Young Buck returns to Wisconsin older, wiser, healthier . . . “a world hooper”

Jennings was often a human highlight film off the bench in NY last season, and led the Knicks in assists per game, dishing out 4.9 per game in 24.6 minutes. Jennings played 58 games with NY and 36 for the Washington Wizards, including 13 playoff games. NY Times photo found at Baller brand website. License: Standard noncommercial use.

GM Jon Horst had been tracking the global basketball economy for weeks, and was ready to make his move when China’s CBA wrapped its season up on Monday. It’s just that nobody expected the Bucks Chinese import to be Brandon Jennings, the young Buck of the 2010 “Fear the Deer” season.

Mass confusion erupted Tuesday at General Mitchell Airport as Brandon Jennings strolled through the Far East gate, looking nothing at all like a 7-foot behemoth to fill the Bucks biggest need for the stretch run and playoffs. The ensuing near riot was a happy event, according to baggage handlers who witnessed it, as nine out of 10 Bucks fans agreed that having Jennings back in Wisconsin was a good thing, a very good thing indeed. He’s not a Buck yet, having signed with the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate in Oshkosh, but there’s at least some expectation he may soon be if all goes well in Oshkosh.

Jennings, went to China this season to clear his head, to hit the reset button at age 28 after bouncing around from Orlando to New York and Washington while trying to fully recover from a gruesome torn Achilles injury that derailed him in Detroit three years ago. It was a decision made quickly last summer after a disappointing playoffs with the Wizards, where his playing time dwindled and he averaged but 1 point and 1 assist per game in the 7-game series against Boston.

“I just packed my bags and I was gone,” he told USA Today upon returning to the U.S. earlier this month.  Jennings’ Shanxi Brave Dragons didn’t make the Chinese Basketball Association playoffs, despite his 27.9 pts and 6.8 assists per game, but the experience helped him “grow up and mature and realize what was important in life,” he said. The interviewer didn’t ask what, specifically, was important because a discussion about the wonders of Chinese food ensued (Chinese is Jennings’ favorite food). Jennings said he was fully recovered from the injury and “back to the person that I was before I got hurt. the person that I was in Detroit.”

That person in Detroit was a very good NBA point guard, on the edge of being an All-star. The Pistons got off to a miserable 5-and-23 start to the 2014-15 season, losing 13 in a row at one point, until they waived madly individualistic power forward, Josh Smith. They gelled almost immediately after Smith exited, winning 12 out of the next 15 games. Jennings was brilliant during the Detroit winning streak, scoring 20 pts per game, dishing out 7.2 assists and shooting 40% from three. But Detroit’s winning ways and Jennings’ 2015 season ended abruptly in Milwaukee Jan. 24, when his Achilles tendon snapped as he tried to recover a steal by Brandon Knight under the Detroit basket.

Brandon Jennings, 15 games 12/26/14 to 01/21/15

He made it back in 2016, but his starting point guard job had been handed over to Reggie Jackson, who enjoyed a good run in Jennings’ absence. The Pistons traded him in February of 2016 to Orlando in a swap of ex-Bucks — Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova for Tobias Harris. The move reunited Jennings and Ilyasova with Magic coach Scott Skiles, their coach for 3-and-a-half years in Milwaukee.

The reunion with Skiles was short-lived, however, thanks to the ill-fated player personnel schemes of Orlando GM Rob Hennigan, who had no plans to resign Jennings or exercise the team option on Ilyasova’s 2016-17 guarantee. A few weeks after the 2016 ended, Skiles abruptly quit the coaching job. A month later, Hennigan traded Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the OKC Thunder for Serge Ibaka, revealing what had prompted Skiles’ decision to walk. Ilyasova was left in contract limbo and, while sorting it out, missed the Turkish national team’s Olympic qualifying tournament.  Jennings, meanwhile, signed a one-year, $4.83 million deal with the Knicks. The Magic, after a 29-win season in 2017, sacked Hennigan in April (and, weirdly enough, replaced him with John Hammond and Jeff Weltman, the guys who drafted Jennings for the Bucks in 2009).

Had Hennigan been competent and the Magic better employers, Jennings and Skiles would likely be in Orlando still, building on what they had begun in Milwaukee. Ilyasova, Oladipo and Sabonis? Who knows, but the success Oladipo and Sabonis are having this season in Indiana suggests that Skiles would have made things work in Orlando.

Jennings went on to New York, where he played back-up to Derrick Rose at point, bringing speed and highlight film passing off the bench, even if his shot hadn’t quite returned to pre-injury form. Jennings easily led the team in assist rate at 7.2 assists per 36, but the Knicks dropped out of the playoff hunt and bought Jennings’ contract out in late February, just in time for him to join the Wizards and back Wall up in the playoffs. His playing time steadily declined as the playoffs wore on. When the Wizards lost game 7 in Boston, they did so largely without Jennings, who played all of 5:40 in the game and didn’t attempt a shot.

Bucks social media photo and artwork, Bucks.com.

“I went to China for myself – it was a personal decision,” Jenning explained to Jim Paschke, television voice of the Bucks, in an interview this week. (Watch full interview HERE.) “I just wanted to get away for a minute to focus and get my rhythm back to playing basketball.”

Just as his decision to sign with Shanxi was made quickly, all it took was a phone call from Wisconsin Herd GM Dave Dean to bring him back to Wisconsin. Dean asked if he wanted to come play, Jennings said “of course” and packed his bags again and flew to Milwaukee. His return may not even be part of any plan by the Bucks, and more the natural course of Brandon Jennings being Brandon Jennings, “world hooper”

Jennings can help the Bucks

Ever since Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas destroyed the Bucks in Milwaukee Jan. 5,  scoring 20 points in one quarter against helpless Bucks centers John Henson and Thon Maker, the Bucks have been on the lookout for a defensive minded big man. They picked up Tyler Zeller from Brooklyn during Trade Deadline week, but Zeller’s more power forward than intimidating force in the paint. He wasn’t the solution to the big man problem, not with Andrew Bogut and Miroslav Raduljica and other free agent bigs out there.

But then the Bucks point guards broke. Malcolm Brogdon‘s left quad tendon tore apart (partially) in Minneapolis, sidelining him for 6 to 8 weeks. And a couple of days later, his backup, Matthew Dellavedova, sprained an ankle against the Nets in Brooklyn and won’t be back until after the All-Star break. The Bucks at point are down to Eric Bledsoe, whose chaotic dynamism is more suited to freelancing on the break or from the wings than running a half-court offense. There’s no guarantee Brogdon will make it back to playoff shape this season, no guarantee Dellavedova will step up, and suddenly the Bucks are very thin at point, a precarious position to be in this late in the season.

Jennings can help. He’s quicker than Brogdon or Delly and has a higher career assist rate — in his brief time with the Wizards, his regular season assist rate was a career high 10.4 per 36 minutes. His steals rate is also the highest of the three point guards, and he tends to get to the line more. Plus he has 50% more NBA experience than Delly or Brogdon combined.

What he is not is a reliable shooter, but then neither is Delly. Jennings’ three-point shooting tends to come and go in streaks, where he’s either putting on a show or getting frustrated by the misses. In Detroit, he shot progressively less and passed more as the team chemistry came together. The season of his injury, 2014-15, he was down to 13.2 shots per game, while scoring at the same 15 ppg rate. He averaged 15 pts and 7 assists per game through 121 games with the Pistons — before the Achilles injury. If he truly is back to the player he was then, he could help a number of teams. At age 28, he’s still in his basketball prime.

And who can forget the 55-point game in Jennings’ “Fear the Deer” rookie season?

Welcome back to Wisconsin, Brandon Jennings.

Bucks Weekend: Khris Middleton led the Bucks on the boards in Orlando, and it almost made up for Miami

Middleton rebounds against the Hornets last season. AP photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

It doesn’t happen very often, and when it does it’s worthy of note. Khris Middleton led the Bucks in rebounding in their 111-104 win over Orlando Saturday, their sixth straight win on the second night of back-to-back games (they lost 91-85 in D-Wade’s “return to Miami” game on Friday.)*¹

Middleton had 9 boards in Orlando, all of them on the defensive end, a couple of them big in the 4th quarter. He also made a lot of other plays, like the beautiful half-fast break he ran to set up Jason Terry for a three as the Bucks edged ahead in the 3rd quarter. Khris had 7 assists on the night to go with the 9 rebounds and 21 points. It was only the 8th time in 325 games as a Buck that Middleton alone has led the team in rebounding.

And it was quite a difference from the night before in Miami, when nobody on the Bucks side had a good game, including coach Joe Prunty, whose rotations had Giannis Antetokounmpo on the bench for 4 minutes when Heat center Hassan Whiteside picked up his 4th foul in the 3rd Quarter.*² You can get away with mismanaging your star player’s minutes against Brooklyn, but Miami took advantage. Jabari Parker played tentatively and appeared to bothered by the aggressive energy of the game. Giannis thrives under those conditions, as does Eric Bledsoe, and they led the Bucks back in the 4th but ran out of game clock. They had finally become ticked off enough about what was going on to take over.

Middleton shot 5 for 14 and had one lonely rebound as the Bucks got worked by the Heat on the glass, 51-37, a glaring example of when rebounding beats better shooting. The Bucks checked the Heat to 42% EFG%.

The concern of many who follow the Bucks is that, right now, they look like one of those mediocre 46- or 47-win teams, great at padding their stats when beating up on the bad teams, but continually falling short against the good teams. Since Jan. 1, the Bucks record against teams currently in playoff spots is 3-and-9, and Prunty is 0-and-2. (No, I’m not counting the victory over the Embiid-less Sixers as a win against a playoff team). Miami beat the Bucks three times in that period, which is why Friday’s game mattered — it was the Bucks last chance during the regular season to take a game from the Heat.

Chalk it up to the evil genius of coach Erik Spoelstra and the dominating, intimidating presence of Whiteside, who averaged 18 pts, 13.3 rebs and 3.67 blocked shots vs. the Bucks. In the wake of Whiteside’s eight offensive rebounds in game 3, Bucks center John Henson missed the Orlando game and will probably be out of action until after the All-Star break, nursing a bum hamstring and what’s left of his pride. (Bucks have until March 1 to sign some free agent big man help).

Are the Bucks a good team, or are they Giannis Antetokounmpo and a bunch of future trades who helped get their coach fired last month? I guess we’ll find out over the next two-and-a-half months.

Middleton leading the Bucks in rebounding in Orlando was a lot more interesting when I didn’t realize he had but one lonely defensive rebound in Miami. Five or six defensive rebounds a game by the small forward used to be business as usual around here (Luc Mbah a Moute, Glenn Robinson et al., going all the way back to Marques Johnson and Bobby Dandridge). The idea is to get 5 or 6 D-rebs every game and hit the offensive glass for one or two possession-saving rebounds. The latter has happened less and less for the Bucks this season. Friday in Miami, they had all of two offensive rebounds in the game. Two. The Heat had 13.

The Bucks D-rebounding has improved this season, up to 17th in the NBA from 25th last season. But if not for Dallas, the Bucks would be dead last in offensive rebounding in the league, with an OREB% of 19.2 (Dallas is at 17.9). Cleveland is 28th at 19.3%, a function of Kevin Love playing center, Tristan Thompson‘s playing time being cut, Love breaking his hand and Lebron James either playing on the perimeter or simply electing to not rebound. Lebron has always been a disinterested rebounder, in contrast to Kevin Durant or Giannis, who lead their teams on the boards.

Michael Beasley, currently leading the Knicks in scoring off the bench, has been missed. NY Times photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

The Bucks have similar personnel issues — they traded their best rebounder, Greg Monroe, were unable to resign Michael Beasley over the summer and Jabari Parker missed the first 50 games rehabbing from knee surgery. Beasley and Parker are small forwards in the classic sense — natural scorers with sweet shooting touch and instinctual drives for the ball on offense. They’ll hit the offensive glass even as the coaches are yelling at them to get back on defense, defense being something that neither is good at, but neither was the Big Dog or any number of good and great small forwards in NBA history. Dr. J didn’t care much about D until he realized he might never win a title if he didn’t pick it up, which he did.

Middleton’s no shutdown defender either, and he’s played most of his career with better rebounders — Giannis, Greg Monroe, Parker — so, like Lebron, he’s content to stay on the perimeter and take what rebounds come his way. To be fair (and the editorial board here at Bob Boozer Jinx does insist on fairness), part of it is a matter of coaching, and part the changing NBA game. Offensive rebounding is at an all-time low in the league at 22.3%. Small forwards don’t crash for rebounds like they used to, especially if they’re setting up at the 3-point line much of the game; and coaches often demand that they “get back” to defend against the fast break.

Yet neither changes in the game nor coaching mores have prevented the OKC Thunder from leading the NBA in OREB% by a mile at 28.1% while also rating 5th in defense. Russell Westbrook simply wants the rebounds more than his opponents do. His center, Steven Adams, is having a great year, emerging as one of the Top 5 impact centers in the league and leading the NBA in individual OREB% at 17.3%. Henson’s actually 18th in the league (9.5%) which isn’t so bad for J-Hook. It’s almost stunning to think that over the course of 100 missed shots on offense, OKC’s Adams will get to eight more rebounds than Henson, and six more than Dwight Howard or LaMarcus Aldridge. Westbrook and Adams are clearly reading from the same page in OKC.

Unlike Henson, who’s doing all he can, truly, and deserves at least some merit for having his best season as a pro, Middleton can hunt rebounds whenever he wants to, or when called upon to do so. The nine rebounds he pulled down in Orlando were well short of his career high of 14, set last month in Philly, and was the 3rd time this season Middleton has led the Bucks in rebounding. The Orlando game was the first time this season Middleton led the Bucks on the boards in a game where Giannis played. Here’s a look at the other two.

  • 01/20/18 vs. the Sixers in Philly. A dreadful loss as the Bucks played without Antetokounmpo, who stayed in Milwaukee to rest recurring soreness in his right knee — also the last Bucks game coached by Jason Kidd. Middleton posted the first triple double of his career AND his career high in rebounds — 14 — to go with 23 points and 10 assists. (There’s an irony in there, to Middleton’s first triple double being Kidd’s last game, if only because there isn’t another word to aptly describe it. Giannis not playing in the game might qualify it as one of those rare double ironies.) The Sixers blew the Bucks out, 116-94. The Bucks fired Kidd two days later. Here are Middleton’s ironic highlights.

