Most Improved: Pacers or Bucks?
By: Jon Mladic Last Updated: 9/3/08 12:52 PM ET | 1719 times read
Adjust font size:It was a busy summer for the Bucks and Pacers, as both teams looked to improve on teams that failed to make the playoffs - or even finish .500 - last year. Both organizations made moves that shook the core of their rosters. Milwaukee's top headline came from trading Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons to the Nets in exchange for Richard Jefferson. Indiana, meanwhile, made news by trading away Jermaine O'Neal for T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic. HOOPSWORLD takes a look at these two improved teams and makes the case for why each is more improved than the other.
The Bucks Improved More
When John Hammond came to the Bucks from the Pistons, fans in Milwaukee hoped he would shake things up. They have to be pleased with the results. In addition to dealing for Jefferson, the Bucks added two solid draft picks, signed free agents that other teams wanted and added role players they think will contribute regularly. Things are different, but how improved does that make this team? Is it more than the Pacers?
Milwaukee is more improved than the Pacers because they did more than change players. In one summer, the Bucks changed identities. They went from an organization with the loose principals of shooting, offensive-oriented team (but not necessarily the players to win with that philosophy) to a franchise that is based on controlling the game and playing defense, led by both a GM and Head
Coach with NBA success in the area.
They drafted two rookies (Joe Alexander and Luc Mbah a Moute) that fit this personality perfectly. They traded their scoring point guard, Mo Williams, and will replace him with players that turn the ball over less and focus on distributing the basketball (Ramon Sessions, Luke Ridnour and Tyronn Lue). They won't miss his points, though, because they also added Richard Jefferson, a move that also altered the team chemistry by moving Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons.
The Bucks also made sure they had some quality depth (Francisco Elson backing up Andrew Bogut comes to mind), and that even the players that would not see much playing time were going to give complete efforts when they step on the floor - Malik Allen and Adrian Griffin were known quantities to Coach Skiles because they played for him in Chicago.
While the Pacers took a chance on T.J. Ford being healthy, the Bucks eliminated as many questions as possible. They are clearly starting fresh, and know exactly what they have to work with in attempting to get back to the playoffs. They added talent AND leadership, and can depend on getting the most out of their roster.
The Pacers' Side
In terms of immediate success, the Milwaukee Bucks are probably going to see a bigger jump in wins this season, but the Indiana Pacers improved the long-term future of their organization this summer more than almost any other team in the entire NBA.
The last couple of seasons in Indianapolis have been dismal, unfortunately thanks largely to the injuries of starting point guards and former franchise player Jermaine O'Neal. Despite the emergence of Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, Jr., the Pacers have made absolutely zero noise in the playoffs, often finishing just poorly enough to miss the postseason or sneak into an eight seed, as well as just good enough to lose out on any real shot at a high lottery pick.
Rebuilding has not been easy, but this summer Indy finally got the ball rolling by making a couple of smart raft picks and one tremendous trade.
Finally bringing in a respectable franchise point guard in T.J. Ford allows the team to shop Jamaal Tinsley more aggressively, which they certainly have been doing. Not only that, but backup Jarret Jack (formerly of Portland) is another affable starter should Ford get hurt or need a spell during games.
Mid first-round pick Roy Hibbert may end up a starter by year's end, and if he plays defense and grabs rebounds as well as he did in college, he'll be a nice step up from an aging Jeff Foster. Even Rasho Nesterovic, who came over in the J.O. trade, will add much-needed depth to the frontlines.
Brandon Rush, clearly one of the most NBA-ready players in the 2008 draft, will add depth behind Dunleavy and Granger at either the two or the three, but Granger has done nothing but improve in his few years in the league, and some are suggesting he could be an All-Star talent as soon as this year.
When you factor in the development of Indy's young players and their new draft picks, as well as subtract some of the injury and personality issues they've been having in years past, it's hard to ignore the team's improvement, not only this year but for seasons and seasons into the future.
While the upcoming season, and perhaps even the next few years, will bear out which organization improved more, give both organizations credit for making moves to get better. Trades are not always easy to hammer out, and, when they involve players as closely associated with the organization as O'Neal had been and Yi was being marketed to become, the results of these days matter a great deal. In the end, these two organizations need this year to be different, and accepting the risk of these trades was the necessary cost for the hope of winning in the NBA.