The Milwaukee Bucks are going to be in the playoffs this year. The boys from Wisconsin, who haven’t played into May since the 2005-2006 season, are playing better than anyone could have expected them to at the beginning of the year. Currently in fifth place in the East, the Bucks are slated to draw a first-round matchup with either the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks, who are tied for third place.
What has accounted for the Bucks’ surprising and sudden transition to a postseason-caliber team after being assumed lottery players for three years? Well, certainly very few expected rookie Brandon Jennings to play superhuman basketball at the beginning of the season (and still-above-average basketball, especially for a rookie, now). And certainly very few expected former No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut to be posting 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks a game for a cool PER of 20.6. But they’re not the true reason for the Bucks’ absurd play.
No, John Salmons is responsible for that.
Since acquiring Salmons prior to the team’s February 19 contest against the Pistons, Milwaukee is a stunning 16-4. During this span, Salmons has averaged slightly over 20 points per contest after putting up about 14 a game with Chicago earlier this season. He showed flashes of this scoring ability in Sacramento and Chicago last season, but after an inauspicious start to the current campaign, I expected it was just a fluke. He can really score the ball, has meshed well with Jennings in the back court, and gives Milwaukee a reliable late-game jumpshooter after Michael Redd went down with a season-ending injury.
Speaking of which, credit the Bucks’ front office for not folding the cards after that and selling away the season. They went out and made a deadline deal to keep themselves competitive, and now they figure to be at least competitive in the playoffs. With six scorers averaging in double figures, they have a balanced offense.
The emerging problem? Are they deep enough up front with Bogut, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, and Kurt Thomas? That will be definitely be problem against every single one of the teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.