  • 11/22/2017, Bucks vs. the Suns in Phoenix  Giannis sat out to rest his knee and Middleton dropped 40 points on the Suns and led the Bucks with 9 rebs. The Bucks won this sloppy, turnover-riddled game in overtime, 113-107.

Giannis has missed four games so far this season, all due to soreness in his right knee, a problem that cropped up over the summer and forced him to drop out of international play with Team Greece. The Bucks split those four games (they lost in Charlotte 12/23/17 and beat the Suns in Milwaukee Jan. 22). Middleton put up some superstar per game numbers,  32.3 pts – 8.2 rebs – 5 assists – 2 steals. He shot a ton — 89 times in the four games — and made 53%, hitting 10 of 28 from 3-point-land. 

I’m beginning to get a better sense of how Middleton arrived at the rather off-the-wall idea that the Bucks should have two All-Stars this year, and maybe he did get a vote or two. I’m also reminded that his 18.2 pts per game led the Bucks in scoring in the 2016-17 season. Over the 17 games Prunty coached that season while Kidd was recovering from back surgery, Middleton scored more, at a clip of 22.7 ppg.

Had the Bucks been winning (they won only 33 games), Middleton might have earned an All-Star nod with stats like those above — he was shooting close to 50-40-90. Middleton’s a bargain now and is due $13 million next season, and can (and almost surely will) opt out of the final year of his contract 2019-20. Sooner than later, the Bucks will be paying Giannis, Bledsoe and Parker more than Middleton, assuming the Bucks are able to resign Parker, which GM Jon Horst says he plans to do.

With Parker back from rehab and the Bucks (and Middleton) continuing to log games like Friday’s loss to the Heat, time is suddenly moving fast for this team. Or, as Steve McQueen so succinctly put it in the crime film classic, Bullitt,  “Time starts now.” 

In 322 games as a Buck, Middleton has led the team in rebounding a total of eight times. The three games this season were noted above. Here are the box scores from the other five, starting with the most recent first, in chronological order back to 2014.

  • 03/11/17 vs. the T-Wolves in Milwaukee. Karl-Anthony Towns had a big game but Monroe and Henson battled him well off the bench. Middleton led with 9 rebounds. Giannis played 40 mins yet somehow got to only 4 rebounds. Bucks won 102-95.
  • 11/07/15 vs. the Nets in Milwaukee. Middleton took only six shots in the Bucks 94-86 win, but led with 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
  • 03/07/2015 vs the Wizards in Milwaukee. Middleton led in scoring (30) and rebounding (9) as the Bucks won a close one to pull within a game-and-a-half of WAS in the East standings. Giannis, Middleton and Henson are the only current Bucks in the box score. Parker was out rehabbing from his first ACL surgery.
  • 02/11/15 vs. the Kings in Milwaukee. Bucks lose the rebounding battle to DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson but win the game, 111-103, pushing their record to 30-23. Middleton led the Bucks with 10 rebs, three on offense. Whatever happened to Jason Thompson?*³
  • 01/04/14 vs. the Suns in Phoenix. The Bucks shot 54% but turned it over 25 times to lose 116-100. Middleton came off the bench to score 7 and pull down 8 defensive boards in 22 minutes.

*¹ Referee Tyler Ford (he’s on pg. 42 of the 2017-18 Officials Guide), in his 3rd NBA season, is a former Big Ten ref from that part of west Ohio that’s more like Indiana and Ford is every bit that fresh faced Midwestern kid with big ears who’s in every Hollywood army unit. Ford called 23 fouls — 11 in the 4th quarter, of the Bucks-Heat game Friday. The Heat actually got the worst of it, but not until after the Bucks fell behind by 18 in the 4th after consecutive Wayne Ellington threes. The Heat could do little wrong for the first 15 minutes of the 2nd half, despite hacking at Bucks anytime the drove near the basket. I suppose by the 4th quarter Ford had realized that Aaron Smith, the ref under the Heat basket, wasn’t going to police the Heat defense, so he took it upon himself to make Smith’s calls for him, apparently unconcerned that his hyper-active whistle made him appear insane – on TV no less. I’ll salute anybody willing and unafraid to appear insane in the course of righting wrongs being committed all around him in Miami on Friday. Here’s to Tyler Ford.

  Prunty tied to trick the rotations by pulling Giannis out of any 3rd quarter after just 4:34. If the justification is to get the rotations started early, around the 5 minute mark, Giannis is the last guy you want coming out of the game. Add to this the fact that the game was close, 53-50, and Miami center Whiteside had three fouls when Prunty sent Giannis to the bench, and picked up his 4th a minute later and was taken out of the game. Giannis was not in the game to take advantage of Whiteside’s absence, obviously, and the deficit was 12 by the time Prunty subbed Giannis back in with about 3:40 left in the quarter. The Bucks scored a measly 8 pts in the quarter.

  • *² The tried and true strategy is to have the superstar play continuously for about 10 minutes in the 3rd quarter, then pull him inside of 2 minutes to go to steal some extra rest over the quarter change. Here’s a Pelicans – Pistons play-by-play from Monday night where coach Alvin Gentry manages to do exactly this with Anthony Davis’ minutes. The Pelicans won by 15.  

*³ Jason Thompson left the NBA for the Chinese league Shandong Golden Stars in 2016, and is currently playing pro ball in Turkey with Fenerbahce Dogus Instanbul. There are big men out there, playing in all four corners of the globe. I can’t imagine the Bucks billionaire owners having too much difficulty buying out the contracts of big centers like Thompson or former Buck Miroslav Raduljica, the tough Serb who powered Team Serbia past Andrew Bogut and the Aussie Boomers to the silver medal in the last Olympics. Raduljica’s now playing for the Jiangsu Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Assoc. — and it looks like their season has come to an end. (edit: I’m beginning to think that if the Bucks were going to sign Bogut, it would’ve happened already. The Bucks may not be on his list.)

Sourcerole – Gamebook, Bucks vs. Miami, 02/09/18. The Bucks regular season series against the Heat has turned out to be an important measuring stick for “how things are going”, and this final game of series was no different. https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20180209/0021700821_Book.pdf

Khris Middleton an All-Star? Not this year, the Eastern Conference coaches say, for the 3rd time . . . The Miami effect . . . Kemba Walker

Goran Dragic didn’t quite have All-Star numbers this season, but his Miami Heat did, going 6-0 against the Bucks and the Hornets and vaulting to 4th in East with a 27-20 record just in time for the coaches reserve All-Star voting. The Bucks face the Heat in Miami tonight in the teams’ last regular season meeting. Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Minn. Star Tribune. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Bucks forward Khris Middleton felt “disrespected” when Miami point guard Goran Dragic was selected to replace injured Kevin Love in the All-Star game. He was disappointed again this week as Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker was chosen to take Kristaps Porzingis‘ place in the Feb. 18 game.

Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee earlier this week in the Knicks 103-89 loss to Middleton’s Bucks. Funny, just before the game Middleton was talking to JS reporter Matt Velazquez about how it really did kind of bother him that he was passed up — not once, but twice — to replace injured All-Stars (Detroit center Andre Drummond was tabbed to replace injured John Wall Jan. 30).

“I definitely feel disrespected because of the numbers that I had and we had a good record,” Middleton said before the Knicks game, not specifically referring to Dragic or Drummond. [Drummond shoots 55% from the floor and is leading the league in rebounding; to this point in the season (Feb. 8), he’s been the 3rd most statistically impactful player in the NBA, according to BIER* — so it was most likely the selection of Dragic that left Middleton feeling dissed.] 

Drummond  was 13th in the coaches vote, so he was next in line. Dragic was next in line after Drummond, according to NBA.com.

How did Dragic end up with more votes than Middleton or Kemba Walker? The coaches voted after the announcement of the starting All-Stars  Thursday Jan. 18 on TNT. The All-Star reserves were announced Tuesday Jan. 23, so the votes were cast that weekend, Jan. 19- 22. I seem to recall that Bucks GM Jon Horst sacked coach Jason Kidd on Jan. 22, and that Middleton was not playing particularly well at the time — but this is about Dragic and the Heat.

The Heat were 27-20 on Jan. 18, and winners of 8 of their last 9 games, including two wins against the Bucks in four days. Dragic had dropped 25 on the Bucks in a blowout in Miami and 16 in a down-to-the wire 106-101 win in Milwaukee. The Heat were alone in 4th place in the East.

The Bucks were in a different place altogether, and had lost four of their last six games, including the two they lost to the Heat, and had fallen to 7th in the East with a 24-22 record. Over those 6 games, Middleton scored 18.2 pts per game but shot just 42.6% and 7 for 31 on threes (22.6%). Not to pick on Khris — Eric Bledsoe was mired in a shooting slump and the entire team looked gassed vs. Miami Jan. 17, their 13th game in 23 days — but the two losses in four days to the Heat became kind of memorable when Kidd was fired just a few days later.

It’s a strange disconnect. Middleton may have had “All-Star-like” numbers but they were slipping. The Bucks weren’t winning when the coaches were casting their ballots and Giannis Antetokounmpo had won a starter’s spot, so the idea of a 2nd Bucks All-Star was pretty far-fetched, no matter how much anybody loves the team. If a Bucks player got any reserve All-Star votes from the coaches, chances are it was Bledsoe, who had higher impact numbers (6.74 BIER) than Middleton (5.37 BIER) at the half-way point, before wearing down mid-January.

Middleton’s numbers are looking better now (20.1 pts, 5.3 rebs, 4.2 assists, 5.78 BIER) than they did then; he won Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jan. 22-28, and the Bucks have won 7 of 8.

In those 8 games (Jan. 22-Feb. 6) since Kidd was fired, Middleton has played like an All-Star, scoring 20.1 pts per game and shooting 42% from three and 50.4% overall, a BIER of 8.57, more than double the average for a small forward. But those games were played AFTER the All-Star ballots were cast.

(The non-reality of the Velazquez’s story yesterday deserves a note, here — none of it was real.)

“It wasn’t lies, it was just bullshit.” — Elwood Blues, circa 1979.

Put the shooting slump and the good shooting together and you’ve got Khris Middleton’s season – prolonged lows mixed with All-Star highs, a borderline All-Star with no cool shoe commercial running 24 hours on ESPN (yeah, that’s a crack at Paul George).

Below are the 2017-18 per game stats of Middleton and Kemba Walker, plus Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin and Otto Porter. Simmons’ name was mentioned as a possible choice to replace Porzingis. Griffin’s a bonafide All-Star suddenly playing in the East after being traded to Detroit. Wizards forward Porter plays the same wing-small forward position as Middleton. And there’s Dragic, picked ahead of the other five for this year’s All-Star game.

Per Game Table
Player G MP FG FGA FG% 3P% eFG% FT FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Goran Dragic 50 31.9 6.5 14.7 .443 .356 .493 2.9 .762 4.1 4.8 0.9 0.2 2.4 2.3 17.4
Blake Griffin 37 34.4 7.7 17.5 .439 .337 .493 5.2 .790 7.9 5.5 0.9 0.3 2.9 2.4 22.5
Khris Middleton 53 36.9 7.4 15.9 .464 .348 .522 3.5 .864 5.3 4.2 1.3 0.2 2.3 3.2 20.1
Otto Porter 50 31.6 5.5 11.2 .489 .410 .562 1.4 .831 6.2 2.0 1.6 0.5 0.9 2.1 14.0
Ben Simmons 50 35.1 7.0 13.3 .529 .000 .529 2.6 .564 7.8 7.2 1.8 0.9 3.7 2.8 16.6
Kemba Walker 51 35.0 7.5 17.7 .424 .367 .502 4.9 .846 3.4 5.8 1.1 0.3 2.2 1.4 22.6
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/8/2018.

 

It’s a tough call, sort of. At first glance, I wouldn’t cast an All-Star vote for any of them. Blake Griffin’s not having a good shooting year and has missed some games due to injury, but his numbers still say “All-Star” (he wasn’t eligible as an East reserve, anyway). Simmons’ numbers look great – 7.8 rebs, 7 assists, 53% shooting – from a rookie! But he is a rookie, and at last check his team was 2-8 without center Joel Embiid, an All-Star starter. Maybe next year for Simmons, if the Sixers continue to improve.

Otto Porter’s efficiency numbers are fantastic, and he’s a tough defender — he battled Middleton to a 5-13 shooting night, 0 for 4 on threes, in Milwaukee earlier this year. The Wizards have been winning without John Wall, and Porter has a lot to do with that — but he just doesn’t score enough at 14.0 pts per game.

Middleton does have a point — Dragic’s numbers aren’t that hot, and his BIER* checks in at 4.42, just 0.36 above the average for an NBA point guard. Miami’s All-Star is Hassan Whiteside, the center, but Whiteside hasn’t played enough this year to merit All-Star consideration. So it fell to Dragic, proof that coaches value winning more than numbers when choosing All-Stars.  Whiteside, Dragic and the Heat are 6-0 against Walker’s Hornets and Middleton’s Bucks. Enuff said.

Middleton’s numbers are nearly good enough, and the BIER works out to 5.84, his best season. His 3-point % is down — 34.8% is below the league average. There are 25 teams that have shot the three better than Khris this year, and his teammates are one of them. On the other hand, he’s 2nd to only Steph Curry in mid-range shootings this season at 52.3%.  The bag tends to be mixed with Middleton. One of the issues during his slump was that Jason Kidd was guilty of overplaying him, insisting on big minutes on nights when Middleton didn’t have it.

The Bucks face the Heat for the last time this season tonight in Miami. Winning a game against the Heat this season might help Middleton’s argument, though the point itself is moot. The Heat have lost five in a row, and Kelly Olynyk‘s not expected to play (out with a shoulder strain). The Bucks have a chance to steal one on the road. (Ed. note – it didn’t happen, as the Bucks played a miserable 3rd quarter, scoring only 8 points, and their 4th quarter comeback fell short 91-85.) 

Kemba Walker actually has a better Impact and Efficiency rating (7.26) than John Wall (6.20) this season — it was a down year for Wall even before he hurt his knee, which made his All-Star selection a bit of a surprise. Walker could be more efficient as a shooter, and his good and bad shooting tends to come in streaks. Charlotte’s troubles as a team shooting the ball (they’re 29th in the league) and the difficulties they’ve had winning close games made Wall an easier choice by default (and Drummond and Dragic, too, based on the results).

