The Bucks won the next two games in Milwaukee (with Parker’s playing time doubled), but Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t get timely service at trendy East Side restaurant after tipping in the game-winning shot in Sunday’s Game 4. The fans lost their minds again in shock, awe, disbelief.
Welcome to Milwaukee, where we’re far out of practice and shape for this NBA playoffs thing, and so starved for a winner that all faults and slights, real and imagined, are met with outraged howls of indignation. The last time the Bucks won a playoff series was in 2001, when the Bucks prevailed in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the original Charlotte Hornets, who would end up in New Orleans a couple of years later.
Seventeen years is a long time. The Big Dog Glenn Robinson was barking in those days, out-dueling Hornets All-Star forward Jamal Mashburn to lift the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the first round series, Robinson lost the “Wee-Mac” (Tracy McGrady) vs. “Puppy Dog” challenge — but the Big Dog had the last laugh as the Bucks took the series 3-1 and would run all the way to Game 7 of the East Finals, a controversial defeat to Allen Iverson and the Sixers.
McGrady’s in the basketball Hall of Fame now, as unlikely as it seems given his notable lack of success in the playoffs. And the Bucks haven’t won a playoff series since the days of Wee Mac and Dog and Mashburn. But they’ve got the momentum against the Celtics heading into Game 5, and the best player, Giannis, averaging 28 pts – 8.5 rebs – 6.5 asts per game in the series.
Still from the 1975 film, Rollerball. James Caan as Rollerball hero Jonathan E.
The question was raised in the original Rollerball film. Our hero, Rollerball sensation Jonathan E., and his assigned companion, Mackie, relax in between Rollerball matches with Jonathon’s trainer, Cletus. As they recline on floor pillows sedating in the glow of synthetic drugs, they talk of the harsh and uncompromising corporate realities of their world. Indianapolis has apparently disappeared from their sphere of knowledge or understanding. The city is gone. As Cletus drifts off into his high, he wonders again, “Whatever happened to Indianapolis?”
As the Pacers prepare to face the Cavs in Cleveland tonight (Wednesday) in pivotal Game 5 of their first round series, they may be asking the same question Cletus did. Or more specifically — what happened in Game 4? The Pacers had it all — a 2-1 series lead and playing on their home court in Indy, a golden opportunity to put Lebron James and his inexperienced new teammates in difficult 3-1 hole, where there would be little room for error to avoid defeat. The Pacers even had the lead in Game 4, 92-89, halfway through the 4th quarter. But not all of Lebron’s teammates are so inexperienced. James made plays, Kyle Korver hit threes, and . . .
“Just like that, it was 101-95. From there, it was a few more bricks from the Pacers and too much Stephenson sideshow, wrestling Cleveland’s Jeff Green to the floor in yet more antics gone too far.” — NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner on Pacers-Cavs Game 4.
That says it all, it seems. Now the advantage is back in the King’s court, and while the Pacers may battle and Lance Stephenson and Domantas Sabonis may scrap and claw and bully and earn their Ts, Lebron and his Cavaliers will prevail. Sorry Pacers fans — many of whom truly believed, even when it was tied 1-1, they would win the series and end James’ 7-year reign in the East,
But then Pacers fans truly believed not such a long time ago in Paul George‘s stardom.
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.
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.
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 -Â 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/
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.”
“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.
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.
Greg Monroe leads the Celtics scoring off the bench. License: Standard non-commercial use.
Bucks big menJohn 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.
The combined 2017-18 per game BIER for Middleton and Snell was a 10.29, a full point lower than the Tatum and Brown’s combined 11.29 BIER/G.
The Raptors’ Derozan and OG Anunoby — 10.59, quite a bit lower than their Wizards counterparts in the first round. The WAS-TOR series could get interesting.
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.
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.
*Â¹ “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)
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
Referee Tony Brothers’ crew called 10 fouls on the Bucks in the 4th quarter Sunday night in Denver, to 2 on the Nuggets as the Nuggets overcame a 18-point deficit to force overtime and beat the Bucks, 128-125. Khris Middleton (middle) and Eric Bledsoe might be wondering here why the Nuggets shot 46 free throws in all, including the game-tying trio by Jamal Murray. AP photo: License: Standard non-commercial use.
