The Bucks believe beefing up the frontcourt will make things tough on opponents.
By RYAN KARTJEFS Wisconsin
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. —The
Milwaukee Bucks made it no secret what their goals were in the NBA offseason. They needed to get more physical around the rim. They needed to get stronger. And overall, they simply needed to get better on defense.
So the Bucks did their best to fulfill those goals, even if it meant filling up half the roster with frontcourt men. They added two defensive-minded centers in Samuel Dalembert and Joel Pryzbilla. They drafted North Carolina big man John Henson to give them even more depth at power forward. Soon, he was joined by newly re-signed Ersan Ilyasova.
But will the Bucks really be that much different with so much of the same personnel coming back?
Larry Sanders, who was perhaps one of the team's better defenders in the frontcourt last season, certainly thinks so.
"We've got that wall up in front of that rim," Sanders said Tuesday as a few Bucks were at Cousins Center for workouts ahead of the Oct. 2 start of training camp. "Just protecting our rim and hanging our head on our defense and letting us carry that into our season."
Defense, after all, has always been coach Scott Skiles' calling card. But this year, he may actually have the personnel to make that vision a reality when the Bucks open the season in Boston on Nov. 2.
In fact, Sanders says this Bucks team — his third in as many years in the league — is by far the best team he's been a part of defensively. And Ilyasova agrees.
"We've got a lot of big guys around the rim, and that's kind of where we struggled last year," Ilyasova said. "We gave up a lot of second-chance opportunities during the stretch. We lost a lot of close games. This year, we're kind of strong inside. Dalembert can help us defensively, block some shots. That's the key: be successful on defense."
Added Sanders: "We're prepared to protect the rim."
Not a normal offseason: Ask anyone on the Bucks' roster, and they'll tell you that this past offseason, one without the threat of an NBA lockout, was the normal offseason they desperately needed.
But for Ilyasova, this past offseason was anything but normal.
For the first time in nine years, Ilyasova didn't spend multiple months in his home country of Turkey, practicing with and playing for the Turkish national team. This season, however, Turkey was not a part of any particular European tournament. So Ilyasova elected to spend time in Milwaukee, working out for the Bucks.
"It's kind of my preparation for the NBA season, spending two months there constantly working on my game," Ilyasova said. "It's the first time in nine years I've tried to spend time differently."
That free time in Milwaukee allowed him to work out and focus on gaining strength more than he ever has, which could serve as a significant boost in his rebounding game — an aspect of his game that was already poised, especially on the offensive end. In a scrimmage on Tuesday, Ilyasova continued to show those chops on the glass, pulling down several offensive boards.
Another chance in Wisconsin: The Bucks' Tuesday workout featured a handful of players without an NBA team, hoping to get a chance in Milwaukee. Of the players in attendance — a list that included Marquis Daniels (last with Boston) and Rasual Butler (last with Toronto) — one familiar face stood out.
Former Badger wing Alando Tucker, who had most recently played with the Phoenix Suns, was at the Cousins Center hoping Wisconsin could "show him a little love."
Tucker was out of the NBA last season after he gave up on waiting for the lockout and signed with CB Gran Canaria in Spain a week before the lockout ended. Unable to get out of his contract, Tucker remained in Europe. But this season, he's hoping for a chance to show what he's capable of, especially after he got only limited playing time with the Suns.
"I'm taking it a step at a time," Tucker said. "If I can get an invite to camp, that'd be great, that'd be an opportunity, one foot in the door. … I've lost a lot of weight since Wisconsin, still strong though. Just trying to show that I can guard every position.
"Nobody's really seen me since my Wisconsin days. … This is a great chance for me to show everything I've improved on."