The Miami-Dragic effect on Kemba Walker’s season was far more dire than an All-Star snub. The Hornets lost all four of their games with the Heat this season, all the difference between being in the playoff hunt or out of it at 23-31. The season in shambles, the Hornets front office was scouting trade offers for Walker up until the deadline yesterday at 3 p.m., hoping the lure of Walker would get other teams to take some of their bad contracts with him. Within hours, Walker went from the trading block to being named the All-Star replacement for Porzingis. Then the Hornets went out and lost an overtime game in Portland.

It’s been that kind of season for Charlotte — a dozen losses by 5 points or less or in OT, three of them to the Heat (the 4th loss was by six). None were more poignant than the 106-105 loss on Jan. 20, the weekend the East coaches were clutching their All-Star reserve ballots. Dragic didn’t play due to a bruised knee. The Hornets had control of the game, a ten point lead at the end of the 3rd quarter. Walker was playing like an All-Star — 20 pts and 6 assists through three quarters. But two costly turnovers by Charlotte’s Nic Batum and a controversial call by the refs handed the game to the Heat.

In the 4th and final Heat-Hornets game, Jan. 27, Charlotte blew a 15 point lead and shot a horrendous 4 for 20 in the 4th Quarter. Walker was again playing All-Star basketball through three quarters (26 pts) but went cold in the 4th, shot 1 for 8 from the floor and 1 for 5 from three. Dragic played, and had all of five points, missing 6 of the 8 shots he took. It’s been that kind of year in Charlotte.

*Basketball Impact & Efficiency Rating (BIER) numbers (current)

  • Greg Drummond – 17.36 – leads the league.
  • Giannis Antetokounmp – 16.34 – 3rd in NBA. Anthony Davis is 2nd at 16.82
  • Ben Simmons – 8.98
  • Blake Griffin – 8.40
  • Kemba Walker – 7.26
  • Paul George – 6.86
  • John Wall – 6.20
  • Khris Middleton – 5.84
  • Kristaps Porzingis – 5.69
  • Eric Bledsoe – 5.61
  • Goran Dragic – 4.42

NBA Trade Deadline: Another aimless trade blog to kill some time while waiting for something interesting to happen

The day’s last tweets from Adrian Wojnarowski went out just before 2 AM, 13 hours before today’s 3pm EST deadline. He sounded oh so bored and tired of this year’s edition of “NBA Trade Deadline”.

All’s (not quite) quiet on the DeAndre Jordan trade front, and it’s probably a good thing.

(Edit: Six hours later, Woj took it back of course, the Cavs-Clipper talks r.e. DeAndre Jordan being the big story churning today over at ESPN, employer of Woj).

Interest in Clippers center DeAndre Jordan has dropped off with word that Jordan isn’t willing to opt in for next season as part of any deal. Cleveland won’t give up its Brooklyn pick in a deal for Jordan or any other player. Stalemate. Lou Williams just signed a contract to stay with the Clippers, so Williams-related rumors are dead. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond have won five straight in Detroit.

There have been all of four trades made this year and the trade deadline is just hours away. If I were you, I would just stop reading this and find something more interesting to do until NBA Trading Deadline 2018 has passed us all by.

Cleveland just blew up its roster — first a trade with the Lakers, then a 3-team deal with the Kings and Jazz; and the Cavs sent Dwyane Wade back to Miami for a draft pick so he could finish his career with the Heat. — 11:44 AM (something did finally happen)

So far no teams have been willing to give up a first round draft pick to help move their contract mistakes (this applies to the Bucks and their group of $10 million a year investments).  Over at ESPN, Zach Lowe has figured out that it makes a lot more sense to do a sign and trade deal for Jordan after the season ends than to trade for him now. The Bucks were mentioned once in the ESPN article, something about “poking around” r.e. DeAndre Jordan, nothing more.

I looked up my old “survival guide” to the NBA trading deadline (from last year) and made sure I wasn’t breaking any rules and realized I’m probably taking this year’s episode too seriously. 

I ran through all the deals John Hammond made while he was in the Bucks front office, 2008-2007, and found nothing involving Miami. In fact, I can’t remember any trade between the Bucks and the Heat, ever. Apparently Miami GM Pat Riley doesn’t do business with the Bucks, and Riley’s been in Miami a long, long time. The only thing I can recall is Riley jacking up the Bucks signing price of Charlie Bell back in 2007 by proffering an offer sheet to Bell. Remembering that took a lot out of me.

If the Heat were ever serious about trading Hassan Whiteside, which they aren’t, winning 9 out of 11 games Dec. 30 – Jan. 20 changed their minds. Since then, the Heat have lost 7 out 9, and they’re still not serious about trading Whiteside. But just for argument’s sake in the universe of made up trade possibilities, Riley probably wouldn’t take Bucks GM Jon Horst’s calls.

Horst might want to call his old boss Hammond over in Orlando. Hammond is sure to take the call, and nearly the entire Magic roster is on the trading block, including Jonathon Simmons, who made his mark with the Spurs last season during the playoffs. Simmons is known for toughness and defense on the perimeter, but he can score it too, pouring in 34 pts in the Magic win vs. the Cavs on Tuesday. The Bucks could use all they help they can get at guard with Malcolm Brogdon out of action for another six or seven weeks.

Jonathon Simmons flushed the Cavs Tuesday night, scoring 34 pts on 12 of 17 shooting in the Magic’s 116-98 win. Orlando GM John Hammond was entertaining offers on Simmons and most of the Magic roster this week. Photo license: Standard non-commercial use.

There are many shooting/combo guards for sale (Rodney Hood, Simmons, Avery Bradley, Kemba WalkerMarcus Smart) but teams aren’t jumping at the opportunity to spend a first round pick on one, not even for Tyreke Evans, who finally got back to his 2010 rookie-of-the-year form in Memphis this season, averaging 19.5 pts, 5 rebs, 5 assists. Evans will be traded somewhere, the consensus says, and seven teams are in the mix, including Boston and Philly. I don’t know why the Celtics would give up battle-tested Smart in an attempt to acquire Evans, who has little playoff experience — but it’s the NBA trading deadline — nothing has to make sense and it gives NBA media a chance to talk about the Celtics, which NBA media likes to do.

Philly is in “buy” mode — the Sixers want to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, Detroit has won five straight since trading their shooting guard, Avery Bradley, for power forward Blake Griffin, and will have something to say about the Sixers chances of making the playoffs. The pairing of Griffin and All-Star center Andre Drummond (and giving up Bradley and Tobias Harris to do it) was considered by many a bold but futile move in today’s 3-happy NBA, but Griffin’s ability to push the offense into the paint, where Drummond can clean up, is proving pretty effective.

Drummond’s been on a roll since the Pistons acquired Griffin and it’s pushed his impact numbers past Anthony Davis‘ and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s and into the NBA lead, with a BIER rating of 17.36. Score one for big-man-centric basketball in Detroit. … So far. Griffin has a habit of not staying healthy.

There were no trades on Tuesday and only one yesterday: The Knicks traded Willy Hernangomez to Charlotte. Hernangomez had asked to be traded because he wasn’t getting any minutes in NY, and it looks like that request came more recently than this week, according to ESPN. Did the Bucks make an offer for Hernangomez before trading for Zeller? Were the Bucks even aware the young center had requested a trade, or was it too late?

Hernangomez, from Spain, was an All-Rookie selection last season and is a quick, athletic 23-year-old center who’s kind of like Zeller with bounce – a lot more bounce. He’s ideal in many ways for today’s game. Charlotte acquired him for forward Johnny O’Bryant and 2020 and 2021 second round draft picks. The Bucks might have offered Rashad Vaughn and the rest of the protections on the 2018 2nd round pick, same deal they made with Brooklyn – but Charlotte picks are better picks than Milwaukee picks these days.

Thon Maker for Hernangomez? Would the Knicks have gone for that? The Bucks aren’t there yet. Probably not even close.

And none of this ever happened.

Tyler Zeller really is all there is.

I almost forgot: Ersan Ilyasova, the most tradeable man in the NBA, is once again on the trading block, and it’s still funny. He’s having a decent year in Atlanta despite the Hawks’ losing ways — his 56.5% True Shooting % is the 2nd best of his career (his career best was 57.7% with the Bucks in 2012) and he’s averaging 7.7 rebs per 36 mins. Overall, his Impact and Efficiency (BIER) rating is 7.16, higher than a few players named All-Stars and a few more being talking about as the replacement for injured Kristaps Porzingis. He has played 26 mins per game in Atlanta.

Ersan’s playing on a one-year $6 million contract. The Hawks have shopped Ilyasova and another shooting guard for the field, Marco Belinelli.

 

Trade Deadline: Bucks still need help at center . . . Hassan Whiteside is not named Zeller or Plumlee . . . The Stepien rule and the Bucks 2018 pick

“Is anybody going to actually read this trade deadline ^%@#?” Tyler Zeller (left) and John Henson, who were college teammates at North Carolina, discuss future possible trades and possibly the finer points of retro disco (when Zeller was still a Celtic, obviously). Photo from USA Today. License: Standard non-commercial use.

John Henson hauled down 15 rebounds against the Nets Sunday night, but nobody’s fooled. The Nets are the Nets. They start rookie Jarrett Allen at center and play the worst kind of small ball — where everybody shoots 1 for 6 from three and wishes they were Golden State or Houston.

The Bucks brass couldn’t help but notice the Nets weren’t playing center Tyler Zeller, so Zeller became a Buck on Monday, traded for Rashad Vaughn and a 2nd round pick. A nice pick-up because Vaughn, the beleaguered 1st round bust from the 2015 draft, had little more than a cheerleaders’ role on the Bucks — and still, nobody was fooled.

The Bucks need bigger and better help in the middle than anybody named Zeller or Plumlee or Henson or Maker can provide, and the Feb. 8 trade deadline is fast approaching, just two days away. If five January losses to teams with Bucks-destroying big men — Toronto (Jonas Valanciunas), Philly (Joel Embiid) and Miami (Hassan Whiteside) — didn’t sufficiently freak out Bucks GM Jon Horst, news of the Celtics acquisition of the Moose, Greg Monroe, had to come on like a bad dream. The centers may be dinosaurs in the West the Warriors made, but can the Bucks survive the Jurassic Age of the Eastern Conference playoffs with their current crew of average-at-best big men?

[They’re ecstatic about Monroe in Boston. See “Monroe Doctrine: Celtics Rx for ‘man, we could really use 2 points right now'”. They haven’t yet realized what a good passer out of the post the Moose is (7th-best assist rate among qualifying centers last season). Or that he really can’t jump, but the easy offense off the bench he brings has been missed badly in Milwaukee since the trade. And we miss the “Moooose” call too – but that goes without saying – edit]. 

The Raptors, Heat and Celtics are very possible playoff opponents for the Bucks, so a defensive-minded big man is the Bucks Rx for “why can’t we grab a rebound?”

The Buck “most likely” to be traded, says Yahoo sports, is John Henson. Henson’s got two more years guaranteed after this season at $10.6m and $9.7 million, not a terrible salary bite for an average center, and, as such he’s the most appealing of the Bucks four $10-million-a-year guaranteed players. Trade rumors are buzzing around a bunch of NBA big men – DeAndre Jordan, Robin Lopez, Tyson Chandler and Whiteside, so there’s certain logic to this. But are any of these trades doable for the Bucks?

Robin Lopez is a real NBA center who wonders why referees don’t like him more. Lopez got kicked out the Bulls-Kings game last night, apparently for gestures less thought-provoking than this one during his days in Portland. Photo license: Standard non-commercial use.

A Robin Lopez trade with Chicago seems pretty easy salary-wise, and the Bulls are in “sellers” mode after trading Mirotic to New Orleans. But the Bucks have one too many of those $10 million contracts guaranteed next season-and-beyond and want to reduce salary load next season if they can (ostensibly to pay Jabari Parker). Lopez’s salary next season is $3.8 million more than Henson’s. The Bucks could add in rookie D.J. Wilson to reduce the load next season. But even with Wilson off the books they’d be adding $1.5 next season in a Lopez-Henson deal. And it doesn’t sound like the Bulls want to add a contract like Henson’s, guaranteed through 2020

Trading with the Bucks is difficult – they have no sizable expiring contracts but Jabari Parker, just now coming back from his second ACL surgery. Bucks GM Jon Horst says he wants to resign Parker after this season, but the Bucks don’t have the money to get it done without jumping into the luxury tax zone, which may be unavoidable at this point, given the Bucks “win a championship” mindset. Parker’s clearly an asset, not a salary dump, one the Bucks should hang on to, but I’m not sure I believe Horst isn’t considering trade options for everybody but Giannis Antetokounmpo and maybe Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe, the last regular guard standing now that both Brogdon and backup Matthew Dellavedova are sidelined. 

It would be totally insane for the Bucks to trade for Jordan, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the season, but writing about it was a good excuse to bring up “the Stepien rule”, and whether the Bucks can trade their 2018 1st Round draft pick. Photo from USA Today. License: Standard non-commercial use.

DeAndre Jordan can opt out and become a restricted free agent after this season, and the Clippers would want Jabari Parker in any Henson deal, not Khris Middleton. They would go for Henson, Parker and the Bucks 2018 1st round draft pick, but including that pick gets complicated because of “the Stepien rule” about trading future draft picks. Besides, the latest reports are that the Clippers are balking at taking Cleveland’s 2018 1st round pick. They want the Brooklyn pick the Cavs received in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, but the Cavs are worried about rebuilding if Lebron leaves, so they’re loathe to part with the Brooklyn pick.

If they don’t want the Cavs own pick, how much interest in the Bucks 2018 pick would they have, realizing that the Bucks would have to put conditions on the pick in order to trade it? Technically, and as far as I can tell after reading up on “the Stepien rule”, the Bucks CAN trade the 2018 pick, but would have to get another team to agree to hand over a 2019 pick in the event the Bucks don’t win next season. “The Stepien rule” prevents any team from trading two consecutive future 1st round draft picks. The Bucks pick would go to Phoenix as part of the Monroe-Bledsoe deal if the Bucks finish 15th in the league or worse this season or next season, not something that appears to be in the cards, but that doesn’t matter. There are conditions on the Bucks first round picks through 2021, and the rules say each of those picks are already traded until the Bucks actually convey a pick to Phoenix, which will most likely happen in 2020. Getting a conditional replacement for the next season’s pick is the loophole for trading this season’s pick.

