Tag Archives: Giannis Antetokounmpo

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 and its basics, see notes below this post, wherein the thorny question of whether or not the world really needs another advanced box score metric is also addressed).

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.

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. And his 38% from three is the best he’s shot it since his 2012, his last year in OKC.

Anthony Davis edges out Antetokounmpo with better free throw shooting, offensive rebounding, blocked shots, 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.

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) — but 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 — and 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. 

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? In Houston, Chris Paul has quietly gone about his business (except for that craziness with the Clippers), 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.

Jimmy Butler‘s career NBA offensive rating is 10th All-Time, believe it or not, and 3rd among active players (behind Paul and DeAndre Jordan). 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. (Russell Westbrook will get a full discussion below in the notes).

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 and 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).

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.

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 Pacers into the hunt for top-4 playoff seeding in the East.

Pistons center Andre Drummond edges out Hassan Whiteside of the Heat to rank 14th, and it’s not all about offensive rebounding, though Drummond leads the league on the O-glass; 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 shot-blocking ability (like Capela) Drummond’s got an all-around floor game that any box score-based advanced stat model would love. 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.

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). But Irving this season is well ahead (at 10.17) of his career BIER rate (8.49).

DeAndre Jordan, in his 10th season Clippers, may not have the quickness to defend the perimeter (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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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 in the league. The BIER formula does what it does.

Payton was easily the biggest surprise for me — and the Magic traded him to the Suns last month for a 2nd round pick, so I wasn’t expecting him to show up here. The problem with Payton (the marvel of his hairdo notwithstanding) 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.

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, and there are a lot of those — but it all evens out in the rebounding and 2nd chance points, where Adams is 3rd in the NBA at 4.6 per game. Adams gets 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 the point where, now in their 5th seasons, they’re bonafide players to be reckoned with in the league.)

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. BIER likes even better the break-out shooting season Darren Collison is having for the Pacers, and Collison is the 3rd point guard in 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.

From there we see a string of All-Stars led by Demar Derozan, having another great season in Toronto, his running mate Kyle Lowry, and Kevin Love — eight All-Stars in all ranked 25th-39th. I didn’t have the heart to classify Kevin Love as a center, so I split the difference making him a half-center, half-power forward. Basketball-reference has Love playing center 98% of the time this season, but Love’s a center in name only — 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). Few — if any — teams play “positionless basketball” but the Warriors are one that does with their forwards. And the Cavs? Let’s just say that deciding to play without a center doesn’t make Keven Love a center. He’s been a stretch 4 power forward his entire career.

At No. 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. 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 strength of the rest of his game.

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.

Nikola Jokic is another center to be reckoned within the new model for center play, 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).

Paul George shows up here at No. 35, and relative to other small forwards he’s Top 4 — 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, and BIER confirms this a fair choice. Never has a borderline All-Star received as much media attention as George does, however, and I think nearly every NBA broadcaster who’s seen Lou Williams 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.

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 look at. At the end of the day, Valanciunas and Monroe are more efficient scorers and better rebounders than the vast majority of the centers in the league; and when they’re in the game, they contribute big impact numbers despite neither Boston or Toronto prefers to play inside-out.

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, according to BIER — and the Bucks have not been quite good enough. Here’s the the next 22:

Wait, what is this BIER thing?

And do we really need another advanced box score metric? Of course we don’t need it, not really, and it can be a real headache if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty of assist rates and other adjustments, like the horrific free throw shooting of so many centers. But you don’t have to worry about the headaches because the editorial board chains J.D. Mo to his laptop a few times a month and has him sort it all out until he’s got a headache. (Unfortunately, the board can’t always get him to write anything, or a blog like this one would have appeared last year at the All-Star break, the first time he ran the whole league through the BIER model).

All hubris noted, the justification for BIER can be found in the flaws of other models such as John Hollinger’s infamous PER (the one ESPN bought), NBA 2K, and a lot of the fantasy scoring systems, where volume scoring is valued over efficient scoring. PER commits a major statistical no-no in that it bases missed shot value on offensive rating (points per possession) instead of on basketball’s basic 2-point scoring system. The main factor defining the offensive rating is whether or not shots go in the bucket, so there’s a causal relationship there. If most of the league shoots poorly, which happened in the dead ball era, it follows that possession value drops (which it did, all the way down to 1.04 pts per possession) and a little less is deducted with each miss. Bad shooting is rewarded. Conversely, good shooting is punished in PER because good shooting leads to a higher offensive rating which results in a higher missed shot value.

Oh, the adjustments made to correct for this problem! But once those are done, PER remains relevant only within each season. When you hear NBA analysts criticizing advanced metrics for “tailoring” to the changing game, PER is what they’re talking about, to say nothing of the arbitrary downgrading of all things rebounding that occurs within the PER formula. It’s as though Hollinger chose Kobe’s side in the Kobe-Shaq conflict of the early 2000s and form-fit his formula to justify it, at a time when Shaq was so dominant it was almost boring. One hears less talk of PER now as advanced stats geeks and saber-metrics pros have moved on to better measures, and the search for the Holy Grail model of Basketball analytics goes ever onward.

Why not simply keep shooting independent of the offensive rating and create a scoring system that conforms to basketball’s 2-point basic scoring system? BIER does this by letting the rebounding rate decide what to deduct for a missed shot and multiplying by two to create 2-point values out of the percentages, similar to the Win Score/Game Score model used at Basketball-reference.com — but also uses some of the genius parts parts PER (specifically the assist adjustment for made shots). BIER is Frankenstein, constructed off of the best parts of PER and the more sensible WS game score formulae.