There was a lot wrong with the Bucks mind-boggling, overtime loss to the Nuggets in Denver Sunday night, which featured the Bucks blowing a 17 point lead with 6 minutes to play in regulation. They had the ball too at that point, ahead by 17, the clock marching down under 6:00. Instead of slowing the pace to run some offense, Bucks center John Henson cut to the basket and tried to dunk on Nikola Jokic. Henson missed the dunk, and a few seconds later Jamal Murray buried a three to cut the lead to 14. Suddenly, it wasn’t the Nuggets reeling from the 3-pointer Bledsoe had hit prior to Henson miffing the dunk, it was the Bucks calling time out to regroup with 5:44 to go.
The mindlessness of that play seems to speak for every mindless play made by the Bucks on their way to their 36th loss, 128-125 in OT, and a return to 8th place in the East. Henson wasn’t close on dunk (which isn’t the sort of video that gets cut and distributed in the NBA), but he didn’t appear to get above the rim as he rose to the basket and slammed the ball into the side of the iron.
The “J-Hook” also failed to grab a single rebound in the 4th quarter as the Bucks frittered away the lead, but neither did his backup, Tyler Zeller, who played the first 4 mins of the quarter. Denver pulled down 17 offensive boards on the night and scored 24 second chance points. The Bucks were out-rebounded 57-45 in the game, nothing new there — the Bucks would be the worst rebounding team in the league by percentage if the Orlando Magic weren’t worse.
The Bucks persisting need for a real center was just one of the problems in Denver. The referees, led by crew chief Tony Brothers, made numerous controversial calls in the Nuggets favor down the stretch to engineer this outcome, including Bennie Adams‘ 6th and disqualifying foul call on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Adams call with 2.8 secs left that led to the game-tying free throws. Meanwhile, Bucks Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe each made mindless plays in the final two minutes, suggesting rather strongly that the Bucks don’t have much of brain (or a coach) without Giannis on the court.
And here I was, looking forward to writing a nice, uplifting blog about the Bucks winning Western road trip and their chances of nabbing the 7th seed from Miami as they took a 111-103 lead with 2:08 to play and the Nuggets’ Murray was called for travelling 20 seconds later. It was not meant to be, not in Denver and not in this season in general for the Bucks. Lately, they’ve played too much like a First Round to be anything but.
THE REFEREES – The crew chief in Denver, Tony Brothers, just so happened to be the crew chief of the Bucks Game 6 loss to the Raptors in last year’s playoffs. Brothers swallowed his whistle then as Marc Davis burned the Bucks in Milwaukee, and was helpless again to stop referee Bennie Adams from engineering the Nuggets comeback. First, with the Bucks up 10 with 3:53 to go, coach Joe Prunty called time out, and subbed Antetokounmpo (who had 5 fouls) back into the game for Jabari Parker. The Bucks immediately went to Giannis in isolation in the middle of the court against Nik Jokic, who, as Giannis drove to his left, appeared to bump Giannis as he tried to stay in front of him, then stumbled to the floor when Giannis stepped on his foot planting to shoot — as you’ll see below in the video:
No basket, foul on Giannis — his 6th — and he was T’d up for screaming about it (looked like he deserved the technical). After the technical free throw, Adams whistled Bledsoe for a foul on Murray — two more FTs and the lead was down to 7 (107-100) with 3:26 to play.
Adams is in his 23rd season as an NBA ref, but all that experience doesn’t necessarily mean he’s one of the better refs. I didn’t have Adams in any of the games I reviewed in last year’s playoffs during the “More than a Slap on the Wrist” series, and Adams didn’t make the cut down to 20 officials working the Conference Finals. He was, however, one of 30 refs in the conference semifinals pool so that puts him 21st-30th of 64 refs in the pecking order NBA Official says it establishes based on who advances to work the later rounds of the playoffs.
