Blogging with the playoff enemy, a Q&A about the Milwaukee Bucks with those that actually know the right answers.

I have a secret. I only saw about six Bucks games all season. So based on that I voted John Salmons all-NBA. That may have been a bad vote, but I refuse to be a bad blogger. So THHB and I sat down (to our computers) and interviewed Frank from the excellent Buck's blog BrewHoop, and he was kind enough to answer our questions. His only request was that throughout the interview, we fear the dear. And I did. Q&A after the jump.

1. Admit it, you wanted the C's, right?

Yeah, I think most of us did.  Obviously the Celtics have been limping to the finish line, so that was a big part of it--they just seem much more likely to lay an egg in the first round than the Hawks.  But aside from that, the last few games against the C's have gotten a bit frisky and we haven't seen the same rivalry develop with the Hawks.  Jennings got in Big Baby's grill after a hard foul a couple months back, and then Brandon was jawing at Garnett after the final horn of the same game. Then last week Kurt Thomas clotheslined Big Baby and gave him one of those priceless "I would eat you for lunch" stares when Baby got in his face about it.  I don't think the Bucks would have beaten the Celtics in a seven game series, but they certainly would have had a better chance--and it's always more fun when you hate your opponent, right?  The Hawks are a bit too likable.
2. Are you worried that your offense might be too perimeter based without Bogut? If not, what are we missing?

Absolutely.  The Bucks were one of the worst teams in the league in terms of points in the paint even with Bogut (37 pts/game), but since his injury it's become even more pronounced.  They run iso plays for Salmons and Stackhouse (kinda sad, right?) but otherwise it's just perimeter ball-movement and a lot of long jumpers.  They've upped their three point attempts by five per game without Bogut and have shooters who can get hot and stretch the defense, but when things go bad they really go bad.  The Hawks were able to do a lot of switching in the last game in Milwaukee and the Bucks weren't really able to take advantage off the bounce.  They've also been a poor transition team all season, so going small doesn't really help them get easy points that way either.  

The funny thing is that the Bucks' offensive efficiency was actually higher in the six games after Bogut was hurt--an admittedly tiny sample size that was helped by two big outings against the Nets and Big Three-less Celtics.  Still, it shows the Bucks can score enough points to win without Bogut, but their defense couldn't hold up in either home game against the Hawks or Celtics.  As much as Thomas has stepped up, there's simply no way for the Bucks to replace Bogut's defensive impact.  I think that also has a fair bit to do with Luc Mbah a Moute's inconsistent playing time (just 34 combined minutes in the Hawks/C's losses).  He's the Bucks' defensive stopper and may be the only guy who can handle JJ (or Josh), but without Bogut it becomes increasingly hard to hide his complete lack of offensive game.  I'm not sure the Bucks can consistently stop the Hawks without Mbah a Moute, but I'm also not sure they can score with him.  That may be Scott Skiles' biggest dilemma.
3. I think that, if Brandon Jennings could finish consistently around the hoop, he'd be the most worrisome player to the Hawks in this series? Am I wrong? Besides Salmons, who killed us a couple of visits ago, who else should we be concerned with?

Good news for Hawks fans: Jennings is most definitely not a consistent finisher.  We knew coming into the season he'd be lucky to finish above 40% from the field, but the one positive has been the consistency of his three point shot (not so much in the teams' last meeting).  On the down side, he's very tentative when trying to finish against bigger players (ie everyone) and instead opts for a lot of floaters (which has been good at times, but mostly not) or pull-ups, where he has a maddening tendency to fade away unnecessarily.  At this point he's one of the worst finishers in the game, and it's going to be tough for him to become an elite PG if he's not a credible threat to score around the hoop.   

4. Has Luke Ridnour been a very good back up for Jennings all year or had he just hit shots and not been a defensive liability against Mike Bibby?

It wasn't just Atlanta.  Ridnour will be the poster-boy for John Hollinger's "fluke season" guys for 09/10--he made nearly 48% of his shots from the field and 38% of his threes, wrecking his previous career-highs of 43% and 35%, respectively, while upping his PER from 12.95 to 17.8.  He also cut down on his turnover rate and his shooting consistency was a convenient complement to Jennings' volatile scoring tendencies.  

While he's way too small and unathletic to be much of a threat as a driver (or defender), he's good at using picks and his shooting on long two's has been exceptional this year--anytime a defender starts backing up he's liable to pull up and bury shots with minimal opening.  He made 57% of his shots from 16-23 feet (vs. 44% last year), which is just a crazy number and best in the league among guys with any significant playing time.  Basically he turned into Steve Nash between 16-22 feet this year, which could make it tough to re-sign him for a reasonable rate this summer.

The Bucks also played Jennings and Ridnour together a fair bit this year, but that may be tougher to pull off in this series because of the Hawks' ability to go big in the backcourt.
5. Who is the most important player in this series for you guys?

Salmons is probably the most indispensable guy since he's the team's only consistent scorer and the only guy who can draw fouls and finish around the hoop.   Jennings and Ilyasova are probably the biggest x-factors.  While the Bucks have shown they can win without him putting up big numbers, Jennings' ability to break the Hawks down off the dribble and occasionally score around the hoop would add some much-needed balance.  He has to improve his shot selection and make the Hawks pay when they give him open looks or when they switch and put a bigger guy on him.  

Ilyasova will have to cope with defending Smith and potentially Horford if Skiles tries to go small.  His three point shooting has cratered over the past two months but his mid-range game (mainly from either corner) has been solid and his ability to get garbage buckets inside is always important.
6. What are the obtainable (not John Salmons shooting 14-16 from the field) keys to the Bucks winning?

Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute and Delfino (if they go small) can't let Smith completely destroy them down low.  If they end up having to double Smith every time then the Hawks' shooters will kill them.  Thomas looked solid against Horford in the last game and he'll have to continue to make Al work down low.  In the backcourt, Salmons probably has to provide 20+ points every night and Jennings has to make enough shots to keep Bibby accountable.

They also need role players like Delfino, Stackhouse and Ilyasova to stretch the floor with their shooting.  Stack has been shooting the ball well over the past couple weeks, which has really helped add scoring consistency to the second unit.  He's not going to be dunking on guys anymore, but he's been good at facing up and knocking down shots out of the high post and from three on catch-and-shoots.  Delfino shoots more 27-foot jumpers than anyone else in the league and when he's on it's a big help in keeping defenses honest.

7. Do you expect a rowdy crowd in Milwaukee?  

I would think so. The crowds in the early part of the decade were absolutely fantastic in the playoffs, so I'd hope that people come out and support the Bucks again this time around.  Attendance was slightly down overall this season but I attribute that in part to the lack of expectations and resulting low season ticket sales before the season.   If nothing else, you know Squad Six will always keep things energized, so I'm hoping everyone else follows their lead.   

8. What's your prediction on the series?

I'd guess 4-1 or 4-2 Hawks.  The Bucks always play hard so I'd expect they will be in enough games to steal at least one.  

Thanks to Frank for answering our questions. It was fun being friends. I enjoyed fearing the dear, but it is back to being enemies for the next six weeks that is this first round series.

Go Hawks!
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