For example: The current leaguewide rate for the defense rebounding missed shots is 77.6%, the all-time high in the NBA. Because percentages are on a whole-of-one value, multiply .776 x 2 to conform to basketball’s 2-point scoring base and get 1.552 — this is the hit a shooter takes when he (or she) misses a shot in the 2017-18 season. The defensive rebounder is awarded (2 – 1.552 = 0.448), and the possession ends. Conversely, if the offense grabs the miss, the rebounder who saved the possession is effectively canceling out the missed shot, so that’s + 1.552 for the rebounding player but the -1.55 stays with the shooter as the possession continues. A -1.55 seems like a big deduction for a missed shot, but with offensive rebounding at an all-time low, the numbers are only a reflection of the changing game. A shooter who misses 2/3 three-pointers will end up in the negative, but that’s OK. 33% 3-point shooting does not usually win games given the league average at 36.1%. The game itself says the 33% shooter is digging his (or her) team a hole.

In practice (using current league-wide numbers), if a shooter goes 3 out of 10 from 3-point-land, the shooter scores +7.782 in both PER and BIER (after a basic assist adjust), but PER deducts only 5.9 for the misses to keep our volume shooter ahead + 1.88 even though the shooter is (probably) losing the game for his team. BIER deducts 7 x 1.55 for the misses, or 10.85, leaving our volume shooter minus – 3.07. By then, the shooter is probably on the bench or, if still in the game, being frozen out by his point guard, who’s looking for more efficient scoring. Kobe Bryant shot like this often, but Kobe got to the line 8-10 times a game in his prime and did a lot of other things on the court to help his Lakers win. Still, PER helped the volume shooters of the deadball era (Kobe, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Michael Redd et. al) look a lot better than they were.

The rates are adjustable within BIER, of course, and Russell Westbrook and the OKC Thunder are a great example of this — the Thunder lead the league in offensive rebounding at 28.1%, so when Westbrook misses, J.D. Mo uses the OKC rebounding number (minus-1.44) instead of the leaguewide number. About 64% of Westbrook’s shots are unassisted, so when the assist adjustment in BIER is applied to Westbrook (as part of the 2-point system), the assist rate of (1 – .6325 = 0.3675) is used, the lowest assisted basket rate I’ve seen this season.

But let’s not get ahead of things. At this point it should be noted that BIER in-season numbers are adjusted for both the pace and the assist rates of each team, and are expressed per 36 mins. It’s not a good idea to adjust for rebounding rates except in rare circumstances such as OKC, where the rebounding is part of their offensive strategy. Most teams don’t do this, and it would be another statistical no-no to reward good offensive rebounders with a lower OREB value, so the leaguewide rates for rebounds are always used and missed shot value adjusted only in rare cases (again, missed shot value = DREB rate x 2, and missed shot value = OREB value). Let’s introduce some terms and the first part of the formula.

  • Made shot value = 2 or (3 for 3-point shots), one for free throws
  • Point value (or scoring) is expressed at the beginning of the equation as ptsper36
  • Missed shot value is 1.55
  • First part of the equation is: ptsper36 – [(field goal attempts – field goals made) x 1.55]

Why points per 36? The purpose of BIER is to compare players within a season, and also to compare players’ career numbers. Who’s better, Lebron or Bird? Who’s having the better season, Lebron or Giannis? Is Anthony Davis putting up better all around numbers than James Harden? And so on. The super-duper stars play about 36 mins per game, so using per36 stats just makes sense. Also, by equalizing every player to 36, BIER shows which part-time players are having the highest impact, and impact is an important part of BIER. There is an additional calculation J.D. Mo has been making lately to undo the per36 numbers and get a real-BIER based on how many minutes players are actually on the court, but typically when BIER is used in the blog (as in the rankings above) it is expressed as the per36 BIER number. Yes, everything is adjusted for pace, equalized at 100 possessions per game.

The assist adjustment is Hollinger’s PER adjustment, which enables any stat geek to run the numbers using the box score stats, avoiding the problem of needing to know which made shots were assisted and which were unassisted. An assist has a value of 0.7 in BIER (and PER), with the idea that the assist value is taken away from the scorer and given to the passer within the 2-point model. Many assists aren’t worth 0.7 points, being the result of the ball moving around the perimeter to the open shooter or simply an exercise of typical team offense, but some assists (like lob passes to dunking 7-footers or behind-the-back passes on the break) are worth the price of admission, so the hope is that it balances out. The 0.7 value seems sensible and fair, and it’s the standard value used in other systems, so I adopted for BIER.

Not knowing which baskets in a box score are assisted or unassisted means the formula has to assign an assist rate to calculate an average assist adjustment for every made shot. This can be the leaguewide 2017-18 assist rate of 0.58, a basic 0.6 or a more detailed rate depending on how much work one feels like doing. This is why the editorial board chains J.D. Mo to his laptop and has him calculate the assist rates for each team as well a special assist rate for point guards. Each point guard or high assist player (like point forwards Lebron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green) in the charts above has a separately calculated assist rate, which is how Westbrook’s 0.3675 assist rate was arrived at.

The calculation of the assist adjust = made shots x 0.7 x assist rate. Westbrook makes 9.5 shots per 36, so multiply 9.5 x 0.7 x 03675 = 2.444. This is subtracted from Westbrook’s points per 36 at the start of the equation:

25.3 – (assist adjust of 2.444) – [(FGA 21.4 – Made FGs 9.5) x 1.44] = 5.724

Because Westbrook misses a lot of shots (11.9 per 36) and shoots just 44.4%, he’s doing a lot of work to end up +5.724, while a 55% shooter like Lebron James, Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo will generate a higher + value given fewer shot attempts. This is the efficiency side of BIER. All three forwards ranked higher than Westbrook on the above BIER Top 20.

