Tag Archives: Milwaukee Bucks

Hi! How Was Your Summer: Detroit Pistons

Photo Credit: Juliana/Flickr

2012-’13 Record: 29-53

New Faces: Maurice Cheeks (Head Coach), Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups,  Luigi Datome

New Places: Lawrence Frank (Now Brooklyn assistant coach), Jose Calderon (Dallas), Brandon Knight (Milwaukee), Viktor Kravstov (Milwaukee), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee), Jason Maxiell (Orlando)

Draft: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8), Tony Mitchell (37), Peyton Siva (56)

The Detroit Pistons definitely did something this offseason. No one knows for sure exactly just what they did yet, but depending on how you see the glass, it’s either half-empty or half-full. General manager Joe Dumars told Grantland’s Zach Lowe that he feels as if they’ve added talent, which he isn’t necessarily wrong about, but there are legitimate questions about the fit among the team’s additions and their young players. I mean, there’s definitely a glass here; you just have to turn your head to the side and squint a bit to see if it’s half-full or half-empty.

First, they added forward Josh Smith to a frontcourt that already includes Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith is infamously a poor shooter from distance, but Monroe shot .486 from the field on the season, which is below average for a center. However, the two big men were both above average at the rim, .771 for Smith and .614 for Monroe, but that presents a potential spacing problem. Same goes for Drummond who attempted just 63 shots from further than 10-feet from the basket, in which he made just 15 of those attempts. Dumars, in the same Grantland interview, mentioned that their basketball IQ’s and ability to make plays for others will mitigate some of these negative effects. Which really has to happen if Detroit hopes to return to the playoffs along Smith, Monroe, and Drummond being able to play together.

There other big move was, of course, dealing Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Victor Kravstov for the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings. Which, again, doesn’t improve a team that was 18th in three point percentage last season, nor does it help their probable spacing issues. Jennings, like Knight before him, also struggles as a shooter, even finishing below the league average of .608 percent for point guards at the rim having shot .492 percent last season. Sure, Jennings can make plays for others, but who is he passing to? Austin Daye, Jose Calderon and Tayshaun Prince — their top three players in three-point percentage last season — are all gone. The return of Chauncey Billups won’t help this, either, being an average shooter at best last season. Same goes for rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who may go on to be more than an average shooter from distance, but that likely won’t happen this year.

Dumars did succeed in upgrading his roster from a sheer talent perspective but there are legitimate questions about how well these pieces fit together and if you can have success in the NBA today without being able to stretch the floor. Yes, talent and smart players do tend to figure it out, but usually that’s when they’re surround by other pieces that complement their strengths. We’ll find out if these Pistons have that ability or not.

Statistical support provided by Basketball-Reference.com and Hoopdata.com

 

Brandon Jennings’ Renewed Freedom Of Imagination

Photo from ~ Marjolein ~ via Flickr

Even a week later, the sign-and-trade bringing Brandon Jennings just feels weird.

Maybe it was how it came about. The NBA has, over the past few years, taught us to expect little-to-nothing from restricted free agency. Most applicants fall into one of three major camps – swift, immediate re-uppings, such as Tiago Splitter this year; matched offer sheets, such as Jeff Teague; or a withdrawn qualifying offer, such as with Tyler Hansbrough.

Neither of these is a major source of drama. Occasionally, members of the second group whose agents have neglected to teach them how restricted free agency works are “insulted” that their initial team hasn’t offered them a contract, let everybody know that they’d rather leave, and are then even more “insulted” when the sheet is matched (this is also known as “The Eric Gordon”, and it’s incredibly annoying). On even rarer occasions, we might get major news that exceeds the realm of gossip and hurt feelings, such as last offseasons’ dual-poison-pilling by the Houston Rockets, or Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic holding out on the 2007 Cavs.

Usually, though, a restricted free agent eventually finds himself back where he started, be it on a fair deal struck early in July, or at a discount a few weeks later. So it was somewhat out of place to see Jennings, a major free agent by name if not by production than by name, make news in a manner so unrepresentative of his restricted status. Which caught me off guard, because, four years in, I’ve stopped expecting surprises out of Brandon Jennings.

It’s an odd thing to say, given how unexpected the start to his career was. From the decision to spend a year in Rome as opposed to donning an NCAA-sanctioned uniform, to showing up late to the NBA draft in which the Bucks picked him 10th, to those damn 55 points, all the way to his Bucks nearly advancing to the second round to end a rookie year of which nothing was initially expected, Jennings had established himself as an out-of-the-blue extraordinaire. His game inherently flashy, swagger oozing from every pore, he was a refresher through and through.

