Somehow, the Milwaukee Bucks have done it: they have climbed past the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves to become the NBA's most lovably bizarre club this season. The Bucks were ranked a decent No. 16 in Mike Prada's NBA Watchability 4.0 column, but that sort of misses the point I'm making here. The Bucks aren't necessarily watchable. They are just strange.
Milwaukee is, in theory, led by doe-eyed Brandon Jennings and wild-eyed Monta Ellis, two score-first guards without shame, self-doubt or physical censors. It's not that neither guard knows when to stop -- they do. It's that they don't care. And that's part of what makes each special and interesting in his own way: that fully automatic trigger forces the defense to pay attention 100 percent of the time. There's a certain value on the court in having an unadulterated gunner or two. A certain value.
In Milwaukee's rousing comeback against the Bulls on Monday -- in which the Bucks made up 27 points in eight minutes of game time -- we saw just how discreet that value can be. How so? Neither Jennings nor Ellis was on the court for one second of the comeback. Jennings was dealing with a hand injury that probably could have kept him from playing altogether, but he'd played his normal allotment up to that point. Ellis isn't injured, and had played 26 minutes, too. Scott Skiles inserted Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih, and the Bucks rampaged back into a tie and eventually the win. Neither Jennings nor Ellis hit the court again; Monta finished the game a -27, Jennings a -14.
Drew Gooden didn't play either, instead earning another night behind Skiles' bench. Gooden was Milwaukee's No. 3 scorer last season ... behind Jennings and Ellis. He was even named the East's player of the week in March last season. He hasn't played a second this season. Skiles showed a willingness to dump him for Tobias Harris, Ersan Ilyasova and rookie John Henson ... and the Bucks are winning. Skiles showed a willingness to abandon Jennings and Ellis on Monday ... and the Bucks won. How?
Monday was a strong comeback game for Ilyasova, who has been a disaster early this season after inking a fat contract to stay in Milwaukee. Harris has improved so much he doesn't look like the same player. (Some of Harris' stats are playing at the Small Sample Size Theater, sure, but he's qualitatively looked good this year ... which Bucks social king Nick Monroe told me would happen months ago.) Harris didn't play in the comeback, either: it was Ilyasova and Ekpe Udoh -- the new Bogut -- running over the Bulls. (Udoh had four blocks and a steal in the fourth quarter alone.) Mike Dunleavy, potential Sixth Man of the Year, was in the mix, too, along with the aforementioned Udrih (a legit cagey veteran) and Lamb.
That's what's so crazy about the Bucks: they have a million different looks for you. There's the hyperathletic backcourt attack of Jennings and Ellis. There's a more steady, PUJIT-ridden option with Udrih and Dunleavy. There are elbow-y craftsmen for the frontcourt in Ilyasova and Gooden. There's fast-twitch string galore in Harris, Udoh and Henson. And Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is out -- he's another dimension unto himself. This isn't just a traditional "deep" club with a good number of good players. This is a deep club with a million different looks.
The question is how creative notoriously uncreative Skiles will be in deploying them, and whether the offense can work properly given its leaders. Ellis and Jennings are taking 18 and 16 field goal attempts per game apiece. No one else on the team is above nine.
In some ways, the roster's flexibility reminds me of that of the Pacers: a club that can crank down in '90s-style halfcourt sludge or that can cut the reins and fly, depending on the game's context and the personnel on the court.
If Skiles plays it right and the talent fulfills its promise, this could be a real performance art show on the hardwood ... and one that could zip right into the postseason in a hollow East.
The Hook is an NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.