How are three point shots calculated in BIER? Missed or made threes are not part of the formula because they are accounted for in the per36 points scored at the beginning of the formula. In the BIER spreadsheets, columns for 3-pointers made, attempted and the % are included because it’s instructive to see what a player’s shooting from downtown, but there’s no need to treat missed 3-pointers any differently than a missed layup. Both the points and the made FGs are already accounted for in the formula, and missed threes are calculated along with the 2-point misses in FGA-FGs.

Free throws attempted and made are divided by two, right? Yep, and the next step after figuring out the assist adjust and the missed shot deduction is to calculate the missed free throws deduction. A first missed FT, however, is always rebounded by the team offense and a 2nd (or 3rd) missed FT is almost always rebounded by the defense — so how do we account for this in the rebound rate/missed shot value? The only available source out there seems to be a study by 82games.com that said 86.1% of missed free throws are rebounded by the defense. That’s a rate for a contested missed free throw rebound, obviously, and it’s an older study from the early 2000s — but it’s the only research I’ve found. I also couldn’t think of any justification for reducing the deduction of a missed free throw by taking into account the unknown % of missed first FTs, so the 86.1% rebound rate is applied in BIER for all missed free throws.

Here’s what the free throw calculation looks like:

(Free throws attempted – Free throws made)/2 x (2 x 0.861) or (FTA – FTM)/2 x 1.722

Westbrook attempted 6.9 FTs per 36 and made 5 through games of Feb. 15, so we calculate his misses, divide by two to convert one point FTs to the basic 2-point framework of the game, then multiply the misses by the 2-point scale defensive rebounding rate (FTA 6.9 – FTM 5) = 1.9 / 2 to get 0.95 x 1.722 = 1.636

The missed FT value is also subtracted from the points per 36 at the beginning of the formula. Westbrook’s scoring per36 gets cut down to a + 4.088. Put it all together and the scoring efficiency part of the formula looks like this (using leaguewide rebounding rates):

PTSper36 – (FGM x 0.7 x team AssistRate) – [(FGA – FGM) x 1.55] – [(FTA-FTM)/2 x 1.722]

The rest of the formula is fairly straightforward. Values of offensive and defensive rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots are added — turnovers and fouls are subtracted.

  • Offensive rebounds (OREBs): 1.55
  • Defensive rebounds (DREBs): 0.45
  • Assists: 0.7
  • Steals: leaguewide points per possession (1.086)
  • Blocked shots: 0.57 x leaguewide pts per possession = 0.61 or just 0.6
  • Turnovers: – leaguewide pts per possession -(1.086)
  • Fouls: For ever foul committed, the opponent ends up shooting 0.852 free throws. Remarkably, this rate has changed only by one-thousandths over the last 40 NBA seasons.

Here’s the entire formula:

PTSper36 – (FGM x 0.7 x team AssistRate) – [(FGA – FGM) x 1.55] – [(FTA-FTM)/2 x 1.722] + OREBs x 1.55 + DREBs x 0.45 + Assists x 0.7 + STLS x 1.086 + Blocks x 0.6 – TOVs x 1.086 – PFs x 0.852 = BIER unadjusted for pace.

All BIER ratings are pace-adjusted to 100 possessions per game, so a player who plays at a pace of 95 will adjust up 100/95 — the pace played is the denominator. This number (1.05 in this example) is multiplied by “unadjusted BIER” arrived at above. Westbrook’s unadjusted BIER through Feb. 15 was 11.38. The Thunder play at a 96.1 possessions per game rate, so to get to BIER100 multiply 11.38 x 100/96.1 = 11.84, the number in the Top 20 chart above.

The highest career BIER player rating in NBA history is an estimated 18.98 recorded by Wilt Chamberlain (1960-1973), estimated because box score stats were not complete until 1977 when turnovers were added. Offensive/Defensive rebounds, blocked shots and steals were added to box scores in 1974. The highest career BIER since 1977 belongs to Magic Johnson at 17.49 and then Charles Barkley with a 17.18, the best career rating for a forward in NBA history. Sir Charles was a highly efficient scorer who passed the ball more than most remember and really was the Round Mound of Rebound (his 3.9 OREBS per 36 were absurdly great).

Michael Jordan finished his career at 14.58. No other shooting guard comes close. Larry Bird (14.51) and Lebron James (13.95 at the start of this season), the never-ending comparison, lead the small forwards of NBA history (though both did/have done time at power forward) with Lebron due to close the gap with a 15+ BIER this season. Kevin Durant (12.68 entering 2017-18) is so far a Top 5 BIER small forward in NBA history, just ahead of great mid-range shooter Adrian Dantley but still a full point behind Julius “Dr. J” Erving (13.59).

Chris Paul (13.8 – 2nd pg behind Magic), James Harden (11.16 – 5th, sg) and Anthony Davis (14.65 – 2nd pf behind Barkley) are the other current players who began the season in the Top 5 All-Time career BIER at their respective positions, though Davis in just his 5th year hasn’t played long enough to be ranked All-Time. Steph Curry (career 11. 49) in his 9th year has the tenure, and could possibly move ahead of Oscar “the Big O” Robinson in 5th on the All-Time point guards list, for the time being anyway.

BIER may be tough on players who don’t make shots or do much other than shoot, due to the current high 1.55 deduction for missed shots, but isn’t that what an advanced box score rating system should be? The NBA’s very best players are having no trouble posting historic numbers in BIER — or any other metric — and if the average and below average players score low, then the system is doing its job.

— J.D. Mo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

It’s the schedule, Khris. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who the heck is Jon Horst?

