MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks have a lot of new faces this season. And a lot of new size.
Scott Skiles hopes the mix, and commitment to defense, can make the Milwaukee Bucks contenders in the NBA Central Division.
"We're trying to go from having a season that we'd like to forget to having one that we would like to remember," he said. "We think we can be a good team. On paper, we're longer, more athletic."
Andrew Bogut's season lasted 12 games before the oft-injured veteran center suffered a fractured left ankle in the win at Houston on Jan. 25 and was lost for the season. His departure left the low post defense in disarray. The late acquisition of Monta Ellis put a spark back in an offense led by Brandon Jennings, but it was too late. Milwaukee missed the playoffs by four games.
"The real challenge is we've had a couple of years in a row where, really last year rather than the year before, where we didn't buy into our defensive system," Skiles said. "If we do that, we'll be a good defensive team. If we don't, we won't. That's the real challenge, getting guys to buy in on that on the floor, give the effort, focus and concentrate as necessary to be a good defensive team."
Newcomers Samuel Dalembert at 6-11 and Joel Przybilla at 7-1 add veteran savvy and a defense at center. Dalembert arrived in an offseason deal with Houston while Przybilla signed as a free agent.
Returning players Drew Gooden, Ekpe Udoh and swingman Larry Sanders were used at center last season, but are more effective at power forward. The team's first-round pick in this year's draft, forward John Henson, suffered a left knee sprain in the third preseason game and has to work back into the rotation.
With six players at 6-10 or better, Skiles has plenty of options to help the Bucks play better defense.
"We relied almost exclusively on (Bogut) to protect the rim for us," he said. "Now we have multiple guys that can block shots, defend the paint and take charges."
Guards Ellis and Brandon Jennings key the offense with veteran Beno Udrih coming off the bench. The opposition took advantage of the 6-3 Ellis and 6-1 Jennings last season. If the Bucks can improve their perimeter defense playing the two smaller guards, opponents face a much tougher time scoring, especially with the all the height protecting the rim.
The Bucks acquired Ellis in March along with Udoh and Kwame Brown for Bogut and Stephen Jackson. Ellis, who is entering his eighth NBA season, has twice the experience Jennings does.
"We felt like they played well together last year considering the lateness of the trade, the lockout year, and all that stuff the way it went down," Skiles said of Ellis and Jennings. "But, having a camp together and getting to know each other a little better should be very helpful."
Forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Dunleavy, both 3-point threats, add outside scoring along with second-year player Tobias Harris and veteran swingman Marquis Daniels, who joined the Bucks shortly before training camp opened. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, arguably the team's best defender, is rehabbing after surgery on his right knee.
Skiles counts on the established pros to maintain a positive locker room.
"You need to have the right veteran guys in your locker room," Skiles said. "If you're going to try to have your young guys emulate people, see the right things to do and have older guys in their ear, you need the right type of guys."
Ellis had a simple message that could be a key to the team's chances.
"Stay positive and stay together," he said. "That's the main focus. We're not like the Miamis, the Bostons and all those great teams. We got to prepare differently."
So far, so good, according to Skiles.
"We've had good chemistry," he said. "The good teams generally hit some sort of stride. They have good chemistry. You need everybody to take care of themselves. Police themselves. Not be afraid to say something to someone else."
Skiles has had one winning season in the four years he's led the team. In 2009-10, the team finished 46-36 and made the first round of the playoffs. Is he worried about and overall record of 146-166 and being in the final year of his non-extended contract?
"I'm kind of a bottom line guy," he said. "My record is my record. It is what it is. I can't run from that."
The Bucks open the season Nov. 2 at Boston.