Of course, the problem with Jennings’ entire career has been just how high the standards were set after jos scorching start. That premise was explored in impressive detail and excruciating pain by some very smart Bucks bloggers following his ultimate departure, but even without Bucks rooting interests, the deterioration was depressing. Brandon Jennings, former breath of fresh air, turned into Brandon Jennings, living embodiment of a franchise with stagnation etched upon its flag. There were still flashes of unique happenings – every now and then he would play that game or hit that shot, and every now and then his team would trade for Monta Ellis or draft John Henson – but those were minutiae. The Jennings season recap would always tell the story of a sub-40% shooting, high usage pick and roll initiator, who is technichally a borderline all-star, but is only in consideration because he plays in a guard-bereft East. Similarly, the Bucks season recap would always tell of a team ultimately relegated to yet another narrowly missed playoff berth, or a narrowly hit playoff berth that might as well have been missed.

If nothing else, the move to Detroit offers Jennings, and those who are watching him, a chance to break out of that rut. Yes, it’s looking like a lower Eastern playoff spot (How U), but it’ll be a different lower Eastern playoff spot. One without Scott Skiles running the show (or Jim Boylan, who might as well be Scott Skiles). One without Ersan Ilyasova (bless his soul) as the primary pick-and-pop weapon of choice. One with a different jersey and a different mascot and different League Pass broadcasters. Brandon Jennings might just be who he is, at this point, but if he was ever going to be somebody else, sheer inertia meant that Milwaukee was no longer a fit screen upon which he could project that sequel.

In that sense, Jennings is very much like his new teammate, Josh Smith. Not just because both have maddening shot selection and a seemingly squandered skill set, but because Smith, like Jennings, has been who he is and where he is for so long that he’s become almost imperceptible. Josh Smith, the player has become Josh Smith, The Idea. The versatile freak athlete has been replaced with that familiar #5 Hawks jersey, taking yet another jumper as the half-empty arena screams “NOOOOOOOOOO” all the way to a first round playoff bounce, even if he happens to do something else every now and again.

We might see the same things in Detroit, but just by seeing them in new surroundings, we leave the possibility of something new open. Whether it’s individual success, a surprising team run, or just some fun pick and roll synergy with Andre Drummond – himself a once-future-star whose slip in the draft was offset by a tantalizing rookie season – Brandon Jennings once again offers us some freedom of imagination. Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov seem like a small price to pay for that.

A Little Bit of Everything

Photo: Flickr/Nicholas Noyes

Life is full of choices. Some small like what to have for lunch and others far more consequential. I mean, when is the last time a turkey sandwich ruined your day? Probably never, I’m guessing. Typically, you would be just as happy with the ham or roast beef as you would with the turkey. It’s nothing on par with signing a lease, changing careers, buying a car or anything else that takes serious consideration. And you also typically have multiple choices to make with big decisions, which is not always easy.

Same goes for NBA teams and the route they choose to take after evaluating their team following a season. If you think you’re missing the few essential pieces to making a championship run or feel you still have another shot at it, you acquire players past their rookie contracts that can help you immediately. On the other hand, if you feel your glory days are behind you and it’s time to look towards the future, you identify your franchise cornerstones, add picks, expend the long-term veteran contracts you need to and add additional vets on short-term deals to maintain your salary cap flexibility.

The cold hard truth: even if you select either of those routes, there is still no guarantee that you will be successful. You need luck. You need the proper personnel in place. You also need to put the right combinations of players together. And when you do all that you need to get favorable matchups in the playoffs and hope the ligaments in your star player’s knee holds up.

In short, building a good basketball team is hard. It would be so much easier if you could just throw a bunch of money at an assortment of talented players and just skip right ahead to the parade planning, but that’s just not how it works.

Since it’s such a difficult decision, it’s hard to fault a team like the Bucks for the decisions they’ve made this offseason. They won 38 games this past season, good enough for a four game “Thanks for Coming!” sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat in the first round. Sure, they still made the playoffs but they were facing a crossroads with prominent rotation players like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis expiring with several young players on the roster as well. When you consider general manager John Hammonds’ Bucks teams have won 34-46-35-31-38 games  in his tenure that should have been an indicator that it may be time to focus on player development rather than winning and first round exits.

Aside from the draft, the Bucks appeared to be headed into July looking to finally blow it all up after years as a fringe playoff team. Not only did they select two projects in addition to having John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders on the roster, but they moved JJ Redick in a three-team trade for two 2nd round picks and a trade exception. Shortly after that they dealt for the expiring contract of Luke Ridnour to boost their point guard depth and we thought we had the Bucks all figured out.

Following the Bucks’ trade of Luc Mbah a Moute for a second round pick, it really seemed that the Bucks were collecting assets in the form of draft picks (a form of currency in today’s NBA that is ever-growing in it’s value because of the new CBA) and promising young players. Despite a brief flirtation with Jeff Teague, Milwaukee seemed to be focusing on player development and maintaining cap flexibility for the future.

Then things got interesting. They brought in OJ Mayo  in free agency. A few days later they brought in veterans Carlos Delfino and Zaza Pachulia. Finally, they added San Antonio free agent Gary Neal and the team that once looked like they were rebuilding looked as if they were looking to make another exhilarating run to the 8th seed. At least these players they signed were all veteran guards whose minutes wouldn’t stifle a developing player’s growth because the Bucks don’t have any. The same can’t be said for Pachulia who will be sharing frontcourt minutes in the frontcourt with Henson, Udoh, Ilyasova and Sanders.

