Author Archives: J.D. Mo

About J.D. Mo

The creator of the Bob Boozer Jinx, slave to an unforgiving editorial board and the Bucks struggles to overcome one of the most naggingly persistent jinxes in all of sports.

NBA Playoffs: Coaching, Discipline, Rebounding and 50/50 plays . . . Bucks vs. Celtics Game 2 . . . Sterling Brown does not have slow feet . . . Bledsoe becomes twitter fodder

2nd Chance Points after two games of the Bucks-Celtics series: Boston 42, Milwaukee 13.

The Celtics have hauled down 20 offensive rebounds in all, plus four additional chances on team rebounds, converting 17 of 24 total opportunities. How do you score 42 points on 17 made shots? Three-point plays — which means the soul-crushing reality of Games 1 and 2 is that on 8 possessions the Celtics made the Bucks poor rebounding pay out big with and-ones and 3-pointers.

(Click HERE for the Game 1 official scorers’ report, and HERE for the Game 2 report).

The Bucks in Boston relied heavily on their starting front court — John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Giannis has been on the court for all but 13 of the 101 game minutes in the series, while Middleton and Henson have played 78% of the available playing time at small forward and center, respectively.

  • Giannis has grabbed 22 rebounds on his own.
  • Middleton and Henson have come up with 12 boards apiece, with Henson’s 10% rebounding rate a lower than low number for a starting NBA center.

What else is there to say? The Bucks’ need for help in the middle for the playoffs shouted at Bucks GM Jon Horst all season long and every time down the stretch the Bucks ran into a team with a good center. It’s too late now, and the Bucks are in dire need of professional help, perhaps divine intervention from the basketball gods. The editorial board at Bob Boozer Jinx recommends the following instructional video by the legendary Red Auerbach.

There you have it. Only shooting the ball is more important, yet the Bucks have outshot the Celtics 58% (eff. FG%)  to 54%, only to fall into an 0-2 hole. The rebounding problem has been that bad, and the Celtics too opportunistic for the Bucks to beat.

The reliance on Henson has been curious. Henson has played 74 of the 101 total minutes of the series, unheard of playing time for the J-Hook, who’s career per game playing time average is  20.4. This season he played 25.9 mpg, and the Bucks should go back to this — the “10 more minutes of someone not John Henson” strategy.

Interim coach Joe Prunty has all but benched Tyler Zeller, the undersized big man Horst managed to acquire before the 2018 deadline. Zeller wasn’t the best option by any means, and he’s more of a power forward who doesn’t shoot threes; but the trade — for little used 2015 draft bust Rashad Vaughn — was a good one. 

Thon Maker, the Bucks tree-like, still-developing project, has been benched. I had hoped Thon would see some minutes in the series, at least for the experience and the extreme hustle Thon busts into the game.

Are these lame-duck coaching decisions by Prunty or the dictates of the front office and GM Horst? Bucks fans may never know. What we do know is that it isn’t working.

Sterling Brown is not slow-footed

In the 8:47 Sterling Brown played in the 4th quarter Tuesday, Brown impressed (as usual) with his defense, quickness and foot speed on the wings. The latter — the foot speed — viewed in juxtaposition to Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon in the first three quarters, was a good lesson on what ails the Bucks defense. If this series has emphasized how soft the Bucks are in the middle, it has also exposed the slow feet of the Bucks rotation players on the wings — and this includes Middleton.

The long arms and good shooting are great. But if they’re not blocking shots (they’re not) and slow off the bounce, getting beat to the spots on the wings, what then? The result is the poor defense that has plagued the Bucks for three seasons now — and open shots and drives for the Celtics quicker, more athletic wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Hopefully, we’ll see more Sterling in Milwaukee.

Then there’s THIS.  The natives are restless in Milwaukee. Eric Bledsoe‘s being outplayed by Kyrie Irving‘s backup, Terry Rozier, and the world is letting him know all about it. Charles Barkley, too.

Ouch.

J.D. Mo’s gotta run, not much time to dwell on the Bucks this midweek. The truth about this Bucks-Celtics series holds — the Bucks only needed to win one game in Boston to win the series. The one win could have happened in Game 1 as the Bucks headed to overtime; it can come in Game 5 or Game 7.

But the Bucks cannot lose at home. Game 3 in Milwaukee Friday is MUST-win or the season’s all over and done but for the angry tweets. Here’s more from Red: “Did you see that rebound?”

Sourcerole

  • Official Scorer’s report, Bucks-Celtics Game 1, 4/15/18 –http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180415/0041700111_Book.pdf
  • Official Scorer’s report, Bucks-Celtics Game 2, 4/17/18 –http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180417/0041700112_Book.pdf
  • Series Box Score and Advanced Boxscore at Basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2018-nba-eastern-conference-first-round-bucks-vs-celtics.html

NBA Playoffs: Bucks vs. Celtics notes

Eric Bledsoe was a step behind Celtics pg Terry Rozier Sunday in Game 1, as Rozier hit three big 3-point shots with the game on the line. Boston Herald photo by Christopher Evans. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Notes from the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs, Eastern Conference.

Bucks-Celtics – The Bucks need win only one game in Boston to take this series, so Sunday’s overtime loss can be filed for what it was — a good effort, a tough loss, in which Celtics point guard Terry Rozier (23 pts, 4 for 9 from three) hit three big threes in crunch time, one with barely a second left in regulation to put the Celtics up three, 99-96. Rozier struck again in the overtime, hitting a contested three to get the Celtics on the board and a 104-103 lead.

The Game 1 heroics of Kyrie Irving‘s backup should ensure that Rozier’s Bucks counterparts, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, won’t fall a step behind the rest of the series, not that the Bucks switching defense makes match-ups predictable. Brogdon was often found trying to check Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (19 pts, 10 rebs) on Sunday, just one of many unfortunate outcomes of the Bucks defensive schemes throughout the game. Jaylen Brown, the other Celtics wing forward added 20 points and Marcus Morris dropped 21 on the Bucks off the Celtics bench.

Can the Celtics count on 83 points per game from Rozier, Tatum, Brown and Morris the rest of the series? The quartet averaged a combined 53.3 per game during the regular season, and tend to go through stretches where they struggle to score. You’ve gotta like the chances of the Bucks, finally playing with their full roster for the first time this season, prevailing in this series.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton – The Bucks forwards combined for 66 points on 50 shooting possessions (shot attempts + trips to the FT line), terrific offensive efficiency. They only turned the ball over 7 times between them while dishing out 13 assists (6 for Khris and 7 for Giannis),

generating a whopping 86% of the Bucks offense, in addition to hauling in 21 rebounds — monster numbers that begged for a hot hand teammate to help them out.

Bledsoe and Tony Snell were 0 for 5 from three, and Jabari Parker — 2 points in just 14 mins of action — missed the only downtown look he had. Middleton said he should have been an All-Star this season, and he certainly played like one on Sunday.

Discipline, 50-50 plays and rebounds – Tatum scored 19 pts on 18 shots Saturday and Brown missed 10 shots, so the Bucks weren’t too bad there — they outshot the Celtics 48% to 41%. The Celtics won by winning the 50-50 plays and taking advantage of an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers by the Bucks. The Bucks can cut down on turnovers and sloppy play and expect better games from Bledsoe the rest of the series, but the 50-50 plays and rebounding may be a different story. The young Celtics were just quicker to the ball than the Bucks, beating the guys in dark green to the one more offensive rebound, one more loose ball, they needed to win. The Celtics and Jazz led the NBA in Defense this season (103.9 pts/100), so the 50-50 hustle is habit for the C’s.

The Celtics scored 22 second chance points off of their 11 OREBs (plus a team rebound), a destructive scoring rate — and those plays killed the Bucks. Bucks center John Henson was credited with six blocked shots but grabbed only 6 rebs in 37 mins — unheard of playing time for Henson and terrible rebounding for a big man. To paraphrase Red Auerbach and countless coaches through the ages — “If you didn’t get the rebound, you didn’t play defense.”

Giannis vs. Al Horford vs. the referees – Giannis shot 16 free throws (made) in Game 1, but there were calls he didn’t get, including a charging call drawn by a clearly moving Marcus Morris in the 4th quarter, the 4th foul on Giannis in a game he would foul out of in the overtime. Jason Phillips, the referee who kicked Steph Curry out of Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals, made that call and a few others that were questionable.

Phillips, in his 19th NBA season, missed last year’s playoffs due to injury. Nothing really stands out about Phillips’ stats at basketball-reference.com. Game 1 crew chief Mike Callahan, in his 28th season, is one the 5 most experienced refs in the NBA, but has appeared slow and out of shape this season, at times laboring to keep up in a league where the pace has picked up in recent years. Both Callahan and Phillips were Finals refs in 2016, and Callahan refereed the 2017 Finals —

so the Bucks and Celtics, ostensibly, got the cream of the crop of NBA officials in Game 1. Yet somehow, both teams could hope for better officiating in Game 2.

