The Big News out of Bucks central today is that Scott Skiles has told his starting power forward to shoot the ball, and shoot it quick when he’s got a shot. Obviously, somebody heard me through the toob last Saturday when, in the final minute against the Warriors, Drew Gooden grabbed an offensive rebound right at the rim and, instead of dropping in the layup, Gooden passed it out, leading to a 15-footer by John Salmons. I’m all for Fish shooting the ball, preferably shooting it more than any other Buck, but when your team is protecting a lead in the final minute and the big forward has the ball right at the hoop — take the easy 2 and dunk it, please.
Apparently, no one heard me earlier in the first two weeks of the season when the Bucks offense was bogging down nearly every time Gooden touched the ball, and that’s what this is all about, of course, not one relatively quick decision that led to a basket by Salmons in a win against Golden State.
Assuming that Gooden isn’t getting Skiles’ signals crossed, Gooden’s comments on the matter are revealing:
“He didn’t tell me nothing about rebounding, about playing no defense. He said I want you to shoot the ball and everything else will take care of itself.”
No, the Bucks don’t need Drew to play D or rebound — they were one of the best rebounding teams in the league last season without him and nobody ever accused Drew Gooden of playing defense (especially not his former coach Mike Brown, and certainly not the Hornets’ David West, et. al.). No, Drew Gooden has to score and score efficiently to be useful — and the Bucks, who make most offensive possessions look like work, are badly in need of routine scoring. The Bucks are currently 29th in the league in offensive efficiency (pts per 100 possessions).
Gooden, in particular, needs to make decisions quickly when the ball’s in his hands.
This last point is really, truly what Skiles was getting at when he told Gooden to “just shoot the ball.” That’s not what Gooden was doing in the first ten games. When the ball has gone inside to Drew, he’s held it, looked around, held it some more, taken a dribble jab step that doesn’t fool his defender, picked up the dribble, turned, faced, pumped then shot a brick with a hand in his face. Meanwhile the opponent D has been standing still long enough to gain good position to keep the Bucks off the offensive glass. It’s like watching highlights of the Vin Baker black hole on the Mike Dunleavy Bucks, without anything resembling the All-Star numbers Baker delivered. Perhaps not coincidentally, Dunleavy coached Gooden when Gooden was a Clipper.
The Skiles offense relies on ball movement. Andrew Bogut — All-Star-All-Pro material that he is, and one of the best passing big men in the game — is the first post-up threat that Skiles has really ever had, and the first big man Skiles has been willing to let the motion slow down for. Bogut also draws double teams from all directions, which can’t be said of Gooden. Drew’s gotta speed it up and realize that it’s far preferable for him to put up a quick brick from 15 while the defense is moving than it is to bog the offense down putting the ball on the floor, trying to make moves he doesn’t have.
Despite his strong game against the Lakers (22 pts) and a decent outing vs. the Warriors, Gooden’s still shooting just 42.3% and has scored 118 pts on 123 “true” shots (free throws factored in). If you read the above linked “shoot more, Drew” story in the Journal Sentinel (or didn’t read it), note that Gooden’s good games against the Hawks and Knicks are mentioned. C’mon, Gooden shot 2-7 vs. the Hawks and 5-15 against the Knicks.
A one-armed Andrew Bogut has been much more consistent offensively, though without much better overall results — 127 pts on 128 adjusted shots. AB can’t feel his right hand sometimes, obviously — he’s missed a number of right-handed bunnies and over half his FTs — and the Bucks have little choice but to keep pounding it in to their center. In Gooden’s case, however, Skiles and his pace guru, Jim Boylan, won’t sacrifice pace for a 40%-shooting Gooden. “Just shoot it, Drew, and do it quick.”
Now about Skiles and all that talk about “the green light” to shoot 3-pointers — don’t feel special Drew. Skiles has said that to nearly everyone in a Bucks uniform since he got here in 2008. What this means is that the coach is concerned about the Bucks pace and doesn’t mind the odds of a well-timed brick of a 3 being rebounded by his guys — as long as the opponent defense is scrambling. It wasn’t an invitation for Gooden to join the stable of streaky 3-ball-shooting Bucks or become a 2011 version of Charlie V — with hair and a better feel for what’s tweetable and what’s the wrong way to deal with Kevin Garnett (see Bogut: just whack KG back; it’s truly the best thing for all parties.)
And now for some sure-to-be-annoying notes on Skiles’ Baby Bulls teams and the concept of who should shoot three-pointers and who should not: Preferably, guys who can make 3-pointers should shoot them. Skiles was at his coaching peak in identifying this type of player when he coached the Baby Bulls — though it’s difficult to say whether Bulls fans would concur, depending on what day of the week it is and whether they are still aggravated by Skiles, fed up with Kirk Hinrich or enmired in the endless debate over how tall Ben Gordon really is. The Bulls 2006-07 stats definitely concur.
Four guys on the Baby Bulls 49-win team had the green light from 3-point-land: Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni and Chris Duhon. Duhon was the only streaky shooter among them that season (Hinrich would turn streaky later), and Duhon shot a very Buck-like 35.7 %. The other guns shot a combined 40-plus %, leading the Bulls to an impressive 38.8 % shooting as a team — which would have led the league had Steve Nash’s Suns not shot an unheard of 39.9% from downtown as a team. Not fair, Nash.
The Bucks, unfortunately don’t have anybody but John Salmons likely to put up those kinds of shooting numbers, so “the green light” gets spread around on the Bucks — sometimes too much — a problem Skiles encourages. With a Bogut under the hoop and a squad of hustle players, Skiles plays the second chance percentages. What the Bucks need to count on this season are not the made threes but the easy, routine points in the paint from Bogut, Gooden, Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova on the scrap, and Maggette on the drive. So far, they haven’t been making enough threes or getting enough of those — a reality reflected in Gooden and Bogut’s efficiency, and in the Bucks offensive 29th place off-rating.
Pace — and the sure-to-be-annoying 2007 Baby Bulls stats: If you scroll up to the head of the 2006-07 Bulls team page you’ll find some other Skiles-significant stats — the Baby Bulls led the league in defensive (points allowed per 100 possessions) rating in 2007, right where the Bucks want to be and have been this season. But you’ll also notice the pace ranking — they were sixth in the NBA, playing at a pace of 93.6 possessions per game. Contrast that with this season’s Bucks, 22nd in the league in pace at 2.1 possessions (91.5) fewer than Skiles’ best ball movement team.
True, the Bucks are not the Baby Bulls and have an All-Pro center who demands the ball in the post — this slows the pace down some. But the Bulls didn’t have Brandon Jennings, who whips drives into the lane like Hinrich never could, and is less judicious than the Baby Bulls point guard about shooting early in the shot clock. early in the offense than Hinrich at his best was … most of the time. Those factors, evened out, it’s been plain to anybody watching that the Bucks have some players slowing them down. Gooden has been one; Corey Maggette was far too deliberate early on but has picked it up considerably in the last few games. The new guys, understandably, have had to adjust to Skiles’ style. John Salmons‘ recovery from a knee sprain has been another drag on the keel, so now’s certainly no time to panic, as much of a cliche as that is. The Bucks will pick up the pace, and Salmons’ shot is coming around (he’s at 38.5 % from The Land of Ray and Reggie).
That said, the Bucks needs some wins before the schedule turns brutal in December. Tonight in Philly against the depleted, 2-10 Sixers playing without Andre Iguodala, seems like a good way to start. The Bucks would do well to continue it Saturday at home against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder before they face Detroit and Cleveland on the road next week.