason as a sixth man off of the bench, and they love his defense. He does have a chance to beat out Bobby Simmons and start at small forward, but it's more likely that he'll come off of the bench and average around 20-25 minutes per game at both small forward and shooting guard.
Michael Redd: Last season was the first time that Redd dealt with any kind of injury, and he ended up missing 29 games due to tendinitis in his right knee. He played for Team USA this summer and appears to be healthy. Redd is one of the best three-point shooters in the league and averaged a career best 26.7 ppg in 2006-07. The Bucks would like to have some other players help carry the offensive load so he may not score quite so much this year.
Maurice Williams: Williams played exceptionally well for the Bucks last season, averaging 17.3 ppg and 6.1 apg. The problem is that Williams has a hard time staying on the court due to a variety of injuries. He played in just 68 games in 2006-07 after playing in just 58 games the previous season. Williams can provide a decent amount of offense from the point guard position, but be ready to have a backup ready when the inevitable injury occurs.
Lynn Greer: Greer played in 41 games for the Bucks last season, averaging 10.5 minutes per game. It's doubtful that he'll get even that much playing time this year without a bunch of injuries to the starters.
Awvee Storey: The Bucks liked what they saw out of Storey on their summer league team and signed him to a contract. It's doubtful that Storey will get much if any playing time during the season.
Bobby Simmons: Simmons missed all of last season with a foot injury and dropped off of most people's radar. Still, he averaged 13.4 ppg and shot 42 percent on three point attempts two years ago as a starter. If he gets the starting nod again this season he could be a bargain in most drafts.
Yi Jianlian: Jianlian may very well turn into an NBA All Star, but it's not going to happen right away, and he'll have a large adjustment period. Name recognition could move him up a lot of draft boards, but it shouldn't.
Article first appeared on 9/14/07