Horford shot 14 free throws and missed only one. Horford is a tough defender, a 10-year veteran who knows how to work the refs. Horford, the Celtics and the referees offer a good test of Giannis’ mettle, if not quite a test of his greatness, and challenges Giannis will have to figure out to get his team through the series. . Whether or not the 23-year-old star can lift the Bucks into the next round is THE question in this series; the answer will either cement or cast doubt on his status as superstar in the NBA.

(Note that Bucks nemesis Mark Davis isn’t scheduled to work tonight’s games, so there’s a chance he could be in Boston for Game 2 on Tuesday. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, as Davis’ m.o. is to balance games for the visiting teams while inciting the rage of home crowds).

Tyler Zeller and Thon Maker — While Henson logged 37 minutes, Zeller played all of 4:28 seconds and Maker got a DNP from interim coach Joe Prunty. Henson was visibly exhausted in the 4th quarter and played just 13 seconds of the overtime, as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Al Horford went head-to-head at center. No, Bucks GM Jon Horst didn’t help his team out by acquiring a real big man down the stretch, but there was no need for Prunty — who in all likelihood won’t be coaching the Bucks next season — to emphasize this problem in Boston. If only for the playoff experience, Thon should play in this series.

Heat-Sixers correction – From last weekend’s preview post:  “I doubt they make it back to Miami Philadelpha for a Game 6 Game 5.”  The way the Sixers are rolling, winners of 17 games in a row, I don’t see the Heat winning a game in this series. Sixers center Joel Embiid is expected to play in Game 2 tonight (Monday), which should at least give Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a reason to play Hassan Whiteside, who saw only 12 minutes of action in Game 1. The Heat weren’t sure Whiteside was going to be ready to play at all in the game.

Gamebooks and other links

  • Bucks vs. Celtics official scorers’ report, Game 1, 04/15/18 - http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180415/0041700111_Book.pdf
  • NBA Official – official.nba.com
  • Referees index at http://basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/

Eastern Conference playoffs preview . . . Nursing an unspecified injury and up in the air . . . Heat vs. Sixers . . . Bucks vs. Celtics . . . May 17, 1987

The NBA playoffs began this afternoon with the Spurs in Oakland against the defending champs with the Wizards vs. Raptors, Heat vs. 76ers and Pelicans vs. Trailblazers series’ also set to open today. Let’s get right into it then and take a look at the Eastern Conference match-ups, with a little help from the full season 2017-18 BIER ratings for the eight East playoff teams, which J.D. Mo finally finished Saturday morning. (Dig into the basics of BIER HERE.)

Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers – “Whiteside is nursing an unspecified injury and his status against the Sixers for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round is up in the air.”

So says the Miami Heat’s injury note on center Hassan Whiteside, who’s been warring again with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra over playing time. (Think Greg Monroe and Jason Kidd, only on the more less* unprofessional side, with Udonis Haslem in the mix to smooth things over in the role assistant coach Greg Foster played with the Bucks). With the 6th-seeded Heat in Philly getting ready to take on the Sixers in their series opener, the note speaks volumes for the character of the Miami Heat organization and its GM, Pat Riley.  *please see note below

“Nursing unspecified injury status up in the air” spells “may or may not play depending on whether coach Spoelstra feels like using him in a game where we know we won’t be playing against Joel Embiid.” Enjoy the game, Hassan, we’ll give you a nice courtside seat, call you if we need you (and we’ll have fun with the injury report whether you like it or not). — Insert thoughts on how this contrasts with how the Milwaukee Bucks organization handles things these days —  There’s no room for players questioning the dictates of the coach in Miami, nor any doubt about who’s in charge.

2017-18 BIER leaders on Eastern Conference playoff teams only. * Irving’s season is finished due to knee trouble, but I decided to leave him in the chart to show how much production impact the Celtics are missing in his absence.

The crazy thing about the injury note, other than the really amusing deadpan absurdities of it, is that the Heat are so fully prepared to play without Whiteside. When he does play, there’s no higher impact big man, no more dominant player in the East, as the BIER chart at right shows. The Heat just don’t care about the numbers.

The Heat went through a lot of trouble on the last night of the regular season to set up the Philly series, winning in overtime in Miami against the Raptors. It was a game they would have and should have lost had 3-point gun Wayne Ellington not caught fire in the 4th quarter. Ellington drained 6 out of 7 threes for 18 points in the 4th to force the overtime, then put the game out of reach with an old-fashioned layup with 1:53 to play to put the Heat up by six as Spoelstra stuck with his 2nd unit players in the overtime. If not for Ellington, the Sixers would be playing the Bucks this evening and the Heat preparing for the Celtics in Boston tomorrow.

Which is another funny thing about the Heat. Spoelstra’s bench crew — Ellington and Kelly Olynyk (Whiteside’s backup at center), along with forwards Justise Winslow and rookie big man Bam Adebayo — are the guys responsible for the Philadelphia series. Not Whiteside or Dwyane Wade or All-Star point guard Goran Dragic. Forwards Josh Richardson and James Johnson were the only Heat starters to see any action in the overtime.

And that’s just fine for the Heat, who are expected to trade Whiteside in the offseason. D-Wade is expected to retire, enjoy the ride. This isn’t their year, the Heat know it, no reason to worry about who their first round opponent was going to be. I doubt they make it back to Miami for a Game 6.

Sixers center Embiid, mending a quite specified fractured orbital bone around his left eye, is not expected to play in the opener Saturday and may not play at all against the Heat, depending on how competitive the series is. The Sixers streaked into the playoffs on a 16-game winning binge that started with Embiid in the lineup and has rolled on since he was cracked in the face against the Knicks March 28.

The Heat aren’t likely to be able to produce enough offense to keep up with the Sixers, while Philly’s defense is rated 4th best in the league. The Heat play good defense, too, and are rated 7th (106.3 pts/100) but it shouldn’t matter, especially if Spoelstra’s not going to rely on Whiteside to anchor the D.

Bucks vs. Sixers in the second round while Cleveland and Toronto face off in the other East semifinal?  It seems a likely outcome and the best of all worlds for Milwaukee and Philly, who won’t see Lebron James and Kevin Love or the 59-win Raptors until the East Finals. But first the Bucks must get past the Kyrie-less Boston Celtics, who can’t be too pleased that the Bucks so obviously tanked their final game in Philly in hopes of dropping down from 6th into 7th to play them.

Bucks vs. Celtics

No Kyrie Irving means a good matchup for Bucks point guards Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon against Terry Rozier, who’s played well in Irving’s absence. Celtics middle linebacker Marcus Smart is still out nursing a torn tendon in his thumb, so the Celtics are woefully thin at point. A nice edge for the Bucks.

Greg Monroe leads the Celtics scoring off the bench. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Bucks big men John Henson, Thon Maker and Tyler Zeller will be disassembled by Aron Baynes and Greg “Moose” Monroe, who saw a lot of action off of Boston’s bench down the stretch. They will be reassembled after the playoffs as the Bucks organization puzzles what to do with them. For development purposes, I hope Thon plays a lot in this series, even though Monroe knows Thon’s every weakness and bad habit, having played a full season and two training camps with him in Milwaukee.

With the further development of young forwards Jaylen Brown (left) and Jayson Tatum as top priority for the Celtics goal in the Bucks series, they’re playing with house money in Boston. Photo: Boston Globe. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Khris Middleton and Tony Snell will have their hands full with the young Jays on the wings, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Middleton has had a decent, generally efficient scoring season (3-pt shoting % was down this year) while posting career highs in rebounds and assists. Khris got better in 2017-18 and posted a 7.65 BIER/36, a nice improvement over his career BIER of 4.96 (which isn’t all that great for a forward). The difficulty here is that 20-year-old Tatum posted a 7.50 BIER/36 in his rookie season and Brown, in his second season, bested Khris’ career mark. (Edited from original – much like the Bucks, I got the two Jays mixed up on the wings).

What this means in the world of BIER is that both the Jays are already better all-around impact players than Khris has been for most of his career; and that Middleton’s career-best season at age 26 was business as usual for Tatum at age 21 in his rookie year. This should trouble Bucks fans and front office people alike — and what happens in the wing match-ups in this series should prove instructional for anyone taking notes. It’s a good “see how we are”*¹ test for all involved, while in Boston they’re viewing the entire series as a “Jaylen and Jayson show” development exercise.