Still, this wasn’t the end of the world and a very manageable situation. These moves seemed to make it unlikely that they would bring Jennings back, which is fine because his fit next to Mayo doesn’t seem like a great one on paper. With Pachulia, they have a solid rotation, and even though he may cut into some of the young players’ minutes, having a veteran could help the Bucks through their young frontcourt’s growing pains. Besides, waiving Gustavo Ayon a few days prior made this less of a cluster-you-know-what than it was before.

Alright, so the Bucks had added a few veterans in addition to their blossoming former lottery picks while gaining a few extra picks along the way. They weren’t totally bottoming out despite the strong draft coming next June but they will still likely receive a good pick nonetheless, and the veterans they added are on short-term contracts that will allow that to maintain cap flexibility. They just had to get the Brandon Jennings situation resolved and they’re all set.

Well, unless you sign and trade him to the Pistons for Brandon Knight (another combo guard and recent lottery pick) and 2013 rookies Khris Middleton and Viachevslav Kravstov. Don’t get me wrong — Knight is a great get in exchange for Jennings — but now they have all of these prospects surrounding these established players for a team that would be lucky to win 40 games next season.

You can’t rebuild and win at the same time when you’re a team like the Bucks. This isn’t like the Spurs where they retool on the fly by plugging in different role players next to their stars and win 50 games every year because they already have stars. It’s not just the fact that this is the way it’s always done: it’s done that way because it doesn’t work any other way. And winning 40 games this season does the Bucks very few favors in the near future since, despite their cap space, aren’t a prime free agent destination. Teams like the Bucks need that cap space to use on their own draft picks once their rookie contracts expire.

Now they have the 15th overall pick in last June’s draft, Giannis Antetokounmpo,  and Middleton on the roster for next season. They will have to figure out how to disperse the minutes at power forward and center between Pachulia-Henson-Sanders-Ilyasova-Udoh-Kravstov.

As for the guards, they have Ridnour and Neal at point guard, but where does that leave Knight?  If he can’t hit shots well enough as a shooting guard do they move Ridnour over into the role he played in Minnesota and have Knight take point guard minutes? Will he or should he start? If he starts, do you try to get Mayo to come off of the bench and play Knight as the off-guard?

I know that positions aren’t the most important thing, but the roles of a shooting guard and point guard require different skill sets to help the team, and these are the questions the Bucks will now have to ask after adding several developing players. In fact, having Neal, Ridnour, Delfino and Mayo all on the roster wasn’t a big deal until they brought Knight on board. Furthermore, their unique veteran-backcourt/young-frontcourt dynamic worked before the Jennings trade.

This offseason, John Hammond has proven just how hard it is to make the decision to rebuild or continue trying to win in the present. Yet, when you begin a rebuild, you can’t stop halfway through once you realize just how bad you are going to be and abruptly change course. You have to be patient, which is something that is hard to find in today’s NBA culture because teams want results sooner rather than later. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if another year of 35 wins as a middling team is better for your job security than a 25 win season and a chance at eventual long-term success.

Milwaukee’s Fashion Hope: Zaza Pachulia

As our own Jack Winters wrote about over the weekend, the Milwaukee Bucks are making some strange and yet somewhat typical Bucks-ian moves this offseason. Perhaps one of their more bizarre moves was signing Zaza Pachulia to a three year deal when they already have young and developing bigs in Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Ekpe Udoh. Pachulia is of course an insurance policy in case of injury, but as Ian Segovia of Bucksketball says:

Pachulia will be a fine back-up big for Milwaukee. As would the other 15 back-up big man on the roster who are all paid a lot less than Pachulia does and Drew Gooden too.

So why would the Bucks sign Pachulia when they actually don’t need him? The answer lies in the city of Milwaukee and fashion.

According to the website Bundle’s list of the 50 “Most and Least Fashionable Cities in America”, Milwaukee was ranked 43rd in 2012. In 2013, Milwaukee ranked ninth in the real estate website Movoto’s “10 Worst-Dressed Cities” list. The cold weather has to have a major affect on the choice of clothing that Milwaukeeans wear, but there are some more fashionable winter looks that they could be pulling off and the person to show them these looks is Zaza Pachulia.

In 2010, Pachulia won the “prestigious” award as Atlanta’s Best Dressed Male Celebrity at the 2nd Annual Atlanta Fashion Awards. Even his fellow teammates agreed that he was the best dressed player on the team:

As evidenced from these quotes, Pachulia just lives and breathes fashion:

 ”When I’m dressed nicely and when I feel good, I play well and my day is going good,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy but it’s how it is.”

“Everything is for myself, for me to feel good,” he said. “It’s kind of selfish, but you only live once. So I’ve decided to make myself happy.”

