Tag Archives: Joe Prunty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sterling Brown is not slow-footed

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

Sourcerole

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

NBA Playoffs: Bucks vs. Celtics notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamebooks and other links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bucks vs. Celtics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: #BucksIn6

May 17, 1987

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sourcerole

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

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. 

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

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

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