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

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

16.8 6.2 16.8 37% 1.4 23% 2.88 82% 3.2 3.8 3.4 0.6 3.2 3.5 0.115

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad knees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bledsoe + Henson + Brogdon > Monroe + Brogdon + Delly

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

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

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

Luxury taxes and Jabari Parker

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

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

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

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

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

“Next question.”

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

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

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

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

Bledsoe vs. the Bucks guards,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUCKS-HORNETS 10/23/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referee Marc Davis, more than a slap on the wrist

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

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

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

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

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

Source-erole and other notes:

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

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

"Convergence" by Jackson Pollock, 1952.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than a Slap on the Wrist: How referee Mark Davis sent the Bucks fishin’ early (and got promoted)

The slap was so loud, you could hear its echo snap throughout the arena. The fans heard it. Bucks coach Jason Kidd heard it. Bucks center Greg Monroe felt it, the smack of P.J. Tucker‘s left hand hammering down on his hands as the Bucks center secured the rebound, 9:31 to go in the game and the Bucks trailing by eight. You can hear it now still, in the Game 6 highlight reel posted on the Raptors official site, a sharp clap above the squeaky shoes and crowd noise (the play in question is at 6:40 of the video).

But NBA official Marc Davis, the ref under the basket, nearest to the play in the paint, apparently did not hear it. Davis swallowed his whistle, something he’d been doing all game where Raptors fouls were concerned. Tucker was allowed the rebound, and found Kyle Lowry free in the lane for a lay-up, making the score 76-66 (6:43 of the video).

Davis, who was named one of the three worst NBA officials in a survey of players and coaches conducted by the LA Times (*see note on survey below) during the 2015-16 season, had not called a single foul on the Raptors the entire first three quarters of Game 6. When the 4th quarter began last Thursday, the Bucks — facing elimination at home — had endured an overall 14-9 disparity in personal fouls called and were down 13 on the scoreboard.

The Toronto lead had been 25 but the Raptors were falling apart. The Bucks seized the momentum after a time out with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd, and were on a 20-3 run when Davis missed the loose ball foul on Tucker. The lead was down to eight, and now it was back to ten. A temporary setback. No big deal. But Davis would stun the Bucks and their home crowd again just 30 seconds later, making another highly questionable call that put more points on the board for the Raptors and blew the cool of Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who was hit with a technical foul — called by Davis.

So with Davis’ foul calls running 7 on the Bucks to one on the Raptors (yes, he had finally called his first foul of the game on the Raptors early in the 4th quarter, a shooting foul on Tucker) why should anybody have expected Davis to get a tough charge-block call correct on the very next Raptors possession after the slap-that-wasn’t-called?

Except this charge-block call was not so tough. As he drove for a layup with 8:40 to go, Kyle Lowry leaped into a set Khris Middleton. Middleton’s feet were planted clearly outside the circle, more planted than most defenders get when successfully taking a charge. Lowry didn’t shift to avoid the contact, and both players went down. Charge on Lowry? Not according to Davis. Foul on Middleton, Lowry to the line.

In and of itself, an official missing a charge/block call isn’t cause for alarm; it happens in nearly every game. But in the context of this play, Davis was exposed, and Bucks coach Jason Kidd reacted. Kidd this season has played it cool with the refs, maybe too cool at times. But Kidd had had enough of Davis in Game 6. Davis hit him with a technical as the Bucks home crowd jeered its disbelief.  While the Raptors shot their ensuing free throws, Kidd engaged in a lengthy discussion with referees crew chief Tony Brothers, the substance of which, one can only speculate, centered around the question of “what the hell is Davis trying to do to this game?”

The Raptors made the technical free throw but Lowry missed one of his two, pushing their lead to 12 points, 78-66 with 8:38 left in the game. Davis had put four points on the board for Toronto in less than a minute. There was still plenty of time for the Bucks, and they would score the next 14 points of the game to take an 80-78 lead and cap an improbable 34-7 run. The devastation might’ve been 34-3 or worse for the Raptors, had Davis not softened the blow of what would otherwise have been a knock-out punch.

The officials missed another key call with 1:54 to go and the score tied at 82 — a shooting foul on Patrick Patterson as Giannis Antetokounmpo wheeled into the lane for a 7-foot baby hook shot. This play was ruled “incorrect non-call” by NBA Officiating in the “Last Two-Minute Report” for the game. To view that play, click HERE.

Toronto forward Patrick Patterson pushes into Giannis Antetokounmpo as Giannis shoots over him with 1:54 left in Game 6. No foul was called on the play. NBA Official ruled that the refs made an “incorrect no-call” on this play, the correct call being a shooting foul on Patterson, two free throws for Giannis. The official on the baseline is Tony Brothers; Marc Davis is the official on the sideline. Both officials appear to have a good view of the play.

The impact of that non-call was immediate. Whether or not Giannis made his free throws (he missed 6 out of 13 on the night), the non-call allowed the Raptors to break up the court on the ensuing possession, which ended with a corner-3 made by Cory Joseph. Calling the foul would have at least slowed the flow of the game and allowed the Bucks to set up on defense, possibly with a one or two point lead. One or two points late in a close game, obviously, could have changed everything.

NBA Officiating also found enhanced video evidence that DeMar DeRozan slid his pivot foot before driving with 1:35 to go (no ruling was made on this, even though you don’t really need to enhance the video to see it — you can watch it right here); and ruled that Jason Terry fouled DeRozan on a dunk with 49.6 seconds left. Ironically, this determination was made with much less video evidence than there was for DeRozan traveling, on which there was no determination. (There’s a post on the ironic reality represented in the NBA’s “Last Two Minute Reports” coming soon.)