“Shopping is my hobby,” he said. “Shopping and fashion, it’s what I love to do. If it’s something nice I really don’t care about the price.”

(Via “ZQ“)

Signing Zaza Pachulia as an unofficial fashion makeover consultant for the city of Milwaukee is the main reason the Bucks signed him. He has three years to improve Milwaukee’s standing in the fashion world. It is a tall order but as Zaza has said in the past, “Nothing easy!

(Top image via ZazaPachulia.com)

Milwaukee Stays The Confounding Course

The Bucks had a chance.

Milwaukee reportedly offered Monta Ellis a three-year, $36 million contract in early June, a month before the madness of free agency officially kicked off.  Ellis immediately declined the deal and opted against exercising the player option on the final season of his existing contract, making him a free agent.

That chain of events was a loss for Milwaukee on the surface.  The Bucks acquired Ellis in March of last year with the longterm in mind; though the team’s 2013 season could only be considered a minor success, that he was offered such a lucrative deal once it ended made that much clear.  Whether that was the right approach is another thing entirely.

Ellis, the entire league should know by now, isn’t worth a contract that rich.  Perhaps not half of it.  But the Bucks got away with their big mistake regardless, and Ellis’ hubris is now getting the nemesis it deserves on the open market.

So Milwaukee lost out on Ellis but won in the end.  Addition by subtraction on every level.  Then yesterday happened, and the Bucks took the flexibility luckily afforded them by Ellis’ mistake to dip into the free agent market.

Milwaukee agreed to terms with OJ Mayo and Zaza Pachulia to deals that total $40 million over three seasons.

These aren’t horrible moves in the NBA vacuum.  Both Mayo and Pachulia have proven their worth as role players for playoff teams in the past, and they’re precisely the kind of guys that are routinely overpaid.  Mayo’s age, physical profile and ’3 and D’ potential would entice any team, and size and smarts like Pachulia’s always come with a price mark-up.  To be sure, these contract numbers are high but not outrageously so.

For the right team, that is.  The Bucks aren’t.

Mediocrity has been the game of Milwaukee basketball for years.  They’ve won between 34 and 46 games every season since 2009, and even that low high-water mark in 2010 – with a far different roster, it should be noted – was an outlier; the Bucks’ win percentage has been between .415 and .470 in the campaigns surrounding it.

Milwaukee was forced to trade JJ Redick, lost Mike Dunleavy to the Bulls and ‘missed out’ on Ellis, leaving a gaping hole in its backcourt.  That vacancy had to be filled.  Fine.  But opting to do so with Mayo for the reported terms gets the Bucks near a dangerous place they would have been with Ellis.  An erratic, shot-happy player like Mayo needs reigns and structure, things he won’t get as a focal point of the Milwaukee offense.  He’s more efficient, better defensively and cheaper than Ellis, but still nothing more than a bench spark-plug on a great team.

The acquisition of Mayo is yet another thing that assures that’s something the Bucks won’t be anytime soon.  But at least his addition deserves scrutiny, because the same can’t be said for that of Pachulia.

Even without free agent Samuel Dalembert, Milwaukee boasts one of the deepest frontcourts in the league.  Larry Sanders is foundational, Gustavo Ayon useful, Ekpe Udoh growing, John Henson the team’s most recent lottery pick and Drew Gooden a salary cap albatross.  That quintet is promising despite its limitations, and each player is good enough to garner a place in the rotation.  They’re also due approximately $17.7 million next season and sometimes lose minutes when the Bucks play small with Ersan Ilyasova or Luc Richard Mbah Moute at power forward.

It’s already far too much, basically, and now Milwaukee will be paying Pachulia somewhere in the arena of $5 million next season to fight in that scrum for minutes off the bench.  Remember, too, that Sanders’ rapid improvement means he’s sure to play more than 27 minutes per game in 2014.  The same can be said for Henson.

Remember the finally solved post logjam in Utah? That’s what Milwaukee has now, except it’s more crowded, less talented and full of redundancies.  Yikes.

And, of course, it all comes back to Ellis.  These reported agreements with Mayo and Pachulia would make far more sense if the Bucks thought they were challenging for a high seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs next season.  If Ellis had agreed to terms, Brandon Jennings was re-signed and this above-average wedding band was brought back for another run, that’s the approach these acquisitions would signal.  It’d be one that’s wrong and ultimately debilitating, but at least there’d be an effort toward progress.  As it is, Milwaukee is running in quicksand.

Ellis’ blunder gave the Bucks a chance to start fresh.  They avoided another cap burden and scrapped the always-vexing idea of a Jennings-Ellis backcourt tandem.  They could have hit quick restart, swapped useful players to contending teams for assets, come as close to bottoming out as Jennings and Sanders would allow and come away with a future stud from the 2014 draft class.

Instead, Milwaukee elected to stay its routine course of mediocrity.  The reasons why are anyone’s guess, but to expect anything different at this point is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Or, if you’re the Bucks, just another first round sweep.

