John Hammond and Larry Drew, the Bucks’ GM and new head coach, sat together watching practice at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas last month lamenting a little thing in LARRY SANDERS!'s offense. SANDERS! was just barely hamstringing his team’s scoring chances as the screen-setter on pick-and-rolls. “There it is again!” Hammond would exclaim to Drew. “And again! He’s so close.”
Coach and GM were noticing a tic in SANDERS!’s offensive game — a tendency to nail an opposing point guard with a pick and linger there for an extra beat, making sure his pick serves as a real obstacle. It’s an admirable habit at a time when a lot of big men are so eager to dart to the hoop that they start their dive before making contact on a screen. But SANDERS! errs too much in the other direction, delaying his rolls to the hoop just long enough that help defenders are ready by the time he catches the ball — if his point guard can find a passing lane to him in the first place. It’s fixable with time and practice, though exchanging Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight will introduce a new challenge in SANDERS!’s quest to master the pick-and-roll ballet.
We’ll always have the second half of the 2009-10 season. That's when the Bucks, under head coach Scott Skiles, became League Pass darlings in a way they never were before and haven’t approached since. The Bucks went 18-6 after swiping John Salmons from the Bulls at the trade deadline, and before Andrew Bogut’s season came to a scary and sad end in early April with a gruesome bad-luck fall on his right arm. Bogut had been playing the best ball of his career, scoring in high volumes from the post, getting to the line more, dishing assists out of the pick-and-roll, and playing the best individual defense that existed anywhere outside of Orlando.
Salmons went on a tear that would earn him a $40 million contract the Bucks have since pawned off on the hapless Kings (though Salmons, it should be said, has been a steadying presence in Sacramento this season). A delightful, fearless grasshopper of a rookie point guard in Brandon Jennings helped run what used to be Michael Redd’s show, and the Bucks for two months were legitimately terrifying. When Salmons, Bogut, and Jennings shared the floor, Milwaukee scored at a top-10 level, defended better than any team in the league — by a giant margin, per NBA.com — and scared the bejesus out of fans whose higher-seeded teams were potentially in line to draw Milwaukee in the first round. Fear the Deer was a real thing. It was perhaps Skiles’s crowning moment as a coach, though he had already transformed teams in Phoenix and Chicago into defensive powerhouses before wearing out his welcome in both towns.