ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — In the final seconds of a close game with the Miami Heat, who would Luc Richard Mbah a Moute rather guard, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade?
“They both are bad options,” Mbah a Moute said with a grin. “I don’t have a preference. Both those guys are tough in their own way.”
Welcome to Mbah a Moute’s world. A world in which he’s tasked with spending the majority of his time defending the best player on whichever team the Bucks are playing that night, regardless of their position.
But that’s nothing new. Mbah a Moute has been a plus-defender since Milwaukee drafted him out of UCLA in the second round of the 2008 draft. On the offensive end, Mbah a Moute hasn’t been a liability, but never has been an option.
That’s what’s new. Since returning from offseason knee surgery on Dec. 1, Mbah a Moute has become a viable offensive threat, showing a newly found aggressiveness and improved footwork. And despite the logjam of players that can play the power forward position for the Bucks, Mbah a Moute has emerged as the starter.
“He’s always had his most success playing there,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said of Mbah a Moute at the four. “The way he’s playing right now, when we’ve had him in the game at the three, he’s been able to post up other three’s. I don’t think it really matters anymore, either spot.”
Always able to guard multiple spots on the floor, Mbah a Moute is becoming just as versatile on offense. He starts at power forward, spends time at small forward and even has played shooting guard this season. Standing at 6-foot-8, Mbah a Moute has posted up small forwards and taken it to the hole against bigger power forwards.
As a result, he’s averaging a career best 9.1 points per game and has nearly doubled his free throw attempts per game from 2.4 a year ago to 4.2 this season. Though he is still only a 61.8 percent free throw shooter, just getting to the line has an impact.
“He’s driving the ball and drawing contact,” Skiles said. “If you are going 1 for 2 (from the line), you are still getting fouled. It allows us to get into the penalty earlier and somebody else gets fouled and can make two free throws. It has kind of a ripple effect.”
It’s also no surprise that Milwaukee’s defense has improved since Mbah a Moute returned to the lineup. In their last 10 games, the Bucks are holding opponents to just 41.6 percent from the floor and limiting opponents to just 91.8 points per game.
Milwaukee is 7-3 in those 10 games, and there’s no coincidence that Mbah a Moute entered the starting lineup one game into that 10 game stretch.
“(We’ve improved) a little bit, still not where it could be,” Mbah a Moute said of the team’s defense. “With the athleticism and size that we have, it could be better.”
The first time the Bucks met the Heat, Mbah a Moute was still on the shelf. In an overtime loss, his impact defensively might have been an asset down the stretch. This time around, he’ll be back. Likely spending time shifting from the 6-foot-8, 250 pound James and the 6-foot-4, 220 pound Wade.
That’s two different sized, but equally dangerous scorers. When asked about the challenge, Mbah a Moute didn’t waste words.
Instead, his reply to the question of if he’ll be ready was a simple “yes.”