 

 

 

 

Two Step Forward, One Steps Back

Yesterday, in one fell swoop (trade), one team inched that much closer to title contention, a second added a key piece to their new youth movement, while the third…continued to baffle, if not infuriate.

The trade in question is of course the three-way exchange between the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, in which the Clippers receive J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, the Suns receive Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler, and the Bucks get two second round picks.

For the Clippers, this was a no-brainer. Willie Green was serviceable as the Clippers’ starting shooting guard last season. His PER was a less than respectful 11.8, but he shot nearly 43% from beyond the arc and scored 13.6 points per 36 minutes. Redick, however, is much more of a weapon than Green could hope to be. Not merely a standstill shooter, Redick is very adept at getting open looks via screens. Per MySynergySports, with both the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic last season, 30% of Redick’s offense came from off-screen situations. With Orlando, approximately half of Redick’s shot attempts coming off screens were three pointers (93 of his 187 total attempts), while with Milwaukee, that number dipped slightly (48 of 102 total attempts). Interestingly enough, Redick’s offense suffered the more he was forced into a spot-up role. Spot-up plays accounted for 18% of his offense in Orlando, scoring 1.27 points per play and shooting 47.1% from the field. As his percent of spot-up plays rose in Milwaukee, to the tune of 24%, both his points per play – 1.02 – and his field goal percentage – 39.8% – dropped. Further, to classify Redick as just a shooter is disservice to his all-around game. He’s a valuable defender from both an individual and system standpoint, and while he may not have the handles of Jamal Crawford, he is more than capable of running the pick and roll or being the initiator on offense.

Speaking of Crawford, it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers manages the minutes of both Redick and the master of the four-point play. Green may have been the starter by name, but he only played 16.5 minutes per game, while Crawford played 29. With Redick (and Rivers) now in tow, however, one would expect this discrepancy to disappear. It’s possible we’ll see a three guard line-up of Paul, Redick and Crawford, which could be lethal

The Clippers also gained another valuable asset in Jared Dudley. Three-and-D wing players are very much en vogue, and Dudley is one of the too-often forgotten founding members of this club. The addition of Bledsoe to the Suns signifies several items. First, new General Manager Ryan McDonough showed his commitment to an actual rebuilding process, not one in name alone. Bledose was an extremely hot commodity during the regular season, due to his havoc-wreaking nature on both sides of the floor. Bledsoe averaged 14.9 points, 5.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes, with a PER of 17.5. It wasn’t all roses, however, as Bledsoe also turned the ball over 3 times per 36 minutes, and saw his production taper off severely as the season wore on. Despite these flaws, Bledsoe’s production was apparently enough to convince McDonough that he was ready to be at the helm of his own team. This is a genuinely exciting acquisition. It’s not overpaying or giving up too much for a washed-up veteran or a player that will never live up to his potential no matter how many chances he gets. It’s still a risk, as Bledsoe is unproven in his ability to run a team full-time, but it’s a calculated one, and needed if the Suns are ever going to rise from the dregs of the NBA.

Second, goodbye Goran Dragic: point guard, hello Goran Dragic: shooting guard. The Suns didn’t bring in Bledsoe to back up Dragic, but the 27 year-old Serbian is too good, and too highly paid, to go back to the bench. There isn’t a tremendous amount of data to help gauge how successful Dragic will be in this role. According to 82games.com, the only time Dragic has played more than 10% of his minutes at the two was with Phoenix in 2009-10 (17%) and Houston in 2011-12 (13%). He saw some success in Phoenix, posting a PER of 18 and an effective field goal percentage of 57.2%. Those numbers weren’t as great in Houston, as his PER was 12.9 and his eFG% was .492. Then again, we can likely explain at least a portion of this discrepancy with the Steve Nash effect. Defensively, in Phoenix, Dragic held opposing shooting guards to an eFG of 49.4%, while in Houston, that number rose to 51.5%. Again, the small sample size caveat is an important one here, and we can’t yet make a definitive statement as to Dragic’s ability to play the two full time. The Suns can also use Dragic as trade bait to dangle in front of a fringe-contender in need of a quality point guard.

As for the Bucks…well…maybe we should rename them the “Milwaukee Meh.” Essentially, the Bucks turned a half season of JJ Redick, acquired to help them make a run in the playoffs which ultimately amounted to nothing, into two second round picks. It’s hard to see what, if any, strategy under which Milwaukee is operating. While second round picks are becoming increasingly more valuable, they are a paltry compensation in a trade that saw the other two teams acquire essential pieces. As Zach Lowe points out, it puts the Bucks in solid tanking position, but will Milwaukee actually succeed in this endeavor? Tanking is hard in the Eastern Conference, with so many awful teams in the bottom that one or two inevitably falls into the 7th and 8th seeds. Given how excited the Bucks were to make the playoffs last season, they may even forsake the tank in favor of another ill-fated run.