Everywhere one looks in this game, it seems, there is an officiating controversy brewing. Yet all three of the refs involved, Davis included, made the conference semifinals officials cut from 37 to 30. Davis and 3rd official Rodney Mott worked the Wizards-Celtics game on Tuesday. Davis is back on the job tonight in Houston for the Spurs Rockets game. What does that say about the 7 refs who didn’t make the cut? What does it say about the NBA’s officials review process?

But before we take a closer look at other parts of Bucks-Raptors Game 6, it should be mentioned that Davis, after being named one of the three worst refs in league in the LA Times survey, was the official who stood by watching as Dion Waiters and Manu Ginobili committed multiple violations on the last play of Game 2 of the Spurs-Thunder first round series last year.  To quote deadspin.com on that play “all hell broke loose” and the rulebook went out the window.

Bucks-Raptors Game 6 official Marc Davis (#8 above) was the ref who swallowed his whistle during one of the most notorious playoffs officiating fiascos in recent years. On the inbound play of the last possession of Game 2 of the Thunder-Spurs semifinal series, Dion Waiters of the Thunder illegally shoves the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili from out of bounds, as Ginobili tries to get away with illegally violating the inbound space. In the foreground, Kawhi Leonard has a handful of Russell Westbrook‘s jersey. No calls were made on the play. AP photo.

Whistles in the 1st quarter send a confusing mixed message

Considering how difficult it’s been for the referees to draw a technical foul out of Kidd this season, those four points midway through the Bucks run were writ large on the outcome of Game 6 as the Raptors scrapped out the win, 92-89, ending the Bucks season. That Davis did not call a single foul on the Raptors during the first 36.52 of the game, certainly raises some questions. The Raptors 9 to 14 foul call advantage as they built a seemingly insurmountable 25-point lead raises more questions. The non-call on the Patterson shooting foul under two minutes was key. Davis’ preceding reputation is interesting to point out, but Tony Brothers, the official along the baseline on that play, could also have made the call.

Does it all add up to the conclusion that the Bucks were robbed of a game 7 opportunity? Bucks fans would probably say it does, others might suggest that the Bucks had their chances and couldn’t close the game out, which was certainly true. The Bucks had an 82-80 lead with 2:29 left to play. The Bucks certainly could have won Game 6 in spite of Davis, in spite of the non-called fouls, and despite problems of their own in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, such as missed open shots and free throws throughout as Toronto built its lead.

A closer view of Game 6, however, does add more grist for the idea that, in the very least, a Game 7 in Toronto would have been played but for the refs. Whatever can be said, Game 6 from the outset was not well-managed by the officiating crew, and let’s start there.

The Game 6 refs were not short on experience, and all three are on the current officials roster for the semi-final round of the playoffs. Tony Brothers was the crew chief, with Davis and 3rd official Rodney Mott. Together they combined 63 seasons of experience and 39 playoffs. Davis is a 19-year veteran and Mott has 20 years on the job.

Davis’ whistle blew the most often in the game, with all of his calls against the Raptors made in the 4th quarter, and all but one after he issued a technical foul on Kidd.

Source: NBA.com, Raptors-Bucks play-by-play, 04/27/17. Chart graphic added to post 5/12/17                                           Note: Goaltending against Bucks, John Henson, 2nd quarter (called by Davis).

As you can see, the whistles stopped blowing against the Raptors after the 1st quarter, when at one point the violations were 6 against Toronto, 2 on Milwaukee.

  • The quarter began with Brothers hitting Raptors center Serge Ibaka with a  quick foul trying to guard a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo and another on Ibaka guarding center Thon Maker. This forced Raptors coach Dwane Casey to sit Ibaka down 2:16 seconds into the game. Ibaka returned to start the 2nd quarter.
  • Mott then called a rare defensive 3-second violation (the rule few understand) on Ibaka’s replacement, Jonas Valanciunas, though Brothers offset that Bucks free throw by immediately calling an offensive foul on Middleton.
  • From 6:18 to go in the 1st quarter to 11:08 of the 4th quarter — 31:10 — the calls ran 12 against the Bucks to only 4 on Toronto, as the Bucks fell behind by 25.
  • Davis and Brothers combined called 1 foul on Toronto in the middle two quarters. One.
  • Davis called 0 fouls on the Raptors for the three quarters. (It still doesn’t seem possible, but it happened. Those zeroes can’t help but look bad for the league. — 5/12/17 edit 

P.J. Tucker grapples with Greg Monroe. Tucker, a tank-like forward who makes up for his size with physical play, tends to commit so many violations on the court that the referees are bound to miss a few.  License: Standard noncommercial purpose/use.

A blocking foul on Tucker was the Raptors fifth team foul in the 1st quarter, which put the Bucks in the bonus with half of the first quarter still to play. At this point, the message seemed to be that it was going to be a long night for the Raptors; the visitors weren’t going to be allowed to bully the Bucks out of the playoffs on their home court.

It seemed a fair message, given how even the series was been statistically, save for the Raptors big advantage in free throws attempted and made. A Game 7 was the logical conclusion. But Davis apparently had ideas of his own. The rest of the calls made in the 1st quarter of Game 6 — most of them by Davis — went against the Bucks.

The first call was made by Mott, the first foul on Monroe. Then came four straight by Davis, including Monroe’s 2nd foul, a highly questionable loose ball foul that seemed little more than an obvious attempt to even the score with Ibaka’s two fouls. The call prompted coach Kidd to take Monroe — who put up big impact numbers against the Raptors (a series-leading 16.29 BIER) — out of the game. Monroe would not return in the first half, a decision by Kidd that, if it didn’t open the door for the Raptors double digit lead, it at least altered the complexion of the game.