Coaching and discipline  could well define the match-ups on the wings. Tatum and Brown play in the NBA’s No. 1-rated defense and Brad Stevens has everybody’s attention in Boston. This can’t be said of Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty, as the Bucks showed an undisciplined streak as the season wound down — the ridiculous 46 points they gave up in the first quarter in Philly; the final two minutes of the loss in Denver; an unexpected loss at home to Brooklyn — the list since the All-Star break could go on. The Bucks defense (rated 19th in the NBA at 110.1 pts/100 poss.) is good in spots, but not for entire games. It’s not better to be lucky than good, but if the Bucks had played with greater poise and discipline, they’d probably be playing Cleveland in the first round.

Giannis vs. Al Horford – Other than Lebron James, who isn’t always 100% dialed in on defense, Al Horford is the toughest head-to-head match-up in the East side of the playoffs for the Giannis Antetokounmpo. Horford is the model of consistency at power forward and shoots 43% from three, but it’s his defense that will make Giannis work. Horford’s a very solid fundamental defender, knows all the veteran tricks, dirty and otherwise, and has been getting All-Star treatment by NBA referees for nearly a decade now. A good, tough test for Giannis, who loves a challenge. He’s the No. 2 rated BIER player in the Eastern Conference, behind only Lebron (J.D. Mo hasn’t crunched the full season numbers for the West yet, but he’s pretty sure Anthony Davis finished with the league’s top BIER number).

The benches: The Bucks bench got a boost in the final week of the season with the return of Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova to complement Jabari Parker, Brandon Jennings, Zeller, Sterling Brown, Maker and Jason Terry. The Maker-Zeller combo will have their hands full with the Moose but this is a good Bucks bench group. The Celtics are just too shorthanded with Smart not available until April 27. Monroe will produce in the middle and create offense around him (the Celtics like to run cutters and hand-off plays off of Monroe in the high post to take advantage of Monroe’s passing game). There may be no center in the East who’s as good with the ball as Monroe is. But there’s nobody to stop Parker other than Semi Ojeleye, another Celtics rookie, who’s somewhat of a liability at this point. Look for Parker to break out a great game or three in the series.

Prediction: #BucksIn6

May 17, 1987

The last time the Bucks and Celtics met in the playoffs was Game 7 of the 1987 Eastern Semifinals. The series has been dubbed “the forgotten” series because the East Finals the Celtics would play after surviving the Bucks has loomed large in both Legend of Larry Bird and Bad Boys Pistons lore (“Bird steals the ball!! – D.J. lays it in!!!!”). The 1988 Celtics-Hawks Eastern Conference semifinals series has loomed larger, too, partly because it was the pinnacle of Dominique Wilkins career, and partly because Bird’s exploits were, again, legendary. Now that I think about it, I’m not exactly sure why that Hawks team gets talked about more than the Bucks, who played in three Eastern Conference Finals in the 1980s. The Hawks never made it out of the semifinal rounds.

There’s a lot of online content about “the forgotten series” now but for my money (it’s actually free) head for the Sports Illustrated vaults and dig into SI’s feature on Game 7, published May 25, 1987 and posted HERE.

The full CBS Broadcast of the game with Dick Stockton and Billy Cunningham is up on youtube at Karol K’s NBA channel. Nobody knew these teams, these players better than Billy C, who coached the Sixers (1979-1985) during the great 3-headed Celtics-Sixers-Bucks Eastern Conference rivalry in the 1980s.

The referees are Ed Rush and Hugh Evans. Final score: Celtics 119, Bucks 113.

*¹ “See How We Are” is a great song by the band X, written by John Doe and Exene Cervenka. It’s not about basketball.

*Ed. note: this was a typo – Monroe didn’t vent in the media like Whiteside did. The Moose very publicly during a game early in the 2017 season, when Moose was playing less than John Henson and losing minutes to Thon Maker, got into a heated hollering match with Foster; the maintained a solid, mutually respectful working relationship. The first thing Monroe did after learning last fall he was traded to the Suns was walk over to Foster and shake his hand. Foster will not likely be coaching the Bucks next season, but he deserves credit, as Bucks big man coach, for getting the most out of a very limited John Henson, who’s had his best pro season this year) 

Sourcerole

  • Raptors vs. Heat official scorers’ report, final game of the regular season, 04/11/18 – http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180411/0021701221_Book.pdf

Things to do in Washington D.C. when you need the Celtics to beat the Wizards . . . Updated Bucks playoff scenarios

The Bucks dispensed with the Orlando Magic 102-86 last night and the Heat fell to the Thunder in Miami, setting up the next stage in the Bucks playoff seed watch: the Celtics-Wizards game in Washington D.C. tonight.

Lose at home to the Kryie-less Celtics and the Wizards will be relegated to 8th and a first round playoff match-up against Toronto. The Bucks would then have the luxury of deciding whether to go all out against the Sixers on Wednesday in a bid for the 6th seed, or bow out in Philly and take the 7th seed and a Round 1 series against Boston.

The 6th seed opponent would almost surely be the Cavs, who close their season against the injury-depleted Knicks in Cleveland after beating the Knicks 123-109 in N.Y. Monday to stay a half game behind Philly. The Sixers have won 14 straight games, and will look to extend their streak to 15 tonight in Atlanta. A loss to the Hawks — or to the Bucks in the season finale — would flip the Cavs and Sixers in the final standings. (OK, anything is possible in the Knicks-Cavs game Wednesday, but really? Lebron and Kevin Love racked up 54 pts, 11 rebs and 12 asts against the Knicks Monday, and the Cavs are all but fully healthy and resting no one in this final week).

Luxuries are nice; the odds against beating Lebron and the Cavs in a first round playoff series are not so nice. All eyes in Bucks-land turn east to Washington, where the Celtics-Wizards are set to tip off at 7pm CST on TNT. A Wizards win means all remains in flux for the bottom three East seeds going in to Wednesday’s regular season-closing games.

The Wizards – have lost eight of their last 10 and four straight since John Wall came back March 31 from knee surgery. They’re murmuring about a sudden lack of chemistry in D.C., but had lost four of the six prior to Wall coming back and haven’t won since Boston announced that Kyrie Irving was done for the season. Truth is, the Wizards schedule was like a Rob Zombie Films gauntlet of terror — the Wiz didn’t catch a game against a lottery bound team for a month (Feb. 24 – March 24).

I’d say the Wizards are more burnt out than anything else, and occasionally suffering post traumatic stress from their schedule. Now that Wall’s back, nobody’s ailing except backup center Ian Mahinmi, who suffered a concussion in Cleveland and missed the Wizards’ loss to Atlanta Friday. They haven’t played a game since then, a well-timed and badly needed break before the battle against Boston.

Greg “Moose” Monroe has been getting a lot of work off Boston’s bench down the stretch, and posted a triple-double against the Bulls on Friday. Photo by Brad Mills, USA Today Sports. License: Standard non-commercial use.

The Celtics – Word out of the Celtics camp (and the Boston Globe) is that they’re not going to cooperate by resting Al Horford or anybody else not injured — and they don’t need the rest. Their young Jays, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier, Jabari Bird and Semi Ojeleye will sup on the playoff-like atmosphere of the game, though all the pressure’s on the Wizards. And Greg Monroe just likes getting the work with his new team. The C’s have been running plenty of sets for Monroe in recent games, and he’s averaged 17.7 pts, 7 rebs and 5.7 asts in 24.4 mins per game in his last three. 

The Moose’s BIER rating was good in Phoenix (13.51) but in Boston it’s up to 15.06 — an all-star level per36 for a center. Of course Monroe has played just 19 mins per game since joining the Celtics in February, but that’s still a ton of production to throw at opponents off the bench (Aron Baynes starts at center for the Celtics while Al Horford’s has shifted to his natural role as stretch power forward).

Moose put up a triple double vs. Chicago last Friday, as he and Bird (of course the Celtics took the only guy named Bird in the draft last summer) dropped 34 pts on the Bulls off the bench in the Celtics win.  “When he gets the minutes, he’s often going to get a double double (points and rebounds),” C’s coach Brad Stevens said of Monroe. “He’s an underrated passer.”

Yep. Bucks fans knew all that, though it didn’t stop former Bucks coach Jason Kidd from undervaluing Monroe. Kidd was never going to make the most of Moose and his skills, which is why trading Moose for Eric Bledsoe has worked: 32 mins of Bledsoe usually beats 20 mins of Monroe (in the world of BIER, anyway), though not at the production level Monroe’s been contributing in Boston.  If it seems the Bucks are no better than they were last season — and probably worse considering they won 20 of their last 30 on their run to the playoffs — remember that Kidd was playing Monroe 25 mins or more during that stretch, and that this season they’ve been without Malcolm Brogdon since early February.

Way to end on a bum note, dude.

Sorry man, I couldn’t help it — thinking about the Bucks and their politics this season just has that sort of effect.