Two teams got exactly what they needed in this trade: the Clippers received two elite shooters, while the Suns received a young, promising point guard to lead them out of the desert (metaphorically speaking, since they’ll still be in Phoenix) and into the promised land. The Bucks? The Bucks aren’t even Charlie Brown on halloween, getting a rock while everyone else got candy–Charlie never expected the rock. The Bucks knew exactly what they were getting with this trade, but it’s unclear if they’ve planned a next step.

 

Lion Face Lemon Face 4/23/2013: Shooters Gon’ Shoot

Welcome to Lion Face Lemon Face, where we recap last night’s NBA action Ben and Matty style. In case you didn’t already know, Lion Face equals good and Lemon Face equals bad. At least that’s how I think this whole thing works.

Lion Face: Dwyane Wade’s monster put-back dunk

Wade may be 31 years old, a reluctant defender in transition for stretches during the playoffs and spending the majority of his time raising his eyebrows at Brandon Jennings but give the man his due: He hasn’t lost it yet, whatever “it” is.

Lemon Face: Norris Cole’s missed dunk

Norris Cole, on the other hand, is 24 years old. Here’s a general rule of thumb: if your name isn’t Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade or Blake Griffin and your running the floor beside LeBron James, the only thing that should be on your mind is “how do I get this flying death machine freight train superhuman machine basketball player the ball?”

Lion Face: Presented without comment, a real Lion Face.

lebronprimal

Lemon Face: Brandon Jennings

There’s nothing wrong with making sweeping declarations. In fact, I encourage them. They give me funny things to tweet about. The problem here is that Jennings is all shot and no substance. Here’s his shooting chart from last night:

jennings shooting

A whole lot of red and nothing in-between. Daryl Morey is only mildly impressed. Lucky for Jennings, the Bucks can technically still win this series in six games. That is, if LeBron James spontaneously combusts and Dwyane Wade is too emotionally shattered to continue playing. Even then, Chris Bosh and a healthy mix of shooters could get the Heat over the proverbial hump.

Lion Face: JR Smith

Your 6th Man of the Year, folks…

jrbomb

Lemon Face: The Celtics’ offense

I’m not really sure what happened here. All I know is that Knicks-Celtics felt a lot more like a first round series in the Eastern Conference than I thought it would. Here’s the Celtics’ shot chart from the second half:

celtics shot chart

That shouldn’t be allowed in the NBA. This looks like if a fifth grade version of me went on Microsoft Paint and decided that red was my favourite colour and that all basketball courts should be red because I said so! What’s worse is that the Celtics went the final nine minutes of the game without getting a single basket. Part of the issue was that the C’s just couldn’t capitalize on their open shots — especially the open threes Paul Pierce produced from the post — but I have to give kudos to the Knicks’ defense. They were absolutely suffocating. “Signing Kenyon Martin in the middle of the season sure made a difference for the Knicks” is close to number one on my list of things I never thought I’d say in 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 2.13.04 AM

 

Lion Face: The Knicks’ third quarter

This is the only scoreboard you need from the third quarter: Carmelo Anthony – 13, Boston Celtics – 11. I guess it’s an improvement from Boston’s fourth quarter performance in Game 1 when they were held to just eight points. One thing’s certain: it won’t matter that the Celtics are in the TD Garden for the next two games if they continue to score less than 13 points for multiple quarters.

Lion Face: America’s team. I think. Probably not.

Last night, the Golden State Warriors became the first team to score over 130 points in a playoff game since the Celtics eviscerated the Lakers in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals. Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson combined for 101 points on 63 shots. In completely unrelated news, Golden State’s small ball is awesome. Here’s the Warriors’ shot chart:

warriors shot chart

Notice the way that this one contrasts with Boston’s shot chart from the second half? Yeah, that’s an inherently good thing. Oh, and here’s an incoming super overreaction: The Warriors are kind of perfectly set up to be this year’s “they just went on a crazy shooting run and knocked off a few teams that they really shouldn’t have knocked off” team.

Lion Face: Harrison Barnes’ Reverse Slam, proceeding celebration

BarnesReverseWarriorsBench

Lemon Face: Denver’s defense

Here’s the thing about the Warrior’s small line up, which might end up being the ultimate “diamond in the rough” non-acquisition this Spring: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack are all capable and willing shooters. Per NBA.com, the trio shot 43.5 percent from 16-24 feet over the course of the regular season, miles ahead of the league average. The Nuggets, on the other hand, aren’t employed with big men that are adept at closing out on shooters off the pick and roll. As a result, they allow the league’s second worst opponent field goal percentage from that range. Unless George Karl is an even better coach than I think he is (likely), Denver’s going to be in a bit of a pickle.

All statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com

15-Footer 4/23/13: HAIKUS FOR TUES(day)

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat. 7:30 PM ET NBA TV. Miami leads, 1-0

LARRY SANDERS! Did

Not get Most Improved Player

No thumbs up for that

 

LeBron James will shoot

12 for 6. Not a typo.

eFG through roof.