Davis wasn’t done yet. He called a shooting foul on Monroe’s replacement, shot-blocker John Henson, on Henson’s first possession. With 23 seconds to go, Davis put the Raptors on the line with the 5th Bucks team foul, a call on the floor against defensive specialist Tony Snell, sending Raptors star Demar Derozan to the line. Two free points for Derozan, and the quarter ended with the Raptors ahead, 28-24.

The Bucks had the edge early on, but Davis had helped even the score. In the very least, the 1st quarter officiating sent a confusing message and offered some relief to the Raptors. Davis had given them a break on the road, they had the lead, and the Bucks 2nd best player, Monroe, was on the bench with foul trouble.

Lowry in the land of the giants. Thon Maker (left) and Giannis Antetokounmpo surround Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the paint. Lowry, listed at 6’0″, is small even by point guard standards, but seems microscopic here, swarmed by 7-footers. Great photo by AP’s Nathan Denette that probably won’t be here for long. License: Standard noncommercial purpose/use.

Looking for a motive – natural bias and recent Davis trends

There is more than ample evidence, a compounding of events not all circumstantial, that leads to the conclusion that the Bucks were wronged by the Game 6 officiating crew and by Davis in particular. But why? What would motivate a ref to tip the balance in a game to deny the Bucks a Game 7, given that, if anything, what the NBA and its media desire (in theory) would be a do-or-die 7th game played in Canada’s largest media market (2.85 million pop, twice the size of the Milwaukee area market).

If the Bucks engender any bias against them it’s due to the lack of success in recent history, their last playoff series win having been 16 years ago with the Sam-I-Am, Big Dog and Ray team, or before most teen-aged Bucks fans were born. In Game 6, however, the Bucks had the natural edge being the home team, and being the home team counts for something in the NBA (where home teams win 57-60% of the time) and in the Big Ten and just about anywhere in the world one plays basketball. Add to this the “Game 7 media theory” and the perception was that the Bucks had a certain advantage going into Game 6.

The Bucks had jumped out to an early lead as Antetokounmpo forced the action, scored 12 points and shot five free throws in the first six minutes. One theory this season as Giannis’ star rose high and the Bucks relied on him to do just about everything except make the locker room sandwiches, has been that The Greek Freak constitutes unfair advantage. At times, certain referees will make calls against the Bucks to balance the scales. This may have been what Davis had in mind the last half of the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Bucks, Davis went too far by dumping foul trouble on Monroe and throwing the game out of balance.

The Bucks are not as deep as the Raptors at center. The Raptors can readily go to Valanciunas, usually a more reliable player and stronger center than Ibaka, and not worry about losing ground. They proved that in Game 6. The Bucks have Henson, a 5th year project that was all but abandoned in the second half of the season. Jason Kidd can’t take the risks Dwane Casey can at the center position. The absence of Monroe, statistically the Bucks biggest per-minute impact player in the series, crippled the Bucks in the first half.

The second call against Monroe did not appear to be circumstantial, nor were the non-calls in the 4th quarter, or Davis’ apparent glaring refusal to call any fouls on the Raptors during the first three quarters of the game.  Compounded, these instances draw the conclusion that something was amiss with Davis.  A different referee for Game 6, and the Bucks and Raptors play Game 7 in Toronto, Saturday, April 29.

Not sure of the what , but that’s Marc Davis above. “Effective pregame advice” might be … don’t even try to fathom the bottomless pit of referee motivations. From Peachtree Hoops.

Referee Stats!

In a different information age not so long ago, I’d have to leave it at that. Here comes the summation about how, for the love of the game, the paranoia about the refereeing in the NBA, justified or not, is not good for anybody. When a society no longer trusts its judges, what then becomes of the social fabric? Davis should be handed a stern warning by someone not named Stern, the former commissioner who made every small market team in the NBA nervous except the one in San Antonio.

But in this information age, the NBA and its ever-advancing statistical society have provided stats and trends for each and every referee! Exciting stuff. Marc Davis stats can be found here at basketball-reference.com. And from what those numbers say, a home vs. road theory can be built to explain why Davis was so tough on the Bucks in Game 6.

Two things stand out in Davis’ stat charts. The first is a trend over the last three seasons that shows fewer fouls than average called in the games he works, a range of 2.5 to 3 fewer fouls since 2014. That certainly held true for the Raptors in Game 6 but not for the Bucks, where Davis went against his usual m.o. and called more fouls than the other officials and more than he would normally call.

The average number of personal fouls per team in this year’s playoffs so far has been 19.7 per game (or 6 or 7 calls per official per team; it had increased to 20.3 pfs per team as of 5/12). Davis called 9 personal fouls on the Bucks.

The other outstanding trend has been an up and down relationship to the NBA’s home court advantage (a fairly consistent win rate of about 60% for the home teams). Home court advantage seems to be out the window when Davis is working. In the 2014 season, the visitors won 47% of Davis’ games. In 2015 the visitors won 50% of the time – a 15% variation from the norm. So the road teams have done well when Davis is managing the game. This is no doubt confusing to the home players, which may in part explain his “NBA worst officials” dishonor.

But hold on – the trend completely reversed itself wildly in the 2016 season, and home teams won 65% of Davis’ games. Whether a memo was issued to Davis is unknown, of course, the process of reviewing officials being top secret stuff — but there have never appeared to be any repercussions for bad or incompetent officiating. Whatever the cause, this was a 27.7% swing from the previous season, the highest of Davis’ career. This season, Davis’ trend swung even more wildly back in favor of the visiting teams.

In 2017, the visitors won 54% of 65 games officiated by Davis. The league trend was 60/40 in favor of the home teams. That’s a 24.4% divergence from the average the highest of Davis’ career.