In any case, Adams would strike again with 2.8 seconds left and the Bucks ahead 111-108, after Khris Middleton’s lazy, off-target inbound lob to Jason Terry was intercepted by Murray and Murray raced to the 3-point line with Terry in pursuit. Murray fired away, the shot was off, but Adams called Terry for a foul that no camera could find even in slow-motion. Murray hit 3 free throws and the game was tied and headed to OT.
The NBA couldn’t find the foul in their Last 2-Minute Report (L2M) issued the day after the game, but for some reason the lack of evidence of a foul didn’t result in an “incorrect call” ruling. Here’s the ruling:
“There is no clear and conclusive angle that shows whether contact does or does not occur. Therefore the call stands as correct.”
NBA Official, curiously enough, also didn’t post a link to the video of the play, something they do for every call and non-call looked at in an L2M. (I guess the bosses didn’t feel like airing Bennie Adams’ dirty laundry). But I did find the video on Nuggets fan Justin Jett’s twitter account, thanks to The Score; and here it is:
Jamal Murray may have just saved the Nuggets season with this athletic steal and drawn foul.
In the “More than a Slap on the Wrist”series during last year’s playoffs, the realization about the L2Ms was that just because a corporate office decides to write reports does not mean your going to get a well written report. This was arrived at after reviewing a dozen or so L2M reports, and here we have another one that yearns to defeat the “transparency” purpose NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s states as the reason the reports exist. Bennie Adams did what he thought was the right thing to do in Denver — hand the game to the Nuggets. If the NBA office had ruled his call on Terry an “Incorrect Call”, would Adams have been held accountable? Not any discernible way. The only remedy the league seems to have is to limit the number of games a referee works in the playoffs.
Adams had help from Bucks Bledsoe and Middleton in the final 1:48 of the game, when the Bucks had the ball and were up 111-103. Murray had just been called for travelling by crew chief Brothers, and here’s the look on Denver coach Mike Malone’s face.
Game over? Malone looks as though his team’s playoff hopes are about to end. Image: Screen capture of NBA video of the Bucks-Nuggets broadcast 04/01/18.
Malone’s “there goes our playoff hopes” expression says everything that needs to be said about how impossible the Bucks blowing the 8-point lead was. With the win, Denver remained in 9th place in the West, one game behind New Orleans.
MEANWHILE IN MIAMI – The Heat on Saturday lost to Brooklyn, which meant the Bucks were tied for 7th place in the East for a few hours on Sunday, and on the verge of taking sole possession of both 7th and a likely first round matchup against the Celtics, still playing without Kyrie Irving.
The loss to Denver kept the Nuggets playoff hopes alive and dropped the Bucks into 8th (which would mean a second straight first round match-up with the East-leading Raptors, not the most desirable conclusion to the season) with the Heat set to play a back-to-back against last place Atlanta Tuesday and Wednesday while the Bucks battle the Celtics in Milwaukee.
Official Scorers’ report, Bucks-Nuggets 04/01/18 – http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180401/0021701152_Book.pdf
NBA Official: http://official.nba.com
Last 2-Minute reports: http://official.nba.com/2017-18-nba-officiating-last-two-minute-reports/
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.
03/07/2015 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.
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.
*² Prunty tied to trick the rotations by pulling Giannis out of any 3rd quarterafter 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 withFenerbahce 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 theJiangsu 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
Goran Dragic didn’t quite have All-Star numbers this season, but his Miami Heat did, going 6-0 against the Bucks and the Hornets and vaulting to 4th in East with a 27-20 record just in time for the coaches reserve All-Star voting. The Bucks face the Heat in Miami tonight in the teams’ last regular season meeting. Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Minn. Star Tribune. License: Standard non-commercial use.
Bucks forward Khris Middleton felt “disrespected” when Miami point guard Goran Dragic was selected to replace injured Kevin Love in the All-Star game. He was disappointed again this week as Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker was chosen to take Kristaps Porzingis‘ place in the Feb. 18 game.