 

Can the Bucks bounce back?

Unlikely. Heat are too good.

Will win this game easy.

 

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks. 8 PM TNT. Knicks lead, 1-0

Jeff Green played very well

In the first half of game one

Not in the second.

 

Oh, Jason Terry

Has not had a good season

Where did his shot go?

 

JR Smith, Sixth Man!

Shot well for the last three months

Clearly deserving

 

New York will win this

With veteran leadership

And Jared will cry

 

Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets. 10;30 PM TNT. Nuggets lead, 1-0

Moment of silence

For David Lee and his leg

Terrible to see

 

How will Warriors

Make up for his production?

Andris Biedrins, duh.

 

Curry and Thompson

Will have to score more, shoot more

Barnes must score as well

 

Will Andre Miller

Have another old man game

Or will he take a nap?

 

Denver’s adjustments

Won the game. But it was close.

Seven games, pretty please?

 

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: The Heat-Bucks 2012-2013 Playoff Preview

From October through April, thirty teams scratched and clawed their way for this opportunity. Who will make it out? Who will be disappointed? Who will shock and surprise? Who will hit an insane buzzer beater that will make us all collectively gasp so loudly that we will be able hear each other from six counties away? WHO? TELL ME, WHO?

Welcome to the Hardwood Paroxysm 2012-2013 Playoff Previews.

Virtual Systems Analysis

by Derek James

The NBA playoffs are a stage and a showcase for players at all stages of their career, and this series is no different. Last season we saw it with LeBron James, and he will look to further enhance his storied season this spring. Then there is Milwaukee’s backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, both of  whom will look to use this series to earn a raise this summer. Jennings, 23, will be looking for his first big NBA contract, and Ellis, 27, will be looking for his next big contract. It’s simple: if they perform at a high level in the playoffs against the reigning champions and they could cause a team with cap room to throw them more money, despite each player’s flaws.

This combination is risky because when you put the combined Usage Rates of Ellis’ 26.3% and Jennings’ 23.6% you see that they use just under half of the team’s possessions when they’re on the court together, 49.9%. This wouldn’t be so potentially worrisome for Bucks fans if Ellis and Jennings didn’t shoot just above or below 40% on the regular season and if the two didn’t take 33 shots per game on average. There is a real possibility for a boom-or-bust series for these two when you factor in the playoffs, each player in a contract year, and each player’s respective playing styles. In fact, you could argue that whether or not this series is competitive is determined by the play of the Jennings and Ellis. And if each player decides that this is their time to shine and force it too much, this could be a very quick series for the Heat.

However, there is one small beacon of hope for the Bucks to remain competitive in this scenario, and that is on the glass. We know the Heat don’t rebound well — 26th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage and 28th in Defensive Rebounding Percentage — but that hasn’t mattered since they don’t leave that many rebounds to begin with, being the NBA’s best shooting team. In the meanwhile, the Bucks have established themselves as the 11th best team at snagging up offensive rebounds.Being able to do this will not only enable the Bucks to get second chance points, but also control the tempo of the game; Milwaukee was played at the third fastest pace this season while Miami finished twenty places lower, at 23. Now, just because the Heat haven’t played at as high of a pace as last season doesn’t mean they can’t, so it could very well backfire (Miami is second best in the league this season in transition on offense and third in transition defense while the Bucks are fifteenth and fourteenth, per Synergy), but if Milwaukee can push the tempo they would not be allowing the league’s fifth to have a chance to get set as quickly.

Still, risking a track meet with the Heat is likely very dangerous, but there is likely a better strategy.

Unfortunately, that strategy is likely contingent on Ellis and Jennings — the Bucks’ two most ball dominant players — not going into I’m-Trying-to-Get-Paid-This-Summer mode. What I mean by that is each player will have to regularly make the correct decision between setting up teammates, which their season assist numbers indicate they can, and calling their own number on offense. The other part involves grabbing as many offensive rebounds as possible to keep the ball out of Miami’s hands and working to get the best shot again. Finally, in the same way that trying to get out in transition could give the Bucks opportunities for good looks before the defense can get set, doing so with good ball movement in the halfcourt may be the wiser approach given how good Miami is defensively in transition. That said, this doesn’t end in victory for the Bucks, anyway; it’s just a less painful death.

Considering how well both teams have been this season limiting turnovers and forcing turnovers, rebounding could make the biggest difference between winning one game or getting swept out of the first round.

If Ellis and Jennings each want to prove their worth and value to NBA teams without their next teams being immediately ridiculed for their next offense, showing that they can play intelligently against arguably the best team in the league is a great way to do it. Playing within a team concept and not for personal motivations will also maximize the abilities of their teammates, and keep them from becoming a one-dimensional team. As for LeBron James and the Heat, they will be looking at this as the first step on their road to a hopeful repeat.