Celtics-Wizards tips off at 7:05 CST tonight on TNT. 

Spoiler Hawks – In the course of writing this, I noticed that the most recent games for both the Celtics and the Wizards were against the Hawks, and that the Hawks played spoiler and beat them both. Just an odd factoid, perhaps. The Hawks opponent tonight in Atlanta happens to be Philly. Can the Hawks make it a hat trick? And would it change anything for the Bucks? . . .  nope.

Things to do in Milwaukee when you might not have to play Toronto in Round 1 . . . Meanwhile in Miami: Heat vs. Thunder tonight kicks off 3 days of NBA madness

The Bucks hopes of finishing anywhere but 8th, it turned out, didn’t die last week in Denver, and neither did Denver’s hopes after the Bucks gave them new life (the Nuggets beat the T-Wolves and the Clippers last week to all but eliminate the Clippers and give themselves a shot at 8th in the West). The Bucks and Heat are tied with 43-37 records, the Heat holding the tie-breaker and 6th seed in the East. Both teams are in action tonight: The Bucks face Orlando in Milwaukee while the Heat host the Thunder in Miami. The Wizards are 8th at 42-38 after losing to the spoiler Atlanta Hawks Sunday. In the East, 8th means a Toronto series and is to be avoided.

The turning point in the Bucks outlook had nothing to do with the Bucks or their temporary coaching staff, and everything to do with Kyrie Irving‘s infected left knee and the news that his inaugural season in Boston was over.

Chances are, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a better all-around player than the small forward on your favorite NBA team. RHJ played 37 mins in the Nets 119-111 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee 04/05, grabbing 11 rebs to go with 14 pts and 5 assists. NY Post photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

With the injury news April 5, the Heat and the Wizards joined the 7th seed sweepstakes to play Kyrie-less Boston, locked in at No. 2 in the East. Both teams dumped games to lottery teams while the Bucks were doing the same in Milwaukee Thursday under a barrage of Brooklyn 3-pointers (19 makes, 19 misses by the Nets). Then the Wizards lost to the Hawks, and not on purpose. John Wall‘s back from knee surgery but his teammates had grown accustomed to playing without him. A Kobe-style drama may be playing out in D.C., with the immediate beneficiaries the Bucks and their playoff seeding.

In this race in the bottom rungs of the Eastern Conference playoff ladder, if you run too fast you could end up playing Lebron and the Cavs in the Round 1 — and nobody wants that with the possible exception of Giannis Antetokounmpo who would consider it an honor, a challenge, a learning experience and a chance to pull off an incredible upset. The rest of the Bucks? Let’s just say Giannis would be resting his knees and ankles and watching Toronto Raptors games had his teammates not had some fun winning in New York Saturday. He is expected to play tonight against Orlando. (Not anymore – Giannis was a game time scratch).

So now the trick is to somehow wedge into 7th between Washington and Miami while avoiding the mistake of winning too much and becoming Round 1 fodder for Lebron and NBA refs. It’s better off said — the last thing the NBA wants is Lebron out of the playoffs after only a few games. If the Bucks were good enough to upset the Cavs (which they’re not), the refs would be sure to make said task so supremely difficult that only someone like Giannis could possibly succeed without help from one of the Avengers (preferably not “arrow guy” Clint, who’s No. 1 on the “will probably die in the next movie” list).

First up, the Bucks host the Orlando Magic tonight in the last regular season Bucks game that will ever be played at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a building that saw a lot of losing by the Bucks over the years and only two playoff series wins, yet houses two generations of nostalgia for those who came to know, love and routinely regret their uncharted fates as fans of the Milwaukee Bucks. We waited years for the criminal investigation into the crooked refereeing in Game 4 vs. the Sixers 2001, to no avail. All we got is Jim Rome yelling about it on TV, a Ray Allen trade only George Karl loved, and a bunch of fledgling bloggers invested in Michael Redd for no reason they could explain. It was weird, weirder even than the drama of this season — and that’s only the stuff that happened after the internet. The 1990s were often weirder but usually a lot more fun despite the Bucks needing the entire decade to build a winner in the BC, where once upon a time everyone knew how to stay on beat for the DEFENSE chant. Who let the dogs out, indeed!

What’s killing Bucks fandom now is the idea that the Bucks are supposed to win. It’s a pretty dumb idea, looking up and down the roster and the payroll. But there it is, this idea that the Bucks time has arrived with Giannis. Now that time is here, the fans tip-tap their smart phones and wonder when. 

Bucks need a win tonight – Can the Bucks beat the 24-win Magic in this final Bradley Center game? The last time the Bucks played Orlando, Jonathon Simmons and D.J. Augustin rained 13-21 threes on the Bucks and the Magic held off the Bucks in the 4th to win 126-117 (funny, same thing the Nets did to the Bucks on Thursday). Simmons isn’t likely to play tonight due to a “right wrist contusion”, the Bucks are at home and the Magic closer to wrapping it up with a primo lottery pick. The Magic won’t be as tough as Brooklyn, and Malcolm Brogdon is expected to play (not sure if this sarcasm or not).

But who am I kidding? The Bucks will beat Orlando tonight because most folks around the NBA have little more than a vague awareness the game is being played at all, and — more importantly — because a win by the Bucks could quite possibly create a dilemma for the Bucks in Philly on Wednesday in the season finale. Dilemma, conundrum, Hobson’s choice — to win or not to win — a fitting way for the Bucks to end this rather Shakespearean season of theirs.

Dispense with the Magic, beat the Sixers and the Bucks could quite possibly find themselves in 6th. Unfortunately for the Bucks, handing the Sixers a loss will almost surely vault the Cavs into 3rd, which means the Bucks would head to Cleveland over the weekend to begin the playoffs. The Cavs finish their schedule with back-to-back games against the Knicks, who, as the Bucks found on Saturday, don’t have a lot to work with right now other than Michael Beasley (half the roster’s on the injury report). The Sixers are on a 14-game winning streak which should run to 15 games in Atlanta Tuesday, barring another spoiler win by the Hawks.

Meanwhile in Miami – The Heat tonight host a desperate OKC team that still hasn’t clinched a playoff birth in the West. Russell Westbrook cast as desperado in Miami, rocketing all over the court, raging at every injustice seen and unseen, demanding sublime efforts from Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to nail down the playoff berth. This will be great TV tonight, and there’s more ahead Tuesday and Wednesday in the West match-ups. Pity the Heat, who could be looking to avoid the 8th seed on Wednesday against 1st place Toronto. I don’t see how the Heat win the OKC game, with Hassan Whiteside and Erik Spoelstra warring again last week over Whiteside’s playing time and the wags talking off-season trade (attention: Jon Horst). OKC plays center Steven Adams full-time minutes, so Whiteside should get his PT tonight.

While the Thunder have yet to clinch a playoff spot, the Pacers, who traded Paul George for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo in the offseason, locked up the #5 seed over the weekend. Addition by subtraction and teamwork, a breakout year for Oladipo, and a few smart moves by the GM; “trust the process” in Philly — the Pacers and Sixers are where the Bucks thought they’d be this season.

Meanwhile in Washington The Wizards host those shorthanded Celtics on Tuesday. There’s a lot of silver in the clouds for the Celtics, no matter what happens in the playoffs. The Celtics have nothing to play for in D.C., except to run offense for recent acquisition Greg Monroe — 17.7 pts, 7 rebs, 5.7 asts avg. for Monroe in his last three games, and a triple-double against the Bulls on Friday) — and build experience for their young forwards, 19-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown. A Bucks win over the Magic coupled with a loss to the Celtics Tuesday would lock the Wizards in 8th.

A Wizards win against the Celtics would mean the Wizards would have to lose in Orlando or the Heat would have to lose both of their remaining games for the Bucks to end up 7th. (Assuming the Bucks beat the Magic tonight.) Don’t ask me if Toronto will be resting players and taking the night off in Miami Wednesday.

And don’t ask whether the Bucks can beat the Sixers in Philly. Let’s see if the Bucks can take Orlando first.

Bucks April Fools Fiasco: Things to do in Denver before your playoff hopes die . . . Another NBA referee-made mess

Referee Tony Brothers’ crew called 10 fouls on the Bucks in the 4th quarter Sunday night in Denver, to 2 on the Nuggets as the Nuggets overcame a 18-point deficit to force overtime and beat the Bucks, 128-125. Khris Middleton (middle) and Eric Bledsoe might be wondering here why the Nuggets shot 46 free throws in all, including the game-tying trio by Jamal Murray. AP photo: License: Standard non-commercial use.