To do anything, the Bucks may need to find the extra pick first, and then see whether they can put together a deal. Too complicated? Probably — and, of course the Clippers would love to have Jabari Parker, knee surgeries and all, in exchange for a 33-year-old free-agent-to-be DeAndre Jordan. It’s not happening. Jordan has a new agent, Jason Kidd‘s guy Jeff Schwartz, and they’re not open to Jordan opting in with anybody as part of the trade, which the Wizards are finding out. Anyway, there’s a better deal out there for the Bucks.

Hassan Whiteside was scratching his head over the Heat’s loss to Orlando last night, wondering why he didn’t get more touches in the game. He may also be questioning the shot selection of his teammates or the Orlando point guard, Elfrid Payton. It’s like that for big men in the NBA these days. Photo from the Miami Herald. License: Standard non-commercial use.

A Hassan Whiteside trade may be less on Miami GM Pat Riley‘s mind these days than it was before the Heat won 8 out of 9 games, culminating in their 106-101 defeat of the worn out Bucks in Milwaukee Jan. 17, just days before coach Jason Kidd was fired. Oh, the trouble the Heat have stirred up in the East. The Milwaukee game had implications, and so did two down-to-the-wire Miami wins against Charlotte during that stretch — the Hornets went a winless 0-4 against the Heat this season, a season in shambles, and now Kemba Walker‘s on the trading block because there’s nobody else on the Hornets roster of much interest to other teams.

Since that win in Milwaukee, however, the Heat have lost 7 out of 10 games, including losses to Cleveland, Philly and Detroit. They’ve fallen to 7th in the East behind the Bucks and Pacers after losing to Orlando at home Monday night. The Heat may reassess where they’re really at, given how close so many of their recent victories have been. Have they been lucky or good? Erik Spoelstra’s one of the savviest coaches in the league and Whiteside’s arguably the most impactful center in the game — but he’s a part-time player in Miami right now, averaging 26 mins per game. The rest of the roster seems to get it done with mirrors, and, in the view of Hornets, a lot help from the referees.

Henson ($11.4m) and Khris Middleton ($14.1m) for Whiteside ($23.8m) is nice and neat salary-wise, and a good return for both teams. Miami gets a 20-pt per games scorer in Middleton, who doesn’t seem happy playing second fiddle to Giannis in Milwaukee, and a less expensive part-time center in Henson. Middleton is more reliable and efficient than the Grizzlies’ Tyreke Evans, the scorer Miami is rumored to be targeting. For the Bucks, a lineup of Giannis, Whiteside, Parker and Eric Bledsoe is scary good, plus factor in injured Malcolm Brogdon for the playoffs with Zeller and Tony Snell (Zelly, Snelly and Delly?). The Bucks would likely contend, not just this season but next. They would almost surely be paying luxury tax next season for that group, assuming they resign Parker, but the tax would happen anyway if the Bucks do nothing with the current roster.

If paying luxury taxes in either scenario, what’s the better buy? The team with Hassan Whiteside at center or the team with John Henson at center?

Tyson Chandler was assumed to be on Jason Kidd’s wish list, but if a Henson-Chandler deal was going to happen, it would have happened by now. The Bucks really could have used Chandler in January. Another dead end.

Andrew Bogut is still out there, sitting around the house, sending out tweets about Australian rules football and political correctness.  #Bogut  Whatever happens at the trade deadline this week, the Bucks have until March 1 to sign Bogut for the stretch run and playoffs.

And the Lakers have been fined $50,000 because Magic Johnson said nice things about Giannis in an ESPN article. Because Magic is the Lakers GM, that’s “tampering”. ESPN received no fine for pandering to Magic’s need to be talked to in an article about Giannis.

Things seem awfully quiet for the Bucks, with the deadline two days away. And remember, none of this is real until it actually happens, and don’t believe a word of this or any other blog during trade deadline week.

The Stepien Rule

“The Stepien rule” prevents any team from trading two consecutive future 1st round draft picks. The rule was named after Ted Stepien, owner of the Cavs in the early 1980s who traded his 1982-85 first rounders in repeated attempts to win with “veterans” like Mike Bratz and Bill Robinzine, while trying to build teams that were, in his view “racially balanced” – half white, half black, to better reflect the NBA audience. While those were real enough issues at the time, Stepien’s efforts to build a winner were more half-assed than anything else and the league froze his ability to make trades while it sought a new buyer for the team. Stepien sold the team in 1983.

But the damage to the league’s competitive balance had been done. Dallas was able to build a contender on draft picks acquired from Cleveland (Derek Harper, Sam Perkins, Roy Tarpley and Detlef Schrempf). Not that it got the Mavs to the NBA Finals in the 1980s with the Lakers dominating the West, and Stepien playing a role in building the Lakers juggernaut. The Lakers won the 1982 NBA championship and, thanks to a Stepien trade, ended up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1982 draft. They used it to take Hall of Fame forward James Worthy, then the can’t miss star forward on North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA championship team. Their dynasty would have to wait a couple of years for Worthy to catch up, and Moses Malone‘s Sixers and Larry Bird‘s Celtics took the 1983 and 1984 titles, respectively. The Lakers circa 1985-87 are considered by many the greatest team in NBA history during a time of greatest teams (the 1983 Sixers and the 1986 Celtics also being in the conversation).

Sourcerole

  • Yahoo sports, one player on every NBA team likely to be traded: https://sports.yahoo.com/one-player-every-nba-team-likely-traded-221004964.html
  • The Sporting News, 02/05/18, “Don’t expect Whiteside deal”: http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/nba-trade-rumors-hassan-whiteside-miami-heat-news-deadline-contract-cavs-celtics/d018shcs5il919316jg3uc60a
  • The Sporting News: Deandre Jordan to the Cavs?http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/nba-trade-rumors-deandre-jordan-cavs-news-contract-clippers-tristan-thompson-jr-smith/sqmufzplhlsg1begzfudly0fw
  • HoopsRumors.com, best explanation of the Stepian rule I could find: https://www.hoopsrumors.com/2017/09/trade-restrictions-on-future-draft-picks-by-team.html
  • Fox sports Australia: “Ted Stepien rule” inspires Australian football changes on future draft picks, including history of how the Stepien rule came to be, complete with a ridiculously huge picture of James Worthy. https://www.foxsports.com.au/afl/how-nbas-stepien-rule-inspired-afls-to-introduce-trading-future-draft-picks/news-story/177351267209c2c523a693d4214a7e4a

Jason Kidd firing: When “win now” becomes impatience . . . the #FireKidd summer ale . . . It’s the schedule, stupid

Jason Kidd during the Bucks-Wizards game 1/15/18. AP photo by Nick Wass. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Maybe it was worth it. The Bucks were 3-0 last week after firing coach Jason Kidd (along with three of his assistants), a sudden move that upset Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo but had at least some positive effect on his teammates. Kidd assistant Joe Prunty took over as interim head coach, and Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ up-again, down-again No. 2 scorer, was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the week Jan. 22-28.

Maybe it could have waited. Given the choices of making Antetokounmpo less than happy or “uncomfortable”, as he put itor maintaining the coach’s uneasy status quo with some of Giannis’ under-performing teammates, it’s difficult to say that sacking Kidd mid-season was the right one for Bucks first-year GM Jon Horst. The three opponents the Bucks beat last week (the Suns, Nets and Bulls) had a combined winning percentage of .353 (a 53-97 record), a bad sample group to conclude much of anything about the state of the Bucks.

The Bucks opened this week with a 107-95 win against the Joel Embiid-less Sixers. The Sixers without Embiid have been even less successful than the Suns, Nets and Bulls, winning only twice in ten tries. Embiid scored 29 points in the Sixers’ 116-94 drubbing of the Bucks Jan. 20 in Philly, Kidd’s last game as Bucks coach. (Giannis was held out of action in that game to rest his sore right knee. Malcolm Brogdon also did not play due to a personal matter.)

But then Horst’s decision to sack Kidd was less a reasoned choice, apparently, and more so the final say in a nasty confrontation between Horst and Kidd at the Bucks practice facility on that fateful Monday. This explains a lot, like the hurried press conference later that day, wherein Horst offered few details to justify the firing, beyond overall team performance. The Bucks lost 5 of the last 7 games coached by Kidd, the tail end of a brutal stretch — 13 games in 23 days, all but two against teams now in playoff spots. Bucks won 6 of the 13, then lost to the Embiid-ful Sixers.

Jon Horst, the Bucks 34-year-old GM. Bucks media photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

“We just felt that we’d gotten to the point in the season where this team could do more; it could perform at different level in a different way,” Horst said, adding that the Bucks were “looking for a fresh approach and a different voice in leadership for the team.”

There’s no question they had reached a point where things would be different with the toughest part of the schedule behind them. The softest part of the 2017-18 schedule began Jan. 23, the day after Kidd was fired — three off-days followed by 11 games to the Feb. 16 All-Star break, only two of the games against sure-fire playoff teams (the T-Wolves Feb. 1 and the Heat Feb. 9).

So whether Horst had terminated Kidd’s employment then and there or waited to make an evaluation in the summer, the Bucks were going to get some time to recuperate and (hopefully) stockpile some wins. For a while, at least, they would not be as exhausted as they looked losing at home to Miami on Jan. 17. The Bucks weren’t going to hover around .500 for long. Horst didn’t offer much detail about other “differences” beyond the coaching change. Different from what?

The Bucks offense has been in the NBA’s top 10 all season, and is rated 9th as of this writing. Under Kidd these last four seasons, the Bucks have been a habitual “smart shot selection” team that tends to play unselfishly but has resorted to more isolation sets with Antetokounmpo’s rise to stardom. Giannis is 2nd in the league in scoring at 28.5 ppg and will start in his 2nd All-Star game. The Bucks rank 5th in both True Shooting and Effective Shooting % this season, and with Jabari Parker cleared to play this week and set to suit up Friday against the Knicks, the Bucks offense looked to be formidable in the stretch run no matter who was coaching. The job fell to Prunty, Kidd’s top assistant, who posted an 8-9 record in 2015-16 when Kidd was out having hip surgery.

The defense is a different story — good in spots, sluggish in general and too often dreadful and foul prone. Only Memphis has been hit with more fouls per 100 possessions than the Bucks this season; and Bucks opponents get three more trips to the free throw line per game than the NBA average. Some of the trouble is referee-induced (the Cavs shot an absurd 38 FTs in Cleveland Nov. 7; the Rockets shot 42 in Houston Dec. 16).

But some of it is roster-induced. The Bucks play two slow footed guards, Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova, and their centers (John Henson and Thon Maker) are foul prone, among other deficiencies. (Those four lead the regular rotation players in fouls per 36 minutes.) And there is no defensive-minded, shut down forward on the Bucks bench (think Andre Iguodala, P.J. TuckerJared Dudley). Oddly enough, since the Bucks lost Mirza Teletovic to health issues, there are usually no forwards on the bench at all other than rookie D. J. Wilson, and he’s rarely played.

Some of it probably was on coach Kidd. Since ranking 3rd in defensive rating in 2015, Kidd’s first season, the Bucks slipped to 23rd in 2016, 19th last year and 24th this season, despite improved rebounding. [The Bucks defensive rebounding is about average this season (17th), after being worst in the NBA most of last season.]  The Bucks are a long-armed defensive squad that likes to double team the ball and force turnovers (5th best TOV% in the league), but they’re also on the “soft” side — most of whatever toughness they have is defined by Antetokounmpo. The roster constants during Kidd’s tenure have been Giannis and Middleton, and Henson, each of whom carries some semblance of a “good defender” reputation despite the results. Parker’s return isn’t likely to help, the D end of the court often becoming his personal Land of the Lost when he’s been able to play.

A common refrain since coaching change is that the Bucks “inexplicably awful” defense — as ever-intrepid NBA.com writer David Aldridge described it — ultimately cost Kidd his job. But Horst hasn’t offered up the D in explanation, and did not do so again in a one-on-one interview with Aldridge. The fewer the details the better for the Bucks front office these days. And the young GM (he’s 34) said he loves the Bucks roster, “loves our young core,” so no recognition yet – publicly – of any need to make roster changes.

At the initial press conference, Horst did explain that the firing decision was made “relatively quickly” and wasn’t “premeditated” and it came off as an “I’m in charge and I’ve made a decision” sort of thing. There was no careful evaluation done, other than to say evaluations are “ongoing” within the long-term goal of winning a championship. It’s great to set goals, but today the “win now” attitude the Bucks are trying to instill in their culture reads more like impatience, and the abrupt, mid-season firing didn’t cast the Bucks in the more flattering lights of league-wide media perception. There was a lot of that last week.

Yes, it has been tedious and irritating. On the home front, fans became distressed back in December after the Bucks lost twice in five games to a suddenly hot Bulls team. The #FireKidd online movement has simmered right along on the boiler plates of Bucks Brew-town diehards — but theirs was always a brew better-served in summer, after the Bucks had evaluated their roster with a healthy Parker in the fold. 

Parker’s impending return made the timing of the firing questionable at best, and a little weird. This led to speculation about whether or not and Kidd and Parker were speaking. Questions about the struggles of Bucks ownership were raised. The easy speculation about who believed they should be in charge of player personnel decisions, Kidd or Horst, was a given. And so it went as the mid-season mess made in Milwaukee rolled on through the week. The #FireKidd brand might have been a half-way decent summer ale, but it’s many parts too bitter for January.

Bledsoe (at left) slumped in January, shooting 37% overall and 22% from three in the 7 games Jan. 8-20. The coaching change hasn’t stopped the slump, and Bledsoe left the Sixers game Jan. 29 after playing just three minutes and did not return. The Bucks reported that he’s been playing on a sore left ankle and is not expected to play Thursday against the T-Wolves. Image license: Standard noncommercial use.

Lost in all this has been Eric Bledsoe‘s recent shooting slump — 37% and 23% from 3-point-land in the 7 games Jan. 8-20. The Bucks were 2-5 in those games (see full stat line below). In the Miami and Philly losses in the days before Kidd was sacked, Bledsoe shot a combined 7 for 31 from the floor (22.5%) and missed 11 of 12 from 3-point land. Bledsoe was more often than not a victim of his own bad decision-making, not Kidd’s coaching. He was as sluggish as the rest of team against the Heat. And his shot wasn’t falling.

Were the big expectations that arrived in Milwaukee last fall when the Bucks traded center Greg Monroe for Bledsoe overblown? Horst isn’t going there.