The Fly In The Ointment

by Jordan White

Brandon Jennings or MontaEllisHaveItAll may explode for forty points, but rarely do those explosions come whilst getting others involved.  On a team where people actually pass him the ball and get him open looks, J.J. Redick may be a potent threat against the Heat. Unfortunately, Redick plays for the Bucks. Ersan Ilyasova is the type of stretch-4 that killed James’ Cavaliers in the playoffs, but Chris Bosh is an ideal match-up for the Heat against the sweet-shooting big man. In previous years, we’d talk about the potential for Miami to become complacent. That’s a laughable sentiment this year. Truly, there is no x-factor, not one that could make a difference in this series.

Through the Looking Glass

by Andrew Lynch

Currently, there’s only one person on this list of players who scored 30 points, dished eight dimes and grabbed eight boards per game over the course of at least eight playoff games.

After the four games of this series, LeBron James will be well on his way to making it two.

Statistical Anomaly: Timberwolves @ Bucks

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Timberwolves victory over the Bucks.

Larry Sanders wasn’t viewed as an elite rebound until this season, something that is evident by the fact that 65.4% of his career boards have come this season in just 37.4% of his career games. The Bucks may have lost, but Sanders recorded his 16th straight home game with 10+ rebounds. At his current rate of 9.5 rebounds per game, Sanders would record more rebounds in a single NBA season (assuming full health for 82 games) than he did in three years at VCU combined. The knock on the paint protector is that he isn’t much of a scoring threat, but that train of thought has some holes in it. First, for his career, Sanders averages 16 points per 48 minutes, not an awful start to a career for a 24 year old. Second, and more importantly, the Bucks offense is initiated by two shot happy guards (three if you count when JJ Redick leads the second unit). Sanders’ offensive skills are raw, but the offense doesn’t call for him to score points. Don’t be surprised if Sanders emerges as a 15 point 12 rebound guy next season if the Bucks part ways with one of their high-scoring guards.

Another reason to buy the Bucks stock while it is low is Ersan Ilyasova. The fourth year man from Turkey is has proven to be a stretch forward who is a tough matchup for anyone his size. At 6’10”, Ilyasova can navigate around the rim and on the glass, but his sweet stroke forces opposing defenses to pick their poison. Ilyasova has recorded a PR (points + rebounds) of at least 30 in seven of his last nine games, a number that is impressive for a player who has a career mark of 16.6. The statistic is more impressive when you take into account the fact that he is hurting opponents in a multitude of ways. Three of those games have included at least 14 rebounds, while six of them have seen Ilyasova connect on multiple triples. With Sanders doing the heavy lifting near the rim, Ilysaova can move freely around the perimeter and pick his spots to attack the rim. With a consistent jump shot (45.5% from distance last season and 44.5 this season), the Bucks SF is the poster child for what swingmen in the NBA should be able to do.

Ricky Rubio recorded a season high eight steals to go along with his 19 points and 12 assists. Rubio has recorded at least five steals in 16.3% of his games this year, a theft rate that is greater than even the surest handed defenders in the league. Here’s a look at how Rubio stacks up against Chris Paul this season when it comes to percentage of games with a handful of steals, and the average production in those games.

Rubio

 I’m not saying Rubio is a world class defender or belongs in the same class as CP3, but his ability to wreak havoc leads directly to transition opportunities. The Spanish sensation is obviously a great passer, but his ability to anticipate on the defensive end is just as valuable. Every steal has the potential to swing the score four or five points in favor of the Timberwolves, and if he is recording a 5+ steal twice a month, the Timberwolves are destined to increase their win total as he gains NBA experience (he has still played just 90 career games). Minnesota was +20 in the paint against the Bucks and not because they have superior play inside, but because Rubio is playing chess on the perimeter while his opponents are playing checkers.

For the second consecutive night to begin the month of April, Nikola Pekovic found himself in more of a scoring role than rebounding. Sure, he still grabbed eight boards, but we are talking about a big man who has yet to average twice as many points as rebounds in a single month. Through two games, he is averaging 4.31 points per rebound. The Timberwolves have responded well to his increased point production, as he averages 23% more points and 7% less rebounds in wins than losses. It’ll be interesting next season to see how he plays alongside a healthy Kevin Love, an elite rebounder who is capable of spreading the floor. They sorely miss his shooting, as they rank dead last in the NBA in 3P%. But with a franchise point guard in place and promising youth at every position, why not the Wolves? If Minnesota can find a way to play both in an effective manner, don’t be surprised if the lowly Wolves are a 2014 playoff team.

My optimism doesn’t end with the Timberwolves, as I think the Bucks are also a move away. Any team that controls the painted area has a chance every night, and should Milwaukee part ways with part of their starting backcourt and place an emphasis on their promising bigs, they will be a legitimate contender sooner rather than later. They already are a top 10 offense when it comes to interior scoring, and that seems to be the floor as their big men are only going to get better with experience. This game didn’t have much importance this time around, but consider me sold on the future for both squads.