Now let’s look at this season’s playoffs. Coming into the Bucks-Raptors game, the home team had won all five of the games in which Davis worked. Is it possible that Davis had decided a victory by a road team was due, and the Bucks were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong referee? Maybe.

Wizards-Celtics Game 2: Marc Davis’ next game

[I took the Wizards-Celtics analysis and the notes below and made a stand-alone post, “More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 2: Wizards-Celtics Game 2, throwing the rule book out the window”  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the notes (they’re really good notes), but the post has two videos and a two-tone chart, just so you know.]

Davis and Mott officiated the Wizards vs. Celtics Game 2 in Boston Tuesday with Tom Washington as third official. The Davis trends suggest that the Wizards, the road team, have a good chance of winning the game. This was a tough, physical game (the Celtics like to bully the opposition) that went into overtime and featured 50 personal fouls called — 29 against the Wizards, 21 against the Celtics (about average considering the OT).

Here’s how the 50 calls broke down per official:

  • Davis: 16 or 32% of calls, 8 per team
  • Mott: 17 or 34%, 9/17 on the Wizards
  • Washington: 17 or 34%, 12/17 on Wizards

First thing to note is Davis calling fewer fouls than the other officials, part of the trend that emerges for Davis over the last six seasons.

Below is the breakdown by quarter:

  • Boston was hit with the most fouls in the first quarter (7) but only 14 the rest of the game, including the overtime, below the average in the playoffs so far this season.
  • Nine fouls were called on the Wizards in the 2nd, as all three officials unleashed their whistles on the Washington bench.
  • Six fouls vs. the Wizards in the 3rd quarter, only 2 on Boston. (The Wizards were threatening to blow the game open middle of the 3rd quarter).
  • Fourth quarter & Overtime – 9 on the Wiz, 7 on the Celtics.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the referees helped keep Boston in the game, though Davis was the least involved in that. 3rd official Tom Washington’s 12 to 5 call disparity in favor of the Celtics is hard to ignore. If Davis leaned to the visitors, Washington more than made up for that, a reminder that it’s difficult for a ref to wire a game with two other officials on the court with him/her.

The Wizards went cold from the outside in the 3rd quarter after they had built a 13 point lead that was still 12 with 3:20 to play in the quarter. Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal had a horrific game (4-15 shooting, 6 turnovers). The Wizards also had opportunities on the last possession of the 4th quarter to win the game, but Beal and John Wall misfired on open looks.  Isaiah Thomas heroically torched the nets in the overtime and scored 53 points on his late sister’s birthday. Thomas also made the free throws that tied the game and forced the overtime (Mott made that rather questionable call – see NBA Official video here).

As for Davis, other than keeping to his trends of, 1) calling fewer fouls; and 2) making things tough on the home team (fewest calls against the visiting Wizards), a call he chose not to make in the 1st quarter helped the Wizards later on. During the opening minutes of the game Wizards PF Markieff Morris threw Al Horford into the sideline area as Horford tried to save a loose ball (this was retaliation for a foul in Game 1 that caused Morris to sprain an ankle). Davis called a loose ball foul on Morris but, for reasons unclear, did not issue a flagrant foul (1 or 2) technical to Morris as called for in the NBA rule book. Had he done so, Morris would have been tossed from the game in the 3rd quarter when he and Thomas were T’d up after a confrontation.

What Davis did do in the wake of Morris’ retaliation – on the Celtics next possession – was call an offensive foul on Celtics big man Amir Johnson. Can it really be that the NBA doesn’t look at this stuff?

*Note on LA TImes Survey: The “best officials” survey was anonymous, involving 36 current players, coaches and assistant coaches. Each participant was asked to name a best and worst referee. Scott Foster (24 votes) was voted worst; Lauren Holtkamp was next (14 votes); and Davis, with 12 votes, was voted 3rd worst.

Here are the anonymous survey comments about Davis, published in the LA Times story January 30, 2016:

“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”

“Marc Davis is hands down the worst,” a player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”

Danny Crawford was voted “best official” (30 votes). Joey Crawford (no kidding) was next best (25 votes). Crawford retired after last season, which I suppose makes Monty McCutchen (13 votes) the 2nd best ref in the league.

Other sources: This post was edited to include the “Last Two Minute” reports from Raptors-Bucks and Wizards Celtics, and their findings, as well as other source material from NBA Official. Other main source material is from either Basketball-reference.com or NBA.com.

  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 highlights, NBA.com/raptors:  http://www.nba.com/raptors/video/teams/raptors/2017/04/28/1493347703009-nba-web-170427-gamehighlights-1396692/
  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 broadcast, Fox Sports North, analyst Marques Johnson.
  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170427/TORMIL#/pbp
  • Bucks-Raptors series stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com//playoffs/2017-nba-eastern-conference-first-round-bucks-vs-raptors.html
  • 2017 NBA season stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2017.html#all_team-stats-per_game
  • 2017 NBA playoff stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/NBA_2017.html#all_all_team_stats
  • Deadspin, “Thunder-Spurs Game 2:
  • 2016-17 NBA rulebook: https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/2016-2017-Rule-Book-Final.pdf
  • Referee assignments: http://official.nba.com/referee-assignments/
  • Playoff officials selection process: http://official.nba.com/playoff-officials-selection-process/
  • Last Two Minute Report: http://official.nba.com/nba-last-two-minute-reports-archive/
  • Playoff officials roster: http://official.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/2016-17-NBA-Referee-Headshots-Conference-Semifinals-1.pdf
  • Radio Media Markets: http://www.radio-media.com/markets/main.html

Trade deadline anxiety: Why the Bucks resisted the urge to make changes

Khris Middleton lines up a shot in the Foot Locker 3-point shootout at NBA All-Star weekend 2016 in Toronto (2/13/2016).