“I definitely feel disrespected because of the numbers that I had and we had a good record,” Middleton said before the Knicks game, not specifically referring to Dragic or Drummond. [Drummond shoots 55% from the floor and is leading the league in rebounding; to this point in the season (Feb. 8), he’s been the 3rd most statistically impactful player in the NBA, according to BIER* — so it was most likely the selection of Dragic that left Middleton feeling dissed.]
Drummond was 13th in the coaches vote, so he was next in line. Dragic was next in line after Drummond, according to NBA.com.
How did Dragic end up with more votes than Middleton or Kemba Walker? The coaches voted after the announcement of the starting All-Stars Thursday Jan. 18 on TNT. The All-Star reserves were announced Tuesday Jan. 23, so the votes were cast that weekend, Jan. 19- 22. I seem to recall that Bucks GM Jon Horst sacked coach Jason Kidd on Jan. 22, and that Middleton was not playing particularly well at the time — but this is about Dragic and the Heat.
The Bucks were in a different place altogether, and had lost four of their last six games, including the two they lost to the Heat, and had fallen to 7th in the East with a 24-22 record. Over those 6 games, Middleton scored 18.2 pts per game but shot just 42.6% and 7 for 31 on threes (22.6%). Not to pick on Khris — Eric Bledsoe was mired in a shooting slump and the entire team looked gassed vs. Miami Jan. 17, their 13th game in 23 days — but the two losses in four days to the Heat became kind of memorable when Kidd was fired just a few days later.
It’s a strange disconnect. Middleton may have had “All-Star-like” numbers but they were slipping. The Bucks weren’t winning when the coaches were casting their ballots and Giannis Antetokounmpo had won a starter’s spot, so the idea of a 2nd Bucks All-Star was pretty far-fetched, no matter how much anybody loves the team. If a Bucks player got any reserve All-Star votes from the coaches, chances are it was Bledsoe, who had higher impact numbers (6.74 BIER) than Middleton (5.37 BIER) at the half-way point, before wearing down mid-January.
Middleton’s numbers are looking better now (20.1 pts, 5.3 rebs, 4.2 assists, 5.78 BIER) than they did then; he won Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jan. 22-28, and the Bucks have won 7 of 8.
In those 8 games (Jan. 22-Feb. 6) since Kidd was fired, Middleton has played like an All-Star, scoring 20.1 pts per game and shooting 42% from three and 50.4% overall, a BIER of 8.57, more than double the average for a small forward. But those games were played AFTER the All-Star ballots were cast.
“It wasn’t lies, it was just bullshit.” — Elwood Blues, circa 1979.
Put the shooting slump and the good shooting together and you’ve got Khris Middleton’s season – prolonged lows mixed with All-Star highs, a borderline All-Star with no cool shoe commercial running 24 hours on ESPN (yeah, that’s a crack at Paul George).
Below are the 2017-18 per game stats of Middleton and Kemba Walker, plus Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin and Otto Porter. Simmons’ name was mentioned as a possible choice to replace Porzingis. Griffin’s a bonafide All-Star suddenly playing in the East after being traded to Detroit. Wizards forward Porter plays the same wing-small forward position as Middleton. And there’s Dragic, picked ahead of the other five for this year’s All-Star game.
It’s a tough call, sort of. At first glance, I wouldn’t cast an All-Star vote for any of them. Blake Griffin’s not having a good shooting year and has missed some games due to injury, but his numbers still say “All-Star” (he wasn’t eligible as an East reserve, anyway). Simmons’ numbers look great – 7.8 rebs, 7 assists, 53% shooting – from a rookie! But he is a rookie, and at last check his team was 2-8 without center Joel Embiid, an All-Star starter. Maybe next year for Simmons, if the Sixers continue to improve.
Otto Porter’s efficiency numbers are fantastic, and he’s a tough defender — he battled Middleton to a 5-13 shooting night, 0 for 4 on threes, in Milwaukee earlier this year. The Wizards have been winning without John Wall, and Porter has a lot to do with that — but he just doesn’t score enough at 14.0 pts per game.