Will there be some nod from the Bucks front office that Monroe’s replacements (Henson and Maker) have been helpless against the likes of Embiid, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside and Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas? Not so far, with the trade deadline fast approaching and the Bucks needing help inside.

Instead, Horst got into it with Kidd and, well, here we are. Jon Horst is in charge. He loves the Bucks roster and its young core. Joe Prunty is interim head coach. And the Bucks have feasted on lottery teams and the Embiid-less Sixers for eight days.

Bledsoe’s slump dragged on after Kidd was gone (he’s shooting 33% overall and 20% from three in the last six games), and his scoring dipped to 12.6 ppg. Against the Sixers in Milwaukee Monday, Bledsoe played three minutes and left the game for good. The Bucks reported that he’d been playing on a sore left ankle and is not expected to play Thursday in Minnesota.

________________________

After the Bucks on Sunday beat the Bulls for the first time in three tries, Giannis offered at least implicit support for Kidd when asked how the team was responding.

”I see that guys are playing harder. Some guys – I don’t know what they’re thinking in their heads. Maybe (they were) not OK with what happened. I just see guys playing hard.” — Giannis Antetokounmpo

Khris Middleton had a different take, and talked about how the Bucks were “a little bit looser” and “much more relaxed” playing for coach Prunty; and how teams “usually take on the personality of their coach.” He also praised Prunty’s “side-to-side” passing offense in the wake of Kidd’s preference to isolate mismatches and have the team “playing off one match-up”.

It’s the schedule, Khris. 

Coach Kidd, too, would doubtlessly agree that the Bucks latest opponents were more relaxing than Toronto was in two January meetings, or Miami on Jan. 17.  The Miami game was the Bucks 13th game in 23 days, the Bucks toughest, most unforgiving stretch of the season — three back-to-backs and 11 of the 13 opponents now holding playoff spots. Over the final 10 games of the stretch, they had no more than a single off-day between the games.

But the Bucks won 6 and lost 7, beating the Wizards twice on the second nights of back-to-back games. They lost twice to the Raptors and twice to the Heat, but beat Minnesota and OKC back-to-back, no easy task. They split with Indiana. In the 13th game, the Bucks were visibly exhausted against the Heat, as Giannis missed 7 free throws and Bledsoe shot 2 for 13 in the 106-101 loss.

They didn’t make it through unscathed. When it was over, Giannis sat out the next two games to relieve soreness in his right knee, a recurring problem that forced him to miss two games earlier this season and summer international play with Team Greece. Malcolm Brogdon also missed the game in Philly, and two more since, with a calf injury. Bledsoe was playing on a bum left ankle, and isn’t expected to play against the T-wolves Thursday. And Jason Kidd lost his job.

The scheduling reality and the mid-season wear on tear on the team beg the “what if” question. A win here, a win there, a timely extra day off — would Horst and Kidd have had a problem? Should they have had a problem as it stood, the Bucks record at 23-22, given the grueling schedule?

Contrast all that with the three-day break the Bucks enjoyed after beating the Suns the day Kidd was fired. They were able to rest and recharge, to recuperate Giannis’ aching knee and other team ailments; and Prunty had plenty of time to prepare the team for the 3-games-in-4 days stretch against lesser teams of the East. The Bucks have a two-day break this week before meeting the T-Wolves in Minneapolis Thursday.

What a difference the schedule makes: A four game win streak built on the bottom feeders of the East, then five more lottery-bound opponents before the All-Star Break Feb. 16, and 7 off-days in two weeks (Feb. 2-15). 

The Bucks are 27-22 and in 6th place in the East as of this writing. They remain on track, maybe not to win 50 games, but to at least challenge for the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the East and fulfill their goal of winning a first round playoff series, something Bucks teams have done only twice in the last three decades. Jabari Parker is due back on Friday, right on schedule.

Funny, it’s pretty much the same situation they Bucks were in when they fired Kidd, give or take a few wins against the patsies of the East.

###

Who the heck is Jon Horst?

  • Excellent feature 6/18/17 on Jon Horst in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: -https://www.jsonline.com/story/sports/nba/bucks/2017/06/18/who-new-bucks-gm-jon-horst/406803001/
  • Brewhoop on the weird process of Horst’s hiring: https://www.brewhoop.com/2017/6/16/15815804/report-milwaukee-bucks-closing-in-on-hiring-jon-horst-as-new-gm
  • NBA.com on Justin Zanik, the GM candidate the Bucks owners couldn’t agree to hire: http://www.nba.com/bucks/release/bucks-name-justin-zanik-assistant-general-manager

Bledsoe stats per 36 minutes in 7 games Jan. 8-20. The Bucks fired Jason Kidd Jan. 22. 

PtsPer36 FG FGA FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% REB AST STL BLK TOV PF BIER100
16.8 6.2 16.8 37% 1.4 23% 2.88 82% 3.2 3.8 3.4 0.6 3.2 3.5 0.115

Notes: The 3.4 steals per 36 are great, the 3.2 turnovers normal for Bledsoe, but he’s had some awful shooting games in the last seven before the Suns game Jan. 22. The Bucks posted a 2-5 record in those games.  A BIER100 of 0.115 is a very low impact and efficiency rating — well below average for a shooting guard (the SG median last season was 3.4). It’s tough to beat good teams when your star guard is suddenly playing like a replacement player or worse. Bledsoe BIER rating was about double the BIER median (6.74) at the midway point of the season (game 41), so his numbers have fallen off a cliff this month. 

Source: https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bledser01/gamelog/2018

The Bucks sign Plumlee #3 and it may have no bearing on anything else whatsoever (such as Andrew Bogut)

Well, he’s not a client of agent Jeff Schwartz, at least not according to this updated list of Schwartz clients, which includes recent addition DeAndre Jordan and still includes Jason Kidd. The Bucks coach has made roster moves to acquire Schwartz clients before (Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, Rashad Vaughn, Mirza Teletovic), so one couldn’t help but wonder whether Schwartz was behind the Bucks signing of Marshall Plumlee to a two-way contract earlier this week. But there appears to be no Schwartz connection this time.

And the Plumlee signing doesn’t seem to have much to do with Andrew Bogut and the will-they or won’t-they talk about adding the onetime Buck All-Pro center to the roster for the stretch run and the playoffs (assuming no catastrophic collapse). The rumor mill is churning but neither the Bucks nor Bogut have said anything to indicate his return to Milwaukee is a real possibility. This is, after all, Marshall Plumlee the Bucks just signed, not Tyson Chandler, which the Knicks highlights below from last season prove inconclusively.

The look on Phil Jackson‘s face after Plumlee hits that old school Dave DeBusschere style 18-foot set shot says it all. There’s no denying Marshall Plumlee looks just like a Plumlee. At first glance, the Bucks signing of Plumlee #3, did seem to suggest that Kidd wasn’t too interested in Bogut; or that Bogues didn’t think a move to Milwaukee in the dead of winter to play for Kidd and his big men coach Greg Foster (with help from notorious Bogut antagonist Kevin Garnett as consultant), was such a bright idea. But timing isn’t everything.

Jan. 15, the day the Bucks signed Plumlee, was the last day teams could sign players to two-way contracts, a new arrangement this season where a player can play up to 45 days in the NBA (one-fourth of the season) at a pro-rated NBA minimum salary ($1.3 million in Plumlee’s case) and the rest of his time in the G-league. (Source: Article II, Section 11 (f) of NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, “Two-way Contracts”, pp: 49-56).

With half the season gone, the most Plumlee can earn in NBA salary is $328,000, but whatever he makes it will not count toward Team Salary (pg. 192 of the CBA). Two-way players are not included in the roster while they are with a G-league team and are not eligible for the playoffs unless their deal is converted to a regular NBA contract. The Bucks have not converted any of this season’s two-way players (Gary Payton III, Joel Bolomboy, Xavier Munford).

No team salary hit, no roster spot, no playoff eligibility — hardly the stuff of great meaning in the context of Andrew Bogut and the Bucks, who need all the help they can get in the middle.  This much was painfully obvious Jan. 5 when Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas humbled the Bucks big men with 20 points and 9 rebounds in the 3rd quarter as the Raptors blew the Bucks out of their own building. The destruction was ruthless and complete. Bucks centers John Henson and Thon Maker responded with 0 points, one rebound and 5 fouls in the quarter.

In a fit of perfect timing, the Lakers waived Bogut the very next dayIt’s not inconceivable that the Lakers brass caught the overnight Bucks-Raptors highlights and thought they might as well do the Bucks and Bogut a favor by releasing AB to play out his swan song with the team that drafted him.

Yet no one has confirmed since then that the Bucks are actually interested, only that the Bucks had “thoroughly discussed the pros and cons of signing Bogut.” This came from a routinely unreliable Bucks beat writer down in Racine who quoted no sources for the record and could not get official comment from the office of Bucks GM Jon Horst, who’s not exactly unavailable to media.

The Bucks should want Bogues back, if only to entertain the fans before he leaves the NBA for good, which will happen in the near future. Bogut was the Bucks No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005, the heart and soul of the “Fear the Deer” team in 2010, the Bucks only All-Pro in 12 seasons 2005 to 2016, and the founder of the fan section that still rocks the Bradley Center. There’s almost too much symmetry given the Bucks screaming need for HELP in the paint.

The Bucks defense has been among the worst in the league this season, 25th entering last night’s (Jan. 17) Miami game.

Western Conference fans and media may not know it, but in the East, dinosaur centers yet walk the earth.

The Heat’s Hassan Whiteside has become a more recent opposing-center-dominates-our-guys problem. Whiteside had a strong game (15 pts, 10 rebs, 4 blocks) against the Bucks Jan. 14 in a blowout win by the Heat, and was downright dominant in the rematch in Milwaukee a few says later (Jan. 17), won by the Heat 106-101. Defensively, he blocked six shots, grabbed 12 rebounds and kept Giannis Antetokounmpo and guards Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe out of the lane (the Bucks starting guards shot a combined 4 for 20 from the field, while Giannis was 6 for 15).

Offensively, Whiteside scored 27 pts while his backup, Kelly Olynyk, added 15 — 42 combined points, all too much for the Bucks on a night when Bledsoe was even more chaotic than usual.  Miami has won 8 out 9 games and moved up to 4th in the East, which means they’re another possible playoff match-up for the Bucks, and the Bucks have two more Heat games on the regular season schedule.

42 points from the center spot is almost unheard of in today’s NBA. The last time it happened was Nov. 15 when the Sixers Joel Embiid dropped a career high 46 on the Lakers. Bogut played 20 minutes in that game and actually slowed Embiid down, blocking his shot once and grabbing 10 rebounds to help the Lakers take the lead after 3 quarters. Embiid poured in 19 pts in the 4th, most of them (14) after Bogut checked out of the game with 7 mins to play. When he was on the court, the battle between the young star and the aging defender was real enough, and both players delivered in a wildly entertaining game. Lakers coach Luke Walton benched starter Brook Lopez in the second half. Embiid ruled the day, but Bogut had proven he wasn’t finished yet in the NBA.

The Bucks have yet to see Embiid and the Sixers this season (4 games coming up); and while there’s only one game left on the schedule against Boston, the Bucks might see the Celtics and centers Al Horford and Aron Baynes, who gave Henson and Maker trouble early this season, in the playoffs.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar was in attendance for the Heat game as part of the Bucks ongoing 50th Anniversary celebration, and, right on cue, he talked about the Bucks lack of “inside defense”. The centers may be “dinosaurs” in the new NBA, yet you need them to beat the teams that feature good big men. This makes no sense, but the basketball universe is howling now for Jason Kidd and Jon Horst to make a move, which signing Plumlee is not.

As for Bogut, there’s no news but speculation, even so far as a suggestion in the Daily Telegraph of Australia that one option is for him to return home and work for the Sidney Kings, the Aussie pro team he supported as a kid. Bogut negotiated to play for Sidney during the NBA lockout 2011-12 but those plans fell apart over insurance issues, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Bogut would probably prefer to return to the Warriors to relive a championship run but, barring injuries to the Warriors versatile crew of big men, he may no longer be a good fit.  The Warriors don’t have the problems the Bucks, Cavs or other potential Bogut suitors have. Realistically, it’s probably too soon to expect a move for Bogut, whose destination may not be decided until after the trading deadline Feb. 8 or All-Star break Feb. 16-18. The last day to sign playoff eligible players off the waiver wire is March 1.

The Bucks have just finished their toughest stretch of the season — 13 games in 23 days, of which the Bucks lost 8, won 5 and fell to 7th in the East with a 23-21 record. If the playoffs began today, the Bucks would get a rematch of last year’s 6-game series against the Raptors. But there’s no reason to panic yet — a much softer schedule lies ahead in the 13 games between now and the All-Star break Feb. 16.

In case of fire, call Bogut.

Sourcerole

  • The NBA collective Bargaining agreement is a supremely over-written document but it can be a fairly interesting read, really: http://3c90sm37lsaecdwtr32v9qof.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2017-NBA-NBPA-Collective-Bargaining-Agreement.pdf
  • Gamebooks and misc. stats: NBA.com and basketball-reference.com
  • Key NBA dates, 2017-18 season: http://www.nba.com/key-dates#/
  • the Australian news service: news.com.au

The Big Trade: Notes on Eric Bledsoe, a guy named Moose, bad knees and luxury taxes, and Jason Kidd

Eric Bledsoe made his debut with the Milwaukee Bucks last weekend, after being traded from the Phoenix Suns for Greg “Moose” Monroe. Licences: Standard non-commercial use.

With Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt, the Bucks have a legitimate No. 2 scoring option at guard to complement Giannis Antetokounmpo, three wins under their belt already and are poised to take the next to step to become contenders in the East. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It was good national story spin for the Bucks last week when the trade of Bledsoe for Greg Monroe (and two draft picks) went down. And why not? It’s nice to see the NBA media paying attention to the pro basketball team from Milwaukee.

But the trade didn’t sit quite right during the week, like that feeling you had after trying the “secret sake” at Jerry’s Sushi Hut on ’80s Flashback Night. The feeling didn’t go away after watching Bledsoe’s first two games with the Bucks over the weekend. Maybe it was the Lakers game on Saturday, a rough night for the Bucks starting guards and Khris Middleton. They shot 7 for 28 on the night, Bledsoe going 0 for 6 from 3-point-land and 4 of 12 for the game). In the mix of misses were a bunch of “bad” shots — bad form for the Bucks, usually a very good shot selection team. Malcolm Brogdon, who gave up his starting point guard job in the Bledsoe trade, played smart off the bench and Giannis was Giannis the MVP with 33 pts and 15 rebounds.

