He copes with Nelson's demands partly out of gratitude for the trade and partly because of an almost sublime optimism that comes with being an ordained minister in the Fundamentalist Church of God in Christ. "Like the other night," says Cummings, who is averaging 23.4 points and 9.0 rebounds a game. "I went five for 25 [in a 99-95 loss to Washington]. But there was a bright spot. Those shots felt good to me. I could have made them."
Nelson doesn't mind Cummings or anyone else hoisting shots, provided they're the result of the Bucks' system. "I've never seen him shake his head or groan if I miss a shot, as long as it's a good shot," says reserve guard Kevin Grevey. "For a shooter, it's all confidence. Our offense isn't complex like the Dallas Cowboys', but we have something for any player on the court if he gets hot. The only time you get in the doghouse is when you don't execute Nellie's system. I know, because I've been there."
The Bucks' system isn't merely their offensive set, though that's part of it: Three outside players weave around two post players, who themselves move up, down and across the lane. The result looks like a carousel. With Cummings and All-Star guard Sidney Moncrief, the Bucks do more posting than a Pitney Bowes meter.
Nor is Nelson's system just a helping defense, though Milwaukee is the stingiest team in the NBA: Its opponents score the fewest points and sink the lowest percentage of their field-goal attempts. By shuttling 7'3" Randy Breuer, 7-foot Paul Mokeski and 6'11" Alton Lister in and out of the lineup, Nelson has 18 fouls to play with in the center position and gets a combined 15.5 rebounds and 3.38 blocks a game out of his pivotmen.
The system is also applied logic:
?It's turning Paul Pressey, into a "point forward" to draw the bigger and slower player guarding him away from the basket and free Moncrief and Hodges to cut, screen and shoot.
?It's putting Pressey, who's 6'5", on Dallas's Kurt Nimphius, who's a 6'11" center, so the Mavs will ignore their strengths, Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman, and force the ball in to Nimphius.
?It's placing Lister or Breuer, who aren't scoring threats, at midcourt, where Utah's 7'3" Mark Eaton, whose blocked shots and outlet passes trigger the Jazz's offense, must follow or risk an illegal defense call.
?It's going 2-0 against the 32-6 Celtics by sticking Pressey and his octopus arms on Larry Bird, who's shooting only 16 for 40 against Milwaukee this season. Of course, it hasn't hurt that Nelson may know the Celtic offense better than the Celtics themselves.
?And it's being just unpredictable enough that the Bucks' logic-first approach can't be taken for granted. " Nelson calls so many damn numbers and changes them all the time," says Cleveland scout Gene Littles, whose Cavaliers were 130-117 losers to the Bucks last Friday night. "When New York calls a three-down, you know it's for Bernard King. With Milwaukee, there's so much switching and motion, you never know who they're going to."