“No one knows who he is, so he doesn’t get in the paper,” said TNT analyst Kenny Smith as Bucks guard Khris Middleton began his round last Saturday in Toronto at the Foot Locker NBA All-Star 3-point shootout.

“Who does he play for, Kenny?” wondered Charles Barkley, as though he didn’t already know.

Milwaukee Bucks, baby,” Smith fired back, probably wondering why Barkley (and everyone else at the analyst table) had let Smith’s use of a great Yogi Berra quote go by without comment.

Yogi-ism noted, this exchange spoke volumes about the Bucks and where they find themselves three years after the end of the coach Scott Skiles era, that five-year plan to build a competitive, relevant team in ruin. Three years later and they are struggling in the standings, still working to grow a fan base, a reputation; to develop young players into something resembling NBA stars. To establish an identity. Charles Barkley may actually know that Middleton plays for the Bucks, but it isn’t locked in his mind as a sure thing.

Such is the Bucks roster story of the last few years — just when you think you know who they are, team management gets restless and begins making changes, and not necessarily the right changes (Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, Keyon Dooling, Stephen Jackson; trading Andrew Bogut for Monte Ellis and Ekpe Udoh; passing on Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard to dump Maggette and trade down for Tobias Harris, later traded for J.J. Reddick …). Nobody knew who they were, so not only did the Bucks not get in the paper, coach Skiles refused to sign the contract extension he was offered in 2012 and was asked to leave.

A lot has happened since then, most of it very good, beginning with the pick of the 2013 draft, 18-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo. New ownership came in, hired new management and coaching, accomplished the near-impossible by negotiating a new arena deal, and set out to establish a new identity for the Bucks.  Trading a point guard (Brandon Knight) who shot too much and had trouble running the pick-and-roll was part of this identity thing. The Bucks and coach Jason Kidd wanted a tall, young, pass-first point guard with good court vision and they got one last February at the trade deadline — Michael Carter-Williams.

Greg Monroe and the Milwaukee Bucks were all smiles last summer when Monroe was signed, yet unfounded trade rumors persisted only a few months later.

Acquiring free agent center Greg “Moose” Monroe last summer was considered a great surprise catch at the time. Monroe was and is the kind of skilled big man who could give the Bucks reliable offense and presence inside, a borderline All-Star who, in the right setting could become a genuine NBA star. But while Monroe has played well (17 points, 10 rebs per game, team-leading 5.4 Win Shares at the All-Star break), the Bucks have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league and they’re currently out of playoff position. The obvious thing to do, of course, is to say “thanks for the excitement last summer and the five months of work, Moose” and trade him elsewhere. Right?

Monroe and Carter-Williams have allegedly been been on the trading block for a couple of months now, according to the rumor mill, and it’s been disappointing to see the speculation get as much play as it has.  Same old Bucks, some bloggers and reporters in Milwaukee and much of the NBA media seem to think — they’re losing, management is restless and they’ll entertain trade talk on everybody but Antetokounmpo, Middleton and 20-year-old forward Jabari Parker (Parker turns 21 on March 15).  The speculation died when real news reporting took over this week: It turned out that there was very little substance to the Monroe trade talk. Teams that inquired about his availability were rebuffed. The Carter-Williams talk is all but dead as the trade deadline approaches, and it has slowly dawned on most observers that there was no realistic trade available. All’s quiet with 15 minutes to go before the deadline.  Even the Miles Plumlee trade talk has died down.

The Bucks stood pat, win or lose, with their young, developing roster because it was the only sensible thing to do.  “There’re no change to be made. Continuity is something we’re trying for,” said coach Jason Kidd, also the guy most believe is calling the player personnel shots. Monroe and Carter-Williams need time. Parker, despite his obvious defensive and rebounding shortcomings and lack of court sense, needs time.

In the 1990s, Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Vin Baker were given a full season (1996-97) before it was decided that Baker (the Black Hole) was not a good fit. Carter-Williams has barely had that, Parker has not yet played a full season, and Monroe’s been a Buck for 54 games; the idea that the Bucks would trade him so soon after signing him was, from the start, ridiculous. This season was not the season for trades, and it’s a relief to write that as the deadline has passed and Carter-Williams, Monroe and Plumlee are still Milwaukee Bucks.  Plumlee had only recently begun to play well, filling in for injured John Henson, so it was good to see the Bucks decline on whatever offers were out there (the Wizards were reportedly interested).

Trade speculation around the deadline is an annual February ritual for NBA fans, complete with its own sense of non-reality. It’s not always a good thing, especially for a team struggling to establish an identity in the league. So far that identity is rooted in the sometimes brilliant play of Antetokounmpo and Middleton, when that happens, though both have been inconsistent this season. Inconsistency is the norm for most Bucks players (Monroe excepted) and this has been disappointing after making the playoffs last season. Middleton looks like an All-Star some nights. Michael Carter-Williams can be a shutdown defender, some nights. Antetokounmpo is nowhere to be found some nights. The bench players were unhealthy, almost every night.

Like it or not, the Bucks are still a development team and have been from the moment they started 18-year-old Giannis at small forward in 2013. This season was designed by the Bucks to be a development tableau for Jabari Parker, who may never become the front line star everyone thought he would be on draft day 2014. The shoe contract came first before the stardom in Parker’s case, and his future is a bit cloudy right now. Trading other players is not the fix for Parker, not this year, with the player himself still a work in progress.

Nobody yet knows who Parker and the Bucks are, so they don’t get in the papers. That’s OK. We don’t have anything definitive to write just yet, and nobody reads the papers anymore, anyway.