Tuesday, December 30, 2008

At Center Court with Frank Madden

Over the past few days, I've been talking with friends about Mark Cuban's call to save the Titanic---eh, I mean your local dead tree edition's sports section. I could wax poetic about all the advantages talent-rich, dedicated blogs have over beat writers in terms of the quality of coverage (although, not in terms of their accessibility to the team; in short, I think this is a medium issue, and newspapers writers are severely handicapped because of the medium-imposed constraints of paper) or I could simply ask: If you lived in Milwaukee and were given a choice between Frank Madden's Brew Hoop or the Journal Sentinel, where would you go for Bucks coverage? Me too. I haven't pointed my browser directly toward the MJS for a couple years.

The Bucks travel into San Antonio tonight and Frank was kind enough to take time out of his holiday schedule to join us at Center Court.

: The Bucks always seem to play Popeye to the Spurs' Bluto. San Antonio has a losing record against Milwaukee during the Tim Duncan era. Why do you think the Bucks have fared so well against the Spurs?

FM: I don't think there's a good answer for it. The Bucks have had little continuity over the past decade and they've been bad for the majority of that period, so there's no obvious thing they've had going for them. A number of close games have gone the Bucks' way and earlier this year they caught the Spurs playing shorthanded, so luck is probably the biggest factor. One of the best games I've ever seen live was probably the Bucks' OT win over the Spurs in 05/06 when Bogut hit a game-winner at the buzzer.

TV: Sen. Kohl calls you into office and asks, "Frank, what's the most sensible thing to do with Michael Redd? Is he a better player than trade chip or trade chip than player?

FM: That's really the big question for the Bucks right now, because Redd's on court performance has bottomed out of late (18.5 ppg, .397 fg%)...and his contract made him a difficult guy to trade even when he was producing at a high level. The market will always be limited for a player with such a big cap number—including this season he's owed $51 million over three years—and this summer there didn't seem to be any team aside from Cleveland that was seriously interested. The Bucks reportedly turned down a deal for expiring contracts and draft picks, which in hindsight doesn't look so bad now. At this point I don't think John Hammond would hesitate to pull the trigger if he got a fair offer talent-wise, but a Cleveland-like salary dump doesn't get the Bucks under the cap next summer or in 2010 either.

The only possible explanation for Redd's decline is the high ankle sprain that kept him on the shelf for nearly a month early in the season, but that excuse only goes so far. He has appeared at times limited in his ability to slash and finish around the hoop, but he's struggling with wide open perimeter shots as well. To his credit, his defensive effort and passing have improved in recent weeks, but a guy like Redd doesn't earn his money that way—he needs to be scoring efficiently if he's going to be a star-caliber player. So far he's not. The Bucks would be foolish not to be shopping him, but they might not be able to get anything of use until his play picks up again. It all comes down to whether there's a team out there that can both stomach his salary and thinks he can get back to where he was a couple years ago.

TV: Why is Luke Ridnour starting in front of Ramon Sessions?

FM: Three weeks ago I would have said it was mainly a function of Scott Skiles' perpetual distrust of young players, but Ridnour has been playing better of late while Sessions has shown some of the inconsistency you'd expect out of a young player. Still, Skiles has spoken of liking Ridnour's game for years, so it's probably not surprising that he's stuck with him despite a mountain of statistical evidence arguing for Sessions to get his shot.

Like most Bucks fans I would like to see Sessions getting more consistent burn, but he still has lapses defensively and that's the one thing Skiles doesn't tolerate. Ridnour doesn't have Sessions' physical tools or craftiness in the lane, but he's been around the block and Skiles knows what he's going to get from him. Unfortunately, Ridnour has coninued to struggle from the perimeter (29.7% threes) this year, which should be one area where he has a distinct advantage over Sessions. Especially with Bogut getting doubled more often, the Bucks need their guards to make jump shots and space the floor, but only Lue (in limited minutes) has been a three-point threat among the PGs.

I have to think that Sessions' superior talent level means that he'll get his shot eventually, but Skiles doesn't seem to be in a hurry to put that sort of pressure on him. Perhaps not coincidentally, that will probably make him cheaper to re-sign next summer as well. Still, Charlie Bell's health and Tyronn Lue's possible departure via trade mean Sessions could be seeing more time soon even if Ridnour hangs on to the starting spot.
TV: Yes or no, is Charlie Villanueva a Buck come February?

FM: I would say no—though I felt the same way a year ago when Villanueva lost his starting job to Yi Jianlian, and we all know how that worked out. It's not that Villanueva hasn't been a key contributor this year. His scoring ability off the bench has been a big boost for a team that struggles to score, his rebounding has been well above average for a PF, and his defensive effort has been more consistent. Still, I just don't see the Bucks wanting to commit long-term dollars to him this summer when he enters restricted free agency. Charlie doesn't really fit the Scott Skiles archetype (tough, defensive, consistent) and his occasional offensive explosions have always obscured the fact that he's a streaky, low efficiency scorer.

For a proper game preview, stop by Brew Hoop.

Update: I thought it was common knowledge that the Spurs struggle against the Bucks, but apparently not. By my count, San Antonio is 10-11 against Milwaukee since Duncan was drafted. The two teams did not play one another during the strike season. The total games are at an odd number because they've only played once this season, a 78-82 Spurs loss.


frank said...

Thanks, Tim. Good luck the rest of the season--but not tonight!

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