There was a lot wrong with the Bucks mind-boggling, overtime loss to the Nuggets in Denver Sunday night, which featured the Bucks blowing a 17 point lead with 6 minutes to play in regulation. They had the ball too at that point, ahead by 17, the clock marching down under 6:00. Instead of slowing the pace to run some offense, Bucks center John Henson cut to the basket and tried to dunk on Nikola Jokic. Henson missed the dunk, and a few seconds later Jamal Murray buried a three to cut the lead to 14. Suddenly, it wasn’t the Nuggets reeling from the 3-pointer Bledsoe had hit prior to Henson miffing the dunk, it was the Bucks calling time out to regroup with 5:44 to go.

The mindlessness of that play seems to speak for every mindless play made by the Bucks on their way to their 36th loss, 128-125 in OT, and a return to 8th place in the East. Henson wasn’t close on dunk (which isn’t the sort of video that gets cut and distributed in the NBA), but he didn’t appear to get above the rim as he rose to the basket and slammed the ball into the side of the iron.

The “J-Hook” also failed to grab a single rebound in the 4th quarter as the Bucks frittered away the lead, but neither did his backup, Tyler Zeller, who played the first 4 mins of the quarter. Denver pulled down 17 offensive boards on the night and scored 24 second chance points. The Bucks were out-rebounded 57-45 in the game, nothing new there — the Bucks would be the worst rebounding team in the league by percentage if the Orlando Magic weren’t worse.

The Bucks persisting need for a real center was just one of the problems in Denver. The referees, led by crew chief Tony Brothers, made numerous controversial calls in the Nuggets favor down the stretch to engineer this outcome, including Bennie Adams‘ 6th and disqualifying foul call on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Adams call with 2.8 secs left that led to the game-tying free throws. Meanwhile, Bucks Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe each made mindless plays in the final two minutes, suggesting rather strongly that the Bucks don’t have much of brain (or a coach) without Giannis on the court.

And here I was, looking forward to writing a nice, uplifting blog about the Bucks winning Western road trip and their chances of nabbing the 7th seed from Miami as they took a 111-103 lead with 2:08 to play and the Nuggets’ Murray was called for travelling 20 seconds later. It was not meant to be, not in Denver and not in this season in general for the Bucks. Lately, they’ve played too much like a First Round to be anything but.

THE REFEREES – The crew chief in Denver, Tony Brothers, just so happened to be the crew chief of the Bucks Game 6 loss to the Raptors in last year’s playoffs. Brothers swallowed his whistle then as Marc Davis burned the Bucks in Milwaukee, and was helpless again to stop referee Bennie Adams from engineering the Nuggets comeback. First, with the Bucks up 10 with 3:53 to go, coach Joe Prunty called time out, and subbed Antetokounmpo (who had 5 fouls) back into the game for Jabari Parker. The Bucks immediately went to Giannis in isolation in the middle of the court against Nik Jokic, who, as Giannis drove to his left, appeared to bump Giannis as he tried to stay in front of him, then stumbled to the floor when Giannis stepped on his foot planting to shoot — as you’ll see below in the video:

No basket, foul on Giannis — his 6th — and he was T’d up for screaming about it (looked like he deserved the technical). After the technical free throw, Adams whistled Bledsoe for a foul on Murray — two more FTs and the lead was down to 7 (107-100) with 3:26 to play. 

Adams is in his 23rd season as an NBA ref, but all that experience doesn’t necessarily mean he’s one of the better refs. I didn’t have Adams in any of the games I reviewed in last year’s playoffs during the “More than a Slap on the Wrist” series, and Adams didn’t make the cut down to 20 officials working the Conference Finals. He was, however, one of 30 refs in the conference semifinals pool so that puts him 21st-30th of 64 refs in the pecking order NBA Official says it establishes based on who advances to work the later rounds of the playoffs.

In any case, Adams would strike again with 2.8 seconds left and the Bucks ahead 111-108, after Khris Middleton’s lazy, off-target inbound lob to Jason Terry was intercepted by Murray and Murray raced to the 3-point line with Terry in pursuit. Murray fired away, the shot was off, but Adams called Terry for a foul that no camera could find even in slow-motion. Murray hit 3 free throws and the game was tied and headed to OT.

The NBA couldn’t find the foul in their Last 2-Minute Report (L2M) issued the day after the game, but for some reason the lack of evidence of a foul didn’t result in an “incorrect call” ruling. Here’s the ruling:

“There is no clear and conclusive angle that shows whether contact does or does not occur. Therefore the call stands as correct.”

NBA Official, curiously enough, also didn’t post a link to the video of the play, something they do for every call and non-call looked at in an L2M. (I guess the bosses didn’t feel like airing Bennie Adams’ dirty laundry). But I did find the video on Nuggets fan Justin Jett’s twitter account, thanks to The Score; and here it is:


In the “More than a Slap on the Wrist” series during last year’s playoffs, the realization about the L2Ms was that just because a corporate office decides to write reports does not mean your going to get a well written report. This was arrived at after reviewing a dozen or so L2M reports, and here we have another one that yearns to defeat the “transparency” purpose NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s states as the reason the reports exist. Bennie Adams did what he thought was the right thing to do in Denver — hand the game to the Nuggets. If the NBA office had ruled his call on Terry an “Incorrect Call”, would Adams have been held accountable? Not any discernible way. The only remedy the league seems to have is to limit the number of games a referee works in the playoffs.

Adams had help from Bucks Bledsoe and Middleton in the final 1:48 of the game, when the Bucks had the ball and were up 111-103. Murray had just been called for travelling by crew chief Brothers, and here’s the look on Denver coach Mike Malone’s face.

Game over? Malone looks as though his team’s playoff hopes are about to end. Image: Screen capture of NBA video of the Bucks-Nuggets broadcast 04/01/18.

Malone’s “there goes our playoff hopes” expression says everything that needs to be said about how impossible the Bucks blowing the 8-point lead was. With the win, Denver remained in 9th place in the West, one game behind New Orleans.

MEANWHILE IN MIAMI – The Heat on Saturday lost to Brooklyn, which meant the Bucks were tied for 7th place in the East for a few hours on Sunday, and on the verge of taking sole possession of both 7th and a likely first round matchup against the Celtics, still playing without Kyrie Irving.

The loss to Denver kept the Nuggets playoff hopes alive and dropped the Bucks into 8th (which would mean a second straight first round match-up with the East-leading Raptors, not the most desirable conclusion to the season) with the Heat set to play a back-to-back against last place Atlanta Tuesday and Wednesday while the Bucks battle the Celtics in Milwaukee. 

Sourcerole:

  • Official Scorers’ report, Bucks-Nuggets 04/01/18 – http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180401/0021701152_Book.pdf
  • NBA Official: http://official.nba.com
  • Last 2-Minute reports: http://official.nba.com/2017-18-nba-officiating-last-two-minute-reports/

Busy weekend for Bucks GM Jon Horst: Brandon Jennings signed, Mirza Teletovic waived . . . Mirza’s guaranteed $10.5 million and that business about a medical waiver

Brandon Jennings made his 2018 debut with the Bucks in Memphis Monday night and was so energized he hauled in 8 rebounds and nearly pulled off a triple double (he had 13 pts and 12 asts to go with the boards). It was enough to raise the question of why Jennings — whom the Bucks signed to a 10-day contract March 11 — wasn’t signed earlier, or at least on March 1 when the Bucks instead picked up all-offense/no-defense T-Wolves forward Shabazz Muhammad off the waiver wire.

The Bucks have been playing without injured Bucks point guards Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova since Feb. 4 when Delly wrecked his ankle in Brooklyn, with no guarantee either player will be able to get back into game shape for the playoffs. After beating up on a string of lottery bound teams before the All-Star break, the Bucks lost 7 out of 10 games between Feb. 15 and a March 9 win vs. the Knicks (the last game before the roster moves over the weekend). Jennings, veteran point guard fresh off a season in the Chinese Basketball League with excess zip in his tank, might’ve helped. No – there’s no doubt Jennings would have helped. Eric Bledsoe was the last point guard standing on the roster, and the Bucks tried to use two-way player Xavier Munford and even gunner Sean Kilpatrick at point.

It seems unlikely that anything Shabazz Muhammad does for the Bucks will effect the rest of their season. Zimbio photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

By waiting until this week the Bucks not only kept losing, but had no more disposable contracts/players to clear out a roster spot for Jennings. The one they had, Sean Kilpatrick, was waived to bring in Muhammad. So they opted to cut a player whose $10.5 million contract is anything but disposable.

The victim was Mirza Teletovic, still recovering from pulmonary embolism (blood clotting) in both of his lungs, which developed after Teletovic underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Nov. 21. The Bucks reported Mirza’s condition Dec. 14, saying “updates on his condition will be provided when appropriate.”