Middleton does have a point — Dragic’s numbers aren’t that hot, and his BIER* checks in at 4.42, just 0.36 above the average for an NBA point guard. Miami’s All-Star is Hassan Whiteside, the center, but Whiteside hasn’t played enough this year to merit All-Star consideration. So it fell to Dragic, proof that coaches value winning more than numbers when choosing All-Stars. Whiteside, Dragic and the Heat are 6-0 against Walker’s Hornets and Middleton’s Bucks. Enuff said.
Middleton’s numbers are nearly good enough, and the BIER works out to 5.84, his best season. His 3-point % is down — 34.8% is below the league average. There are 25 teams that have shot the three better than Khris this year, and his teammates are one of them. On the other hand, he’s 2nd to only Steph Curryin mid-range shootings this season at 52.3%. The bag tends to be mixed with Middleton. One of the issues during his slump was that Jason Kidd was guilty of overplaying him, insisting on big minutes on nights when Middleton didn’t have it.
The Bucks face the Heat for the last time this season tonight in Miami. Winning a game against the Heat this season might help Middleton’s argument, though the point itself is moot. The Heat have lost five in a row, and Kelly Olynyk‘s not expected to play (out with a shoulder strain). The Bucks have a chance to steal one on the road. (Ed. note – it didn’t happen, as the Bucks played a miserable 3rd quarter, scoring only 8 points, and their 4th quarter comeback fell short 91-85.)
Kemba Walker actually has a better Impact and Efficiency rating (7.26) than John Wall (6.20) this season — it was a down year for Wall even before he hurt his knee, which made his All-Star selection a bit of a surprise. Walker could be more efficient as a shooter, and his good and bad shooting tends to come in streaks. Charlotte’s troubles as a team shooting the ball (they’re 29th in the league) and the difficulties they’ve had winning close games made Wall an easier choice by default (and Drummond and Dragic, too, based on the results).
The Miami-Dragic effect on Kemba Walker’s season was far more dire than an All-Star snub. The Hornets lost all four of their games with the Heat this season, all the difference between being in the playoff hunt or out of it at 23-31. The season in shambles, the Hornets front office was scouting trade offers for Walker up until the deadline yesterday at 3 p.m., hoping the lure of Walker would get other teams to take some of their bad contracts with him. Within hours, Walker went from the trading block to being named the All-Star replacement for Porzingis. Then the Hornets went out and lost an overtime game in Portland.
In the 4th and final Heat-Hornets game, Jan. 27, Charlotte blew a 15 point lead and shot a horrendous 4 for 20 in the 4th Quarter. Walker was again playing All-Star basketball through three quarters (26 pts) but went cold in the 4th, shot 1 for 8 from the floor and 1 for 5 from three. Dragic played, and had all of five points, missing 6 of the 8 shots he took. It’s been that kind of year in Charlotte.
“Is anybody going to actually read this trade deadline ^%@#?” Tyler Zeller (left) and John Henson, who were college teammates at North Carolina, discuss future possible trades and possibly the finer points of retro disco (when Zeller was still a Celtic, obviously). Photo from USA Today. License: Standard non-commercial use.
John Henson hauled down 15 rebounds against the Nets Sunday night, but nobody’s fooled. The Nets are the Nets. They start rookie Jarrett Allen at center and play the worst kind of small ball — where everybody shoots 1 for 6 from three and wishes they were Golden State or Houston.
The Bucks brass couldn’t help but notice the Nets weren’t playing forward-center Tyler Zeller, so Zeller became a Buck on Monday, traded for Rashad Vaughn and a 2nd round pick. A nice pick-up because Vaughn, the beleaguered 1st round bust from the 2015 draft, had little more than a cheerleaders’ role on the Bucks — and still, nobody was fooled.
The Bucks need bigger and better help in the middle than anybody named Zeller or Plumlee or Henson or Maker can provide, and the Feb. 8 trade deadline is fast approaching, just two days away. If five January losses to teams with Bucks-destroying big men — Toronto (Jonas Valanciunas), Philly (Joel Embiid) and Miami (Hassan Whiteside) — didn’t sufficiently freak out Bucks GM Jon Horst, news of the Celtics acquisition of the Moose, Greg Monroe, had to come on like a bad dream. The centers may be dinosaurs in the West the Warriors made, but can the Bucks survive the Jurassic Age of the Eastern Conference playoffs with their current crew of average-at-best big men?
