MILWAUKEE — Early on, Samuel Dalembert was becoming an afterthought.
Sure, he’d be in the starting five, but in the first four games of the season, Dalembert would exit quickly and sometimes never return.
Acquired from Houston in an offseason trade to give the Bucks the true center they lacked after Andrew Bogut was injured and then traded a year ago, Dalembert was watching his minutes disappear to young forward Larry Sanders.
When the 11-year veteran was in the game, something was missing. The Bucks guards were trying to get him the ball, but he’d fumble it off his hands or miss it completely. Then came a conversation with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, and Dalembert’s message was simple: Throw the ball high, and I’ll go get it.
That’s just part of Dalembert settling in to a new team and his teammates getting used to him. It’s shown, too. After scoring just eight points in the first four games, Dalembert has scored at least eight points in the first quarter of the last three.
In those three games, Dalembert has averaged 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game and it’s no coincidence he’s gone from playing just over 13 minutes per game to around 19.
“He’s another one of those guys that all he has to do is be active and he’ll have an effect on the game,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “He can make an open shot, but you know if he dives to the basket with energy and our guards are good at finding him, he can make a couple of easy baskets. Then defensively he’s good around the rim.”
Though he’s never been a big-time scorer, Dalembert knows anything he can provide will help take the pressure off those who are tasked with carrying the scoring load.
“Monta (Ellis) and Brandon (Jennings) can’t do it all by themselves,” Dalembert said. “As bigs, we come out and contribute offensively and defensively we continue to get each other’s back.
“I’m trying to maximize my time out there. Whatever time they need me out there I’m trying to contribute in any way possible to help the team win.”
Dalembert was extremely active Wednesday night in Milwaukee’s easy win against the Pacers. He scored 14 points in the first half, including hitting two turnaround, fade-away jumpers. Those were nice, but the highlight-reel play came when Jennings heeded his center’s advice and threw it high. Dalembert grabbed it and threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk.
“It’s something we are trying to work on,” Jennings said. “We were able to connect tonight.”
Working through it: It continues to be a learning process for a pair of young Bucks.
Small forward Tobias Harris has seen his share of ups and downs while starting all seven games. Skiles has witnessed progress but hasn’t hesitated to give Mike Dunleavy and Marquis Daniels more minutes if Harris is struggling.
“Tobias’ issue is not on the offensive end,” Skiles said. “His issue is on the other end of the floor with his rebounding, or lack thereof, in certain games and just his individual defense.
“He’s learning that position. He spent a lot of time in college just standing around watching the ball. Now he’s got people screening him, guys running off of staggers and pick-and-roll defense. There’s a whole lot of things he has to learn and process; we’re watching him and he’s getting better.”
He hasn’t got the same amount of playing time as Harris, but rookie power forward John Henson is in a similar situation. Slowly but surely, he’s learning what the coaching staff expects of him.
With the Bucks up big against the Pacers, Henson got in for the second time Wednesday. He scored 10 points in just seven minutes but left a lot to be desired on the defensive end.
“John’s scoring the ball, and everybody is all excited about that, but on the other end, his man is going behind him,” Skiles said. “What’s good is, John is able to get into a game and we have videotape. We can look at it now and start the teaching process.”