Three months went by and no updates were forthcoming until last Saturday when Bucks requested waivers on Teletovic. “The Bucks and Mirza Teletovic, in consultation with team doctors and other physicians, have been working together since December to evaluate and manage Mirza’s situation,” said Bucks GM Jon Horst in a press release. “As a result of the overall evaluation that we’ve gone through, at this time we are both moving on.”

Apparently that’s the update. And apparently the Bucks and Mirza were not “working together” so well. Teletovic had been silent since the injury and hadn’t posted a tweet to his twitter account since September — until the afternoon of Feb. 28, when he denied statements by Racine Journal Times’ Gery Woelfel, who said on 105.7 The Fan radio that his sources told him “Mirza Teletovic’s career is over.”

Mirza Teletovic, warming up before a game earlier this season. NBA photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Of course it was Woelfel, of course his source (s) weren’t named and of course it wasn’t true. Later that afternoon, Teletovic denied it, tweeting that “it’s not over until I say it’s over recovery is going great”, punctuated by three smileys, all of them winking an eye. When asked specifically (on twitter) whether the report about his career being over was true, he said “No it is not, my friend.”

Ten days later and here we are: Teletovic waived, Muhammad signed for the rest of the season, and Jennings back to work in Milwaukee on a 10-day contract. Nobody lied, not Horst, not Woelfel, not Teletovic — “it was just . . . bullshit”, to paraphrase Blues Brother Elwood J. Blues. Winking, smiley bullshit. Mirza and the Bucks were not on the same page about his rehab or future plans — Mirza wants to play, wink wink; the Bucks hope he can’t play and that the NBA grants them a “Disabled Player” waiver next season. The Bucks will still have to pay Teletovic his guaranteed 2018-19 salary of $10.5 million, but with a medical waiver it won’t count as part of the Bucks “Team Salary” calculation.

The NBA medical waiver: How to get one and what it means to the Bucks

Part of the medical waiver process is to waive the injured player, according to the NBA Collective Bargaining agreement (Article VII, Section 4 (h) on “Long Term Injuries”). The Bucks did that March 10. The next step is to apply for the waiver and then wait until Nov. 7, the one year anniversary of the last day Mirza played for the Bucks. The process is to either leave the determination to a doctor the NBA and the Players’ Union agree upon (which seems unlikely given the Bucks and Mirza’s disagreement about his ability to play) or go to a panel of three physicians, one for the player (union), one for the NBA and a 3rd doctor the other two agree upon (Article XXII, Sec. 11, CBA). The panel would then decide whether Mirza’s career is over. If the determination goes against him, he can appeal after nine months if his condition changes.

If he is cleared to play, his $10.5 million contract goes on the Team Salary ledger and the Bucks will pay luxury tax to have a roster, one way or another. Frank Madden, founder of Brewhoop, posted the following chart on twitter after the Bucks waived Mirza.

The $20.3 million assigned to Jabari Parker is not what he’ll be paid next season (that amount is unknown) but is the restricted free agent (RFA) cap hold Parker represents, which draws the Bucks to $7.6 million under the luxury tax for 11 players (they’re required to have 14 but CBA rules encourage teams to maintain a full 15-man roster). Mirza’s $10.5m + the low estimate for Parker puts the Bucks in the luxury tax zone, where, as a first time offender, they would pay $1 to the NBA for every $1 they’re over the luxury threshold. Without the waiver, the Bucks would pay a total of about $140 million or more for a roster that has yet to win a playoff series (barring any possible trades to improve the situation).

With the waiver, the Bucks could comfortably sign Parker, keep Tyler Zeller (not guaranteed for next season) and maintain a 15-man roster at or under the luxury tax threshold. They’d still pay Teletovic $10.5, putting next year’s actual payroll over $130 million — but it wouldn’t cost them an additional $8-10 million in league taxes. Mirza’s desire to play, and the real possibility that he and the Players’ Union will challenge the Bucks medical waiver request, could become a double-whammy for the Bucks.

Replacing Ilyasova

The irony here is that Mirza was signed as a result of the Bucks projecting a player-friendly pose in their personnel decisions. Mirza’s value is in the role of stretch-4 forward capable of going on devastating 3-point hot streaks off the bench. That job was filled in Milwaukee until 2015 by veteran Ersan Ilyasova (who often started) but the Bucks also had Giannis Antetokounmpo and Parker (coming back from his first knee surgery) at power forward — there wasn’t going to be much playing time for Ersan, not the 27 mpg he was used to getting. So the Bucks traded him to Detroit for basically nothing (soon-to-retire Caron Butler and forward Shawne Williams), the idea being that Ilyasova would start at power forward for the Pistons, which he did.

After the Bucks floundered to a 33-win season, coach Jason Kidd and GM John Hammond decided they needed more 3-point shooting, and that, while they had done the right thing finding Ersan a new home, it was time to fill the stretch-4 void created by the trade with Detroit. Mirza had played for Kidd in Brooklyn, coming off the bench to gun threes behind Paul Pierce. He had put up some good shooting numbers in Phoenix in 2016, and was a client of Jeff Schwartz, who, as it happens, also represents Kidd on the speaking engagement circuit (and was probably Gery Woelfel’s source, given his rumor-mongering this season about Schwartz’s new client, DeAndre Jordan).

Mirza played for Jason Kidd in 2013-14, the season prior to Kidd taking the job as Bucks coach. Getty Images 2015. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Mirza signed a 3-year-$31.5 million contract, a bigger haul than the 2yrs-$16.3 million Ersan had left on his contract when the Bucks traded him, but that was water under the bridge, and well, the new TV deal was expected to create a lot of salary cap space to operate under, no reason to sweat the details. Unfortunately, when Mirza arrived, it was quickly discovered that all he could do was shoot threes, and was a liability in other facets of the game. He had, in fact, been Jon Leuer‘s backup in Phoenix after the Suns benched Markieff Morris, then saw his playing time pick up when Leuer went cold from the field and succumbed to nagging injuries. Kidd and Hammond (and current GM Horst, then Hammond’s right-hand man) had guaranteed Jon Leuer’s backup $10.5 million a year for three years.

Teletovic had his moments that first season with the Bucks — Nov. 5 against the Kings in Milwaukee, where he shot 7 for 9 from three and poured in 22 points in 20 minutes in a Bucks blowout win; a game in Washington Dec. 10, where Mirza’s shooting (25 pts, 5 of 6 from three) helped stake the Bucks to a 6-point lead in the 4th, only to see the Wizards dominate the Bucks starters in the final minutes. He scored 19 pts in 16 mins in Indiana Feb. 11 as the Bucks began to pull together after Parker was lost for the season. But those games were few and far between. After the win vs. the Pacers, Teletovic would score only 8 points over the next 8 games, going scoreless in four of those. He played just 26 mins in the 6-game playoff series against Toronto. No power forward in the NBA had played as much (1133 mins) during the 2016-17 regular season and put up worse all around numbers — his BIER was -0.57, far, far below the median for NBA forwards. (see post on the basics of BIER).

The Bucks hardly noticed Teletovic’s struggles as they won 20 of their last 30, in large part because they had found another forward in the summer of 2016 — Michael Beasley, whose career was languishing in Houston; and the Rockets were gracious enough to let Beasley go to the Bucks for the price of little-used Tyler Ennis. The Bease was instant offense off the Bucks bench last season, shooting 53% from the field and 42% from three, posting  a BIER of 7.97, 12th best (per 36) among NBA small forwards.

Schwartz had taken Kidd, Hammond (and Horst) to the cleaners on the Teletovic deal, that much was clear, and the ramifications hit home in year 2 of his contract. With $10.5 million due Mirza this season, the Bucks had no money to sign Beasley, who went to the Knicks for $2.1 million. This left Mirza as the only non-rookie forward on the Bucks bench while Parker rehabbed his knee. He was simply going to have to play better this season, and to that effect he had laser surgery in the offseason to correct his vision. For 10 games, he actually was better, making 21 of 45 threes (47%). But Mirza is 32 years old, and it was too little, little too late.

Mirza’s NBA career was all but over after last season — and should have been — yet neither he nor the Bucks were in a position to admit it, not with two years and $21 million in guaranteed money still left to be paid. 

The hindsight realizations about how bad the Teletovic contract was for the Bucks came crashing down again when the cartilage in his left knee went bad  and it was announced he would undergo more surgery and miss at least four weeks. 

Post-surgery pulmonary embolism is not uncommon, according to the Mayo Clinic, and can be life threatening if not diagnosed. Mirza’s was diagnosed. Embolism occurs when a body is immobile, seated for long hours of travel or bed-ridden after surgery. The blood clots form in the main artery running from the legs to the heart, then settle to form blockages in the heart and lungs.  Blood thinners and rest are the common treatment, plus lots of water and mobility, according to the Mayo Clinic guide; and the clots usually break up and go away. Mirza says he’s coming along just fine, and hopefully he is.

