The Milwaukee Bucks are hoping to rebound from their 31-35 record last season and make some noise in the Eastern Conference this year. In order to do so, guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings will have to step up their game and prove why they could be the best backcourt duo in the NBA.
Ellis and Jennings were the only two players from the same team last season to be in the top 10 in points per game. Ellis ranked seventh with 20.4 points and Jennings finished ninth with 19.1 points. It is no wonder Milwaukee ranked 5th overall in scoring with 99.0 points per game.
The Bucks’ guards are happy about their scoring situation but they have even bigger plans for this year. However, they will have to do it with the entire league up against him. You see, nobody believes 6-foot-3 Ellis and 6-foot-1 Jennings have the height to deal with the big guards such as Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.
“Everybody doesn’t want it to work,” Jennings said. “Everybody thinks it can’t work. But we came to an agreement we’ll sacrifice whatever just to win. Now that we have so much length (in the frontcourt rotation), people can’t talk about our size and it won’t be able to work.
“We have three 6-10 guys back there waiting to block anybody’s shot.”
Jennings has a good point. There is no reason to worry about their size when Milwaukee will constantly have three giant forwards protecting the paint behind them. Obviously, Jennings and Ellis will still have to contain the two guards but the defense behind them should be much better this season.
Both players need to work on their field percentages if they want to be considered the best backcourt duo in the league. They also need to start converting a higher percentage from beyond the arc in 2012-13 to take pressure off the forwards.
Of course, it is not all about scoring for these two gentlemen. To be the best they will have to make their teammates better. That means setting up quality plays and recording more assists. Ellis’ 6.0 assists per game was good for 18th in the NBA while Jennings’ 5.5 ranked 22nd. The Bucks as a team ranked third in the league averaging 23.5 assists per game, which is an outstanding achievement.
“Whatever it takes,” Ellis said. “If that means I have to sacrifice, if that means I have to go from averaging 20 points to 15 points. If I need to get my assists up to nine or 10, whatever it takes for this team to win, I’m willing to do it.
“And I’m going to approach this training camp . . . it’s just win. This is not Monta Ellis. This is the Milwaukee Bucks.”
That is exactly what fans in Milwaukee want to hear from their star player. The only way the Bucks are going to make a deep postseason run is to play unselfish basketball. The players understand what they must do in order to help the team win and head coach Scott Skiles is the best in the business when it comes to this style of play.
“There was no time to get our foundation down,” Skiles said. “It will be nice to have a whole month now, not only to have those guys play together, but just to go through our whole system and really get it down.”
The fact that Ellis and Jennings have had the entire off-season to train together should do wonders for the team. They were both thrown into a difficult situation last season when Ellis came to the team in a trade with the Golden State Warriors. There was no time to get adjusted because the Bucks desperately needed to win to keep pace in the playoff race. Ellis had to learn on the go and the two guards had to feel each other out during games.
Last season, Jennings was taken under the wing of Stephen Jackson, who was nothing but a parasite in the locker room. Jennings was publicly saying how he was looking forward to free agency, even though it was still a couple years away. What a difference a year makes. Jennings is now the co-leader of the team with Ellis and intends to stay with Milwaukee until the end.
“We talked about it (Sunday),” Jennings said. “At the end of the day, the good and the bad is going to fall back on us. It’s going to be up to us to set the tone for the team and just leave it out there every night on the floor.”
Clearly, Ellis and Jennings have a long ways to go to be considered the best guard tandem in the league. However, I believe they have the skills, raw talent, chemistry, and athleticism to pull it off while shocking the world in the process. Not to mention, I think fans will see a new Jennings now that the entire weight of the team is not solely on his shoulders.
Michael is a MLB and NBA Featured Writer for Rant Sports, but covers topics for various teams in baseball, basketball, and football. Make sure to follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelTerrill and on Facebook.