[They’re ecstatic about Monroe in Boston. See “Monroe Doctrine: Celtics Rx for ‘man, we could really use 2 points right now'”. They haven’t yet realized what a good passer out of the post the Moose is (7th-best assist rate among qualifying centers last season). Or that he really can’t jump, but the easy offense off the bench he brings has been missed badly in Milwaukee since the trade. And we miss the “Moooose” call too – but that goes without saying – edit].
The Raptors, Heat and Celtics are very possible playoff opponents for the Bucks, so a defensive-minded big man is the Bucks Rx for “why can’t we grab a rebound?”
The Buck “most likely” to be traded, says Yahoo sports, is John Henson. Henson’s got two more years guaranteed after this season at $10.6m and $9.7 million, not a terrible salary bite for an average center, and, as such he’s the most appealing of the Bucks four $10-million-a-year guaranteed players. Trade rumors are buzzing around a bunch of NBA big men – DeAndre Jordan, Robin Lopez, Tyson Chandler and Whiteside, so there’s certain logic to this. But are any of these trades doable for the Bucks?
Robin Lopez is a real NBA center who wonders why referees don’t like him more. Lopez got kicked out the Bulls-Kings game last night, apparently for gestures less thought-provoking than this one during his days in Portland. Photo license: Standard non-commercial use.
A Robin Lopez trade with Chicagoseems pretty easy salary-wise, and the Bulls are in “sellers” mode after trading Mirotic to New Orleans. But the Bucks have one too many of those $10 million contracts guaranteed next season-and-beyond and want to reduce salary load next season if they can (ostensibly to pay Jabari Parker). Lopez’s salary next season is $3.8 million more than Henson’s. The Bucks could add in rookie D.J. Wilson to reduce the load next season. But even with Wilson off the books they’d be adding $1.5 next season in a Lopez-Henson deal.And it doesn’t sound like the Bulls want to add a contract like Henson’s, guaranteed through 2020
Trading with the Bucks is difficult – they have no sizable expiring contracts but Jabari Parker, just now coming back from his second ACL surgery. Bucks GM Jon Horst says he wants to resign Parker after this season, but the Bucks don’t have the money to get it done without jumping into the luxury tax zone, which may be unavoidable at this point, given the Bucks “win a championship” mindset. Parker’s clearly an asset, not a salary dump, one the Bucks should hang on to, but I’m not sure I believe Horst isn’t considering trade options for everybody but Giannis Antetokounmpo and maybe Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe, the last regular guard standing now that both Brogdon and backup Matthew Dellavedova are sidelined.
It would be totally insane for the Bucks to trade for Jordan, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the season, but writing about it was a good excuse to bring up “the Stepien rule”, and whether the Bucks can trade their 2018 1st Round draft pick. Photo from USA Today. License: Standard non-commercial use.
DeAndre Jordan can opt out and become a restricted free agent after this season, and the Clippers would want Jabari Parker in any Henson deal, not Khris Middleton. They would go for Henson, Parker and the Bucks 2018 1st round draft pick, but including that pick gets complicated because of “the Stepien rule” about trading future draft picks. Besides,the latest reports are that the Clippers are balking at taking Cleveland’s 2018 1st round pick. They want the Brooklyn pick the Cavs received in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, but the Cavs are worried about rebuilding if Lebron leaves, so they’re loathe to part with the Brooklyn pick.