None of which may have anything to do with whether or not Mirza can play next season. In letting him go, the Bucks relieved him of a job he was only able to perform for the Bucks every so often when healthy. Now that the Bucks job is gone, is there another NBA job out there for him? Mirza will be 33 years old when doctors decide in November whether his injury and illness were career ending.

The Bucks will probably get their medical waiver, and will have dodged another Team Salary bullet. Teams are usually granted such exceptions (as the Miami Heat were this season for Chris Bosh, also recovering from pulmonary embolism, though under different circumstances — the Heat wanted Bosh back and tried to get him cleared to play).

Mirza will collect his guaranteed $10.5 million and try to play again at some point, somewhere. Or maybe not (smiley smiley, wink wink). Whatever happens in November, nothing Jon Horst did last weekend is helping the Bucks tonight against the lowly Magic in Orlando.

Sourcerole:

  • Bucks news, official press releases – http://www.nba.com/bucks/news/
  • Mayo clinic on pulmonary embolism – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pulmonary-embolism/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354653
  • NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) – https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/2017-NBA-Collective-Bargaining-Agreement.pdf

The Beard, the Brow, the Greek Freak, Lebron and Steph . . . NBA Basketball Impact and Efficiency Ratings (BIER) leaders at the break

Through games of Feb. 15, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 3rd best player in the NBA behind only James Harden and Anthony Davis, according to Basketball Impact and Efficiency (BIER) positional ratings. Lebron James and Steph Curry rounded out the Top 5.

No one should be shocked and awed by these revelations, as the top spots in the BIER Rankings merely confirm what you and me and even casual NBA fans already know, while also confirming that BIER’s a reliable box score stats model that works. (For an explanation of BIER go to the BIER Basics pagewherein the thorny question of whether or not the world really needs another advanced box score metric is also addressed, formula included).

Here’s the entire BIER Top 20 at the All-Star break (through games of Feb. 15):

The All-Star break made for a good stopping point for the compiling of things, so I found some time to crunch the 2017-18 season BIER numbers for every NBA player, then created a relative scoring system by position to rank the top 60-70 players (expressed as “median +”). For example: Giannis has a BIER rating of 15.91, which is 10.24 above the median (5.67) for all power forwards. James Harden‘s rating is actually lower (due to missed shot volume and turnovers) but because the median for shooting guards this season is 3.005, he comes out on top in this “relative” ranking system at 11.52.

The non-centers in the first 16 are another affirmation that this BIER thing is no crackpot system — from Harden to Irving, the fans, players and coaches got the easy 12 All-Stars right, noting that Chris Paul didn’t make the mid-season party due to missed games (injury) earlier in the season.

Chris Paul (left) and James Harden have their sights set on the Warriors’ Western Conference title and a shot at winning it all this season in Houston. USA Today Sports photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

  1. James Harden will, in all likelihood, win the MVP this year and deserve it. A 14.53 BIER for a shooting guard is the territory of Michael Jordan, the only SG in history to record a career BIER greater than 14. That Harden doesn’t shoot as efficiently as Jordan hardly matters when the Beard is doing so much of everything else in the box score, and the Rockets have won 17 straight. Harden’s 38% from three is the best he’s shot it since his 2012, his last year in OKC.

2. Anthony Davis edges out Antetokounmpo with better free throw shooting, offensive rebounding, blocked shots (leads the NBA) fewer turnovers (the Brow doesn’t play point forward) and fewer fouls. Since I crunched these numbers, the Pelicans have won 7 straight and Davis has gone for 40+ points in three of the wins. Giannis and the Bucks have won 2, lost 6, and fallen to 8th in the East, though Giannis has been good enough to stay in the league’s top 5 or 6 rated players.

4. Lebron James, at age 33, is averaging 26 pts, 9 boards and 8 assists per game, feats that a 33-year-old Larry Bird nearly matched (24.3 pts – 9.5 rebs – 7.5 assists) — and Lebron is showing no signs of slowing down. The Oscar Robertson for modern times, however, turns it over a lot (4.3 per 36 – BIER is a per minute, pace adjusted model) and doesn’t rebound like the Brow or the Greek Freak. Those factors tend to offset his greater assist rate in the BIER rating. All three forwards were shooting 54% from the field at the break. 

5. Steph Curry laid a little low last season as he worked to integrate Kevin Durant into the Warriors offense, but Steph’s back to MVP form this season, shooting just one FG% point shy of the 50-40-90 Club — and how does he manage nearly 6 boards a game?

6. In Houston, Chris Paul has quietly gone about his business (except for that craziness with in the Clippers locker room), and the business of Chris Paul  is to file top 5 All-Time BIER point guard numbers. CP3 is right there with John Stockton at No. 2 behind Magic Johnson, which means that Curry isn’t far behind on the All-Time list.

“Seventh? That can’t be right.” Jimmy Butler‘s having another great season, reunited with coach Thibs. T-wolves photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

7. Jimmy Butler‘s career NBA offensive rating is 10th All-Time (118.85/100), believe it or not, and 3rd among active players (behind Paul and DeAndre Jordan).

8. Kevin Durant is shooting 43% from three, but he’s a bit off this season — his true shooting percentage is down .04 points, from 65.1% to 64.7%. The numbers being filed by these top 9 players are unreal.

(9. Russell Westbrook gets a full discussion in the “BIER Basics” post).

10. Rockets center Clint Capela represents part of the Frankenstein model for centers in the new NBA — “Frankenstein” because no player possesses all the many attributes found in the crop of young centers. Capela is quick, athletic, mobile enough to guard the 3-point line, a shot-blocker, rebounder and dunker of many lob passes — which means he doesn’t miss many shots. BIER loves that. Basketball-reference had a stat the other day about how Capela this season will become the youngest player in NBA history (age 23) to record a double-double season while shooting 65% or better. He also blocks 2.4 shots/36, 3rd among qualifying centers. (Capela also represents the part of the new NBA center model where the center doesn’t play full-time minutes, though he does qualify to be ranked here. The minimum qualification for BIER ranking is playing time of 25 mins per game, with a case-by-case minimum on number of games due to the crazy number of star players getting hurt this season).

11. Thought the Knicks most impactful player was Kristaps Porzingis? Nope, that guy is Enes Kanter, who’s been a high-efficiency brawler in the offensive paint in New York (his 5 OREBs per 36 is 3rd among NBA centers). Porzingis, despite the NY media glow and All-Star politics, won’t make the lists here, which should tell you there was a reason the Knicks weren’t winning before “the Unicorn” had season-ending knee surgery.

2017-18 has been Damien Lillard’s finest season, according to BIER. NBA.com photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

12-13. But let’s talk about the players who are on the list, like Damian Lillard, on fire of late and having his best season as a pro in Portland, according to BIER; and Victor Oladipo, having a breakout year leading the NBA in steals and the Pacers into the hunt for top-4 playoff seeding in the East.

14. Pistons center Andre Drummond edges out Hassan Whiteside of the Heat, and it’s not all about offensive rebounding, though Drummond leads the league on the O-glass and overall rebounding; it’s also about Drummond’s better passing and his theft rate. Drummond leads all qualifying centers in steals per 36 mins (1.7) and his assist rate is double the median for centers. So despite not having quickness, mobility or great shot-blocking ability (like Capela), Drummond has an all-around floor game that any box score-based stat model would love.

15. Whiteside is all of the above as an imposing defender and rebounder but doesn’t have all-around offensive skills like some “new centers.” Based on Miami’s winning ways in January, Whiteside probably would have been an All-Star had he not missed 18  games earlier this season, though who knows — the East coaches might’ve snubbed Whiteside too, as they did with Drummond in the first-seven reserves voting. Heat point guard Goran Dragic was selected.

16. Surprised that Kyrie Irving — who’s flirting with 50-40-90 Club shooting season and would be the 8th player in history to join that club — isn’t ranked higher? Irving has thrived in Boston, but it’s not as though he’s transformed into a wholly different player. Other point guards, even Lillard, pass the ball more, as Irving’s assist rate is about the league median for PGs (5.5 per 36). Irving this season is well ahead (at 10.17) of his career BIER rate (8.49).

17. DeAndre Jordan, in his 10th season Clippers, may not have the quickness to defend the perimeter (again, like Capela) but he can dunk a lob pass like nobody’s business. 10 years in Lob City have put Jordan on the Top 20 All-TIme BIER center lists, and he’s quietly had another great year as L.A. battles down the stretch for a playoff spot. The rebounding numbers for Jordan, Drummond and Whiteside are off the charts – all three centers board at nearly 17 rebs per 36. Ridiculous, but also a reflection of the all-time low offensive rebounding rates in the NBA this season. Crashing the offensive glass is a feature of bygone days in the NBA, which has made defensive rebounding a lot less like work for the better big men.

