The Milwaukee Bucks have rarely been relevant in the Madison sports scene, due mainly to their history of ineptitude - and the presence of a competitive college team right here at the UW. But the addition of former Badgers star Jon Leuer to the Bucks' roster has forced a lot of local hoopheads to once again take notice of the NBA's Milwaukee franchise.
Behind a fun "Fear the Deer" marketing campaign and a thrilling late-season run, the 2009-10 Bucks created substantial buzz as a young team on the rise before narrowly losing their first-round playoff series to Atlanta. Key injuries led to a disappointing 2010-11 season.
A lockout compacted the 2011-12 season (66 games over 124 days as opposed to the normal 82 over 170 days), adding more four-game weeks, which means Bucks highlights are showing up on the local news with more frequency. And Leuer is showing up in a lot of those highlights.
Leuer, a 6'10" power forward, has started six of the Bucks' 16 games and is averaging over six points, three rebounds and 17 minutes. Those aren't rookie-of-the-year numbers (he's ranked eigth on NBA.com's Rookie Ladder), but they're better than those of many forwards who were drafted ahead of him. Leuer's outside shooting skills, which he honed at Wisconsin, make him a challenge for defenders.
"Anyone who can make a shot as a big guy is a dangerous player because people have to respect you, and then you're able to do some other things," says Bucks coach Scott Skiles.
In the next week, the Bucks (6-10) host the Lakers and Miami, the NBA's two highest-profile teams, with a trip to play the third in Chicago. How they, and Leuer, fare over that stretch will be a good indication of their relevance this year.