If they don’t want the Cavs own pick, how much interest in the Bucks 2018 pick would they have, realizing that the Bucks would have to put conditions on the pick in order to trade it? Technically, and as far as I can tell after reading up on “the Stepien rule”, the Bucks CAN trade the 2018 pick, but would have to get another team to agree to hand over a 2019 pick in the event the Bucks don’t win next season. “The Stepien rule” prevents any team from trading two consecutive future 1st round draft picks. The Bucks pick would go to Phoenix as part of the Monroe-Bledsoe deal if the Bucks finish 15th in the league or worse this season or next season, not something that appears to be in the cards, but that doesn’t matter. There are conditions on the Bucks first round picks through 2021, and the rules say each of those picks are already traded until the Bucks actually convey a pick to Phoenix, which will most likely happen in 2020. Getting a conditional replacement for the next season’s pick is the loophole for trading this season’s pick.
To do anything, the Bucks may need to find the extra pick first, and then see whether they can put together a deal. Too complicated? Probably — and, of course the Clippers would love to have Jabari Parker, knee surgeries and all, in exchange for a 33-year-old free-agent-to-be DeAndre Jordan. It’s not happening. Jordan has a new agent, Jason Kidd‘s guy Jeff Schwartz, and they’re not open to Jordan opting in with anybody as part of the trade, which the Wizards are finding out. Anyway, there’s a better deal out there for the Bucks.
Hassan Whiteside was scratching his head over the Heat’s loss to Orlando last night, wondering why he didn’t get more touches in the game. He may also be questioning the shot selection of his teammates or the Orlando point guard, Elfrid Payton. It’s like that for big men in the NBA these days. Photo from the Miami Herald. License: Standard non-commercial use.
A Hassan Whiteside trade may be less on Miami GM Pat Riley‘s mind these days than it was before the Heat won 8 out of 9 games, culminating in their 106-101 defeat of the worn out Bucks in Milwaukee Jan. 17, just days before coach Jason Kidd was fired. Oh, the trouble the Heat have stirred up in the East. The Milwaukee game had implications, and so did two down-to-the-wire Miami wins against Charlotte during that stretch — the Hornets went a winless 0-4 against the Heat this season, a season in shambles, and now Kemba Walker‘s on the trading block because there’s nobody else on the Hornets roster of much interest to other teams.
Since that win in Milwaukee, however, the Heat have lost 7 out of 10 games, including losses to Cleveland, Philly and Detroit. They’ve fallen to 7th in the East behind the Bucks and Pacers after losing to Orlando at home Monday night. The Heat may reassess where they’re really at, given how close so many of their recent victories have been. Have they been lucky or good? Erik Spoelstra’s one of the savviest coaches in the league and Whiteside’s arguably the most impactful center in the game — but he’s a part-time player in Miami right now, averaging 26 mins per game. The rest of the roster seems to get it done with mirrors, and, in the view of Hornets, a lot help from the referees.
Henson ($11.4m) and Khris Middleton ($14.1m) for Whiteside ($23.8m) is nice and neat salary-wise, and a good return for both teams. Miami gets a 20-pt per games scorer in Middleton, who doesn’t seem happy playing second fiddle to Giannis in Milwaukee, and a less expensive part-time center in Henson. Middleton is more reliable and efficient than the Grizzlies’ Tyreke Evans, the scorer Miami is rumored to be targeting. For the Bucks, a lineup of Giannis, Whiteside, Parker and Eric Bledsoe is scary good, plus factor in injured Malcolm Brogdon for the playoffs with Zeller and Tony Snell (Zelly, Snelly and Delly?). The Bucks would likely contend, not just this season but next. They would almost surely be paying luxury tax next season for that group, assuming they resign Parker, but the tax would happen anyway if the Bucks do nothing with the current roster.
If paying luxury taxes in either scenario, what’s the better buy? The team with Hassan Whiteside at center or the team with John Henson at center?
Tyson Chandlerwas assumed to be on Jason Kidd’s wish list, but if a Henson-Chandler deal was going to happen, it would have happened by now. The Bucks really could have used Chandler in January. Another dead end.
Andrew Bogut is still out there, sitting around the house, sending out tweets about Australian rules football and political correctness. #Bogut Whatever happens at the trade deadline this week, the Bucks have until March 1 to sign Bogut for the stretch run and playoffs.
Andthe Lakers have been fined $50,000because Magic Johnson said nice things about Giannis in an ESPN article. Because Magic is the Lakers GM, that’s “tampering”. ESPN received no fine for pandering to Magic’s need to be talked to in an article about Giannis.