But the Lakers game was one game, a sloppy win on the 2nd night of a back-to-back (only 12 more of those left boys) against a young team. Monday against Memphis, the Bucks and their coach showed that not much had changed in Milwaukee from the week before. When Kidd went to his bench in the 3rd quarter, the offense stalled, scoring just 7 points in six minutes. Still, the Bucks built an 80-72 lead with 3:02 left in the quarter, but were outscored 22-9 over the next 7:23 to fall behind by five, 89-94. The shots weren’t falling, the Grizzlies had control of the game, and Bucks coach Jason Kidd had managed to rest Antetokounmpo for only a quick breather before the quarter change.

These were precisely the minutes that were Monroe’s. The Moose came off the bench to provide a steady supply of easy offense in the post, good rebounding and slick passing to open teammates as the Bucks played inside-out, a rare thing in the NBA these days, but as effective as ever. After the trade, one idea was that some of these minutes would go to Bledsoe, who could lead the offense while Kidd rested Giannis a few minutes. But Kidd has yet to play Bledsoe without Giannis in the game. Bledsoe sat on the bench through the entire Memphis run, watching his new teammates fall apart in his Milwaukee debut.

Enter Bledsoe and starters Tony Snell and Khris Middleton after a Bucks timeout inside of 8 minutes to go. The Bucks suddenly went on a 14-3 run, then closed out the game with solid defense. Bledsoe was everything advertised — the quickest man on the court. He drew fouls, eventually fouling Mario Chalmers out of the game. He grabbed rebounds (4), he turned the ball over (1), he had a nice assist to John Henson (1), the Bucks center by default. He caught the Grizzlies sleeping by bolting to the hoop for a layup while they were setting up on D. The Grizz promptly called time out, victims of an 11-2 Bucks run in the space of 2:41. Bledsoe had capped it with a show of speed, quickness, basketball savvy and ability to get to the hoop and finish. And he showed, to anyone who cared — why the Bucks made the trade.

If the Lakers game was one game, so too was the Memphis game.

Bad knees

It wasn’t too long ago, just a few months, that the Phoenix Suns shut Bledsoe down for the final month of their 2016-17 schedule, reporting that “Bled” had been playing through knee soreness. It was his left knee, the one surgically repaired in Dec. of 2015, the third major knee surgery of his career. A meniscus tear in his right knee, the other knee, was surgically repaired in Oct. 2011, and then the cartilage removed altogether in 2014.

Three major knee surgeries in four years and a sore knee last season. But you wouldn’t know it from the coverage of this trade — no mention in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel coverage by Matt Velazquez, nor many other places. The story in The Sporting News was the only one that focused on Bledsoe’s injury history, deciding that Kidd was taking a risk to win now, without risking too much. Bledsoe’s tweeted request to be anywhere but Phoenix can be viewed as a form of self-preservation. What player wants to grind away what’s left of their knees and career on a team just now adopting Philly’s “trust the process” motto?

Suddenly he’s a Buck, and being a Buck is great for Bledsoe. Milwaukee wants to win now, make the playoffs and win in the playoffs, all the while touting 22-year-old Giannis as the first or (depending how you describe Lebron) second coming of Wilt Chamberlain meets Michael Jordan. The superstar needs a quick point guard who can help him destroy NBA defenses. It’ll be a good match.

It’s not so bad either for the Suns, who cleared out Bledsoe’s $15 million salary next season to stay about $12-$15 million under the salary cap while they develop as many as three 1st Round draft picks. One of those could be the Bucks pick, but the Suns will only get the pick next season if it’s in the range of 11th to 16th. Based on team expectations and the unique way the pick is protected, the Bucks probably won’t convey the pick to Phoenix until 2020. Phoenix also gets the Bucks 2018 2nd round pick if 48th or lower.

Added bonus for Suns fans: They get to do the MOOOOOSE call for a few months if Monroe plays in Phoenix (looks like he might not).

Greg Monroe and P.J. Tucker grapple during the Bucks playoffs series last April against the Toronto Raptors. License: Standard non-commercial use.

The Bucks in this trade lost their most reliable scorer off the bench, Monroe, whose inspired play last March when his playing time increased helped drive the Bucks strong finish. The Bucks run to the playoffs featured an 18 wins – 6 losses streak where Monroe played 25.5 mins per game, the most he had all season, and scored 13.9 pts per game on 55.3% shooting, and hauled in 6.8 rebs and dished 3 assists per game.

Monroe’s production went up in the playoffs to 15.5 pts and 8.8 rebs per game through the first 4 games, the message wasn’t lost on coach Kidd. He had all but benched current starting-center-by-default Henson — until the fateful and still controversial game 6, when Kidd pulled Monroe for Henson after Moose was hit with a 2nd foul in the first half. The Raptors didn’t look back until the 4th quarter when the Bucks were dominating the game and it looked like a Game 7 in Toronto was inevitable. It wasn’t.

So naturally, when the 2017-18 season opened with Matthew Dellavedova — who lost the starting point guard job to Brogdon — and Henson getting more playing time than Monroe, there were rumblings all over town about “same old Kidd, still can’t manage a game”; and the Bucks were “playing the bad contracts they’re stuck with”. No coach in their right mind would play “Delly” the minutes Kidd gives him, and why was Kidd bothering people with Henson after benching him last year? Where was Monroe?

Giannis was making headlines, scoring 208 points in the first six and the Bucks had a 4-2 record, not bad for a bunch of guys who weren’t really playing well. But something wasn’t right in the Bucks camp, possibly very wrong as they lost four straight with Moose on the sidelines with a calf muscle injury. The Bucks looked like a team that would again have to fight to get into the playoffs, not the East contender they imagined themselves to be.

And then the trade went down. Coach Kidd hadn’t lost his mind after all — he didn’t want to be stuck playing Delly and Henson. Maybe one, but not both. He decided to roll the dice on Henson being able to play his best basketball; and I guess this means that Kidd really has been on the lookout for a better point guard all this time. And here is Bledsoe, a super-quick, attacking point guard who rebounds, too. The simple math looks something like this:

Bledsoe + Henson + Brogdon > Monroe + Brogdon + Delly

… and if not, Monroe’s $17.9 million contract was expiring at the end of this season anyway, and there was no evidence to say that Kidd was ever going to stop tinkering with Moose’s minutes and match-ups. In making the trade, Kidd eliminated a personal negative the fans were ready to gnaw on like a hambone, potentially a savage mess for the coach, the players, everyone involved.

In case of some unforeseen calamity or if Bledsoe’s knees don’t hold up, the Bucks still have Brogdon and Delly and the pit bull defense of super-sub DeAndre Liggins, plus a few million dollars created by the trade to find a big man to help out during the playoff push, if it comes to that (and it should). They’ve got $3.44 million to be exact, a rather big deal for the Bucks, whose noses were right up to the luxury tax line before they made the trade.

And let’s not forget that the Bucks expect the return of their injured 20.1 points per game forward, Jabari Parker, in February.

Luxury taxes and Jabari Parker

The Bucks in this trade lost the expiring $17.9 million contract of Monroe, which was expected to come in handy next summer when the Bucks hoped to resign Parker. Bledsoe’s $15 million contract next season will eat all but $2.9 million of the Monroe clearance, leaving their player payroll at $105 million. See Bucks contracts here.

The current luxury tax gate, where teams pay $2 for each dollar spent on the “over” side of the gate, is at $119.266 million. Assuming a 3 to 5% increase in the salary cap next season, the luxury tax gate would move to $123-$125 million (estimated). The Bucks have $105 million committed to the 11 players currently under contract for 2018-19, which includes Bledsoe and the $3.9 million to be paid to Larry Sanders and Spencer Hawes.

The math says this leaves $18-$20 million to pay Parker and two new players to make the required 14-man roster. Supposedly Parker turned down an offer from the Bucks to play for more than that, but sources also said Parker recently held up a bank in Saginaw, Mich., and was believed to be holed up at Michael Redd‘s house in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Redd is said to be an expert X-Box baller.

What really happened is that Parker talked to NBA.com writer Steve Aschburner (who used to work in Milwaukee for the old Sentinel) and Aschurner wrote an  in-depth update on Parker last week. It’s another fine article from Aschburner, featuring interviews with Parker, Paul George, Andrew Wiggins and knee surgery rehab expert Derrick Rose.

When Aschburner asked Parker about whether the Bucks coaches had given him any work “to draw him close” to the team to prepare for his return, Parker had this to say: 

“Next question.”

In other words, the Bucks offered less, probably much less than the going rate — the maximum $148 million contract signed by Parker’s “top 3 pick” 2014 draft-mates, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Parker, of course, turned them down.

And what Kidd wanted more than anything was not Parker but one of those “real point guards” basketball nuts in Milwaukee have heard so much about ever since the previous owners’ Bucks traded Sam Cassell to Minnesota in 2003. So the Bucks jumped to it when Bledsoe became available, and now they have more than just a point guard — they’ve got a guy who can beat Parker in any sanctioned knee surgery scar showdown.

Now that Kidd has Bledsoe and Giannis, the Bucks would sooner trade Parker than hand him anything resembling $148 for five years. Yes, Parker is on the trading block, more likely than not, and it’s a safe bet that every Buck not named Giannis Antetokounmpo, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker or Eric Bledsoe are right there with him.

Shouldn’t have had that “secret sake” at Jerry’s Sushi Hut.

Bledsoe vs. the Bucks guards,

… or the start of a very long stat analysis of Bledsoe and the Bucks 2016-17 guards that will be in the next post down, but below is a chart made at basketball-reference.com which illustrates some major topics to be addressed during what I’m sure will be an amazing journey into the Valley of Sensory Deprivation by NBA statistical analysis. (ed. note)

“Dynamic” was the word of the week at Bucks headquarters when describing Bledsoe. The new Bucks GM, Jon Horst, used it a couple of times in announcing the deal, and NBA-TV analysts Greg Anthony and Dennis Scott both picked up on it. Scott even added “dynamism” to the vocabulary.

Dynamic is defined by “constant change, activity or progress” Dynamic is a good thing, and Bledsoe’s numbers reflect a player who is active in all facets of the game, has a nose for the ball, likes contact, beats defenders off the dribble, gets to the rim and the free throw line, and moves the ball around better than the average NBA point guard.

There’s no question about whether or not Bledsoe is an instant upgrade to the Bucks backcourt. He can create his own shots and draw fouls by getting into the D past the first defender, something the Bucks guards struggle to do almost every game.

  • Bledsoe goes to the free throw line more often than all three of the Bucks guard starters from last season COMBINED.
  • He was nearly a 20-5-5 player in Phoenix during his four+ seasons there, averaging 18.8 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebs.
  • He turns the ball over a lot – 4th in the NBA among starting point guards last season.

Here’s that chart: “Per 36 minutes” stats for Bledsoe and former starting point guards Brogdon and Dellavedova, plus starting shooting guard Tony Snell.

Per 36 Minutes Table
Player From G BIER FG FGA FG% 3P% FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Eric Bledsoe 2010 421 7.40 6.1 13.7 .444 .334 5.2 .800 5.0 6.1 1.9 0.7 3.6 2.6 17.5
Malcolm Brogdon 2016 84 6.80 5.4 11.7 .464 .419 2.3 .856 3.7 5.7 1.5 0.2 2.0 2.6 14.4
Matthew Dellavedova 2013 301 2.81 3.6 9.1 .392 .388 1.4 .834 3.1 6.0 0.8 0.1 2.1 3.3 9.9
Tony Snell 2013 303 2.34 3.8 9.0 .422 .380 1.0 .818 4.2 1.7 0.8 0.3 1.1 2.3 10.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/9/2017.

 

BIER = Basketball Impact and Efficiency Rating (also means “beer” in German).

Also Note: “Turnovers in basketball games” though not found in any dictionary definition of “dynamic” may be considered part of its noun variation, “dynamism”, which, thanks to Dennis Scott, was included with Bledsoe in “the big trade.”

Source-erole

  • Sporting News was the only media about the trade interested in Bledsoe’s injury history: http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/nba-trade-rumors-eric-bledsoe-news-bucks-suns-giannis-antetokounmpo-jason-kidd-coach/e4bgwqo5bf4o10g44n7o94ckj
  • ESPN and NBA.com on Bledsoe’s past injuries: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18920619/phoenix-suns-shut-pg-eric-bledsoe-remainder-season –
  • http://www.nba.com/2015/news/12/29/suns-eric-bledsoe-out-for-season.ap/
  • http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/14459203/eric-bledsoe-phoenix-suns-miss-rest-season
  • NBA.com news on the trade: http://www.nba.com/article/2017/11/07/report-milwaukee-bucks-nearing-deal-eric-bledsoe-phoenix-suns#/
  • NBA contract numbers: https://www.basketball-reference.com/contracts/PHO.html
    • for the Bucks: contracts/MIL.html
  • NBA.com – Steve Aschburner’s really really good feature on Jabari Parker: http://www.nba.com/article/2017/11/08/milwaukee-bucks-jabari-parker-finds-bright-side-rehabbing-acl-injury#/
  • Deadspin on Bledsoe’s tweet: “One of the best athlete tweets ever” – https://deadspin.com/well-thats-probably-it-for-eric-bledsoe-in-phoenix-1819774495
  • Gamebooks at NBA.com, Bucks-Lakers, Bucks Memphis, Bucks-Cavs
    • https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20171113/0021700194_Book.pdf
    • https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20171111/0021700182_Book.pdf
    • https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20171107/0021700149_Book.pdf
  • Basketball-reference.com for all basic stats, tables, per 36 stats, player info linker, etc.

Giannis and Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard (or how this blog is not about referee Marc Davis)

In the 2nd quarter of their home opener Friday (Oct. 20), the Charlotte Hornets found themselves down 40-20 to the visiting Atlanta Hawks and looking for answers. And then Frank Kaminsky happened.

Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky by unknown artist. License: Standard non-commercial use.

For a stretch that went on for 8:30, Buzz City in Charlotte looked a lot like how the Kohl Center in Madison used to look when Frank the Tank was rolling and spinning to the rim, old school footwork confounding defenders, shooting touch getting every roll, Frank playing with the supreme confidence and determination that made him the college player-of-the-year in 2015.

