He’s not even the most famous second-round draft pick on his own team, but Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a classic example of the crapshoot reality of the NBA Draft.
While injured All-Star Michael Redd is the Milwaukee Bucks’ signature second-round success story, Mbah a Moute is the one who can help the team make some noise in the playoffs right now. And unlike Redd, the UCLA product wasn’t even a marquee star in college; it was something of a surprise that he was drafted at all when he was taken with the 37th pick in 2008. Since then, the 6-8 forward has become one of the League’s most versatile defenders, drawing crunch-time assignments against everybody from Kobe to D-Wade to LeBron to Dirk.
Mbah a Moute averaged 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds this season and started every game since the beginning of January. He’ll probably get overlooked for even some back-end Most Improved Player or All-Defensive Team votes, but he’s helped Milwaukee earn an unexpected 6-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After Thursday’s practice, I got up with Mbah a Moute to preview the Bucks/Hawks series, which tips off tomorrow:
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Dime: How do the Bucks match up with the Hawks?
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: They’re very athletic and a very talented group of young guys. They stretch the floor with their shooting ability, and their big guys inside are young and very good. But we’re a good team also. I think we match up well: We can go small or stay big against them. We can do a variety of different things defensively, and the same thing on offense. It’s going to be a good series.
Dime: Almost everybody wrote you guys off when you lost Andrew Bogut.
LRMAM: It’s obviously big not having him. He could be arguably the Most Improved Player in the NBA, so not having Andrew is huge. But a good team is able to step up when somebody goes down. It doesn’t mean we have to find somebody to get 16 points and 11 rebounds every game like him, but each and every one of us has to do a little bit more. We have to stay focused defensively, go after loose balls … guys have to lay it all out whenever we play.
Dime: Actually, most people wrote the Bucks off before the season even started. You were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the League. Did you think you had a playoff team here?
LRMAM: Well, I always thought we had a good team, and Coach (Scott) Skiles said we were gonna surprise a lot of people. Some of our players were coming back from Europe and hadn’t been in the NBA for a couple of years: Carlos (Delfino) and Ersan (Ilyasova), plus Brandon (Jennings) was coming from Europe. People didn’t know about some of our players and what they could do. The coaches brought everybody together and we embraced the system and bonded. We’re all willing to sacrifice. Then once we got Jerry Stackhouse and John Salmons in the middle of the season, that was a plus to our team because those guys can definitely score. They helped fill the gap when Michael Redd went down.
Dime: What is it like in the locker room? Who are the big personalities?
LRMAM: Everybody is kind of a character in his own way. Everybody is kind of funny in their own way. Kurt Thomas and most of the vets, they always have some crazy stories. Stack is singing in the locker room all the time. Then some guys are quiet and never talk, like Ersan.
Dime: What’s your role on the team?
LRMAM: Just bring a defensive presence. We’re a good team defensively, so if I’m guarding some of the best players on the other team, I just have to slow them down a little bit and make it tough for them.
Dime: In this Atlanta series, who are you going to be guarding primarily?
LRMAM: I’m sure I’ll be on Joe Johnson at some point, but I don’t know yet. They have a lot of guys who are the same size, like Joe and Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. I’m sure I’ll be on all of them at some point, whether it’s at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the game.
Dime: What makes Joe Johnson hard to guard?
LRMAM: He’s always under control. Him and Brandon Roy, they’re definitely two of the most underrated scorers. They both play in a lot of iso situations, and Joe is very smooth and he can shoot.
Dime: If you played for another team and were facing the Bucks, who would be that main scorer you’d have to guard?
LRMAM: Right now it would be John Salmons. He’s been the leading scorer since he got here. He can score the ball in a lot of different ways and has it in his hands in the fourth quarter, so I think he would be the guy.