Bucks’ Dalembert has plenty left in the tank

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — For seven seasons after he was drafted number one overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, Andrew Bogut was the centerpiece of the Milwaukee Bucks’ frontcourt attack. He was their everything in the paint. Heck, he was their only thing in the paint.

The Bucks lived and died by Bogut, and for a great deal of his time in Milwaukee, it was the latter. Not counting his rookie season — in which he played in all 82 games — Bogut missed 19 games per year for the next five seasons, all of which culminated last year, as the Australian center managed just 12 games before going down again for the year.

Milwaukee’s hope in Bogut as its inside centerpiece had diminished. They traded him to Golden State in hopes of a new start in the middle, but fell apart down the stretch without a true center. They had never needed anyone besides Bogut. This was new territory.

In a market low on big-time centers, the Bucks packaged some roster depth and traded for veteran Samuel Dalembert to fill the void. He wasn’t the offensive threat that Bogut was, but the Bucks didn’t need offense. They struggled to protect the rim, and Dalembert prided himself on his ability to do just that.

On the surface, it seemed like the perfect fit.

And so far, three preseason games and half of training camp into the season, both sides feel like that fit is as perfect as it was when the trade was first executed. For the Bucks, they added another rim protector to their arsenal. For Dalembert, he got another chance to show his chops as a starter and as the impressive defender he still considers himself to be.

“They emphasized defense and obviously the defense is what leads to offense,” Dalembert said. “I’m always a defensive guy. If you want to credit me, credit my defense.”

With 10 years of experience in the league, Dalembert surely isn’t in his prime anymore. He’s not the quickest of big men, and he won’t score nearly as much as Bogut did when he manned the middle in Milwaukee. But with the Bucks’ identity changing this season, so has their need at the center position.

They no longer will rely on just one guy to play that part. With the signing of experienced center Joel Przybilla and the assurance that Larry Sanders and Drew Gooden will likely play some minutes at the five, it won’t be Dalembert completely carrying the load.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a structured strategy of how Dalembert will be used. In fact, the structure that is in place is part of the reason that Dalembert liked the situation in Milwaukee from the get-go.

“The hardest thing for a vet would be to come into a system with no structure,” Dalembert said. “Obviously, that’s not the case here.  . . . We’re very serious here and the young guys understand. When they mess up, they already know they messed up.”

With those young guys, Dalembert has already shown the value of his experience. Before rookie John Henson went down with an injury, Dalembert had spent a great deal of training camp giving him advice on moves and strategies in the post.

“It’s how active he is even at his age and how long he’s been in the league,” forward Larry Sanders said. “You can tell he’s played with a lot of great players because he has a lot of advice, a lot of good things to say, and he helps a lot out there. It’s really good playing with him.”

And through three preseason games, he’s shown up as a positive on the Bucks’ box score as well. He’s averaged 9.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game in that span in less minutes than he’ll likely receive during the regular season.

It’s clear he’s got plenty left in the tank. Will he ever be able to effectively replace Andrew Bogut in the paint? Probably not.

But at this point, that seems to be the wrong question. With the Bucks a new team with a new strategy down low, Dalembert will just have to be himself. And if he can effectively do that, the Bucks may never have to question whether shipping Bogut to the west coast was the right decision.

“Andrew’s a very good player,” Dalembert said, “Nothing against him, but he’s an offensive player. Teams utilize him for that. My job is to go out there and clog up the middle, and that’s what the team needs.”

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