Big things were expected from the Milwaukee Bucks entering last season following a mad rush to the postseason the year before.
However, injuries to Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings and Drew Gooden never really allowed the Bucks to get any sort of rhythm, as the team had 267 man- games missed in 2010-11 and they stumbled to a 35-47 mark.
A bigger problem for head coach Scott Skiles' club was that the team just couldn't score, totaling 91.9 points per game last season and shooting 43 percent from the floor, both league-wide lows.
Milwaukee still managed to play decent defense last season, as it allowed 92.7 points per game last season, third-best in the NBA behind Boston and Chicago. Bucks opponents shot 44.7 percent from the floor and 32.6 percent from three- point range, both second-lowest in the league.
The team made a bold move on draft night bringing in troubled guard Stephen Jackson, who is one of the better scorers in the league, but also has a reputation as being one of the league's bad boys in regards to his behavior off the court.
Either way, the fate of this team rides on the health of their star center Bogut, who just two years ago seemed well destined for stardom.
2010-11 Results: 35-47, third in Central; Missed playoffs.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Brandon Jennings SG- Stephen Jackson SF- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute PF- Drew Gooden C- Andrew Bogut
FRONTCOURT: It's no secret where the Bucks would like the majority of their offense to run through and that is Bogut. The 7-foot Australian failed to back up his breakout campaign in 2009-10, as he struggled through an elbow injury he suffered the previous season and saw his point production dip to 12.8 points-per-game.
Whether or not he can get back to playing with that reckless abandon from two years ago remains to be seen and will be a tell-tale sign if this team is going to make a run towards the playoffs.
"Andrew, he played last year hurt all the time," Skiles said. "He couldn't play his game, basically. He was still trying to, he was giving us everything he had, but he was playing unhealthy the whole year."
The idea last season was to create a dynamic power duo with Bogut and Drew Gooden, but those plans never came to fruition, as by late November and early December, Gooden was struggling with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, an injury that caused him to miss 41 games.
The 6-foot-10 power forward, who is down 30 pounds from last year, never found his groove and wound up playing just 35 games, by far the fewest in his nine pro seasons.
"My goal was to finish my 10th consecutive camp and not miss it," Gooden said. "So far, it's been good for me. I'm not going to lie. I still feel pain, either in my foot or in other areas. But I'm continuing to push through it, and I'm out here playing."
Swingman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute re-signed with the Bucks, who had matched an offer sheet from the Denver Nuggets. The 6-foot-8 native of Cameroon, though, has taken a little while to get going here after some visa problems at the outset of camp.
While known far more for his play on the defensive end, the 25-year-old Mbah a Moute appeared in 79 games (52 starts) for the Bucks last season and averaged 6.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. He was second on the team in rebounds (420 total) and recorded a career-high eight point/rebound double-doubles and 25 games with double figure scoring.
"I thank God for what's happened to me," Mbah a Moute said. I worked hard for it. I have a good relationship with people here."
BACKCOURT: As much as this team needs Bogut to stay healthy, the same can be said for their third year point guard, who endured a brutal sophomore season a year ago. Granted a broken foot played a big part in that, but if the Bucks are going to do anything this season they need a big bounce back season from the 22-year-old Jennings.
"We're always the underdog," Jennings said. "Even when we went to the playoffs my rookie year, they still wouldn't talk about us. I think that���s the best thing about it, not to get so much attention and just sneak up in there, be one of those teams that sneak up in there."
Joining Jennings in the backcourt will be the volatile Jackson, who has averaged 18 points per game so far in his career and has shown he can get to the bucket. However, he has been limited in camp with a lower back injury and it is unclear if he will be ready to go on opening night.
Should the back stall the start of his season Skiles could rely on the versatile Carlos Delfino, who also missed time last season with a concussion.
"We feel like we've got a lot of versatility there, and theoretically, a deeper team's going to be a better team," Skiles said. "It's always a better team, but this year, it's going to be more important."
BENCH: Delfino and small forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. will likely be Skiles' top choices off the bench, while Ersan Ilyasova and new additions Beno Udrih, Shaun Livingston and first round pick Tobias Harris figure to be in the rotation as well.
Dunleavy averaged 11.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 61 games for the Pacers last season. His 102 three-pointers marked the third time in his career that he eclipsed the century mark.
Udrih, who can play both backcourt positions, spent the past four seasons with the Kings and averaged 13.7 points and 4.9 assists for Sacramento last season. He was acquired along with Jackson, Livingston and the draft rights to Tobias Harris as part of a three-team, draft-night trade that sent Corey Maggette and the rights to the 10th overall pick to Charlotte and John Salmons to Sacramento.
While as a true freshman at Tennessee Harris averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebound, earning him Second Team All-SEC honors by the league's coaches and an SEC All-Freshman Team selection.
Ilyasova, meanwhile, shot just 30-percent from three-point distance last season after connecting on 34-percent of those attempts the previous year (on nearly double the attempts).
Delfino and Ilyasova can both play multiple positions with skill.
COACHING: Skiles has lived up to his reputation as an excellent defensive coach and a mentor that preaches taking care of the ball. Generally he has a short shelf life, however, and his Type-A personality becomes a problem. The former point guard still has to prove he can keep his players' ears for the long term.
OUTLOOK: Provided the Bucks can stay relatively healthy during this shortened season, they should be able to make the playoffs. Offensively they struggled a year ago, but chalk that up to injuries, especially to Jennings and Delfino. They are deeper at the guard position this season, plus having Bogut, Jennings and Delfino healthy paired with the addition of Jackson should automatically upgrade the offense.
The key to the season may be Gooden though. If he is healthy he and Bogut could form one of the more formidable duos in the league up front. Will they compete with Chicago for a Central Division title? Probably not, but this is a team that on paper should be in the playoffs this season.
"The guys that were here last year, all of us left with a bad taste in our mouths," Skiles said. "You know, you either kind of sulk around about that or you get ready and put in the time and try to get better, and clearly our guys did that."