By the time Kaminsky was done, the Hawks lead was down to seven, 56-49 at half and the Hornets had their mojo back. Frank had 15 pts in the quarter, nine of them on 3-point plays: two from downtown and one on a classic Frank spin move to the basket going to his left hand for a layup — and one. He found Kemba Walker with a pass for an open 3 that helped get the Hornets going. He grabbed three rebounds. He did it all, put his team on his back and led them and the home crowd back into the game. The Hawks folded in the 2nd half (with some help from a crew of very unsympathetic referees) and Charlotte won going away, 109-91.

Nights like this haven’t happened too often for Kaminsky in his two-plus years in the NBA. More often than not, he has struggled to make shots. In his rookie year he hit just 23.8% of his mid-range shots, and 30% in his second season. Overall he shot a very un-Frank-like 41% from the floor and was even worse in his 2nd season – not even 40% (39.9). His three-point shooting was no compensation, as he barely made a high enough % to justify shooting them – 34% his rookie year and 33% last season. Frank Kaminsky a 47% effective shooter in the NBA? Say it ain’t so. The league averages were 50% his rookie year and 51.4% last season — the all-time high.

Frank’s troubles, from what I could tell, stemmed from a lack of definition to what position he was playing on the court. He could no longer play post-up center like he did in college, but he had always roamed out to the 3-point line at Wisconsin, anyway; it’s what made him such an obvious pro player. But for whatever reason — the quicker, bigger NBA defenders or poor conditioning or plain old bad luck — the shots were not falling for Frank; and, unlike in college, he couldn’t dictate when and where he was going to get the ball on any given possession. Kemba Walker, not Frank Kaminsky, dictates the offense in Charlotte. So forgive the rookie and 2nd-year-player-learning-the-ropes stuff or not — Frank was not much of a factor for the Hornets in his first two seasons.

Dwight Howard looks very happy in Charlotte. The Hawks actually had Ersan guarding Howard at times during Friday’s game. It didn’t work. License: Standard non-commercial use.

But things are different in Charlotte this season. The Hornets now have Dwight Howard manning the paint, and, no matter how maligned Dwight has been during his five years of team-hopping, he is still a top 5 rebounding defender in the game, still the best of his generation. Dwight’s defensive rebounding %, total rebounding % and defensive rating are No. 1 among active players. The rebounding % is 3rd All-Time, a hair higher than %-haul by the late great rebounding legend, Moses Malone. Dwight’s not the shot-blocker he once was, but few teams challenge him inside anymore. Dwight Howard is a beast, how quickly NBA fans and media have forgotten, and he’s only 31 years old (32 in December). His Atlanta Hawks were on pace to win 48 last season before the injury bug hit the team after the All-Star break.

Ahh, there’s the rub — nobody likes to make excuses for “Superman”. And as the game has moved out beyond the 3-point line in the new, faster paced, bombs-away NBA, post-centric big men like Howard are viewed as dinosaurs. The new NBA center is Nikola Jokic, agile and versatile with a “European” shooting touch. Dwight Howard — though still a great athlete who can outrun most other bigs — has no shooting touch. But in Charlotte, Dwight doesn’t have to shoot; he has Frank. And while Frank the Tank is no quick-footed sprinter, he shoots with a feathery touch around the rim and has a crazy toolkit of moves that make him a versatile, creative scorer who can get almost any shot he wants if he works the defense.

Frank Kaminsky is everything Dwight Howard is not; and Dwight is one of the best in the NBA at all things Frank the Tank struggles to do well in the NBA — rebounding, defense, rim protection. If Dwight can’t make his free throws, Frank shoots 90% from the line. Together, they’re a monster combo.

BUCKS-HORNETS 10/23/2017

Giannis led the Bucks to victory, Monday, but Dwight and the short-handed Hornets made it tough, tying the score at 94 with 2 mins to play. License: Standard non-commercial use.

If the early games are any indication (and there have only been three for the Hornets as of this writing) , Dwight is easily the best thing that ever happened to Frank in the NBA. Though he, himself is a limited offensive player, Dwight’s ability to set granite stone screens and move people around in the paint has instilled a sense of clarity to the Hornet’s approach, and opened the game up for Frank, whose confidence over the weekend returned to a Bucky-on-a-Final-Four-run level.

It appears Hornets coach Steve Clifford will keep Frank and Dwight on the floor a lot. Dwight is averaging 33 mins per game and Frank is getting 30 mpg. Combined, they’re averaging 27.0 pts and 22.3 rebs per game. Frank didn’t play well in the opener in Detroit, but he came alive against the Hawks on Friday with 17 pts, 6 boards and 3 assists for the game. On Monday in Milwaukee, Howard and Kaminsky took only 14 shots but scored 26 points (18 from Frank, who led the Hornets in scoring) and hauled in 27 rebounds (22 by Dwight).

Okay, Dwight missed all nine of his free throws in Milwaukee, and perhaps the outcome would have been different had he made four or five of those — but Dwight shot 53% from the line last season, and has made nearly 4 out of 7 for his career (56.5%), better than Wilt, Shaq, DeAndre and Drummond. He won’t shoot 0 for 9 often, but the Bucks were glad to have it in Milwaukee.

The Hornets not named Dwight and Frank shot just 36% for the game, and were 5 of 20 in the 4th Quarter, yet somehow managed to tie the score at 94 inside of two minutes (thanks to a big three by Frank). Most teams would have stolen this game from the Bucks, but not the short-handed Hornets. They were missing two starters, injured guard Nic Batum and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who hasn’t played since pre-season due to a death in the family. Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NBA draft (Anthony Davis draft; John Henson for the Bucks) has missed 40% of his career so far due to injuries, but played in 81 games last season.

The Hornets were also missing Cody Zeller, who bruised a knee against Atlanta. They’re down to Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb and former Buck Johnny O’Bryant off their bench, plus rookie Malik Monk — yet the Bucks needed a big three and defensive heroics from Khris Middleton, another MVP performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dwight’s missed free throws to ice the game. How do the Bucks match up against Charlotte at full strength? Not so great, outside of Antetokounmpo, and maybe Middleton when he’s on, though Kidd-Gilchrist’s scrappy defense might have some effect on Khris. The Bucks were lucky to catch the Hornets when they did.

The Hornets are a big reason why I didn’t listen much to the off-season talk about how weak the East was going to be after four All-Stars — Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — went West to win more on national TV. The Bucks were 9-3 last season against Chicago, Indiana and New York, so New York and Chicago committing to rebuilding and Indiana clearing out George, Jeff Teague and Monta Ellis isn’t going to change much in the East for the Bucks or Wizards, two teams that stood pat and watched these stars and lesser stars move around.

The moves that mattered more were Cleveland trading Kyrie Irving to Boston, obviously; Boston signing Gordon Hayward, obviously again; Toronto foolishly resigning Kyle Lowry for 3 yrs/$93 million; and then this interesting business between Atlanta and Charlotte involving Dwight Howard. Charlotte in the Dwight trade gave up only streaky shooting gun Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee (remember him?) and a 2nd round draft pick. “Superman” for next to nothing, to a team that won 48 games in 2016 but lost a step last season and missed the playoffs. It seems that Hornets owner-GM Michael Jordan had a plan in mind when he made that out-of-nowhere trade for Plumlee last season.

With Irving and Hayward in Boston, Dwight in Charlotte and the Cavs adding Derrick Rose  and Jae Crowder, the top six of the East looked to be tougher than last season, even if Toronto is prolonging the inevitable. (Raptors broadcasters in week 1 were hyping C.J. Miles as the new secret weapon off the bench who will make a big difference this season. Really. C.J. Miles who played for the Pacers last season, and I had to look it up to be able to write that. A Snell-avedova moment in Toronto? NBA Free League pass preview is a beautiful thing.)

Then Hayward got hurt in the season opener against Cleveland. Joel Embiid took a health game in Philly. Rose is hurt again (only a sprained ankle this time) and Isaiah Thomas won’t be available until maybe January. In Milwaukee, coach Jason Kidd has played John Henson as much Greg Monroe, and has had to play Dellavedova more than Brogdon (sprained ankle) so far; it’s as though last season never happened. Middleton is off to another poor start shooting (47.1 efg), shades of two years ago.  In just a week, the East went back to being the East.

Or did it? The Wizards are the only undefeated team in the conference, which makes a lot of John Wall sense. Giannis is so good that nothing his coach or teammates have done (or not done) has kept the Bucks from winning 3 of 4. The Magic jumped Cleveland in Florida the day after the Cavs humbled the Bucks in Milwaukee, handing the Cavs their first loss. The Magic have three wins!! Brooklyn has two, and doesn’t appear to be a joke this season!! So does Boston after the Hayward injury! And Dwight and Frank have a buzz going in Buzz City.

Did the East get worse in the off-season? I’m not sure that was possible, and it really is too early to tell. What I do know from gorging on NBA League Pass free preview all weekend, is that Aaron Gordon down in Orlando (41 pts, 12 rebs in the Magic’s third win last night) looks a lot more like an All-Star/All-Pro than Carmelo Anthony or Paul George or Paul Millsap.

Come to think of it, none of those three “stars” made the All-Pro teams last season, did they? Maybe ESPN or some other media has some old shoe commercial footage to remind us all what the fuss is about. Perhaps Russell Westbrook will be able to figure it out. Not so far — the Thunder lost two out of three to open the season, including a loss at home to the Timberwolves, led by Jimmy Butler, one team-changer who did make the All-Pro teams last season.

Referee Marc Davis, more than a slap on the wrist

Many Bucks fans may have noticed (how could you not?) that Marc Davis refereed the Bucks home opener against the Cavs last week. I don’t know whether or not this should be considered a response to the “More than a Slap on the Wrist” series during last season’s playoffs. But it sure felt like a slap in the face when the officiating in the first half was atrociously pro-Cleveland, confirmed by the official scorers’ report. For the game, a 17 to 10 fouls called disparity against the Bucks. Yes, the refs saw fit to call only ten fouls on the Cavs all game long.

The Kevin Love at center experiment will work wonderfully well if the referees refuse to call a foul on him when he tries to rebound and play D against much bigger, longer-armed players. The Bucks lost their cool on offense and chucked 21 threes in the first half, immature basketball at best. Kyle Korver had no such problems in the 3rd quarter, and hit a barrage of threes that drained the life out of all Bucks but Giannis, a lone star on a mission. The Bucks roster has a long way to go if they’re going to matter in the playoffs. On the bright side, Korver was cold in Orlando the next night, and the Magic handed the Cavs their first loss. There is hope.

I stopped writing about the NBA refs last season for a very good reason: I wanted to enjoy the NBA finals, the basketball part of it. And NBA Official wasn’t responding to my calls or emails for comment. Maybe they’ve responded now, by scheduling Davis to work the Bucks home opener, though I’m sure they wouldn’t characterize it as a response to anything. And so it goes.

In any case, this business reminds of a funny story about retired ref Joey Crawford, whose rottenness became so legendary that players had fun with it, and “Joey” became part of the show. I think there’s a message therein about the “legendary” refs in NBA history and how their legends were won. Coming soon to a Bob Boozer Jinx near you.

Happy start of the 2017-18 NBA season, all!!! It’s been a long summer.

Source-erole and other notes:

  • Bucks-Hornets 10/23/17 gamebook and more at NBA.com: https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20171023/0021700044_Book.pdf
  • Hawks-Hornets gamebook and more at NBA.Com: http://www.nba.com/games/20171023/CHAMIL#/video
  • Also, links boxscores, roster info at (as always) basketball-reference.com – What would bloggers do with BBR?

Farewell John Hammond: The abstract expressionist maze of deals that demolished the original “Fear the Deer” Bucks

"Convergence" by Jackson Pollock, 1952.

Bucks GM John Hammond has gone to the Magic Kingdom to work for the ultra-conservative DeVos family, owners of the Orlando Magic and quite busy in these political times they helped finance.

Hammond replaces Rob Hennigan, the GM fired by the Magic in April after missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year, this time beaten by his own big trade last summer for Serge Ibaka.

The editorial board at BobBoozerJinx.com (and I) wish Hammond well, and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, just as I’m sure Hennigan had no clue what he was doing (any GM who trades two legit NBA starters and a 6’11” lottery pick named Sabonis for Ibaka is buying a “fire me now” tattoo).

I also can’t shake the puzzling fact that Hammond was still in Milwaukee four years after his own five-year plan to build a winner lay in shambles, circa 2013. Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens bought the team in 2014 and installed Jason Kidd as coach and de facto player personnel chief right under Hammond’s nose, without bothering to consult him. That he’s only just leaving now, three years later, is a wonder.

Jeff Weltman, Hammond’s draft guru, who left the Bucks in 2013 to work for the Raptors, will join him in Orlando. Scott Skiles, the former Bucks coach who walked out on his coaching contract with the Magic last summer over player personnel disagreements with Hennigan, will certainly not be joining them. Skiles quit after one season in Orlando because Hennigan, apparently, had no respect for Skiles’ ideas about building a Scott Skiles team.

Skiles quit on Hammond, too, for similar reasons. It happened during their fifth season together in Milwaukee, 2012-13, the final year of both the coach’s and the GM’s contracts, and also the year Weltman left. Skiles didn’t like the roster he was dealt post-Andrew Bogut trade (the roster itself didn’t like the Bucks roster) and when Skiles declined to negotiate a contract extension, Hammond let him go.

Their five-year plan in Milwaukee had produced immediate results and a 49-40 record (playoffs included) in its second year, thanks to some deft Hammond roster moves, which won him the NBA’s Executive of the Year award in 2010. The fans in Milwaukee were ecstatic, and the “Fear the Deer” slogan was born. But it fell apart just as quickly when the next Hammond trades undermined the Bucks chemistry (trade for Corey Maggette, 2010, and others; the 3-team draft day trade to be rid of Maggette in 2011 looks now like an unwarranted act of desperation). Injuries robbed the team of any consistency and gave Hammond some handy excuses.

The 2012 trade of Bogut to the Warriors would, in time, anchor a championship defense in Golden State; it immediately destroyed the Bucks identity. By summer of 2012, Skiles had listed his home in the north Milwaukee suburbs “for sale” on the real estate market. By January of 2013, he was gone. Weltman exited for Toronto later in the year, though obviously on much better terms.