Is it the player or the system? Whichever it is, Kyle Anderson of the Spurs made the BIER Top 20 at the All-Star break. Photo by Ronald Martinez, Getty Images. License: Standard non-commercial use.

18. Who is Kyle Anderson? He’s the 24-year-old forward for the Spurs who’s been starting in place of injured Kawhi Leonard (shoulder). Anderson doesn’t shoot a lot (8 times per 36 mins) but hits a high percentage (51%), and rebounds the small forward position like it was the 1980s (7.5 per 36), while dishing out  3.6 assists and coming up with 1.8 steals/36 (2nd among SFs). He’s filling up the box score without turning it over or fouling a lot — all of which has him in the Top 20, sneaking in just above the 25 minutes per game requirement. But there’s always the nagging question for the Spurs’ small forward — is it the player or the Popovich system?

19. Otto Porter is a super-efficient shooter at forward (49-40-84%) and one of the reasons the Wizards kept winning when John Wall went down with a knee injury at the end of January. In his 5th season, Porter’s a strong wing defender who rebounds his position (7.3 per 36) and has the 3rd-best SF steal rate (1.8/36). In the Wizards recent win in Milwaukee, Porter stole the ball three times while turning it over 0 times. The 0 turnovers were no happy accident — he rarely turns it over, just once per 36 mins while playing catch-and-shoot with the Wizards All-Star guards. Porter is averaging a career best 15.1 pts per game this season.

20. Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the few centers in the league actually making a high enough % of his 3-point attempts to be out there shooting them. Towns was shooting 55-42-86% on FGs-3pt-FTs at the All-Star break and his numbers have actually improved slightly since then. No center in the history of the NBA has shot the ball from the outside as well as Towns, who is only going to get better.

That’s the Top 20, and here’s the next 20, where the BIER calculation didn’t fail to produce some surprises.

Orlando traded Elfrid Payton to Phoenix for a 2nd round pick, even though he’d found ways to minimize his poor outside shooting while maximizing the rest of his game. Photo by Zimbio. License: Standard non-commercial use.

23, 31. Elfrid Payton and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ahead of All-Stars like Paul George, Bradley Beal and Kemba Walker? They play NBA games in Orlando and Brooklyn, and there are some young players on those teams filling up box scores and finding their games. The BIER formula does what it does.

Payton was easily the biggest surprise for me. The Magic traded him to the Suns last month for a 2nd round pick, so I wasn’t at all expecting him to show up here. The problem with Payton (all pause to marvel the work of his hair stylist) is that he can’t shoot. But unlike a lot of guys who can’t shoot in the NBA, Payton has figured out how avoid throwing up bad shots. He shoots 50%, has made 35% of his threes this season, and — as a taller point guard — has high rebound and assist rates. Orlando just didn’t want to pay him this summer after his 4-year rookie contract expired, but Phoenix might be a good fit given the young guns on the Suns.

21. Steven Adams — the unsung hero on the Thunder — leads off “the next 20” rankings  and is having a monster season for OKC. Adams’ OREB rate is 2nd only to Drummond among centers, and OKC leads the NBA in offensive rebounding (28.3% rate). Somebody’s gotta save all those possessions Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo toss at the rim (there are a lot of those), and in steps Adams to clean it up. Adams is 3rd in the NBA at 4.6 2nd chance pts per game. Adams avgs. 14 pts and 9 rebs a game in a full time (32 mpg) role. (He also joins Antetokounmpo, Porter, Rudy Gobert and Oladipo as players from the much-maligned 2013 draft who have steadily improved to where, now in their 5th seasons, they’re bonafide players to be reckoned with in the league.)

22. BIER says Ben Simmons of the 76ers should win Rookie of the Year (and he probably will), averaging an all-around 16.9 pts – 8 rebs – 7.6 assists/36.

24. Darren Collison is having a break-out shooting season for the Pacers and is the 3rd point guard in the rankings flirting with a “50-40-90 Club” season. With Oladipo at No. 13 and Collison at No. 24, suddenly the Pacers have one of the most efficient and impactful backcourts in the league, so far rating better than Derozan-Lowry, Wall (injured)-Beal and Lillard-McCollum.

25-39. From there we see a string of All-Stars (eight in all) led by Demar Derozan (25), having another great season in Toronto, his running mate Kyle Lowry (27), and Kevin Love (28). I wouldn’t classify Love as a center, so I split the difference making him a half-center, half-power forward. This was probably not the thing to do, technically, as basketball-reference has Love playing center 98% of the time. But K-Love hasn’t changed his game with his new role — 40% of his shots were threes (before another injury sidelined him). I also split the difference with Draymond Green, who alternates between power forward and small forward with Kevin Durant (also spit). This was the right thing to do, technically. Few teams actually play “positionless basketball” but the Warriors forwards truly are interchangeable, with Green often playing point forward a la Lebron and Giannis.

29. Tyreke Evans in Memphis got back to the 20-5-5 numbers he put up when he beat out Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings for the 2010 Rookie of the Year award. Good numbers, though I can’t help but wonder if Evans will ever be able to put up those numbers for a team that wins games.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is No. 30 in the BIER rankings and joins the Clipper’s Lou Williams as the top Western Conference players snubbed in the 2018 All-Star selection. USA Today photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

30. Nikola Jokic is another center to be reckoned within the new model, representing the 7-footers with mad guard skills. Jokic posted the fastest triple double in NBA history in Milwaukee just before the All-Star break and has all-around numbers at 16.9 ppg, 10.6 rebs and 5.9 assists per game. He’s also one of only a handful of qualifying centers shooting in the neighborhood of the NBA avg. of 36.1% behind the arc. The Joker was shooting 36.3% at the break. Al Horford, Towns, Love and Pau Gasol are the others, a list of 5 that looks a bit too forward-ish to really reflect a “centers shooting threes” trend, if making the 3-pointers has anything to do with it. (This is a topic begging for a separate blog). Jokic this season joined Lou Williams on the Western Conference All-Star snubs team.

31. In Brooklyn, BIER finds a player in the rough in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a steadily improving 3rd year forward who, if he ever learns to shoot the three (he’s hitting just 26% this season), could develop into a star given the strengths in the rest of his game.

35. Paul George makes an appearance, and is Top 4 relative to other small forwards — and shooting 43% from three this season in addition to being one of the best defenders in the league. He was the 8th reserve All-Star selected by the West coaches, which BIER confirms was a fair choice. Never has a borderline All-Star received as much media attention as George does, however, and I think nearly every NBA analyst who’s seen Lou Williams (26) play lately has said that “Lou Williams should have been an All-Star”. BIER also confirms this, and Lou’s ahead of George at No. 26 in the BIER ranking.

Two “dinosaurs”: Is Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas really shooting 44.6% from three and why is he on this list? Well, he’s not on the list really, and he’s taking fewer than one 3-pointer a game, so he’s not really on that list either, nor his he playing the minimum of 25 mins per game. I included both Valanciunas and Boston’s Greg Monroe (who also hasn’t qualified) because they have so much in common as so-called “dinosaur” centers — and their BIER numbers are so nearly identical — that it’s just interesting to have in the chart. At the end of the day, Valanciunas and Monroe are more efficient scorers and better rebounders than the vast majority of centers in the league; and when they’re in the game, they contribute big impact numbers despite their teams preferring to play outside-in.

40. Jrue Holiday closes out the Top 40, which makes a lot of sense in light of Holiday finding a next level to his game in New Orleans playing with Rajon Rondo and Anthony Davis in the absence of injured DeMarcus Cousins. Holiday’s averaged 21.7 pts and 7.6 assists since Cousins season ended Jan. 26, and he’s raised his 3-point shooting to 35% on the season.

Where oh where, Boozy Bango the Bucks fan wants to know, are Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton? They appear in the next 20, with Bledsoe ranked No. 49 and Middleton at No. 58, which seems to point to where the Bucks are at — struggling to beat other playoff teams, falling to 8th in East, losing three out of 4 to the Pacers and all three of their scheduled games to the Heat. Not that Top 50 for Bledsoe isn’t good, or that No. 58 is a dishonor for Middleton — All-Stars Al Horford (53), John Wall (55) and Klay Thompson (56) populate the 41-60 rankings. It’s just that Horford, Wall and Thompson probably shouldn’t have been named All-Stars this season either, according to BIER — and the Bucks have not been quite good enough. Here’s the the next 22:

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 cuisine (Jennings’ favorite) ensued. 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 had 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, a dumbfounding move that left little doubt about why Skiles decided 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 with the Pacers suggests that Skiles would likely 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 with 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 the likes of 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 Wizards 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