Things seem awfully quiet for the Bucks, with the deadline two days away. And remember, none of this is real until it actually happens, and don’t believe a word of this or any other blog during trade deadline week.
The Stepien Rule
“The Stepien rule” prevents any team from trading two consecutive future 1st round draft picks. The rule was named after Ted Stepien, owner of the Cavs in the early 1980s who traded his 1982-85 first rounders in repeated attempts to win with “veterans” like Mike Bratz and Bill Robinzine, while trying to build teams that were, in his view “racially balanced” – half white, half black, to better reflect the NBA audience. While those were real enough issues at the time, Stepien’s efforts to build a winner were more half-assed than anything else and the league froze his ability to make trades while it sought a new buyer for the team. Stepien sold the team in 1983.
But the damage to the league’s competitive balance had been done. Dallas was able to build a contender on draft picks acquired from Cleveland (Derek Harper, Sam Perkins, Roy Tarpley and Detlef Schrempf), not that Stepien’s picks got the Mavs to the NBA Finals in the 1980s with the Lakers dominating the West. But Stepien playing a role in building the Lakers juggernaut. The Lakers won the 1982 NBA championship and, thanks to a Stepien trade in 1980 for forward Don Ford, languishing on the Lakers’ bench and the Lakers 1980 pick, ended up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1982 draft (the Cavs also sent Marquette star Butch Lee to the Lakers). The Lakers used the pick to take Hall of Fame forward James Worthy, the can’t-miss star forward on North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA championship team. Their dynasty would have to wait a couple of years for Worthy to catch up, while Moses Malone‘s Sixers and Larry Bird‘s Celtics took the 1983 and 1984 titles, respectively. The Lakers circa 1985-87 are considered by many the greatest team in NBA history during a time of greatest teams (the 1983 Sixers and the 1986 Celtics also being in the conversation).
Yahoo sports, one player on every NBA team likely to be traded: https://sports.yahoo.com/one-player-every-nba-team-likely-traded-221004964.html
The Sporting News, 02/05/18, “Don’t expect Whiteside deal”: http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/nba-trade-rumors-hassan-whiteside-miami-heat-news-deadline-contract-cavs-celtics/d018shcs5il919316jg3uc60a
The Sporting News: Deandre Jordan to the Cavs?http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/nba-trade-rumors-deandre-jordan-cavs-news-contract-clippers-tristan-thompson-jr-smith/sqmufzplhlsg1begzfudly0fw
HoopsRumors.com, best explanation of the Stepian rule I could find: https://www.hoopsrumors.com/2017/09/trade-restrictions-on-future-draft-picks-by-team.html
Fox sports Australia: “Ted Stepien rule” inspires Australian football changes on future draft picks, including history of how the Stepien rule came to be, complete with a ridiculously huge picture of James Worthy. https://www.foxsports.com.au/afl/how-nbas-stepien-rule-inspired-afls-to-introduce-trading-future-draft-picks/news-story/177351267209c2c523a693d4214a7e4a
Maybe it could have waited. Given the choices of making Antetokounmpo less than happy or “uncomfortable”, as he put it, or 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 drubbingof 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 Brogdonalso 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 ina nasty confrontation between Horst and Kiddat 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 hometo 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 offensehas been in the NBA’s top 10 all season, and is rated 9thas 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 5thin both True Shooting and Effective Shooting % this season, and withJabari Parkercleared to play this weekand 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.
Some of it probably was on coach Kidd. Since ranking 3rdin 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 Lostwhen 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 Aldridgedescribed 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 heloves 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. Thisled to speculationabout whether or not and Kidd and Parker were speaking. Questions about the struggles of Bucks ownershipwere 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.
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.
”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 Middletonhad 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.
CoachKidd, 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
Salmons traded to Sacramento as part of 3-team trade June 2011, thread finally ends with Greivis Vasquez, 2016
Charlie Bell expiringcontract – 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).
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.
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 KIDD, however 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 10/24/2017by 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