There’s an irony here amid the ruined five year plans in Milwaukee and Orlando, or maybe there is only Giannis Antetokounmpo, the diamond in the rough, the superstar rising whom Hammond and Weltman stumbled upon in their 6th summer with the Bucks. Maybe it’s the truth of Scott Skiles and his refusals to coach the Frankenstein rosters his former GMs patched together. The Bucks ability to benefit exponentially from Brandon Jennings via the trade with the Pistons and beyond is another (see the greenest area below). Or perhaps it’s elsewhere, the way one might find whatever it is they’re looking for in an abstract expressionist painting.

If you let your eyes blur a little over the minutia, a full account of Hammond’s wheeling and dealing of the Bucks “Fear the Deer” roster and draft picks does resemble a work of Jackson Pollock splatter art, communicating the same sense of aimless searching one can find in the meander of Pollock’s paints. 

Hammond reduced the entire 2010 Bucks squad and five years of draft pick assets to only a handful of players under contract: Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and John Henson. Add to that other 2010-connected assets such as the right of first refusal on Tony Snell in this summer’s free agency, Spencer Hawes‘ $6 million player option; and a super protected future 2nd round draft pick, and you have less than a third of a team, with two parts in flux.

Some of it was the work of Jason Kidd, but most of the work was done by Hammond prior to Kidd being hired. And here it is, in every exacting detail (I’m pretty sure I got it all, but someone please let me know if I missed anything).

How Hammond dealt Bucks assets Aug. 2009 – June 2013
(Green and CAPS indicates deal for current player (s) or asset; Red indicates end of the Bucks 2010-12 ties to that player, where the branch ends. “Assets” includes all draft picks 2008-2012.)
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2008 No. 8 draft pickJoe Alexander – traded 2/08/2010 w/ Hakim Warrick and a 2010 1st Round draft pick swap to Chicago Bulls for John Salmons, a 2011 2nd Rd pick (Isaiah Thomas) and a 2012 2nd Rd pick (Doron Lamb).
John Salmons – traded 6/32/11 w/ 2011 No. 10 pick (Jimmer Fredette) to Sacramento Kings for Beno Udrih as part of 3-team Corey MaggetteStephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston pick swap deal w/ Charlotte Bobcats
Beno Udrih – traded to Orlando Magic for J.J. Redick
J.J. Reddick – traded to L.A. Clippers for two 2nd Rd. draft picks (2014 – No. 48 Lamar Patterson; 2015 – No. 41 Pat Connaughton)
Patterson traded to Hawks for 2015 pick Norman Powelldead-ends with Greivis Vasquezleft unsigned by Bucks as 2016 free agent;
Connaughton was the pick sent to Brooklyn as compensation for the Bucks hiring coach JASON KIDD (see also Tobias Harris trade 2013)  
2008 No. 37 pick – Luc Mbah a Moute – Traded 7/12/13 to Sacramento Kings for future 2nd Rd picks
2014 2nd Rd Pick – Johnny O’Bryantwaived 2016
2016 2nd Rd pick – MALCOLM BROGDON – (Bucks traded their own 2016 pick Patrick McCaw to GSW for $2.4 CASH)
2009 No. 10 pick – Brandon Jennings traded 2013 for KHRIS MIDDLETON  Brandon Knight and Viacheslav Kravtsov
KHRIS MIDDLETON – current Buck
Brandon Knight – Traded w/ Kendall Marshall (claimed on waivers 2014) to Phoenix Suns for Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis in 3-team trade w/ PHI.
Sixers trade Michael Carter-Williams to Bucks
Miles Plumlee – traded to Charlotte Hornets for Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert – traded to Denver for cash, SUPER PROTECTED 2019 2ND RD PICK (top 55 protected)
SPENCER HAWEScurrent Buck, had player option 2017-18, exercised it, and Bucks waived Hawes 9/01/17, stretched remaining salary.
Michael Carter-Williams – traded to Chicago 2016 for TONY SNELL
Tyler Ennis – traded 2016 to Houston for Michael Beasley, unrestricted free agent 2017 (Beasley signed with the Knicks
Viacheslav Kravtsov – traded Aug. 2013 w/ Ish Smith to Phoenix for Caron Butler
Caron Butlerwaived Feb. 2014, signed with OKC
2009 No. 41 draft pick – Jodie Meeks, traded for free agent veterans and 2010 2nd Rd Pick (Darington Hobson)
2010 No. 17 draft pick – swapped for Chicago’s No. 15 as part of Alexander-Warrick for Salmons trade, used to take center Larry Sanders.
Larry Sanders bought out March 2015 – ANNUAL $1.866 MILLION SALARY CAP HIT THRU 2022
2010 2nd rd pickDarington Hobson, injured, never plays, waived 2012
2010 2nd rd pick – Tiny Gallon, waived 2010
2010 2nd rd pickJerome Jordan, obtained in trade for Maggette, sold to Knicks for CASH
2011 No. 10 pick – traded in 3-team Corey Maggette trade draft day June 2011 with SAC and CHA for 2011 No. 18 pick (Tobias Harris)
J.J. Redick traded 2013 to LAC for future 2nd Rd Pick (2015 No. 41) and 2014 2nd Rd Pick (No. 48 Lamar Patterson)
Lamar Patterson – traded to Atlanta Hawks for 2015 2nd Rd. pick
2015 2nd Rd pick – (Norman Powell) traded to Toronto for Greivis Vasquez
Greivis Vasquez – left unsigned by Bucks as 2016 free agent
2015 No. 41 pick (Pat Connaughton) sent to Brooklyn Nets as compensation for Bucks coach JASON KIDD
Ish Smith – traded for Caron Butler, Aug. 2013
Caron Butler – waived, Feb. 2014, signs with OKC for playoffs.
Gustavo Ayonleft unsigned by Bucks as 2013 free agent
2011 No. 40 pickJon Leuer – traded w/ J. Brockman, Shaun Livingston for Dalembert, 2014 2nd round pick
Dalembert leaves in free agency 2013
2014 2nd Rd. pick – traded to Philly for Nate Walters
Walters waived to make room for the Bucks to sign Kenyon Martin
Kenyon Martinwaived Feb. 2015
2011 No. 60 pick – the Isaiah pick, traded to SAC for Jon Brockman
Jon Brockman – traded to HOU in Dalembert deal, 2012
Dalembert – leaves in free agency, 2013
2012 No. 12 pick – (Jeremy Lamb) swapped for Houston’s No. 14 Pick (JOHN HENSON) in trade for Sam Dalembert
2012 No. 42 pick (from Chicago) – Doron Lamb – traded 2013 to ORL w/ Tobias Harris for J.J. Redick, Ish Smith, Gustavo Ayon
Amir Johnson – traded Aug. 2009 w/ Sonny Weems to Toronto Raptors for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic
Carlos Delfinoleft unsigned in free agency Aug. 2012, signed w/ Houston
Roko Ukicwaived Jan. 2010
Sonny Weems – traded Aug. 2009 w/ Amir Johnson to Raptors for Delfino and Ukic
Hakim Warrick – Signed as FA July 2009, traded to CHI (w/ Joe Alexander) Feb. 2010 for John Salmons
Salmons traded to Sacramento as part of 3-team trade June 2011, thread finally ends with Greivis Vasquez, 2016
Charlie Bell expiring contract – traded June 2010 to the Warriors for Corey Maggette and a 2010 2nd Rd draft pick (Jerome Jordan)
2010 2nd Rd Pick – (Jerome Jordan) sold to Knicks for CASH
Dan Gadzuric expiring contract – traded June 2010 to the Warriors for Corey Maggette
Corey Maggette – traded to Charlotte Bobcats June 2011 for Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston, as part of 3-team trade (also included a swap of draft picks and John Salmons to Sacramento for Beno Udrih).
Shaun Livingston – traded with Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman to Houston for Dalembert
Stephen Jackson – traded 2012 to the Warriors w/ Andrew Bogut
 
Darnell Jackson – claimed on waivers 2010, traded July 2010 with 2011 2nd Rd pick for Jon Brockman
Brockman – traded to HOU w/ Leuer, Livingston and 1st Rd. draft pick (Jeremy Lamb) in pick swap-Dalembert deal
Luke Ridnour unsigned in free agency, July 2010, signed by Minnesota T-Wolves
Kurt Thomasgone to Chicago Bulls in free agency July 2010
Jerry Stackhouse – signed 01/19/10 for rest of season, signed w/ Heat 10/23/10
Andrew Bogut – traded 2012 season to Golden State Warriors (w/ Stephen Jackson) for Ekpe Udoh, Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown
Kwame Brownleft unsigned free agency 2012
Monta Ellis signed with Dallas Mavs, free agency 2013
Ekpe Udohfree agent 2014, left unsigned 
Carlos Delfino – suffered concussion vs. Miami Heat 3/26 2010, left in free agency Aug. 2012, signed with Houston
Michael Redd – injured, played very little for Skiles. If ever there was a trade to be made for Redd, Bucks owner Herb Kohl probably nixed it. Redd was an annual $16-$19 million salary cap liability for Bucks 2008-2011, but also a combination of Lloyd’s of London insurance payments to Bucks and player asset depreciation that could be written off as loss on the team’s books. Contract expired 2011.
Ersan Ilyasova – traded in June 2015 to Detroit Pistons for Shawne Williams and Caron Butler
Butler waived by Bucks a 2nd time, June 2015
Shawne Williams – waived June 2015
 .
Assets remaining from all transactions, Fear the Deer 2010 roster and draft picks 2008-2012
(Includes all assets resulting from moves of players from the 2010 team and draft picks 2008-12.) Looking back on this post a few months later — woah, some of these moves are so mind-boggling they had to actually happen to be believed, and I don’t doubt there are some who still don’t believe they happened, not unlike the mind-warp of seeing the Marvel Deadpool movie for the first time.
JASON KIDDhowever partial — compensation 2nd Rd pick sent to Brooklyn, hiring of Kidd done by team owners without Hammond’s knowledge. This token connection to coach Kidd is all that’s left from the No. 8 2008 pick and the No. 10 2011 pick, plus Hakeem Warrick, Charlie Bell and Dan Gadzuric’s 2010 expiring contracts; and Andrew Bogut, who connects to this via Stephen Jackson who connects back to the deals involving 2008 and 2011 draft picks. Madness. KIDD fired 1/22/18.
2012 #12 Pick – swapped w/ Houston for #14 – JOHN HENSON
KHRIS MIDDLETON – acquired in trade for Brandon Jennings*
TONY SNELL* (Snell is in Milwaukee due to trades believed to have been instigated by Kidd – beginning with the 3-team Brandon Knight-to-Phoenix trade in 2015; Michael Carter-Williams came to Bucks from Philly in that deal; MCW was traded to Chicago for Snell in 2016). Bucks signed Snell to a 4-year $44 million deal July 1, 2017.
SPENCER HAWES – player option 2017-18* Hawes opted IN, and Bucks waived him August 31, stretching his $6.021 million contract over three years, so they will take an ANNUAL $2.007 MIL SALARY CAP HIT through fy 2019-2020
JABARI PARKER’s KNEES (as a 2014 draft pick, Parker should not be included but perhaps his knees qualifty)
$1.866 MIL ANNUAL CAP HIT through 2022 owing to Larry Sanders buyout
MALCOM BROGDON – 2017 Rookie of the Year
A 2019 protected 2nd rd pick from Nuggets (Roy Hibbert trade) the Bucks will only see if the Nuggets have one of the five-best records in the NBA in 2019.
*Middleton, Snell and Hawes (and the 2019 pick from Nuggets) all connected to Brandon Jennings and Jennings trade thread that starts w/ Hammond’s trade w/ Detroit June 2013. 
Post updated 10/24/2017 by someone who obviously has wayyy too much time on his hands.
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Source-erole and other notes:
Image: “Convergence” by Jackson Pollock, 1952. Prints available at Art.com
Tracking down the final traces of those seemingly infinite 2nd Rd picks: https://www.prosportstransactions.com/basketball/DraftTrades/Future/Bucks.htm
  • Player and team transactions: http://basketball-reference.com
  • Devos family research: Rolling Stone article on worst sports owners, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/lists/the-15-worst-owners-in-sports-20141125/the-devos-family-orlando-magic-20141124
  • Forbes Magazine, column on Devos social/political networks: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauriebennett/2011/12/26/the-ultra-rich-ultra-conservative-devos-family/#300911c06479
  • NY Times, 02/07/14, “Betsy Devos confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence breaks tie”: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/us/politics/betsy-devos-education-secretary-confirmed.html
  • Orlando Sentinel, Toronto Star, AP story on Hennigan’s firing, ESPN news, a crazy, half-baked CBS Sports feature 12/14/15 on how Hammond and the Bucks were “responsible for basically building the Warriors” championship team. It’s partially true, as everyone knows because the Andrew Bogut trade was a direct infusion of Bucks top 5 Skiles defense to the Warriors. And the decision to trade Shaun Livingston and others to Houston stands alone as Hammond’s worst trade. Where the article gets fuzzy is the question of whether the Bucks were going to draft Klay Thompson with their No. 10 pick (which they traded in their eagerness to dump Corey Maggette). Having covered the 2011 draft here at BobBoozerjinx, I know the Bucks were excited about a guy named Thompson but his first name was Tristan, not Klay. They only swapped the No. 10 pick when they realized Tristan Thompson was going to go much higher than anyone but Cleveland expected. The killer about the 2011 draft, and I never grow tired of pointing this out, is that Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried were both on the board when the Bucks made the trade, and while I didn’t write much about Faried, well, here’s the post.  “The best answer for the Bucks is hardworking Kawhi Leonard,” who “fits the Bucks core personality, if for no other reason than he has a nose for winning 50-50 plays that Skiles can’t resist.” As for Klay Thompson? Hammond didn’t want to take a shooting guard and wasn’t going to be forced into it by “Bucks needs” or any lottery politics — so he traded out of it and did what he likes to do: take the youngest forward in the draft. Klay Thompson was never the pick that got away — that was Leonard, and if you didn’t catch it before the draft, you knew it the instant that sinking feeling set in when the Spurs traded for him on draft day.
  • Adrian Wojnarowski’s twitter account Jan. 2013 (tweet on how Skiles “hates his team” https://twitter.com/WojVerticalNBA/status/288522111281135616
  • Toronto Star, “Raptors without GM Weltman”, 5/22/17:  https://www.thestar.com/sports/raptors/2017/05/22/raptors-without-gm-after-weltman-jumps-to-magic.html