Monday, January 26, 2009

Why am I so disappointed about Michael Redd's knee injury?

I have never been particularly enamored of Michael Redd's game. On the one hand, he's a multi-faceted scorer who's capable of efficiently putting 25 or so points on the board, but on the other he's never been as pure of a shooter as he gets credit for and he doesn't appear to offer a whole lot -- aside from the efficient scoring -- to validate the attention he gets as a star player. Also, I wasn't too into all the Jesus stuff.

That's not meant to be an expression of hate. I wish him success, and I enjoy watching him play. But he'd never make one of my "favorite players to watch" type of lists.

So why do I find myself so heartbroken at his season-ending knee injury? Well, aside from the fact that it's always tough to see anyone have their season cut short by injury, it's that I saw (and still continue to see) this year's Bucks team as a promising "make-the-playoffs-interesting" team in the East, able to break up the monotonous inevitability of the Celtics/Cavs/Magic ascent in the postseason. Given the right breaks, they might have shocked one of those teams in the playoffs, or at least put up a good fight before bowing out. And I'm nothing if not a sucker for the unexpected storyline. Seeing predictable results in the postseason just encourages the sort of caste-style reporting we see on mainstream sites. A fan new to the NBA, trying to learn about the league by reading ESPN, would not be in a position to even know that there are teams in Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Memphis, Minnesota, or Milwaukee, despite the fact that there are numerous incredibly intriguing stories to tell about each of those teams at this moment. The Bucks "coming out of nowhere" to impress on a national stage in the spring? That would have been a great way to introduce these talented and hard-working players to the rest of the country.

And I'm still optimistic that it can happen. When Andrew Bogut is healthy, Milwaukee sports one of the best defenses in the league. And while Redd made a huge difference at the offensive end, one possible "bright side" to the injury could be more minutes for Ramon Sessions, who's been playing well enough that he should be known to more of an audience than fantasy players and potential-fetishists. Given coach Scott Skiles's preference for the more consistent and predictable, if lower-ceilinged, Luke Ridnour, Sessions had lately been squeezed into third guard minutes, averaging 16 and a half minutes per game since the beginning of December. However, we saw early in the season when Redd was out with a different injury that Skiles was willing to play a Ridnour-Sessions backcourt, a backcourt that had some success, and I expect we'll see more of that -- recall that Sessions averaged over 33 minutes per game through November.

The team also has the inspiring story aspect: Sessions was drafted at the very end of the 2nd round and is a D-League callup who didn't get the fanfare reserved for lottery picks, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was a 2nd round draft pick and overshadowed before the draft by his college teammate Kevin Love, and Charlie Bell went undrafted and had to prove himself in Europe before signing on with the Bucks. Seeing these three contribute significantly to a successful team -- isn't that exactly the sort of hard work and pulling on bootsraps Horatio Alger story that every journalist is dying to write?

The Bucks' season just got a lot harder without Redd, but there is still a foundation for success there, and they are still a playoff-caliber team. And that's the thing. I was wrong, really wrong, about everything to do with this team before the season started. I was wrong in thinking that Scott Skiles wouldn't have much of a positive effect on the defensive end. I was wrong about Andrew Bogut -- he's a far better player than I gave him credit for before this year. I was wrong in thinking this team wouldn't be that much fun to watch this year. And it's reassuring to be wrong like that, to be reminded that it's worth following the league because you just really never know. This team deserves national attention, and they're not likely to make it onto many TNT, ESPN, or NBA TV games this year, so the only way they'll be seen is if and when they make a strong post-season showing. That won't be easy without Redd, but hopefully they can build off the success they had early in the season when Redd was out. They deserve gushing stories by writers better than myself.

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