Raptors versus Bucks tonight at the ACC.
Milwaukee has a record of 16 wins and 24 losses so far, but considering the Stephen Jackson and Andrew Bogut distractions, the fact that they're a mere two games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot perhaps indicates a better season than their record would indicate?
For the real deal on tonight's opponent, we turn to SB Nation's Milwaukee Bucks' blog, Brewhoop.com:
1. RaptorsHQ: What's your evaluation of the Bucks just over halfway through the season? Do you think the club's still moving in the right direction or would you like to see a fundamental shift to the building blocks, so to speak?
BrewHoop: I think the organization's modest plan of building a mid-tier playoff team around Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings has effectively stalled, but it's not clear what if anything they're doing to do about it ahead of the trade deadline. Andrew Bogut's injury at the end of January was a huge blow just as the team finally appeared to be getting some type of rhythm, but he was also struggling mightily on the offensive end even before fracturing his ankle.
Now the rumormill has started up about Bogut being more available than ever before, and perhaps Bogut even asking to be traded. The Bucks run a pretty tight ship in terms of leaking info and there's not much media scrutiny in Milwaukee, so it's tough to say how real the possibility is that he'd be moved. I would prefer any Bogut deal to involve young players and picks, so my preference would probably be for a deal done in the summer around the draft--easier to know what you might be getting once the draft order has been determined and prospects are being worked out. But it's tough to say--if the Bucks aren't committed to rebuilding, then why deal a top three to five center in the first place? Ersan Ilyasova is the other obvious question mark. He's having a career season, but with a decent chunk of change committed to Drew Gooden and Luc Mbah a Moute are the Bucks willing to throw MLE money at him in the summer?
2. RHQ: One of those building blocks is Brandon Jennings, what's your take on his near All-Star campaign and future with the club?
BH: At this point everything is still up for grabs. He looked like a much more focused (and dare I say even consistent?) offensive player in the season's first month, usurping the title of team MVP from Bogut for the first time and giving Bucks fans good reason to believe that he might be a franchise cornerstone after all.
But February was nothing short of a disaster. Normally a fiery competitor and high effort guy, Jennings looked almost indifferent in games against the Suns and Raptors at the beginning of February, effectively sabotaging any chance he had at claiming what otherwise would have been a deserved spot on the all-star squad. To make matters worse, he fed Chris Broussard some ill-timed comments about considering big market teams during free agency the same week that he mailed in those two games. While the comments weren't superficially unreasonable, the timing of it all was just awful, and he continued to struggle for the rest of the month. One giant step forward, one equally giant step back.
Thankfully, he's put together four excellent games in five tries thus far in March, so the hope is that he can put the distractions of February behind him and finish the season strongly and consistently.
Either way, the Bucks will have a huge decision this summer when he (and all the other quality PGs from the '09 draft) become eligible for extensions. Honestly, I'm not that worried about Jennings spurning a huge offer from the Bucks to go elsewhere in 2014--that's a long way off and guys on rookie deals simply don't turn down big offers for the purpose of taking the QO and leaving as UFAs.
The better question is whether Jennings is good enough to build around and commit major dollars to in the first place. There's an "it" factor to Jennings which Milwaukee hasn't seen in a long time, and his ability to carry the Bucks for long stretches often overshadows his inconsistency and shortcomings as a playmaker. I'd be surprised if Jennings was willing to accept less than $10 million per season in an extension this summer, which based on his current production would give me major pause. I definitely want him to be worth that much, but depending on how things shake out over the next two months I think it's more likely that he becomes a restricted free agent in 2013--or is traded this summer.
3. RHQ: On to this evening's match-up. What are the keys for the Bucks in terms of getting a W over the Raps?
BH: The Bucks have started the season 16-24 for the second straight year, but this year's Bucks don't bear much resemblance to last year's edition in terms of style. Like Skiles' teams in Chicago and Phoenix, the 11/12 Bucks are playing at a faster pace and generally at their best when Jennings is pushing the tempo rather than trying to make things happen in the halfcourt. The current team would be the first team Skiles has ever coached that finished in the league's top 20 in offensive efficiency, but without Bogut they've also been shredded on the defensive end--which would also make them by far the worst defensive team Skiles has ever presided over. While teams like the Raptors provide more margin for error, the Bucks' best chance is pushing the pace offensively and keeping Toronto off the offensive glass, an area where the Bucks have also suffered a steep drop-off.