The Milwaukee Bucks never seem to grab any headlines, but they have been quietly edging up the standings in the East with strong play in recent weeks and have been doing so with a rotation that has been slowly fallen into place.
Theoretically, the Bucks should be one of the biggest teams in the league. They feature a roster deep in frontcourt talent, and coming into the season the quandary seemed to be how all that size was going to be deployed. While Scott Skiles continues to cycle through the likes of Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Ekpe Udoh, Joel Przybilla and John Henson, his team has found its stride by going sneakily small.
Skiles' rotation fell into place when he started bringing struggling power forward Ersan Ilyasova off the bench. Meanwhile, natural power forward Larry Sanders emerged from the crowd to take over at center, part of the reason the Bucks skew small in my True Position analysis. Lately, Skiles has been rotating Ilyasova with combo forward Luc Mbah a Moute at the 4, making the Bucks even smaller, especially considering they start the most diminutive backcourt in the league.
Mbah a Moute isn't ever going to show up in the Barometer rankings because so much of his value is hidden, but his return from early-season knee trouble has been important. His ability to guard bigs has keyed the league's fourth-best defensive efficiency over the last couple of weeks and freed Sanders to function as more of a freelance rim protector, which is a role he fills well.
All in all, Milwaukee has basically been able to break even with Mbah a Moute on the floor even though he contributes so little on offense. The Bucks are nearly four points better defensively for each 100 possessions Mbah a Moute is in the game, and Milwaukee is 9-7 since he returned at the beginning of December.
It's not one of the glossier stories from the first half of the 2012-13 season, but Mbah a Moute's return and Milwaukee's subsequent success is the kind of thing that provides plenty of fodder for those trying to quantify the intangible aspects of the game.
One interesting note: The season-to-date rankings are at the bottom, but it's important to point out during the Knicks' fabulous start, Carmelo Anthony was mostly outside of our season-long top 10. As New York has cooled, Anthony has gradually moved into the season-to-date rankings, and this week he tops out at No. 3. Of course, New York has now lost five of eight. Could be a case of more Melo being a bad thing for New York? It's something to watch.
I'll be mixing in some more observations from NETPOST analysis in the rest of this week's Barometer. Details on how the Big Man Barometer is compiled and the true position system can be found here.