Category Archives: Milwaukee Bucks

Layups, Oct. 14

Sign we’re at the beginning of the season: Larry Brown is upset! He hates how his bigs are playing. Giving that he’s talking about Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop, and Alexis Ajinca, I don’t know why he’s surprised. Anyway, watch him continue to complain about his bunch in Charlotte for the next little while until they start consistently playing good D, at which point he will gush about them.

Milwaukee is trying to decide whether to pick up Joe Alexander’s first option year. As Sham reminded me this morning, Milwaukee picked this guy over Brook Lopez and Anthony Randolph. This is a sad story. The guy is athletic (and damn well should have been in the dunk contest last season) and, I guess, he has some potential in him. Still, how is he going to realize it in Milwaukee? They’re not a great team, but I don’t see minutes for him. He’s a 3/4, just like Skiles’s defensive darling Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. Carlos Delfino is going to get minutes at the 3, too, and Michael Redd could as well if Skiles decides to go small. At the 4 spot, I find it hard to believe he’s going to get minutes unless one or two of Hakim Warrick, Kurt Thomas, and Ersan Ilyasova get injured. I’d say they should trade Jumpin’ Joe, but he has next to no value right now.

Finally! It looks like, after a summer of bickering to my friends and to random message-board people, I’ve found people (besides Kelly Dwyer) who actually agree with me about Marco Belinelli. Michael Grange of The Globe and Mail isn’t sold on him, as he thinks using possessions on Belinelli rather than other, more effective players is a bad idea. Mark Ginocchio of Nets Are Scorching points out that just about the only statistical thing he does well is shooting. This is what I’ve been saying for a while now. He’s a pretty damn good shooter, and he actually has a well above-average feel for the game. The problem is that he can’t guard anybody, he doesn’t take care of the ball, and he lacks athleticism. He’s skilled, but he’s quite a bit overmatched in the NBA. Point guard might actually be the best position for him, but then again, imagine him trying to stick Chris Paul or Rondo. Oof.

Den Feldman of Pistons Powered has a warning for people around the league buying into the new-coach hoopla. Very nicely done, that, although I think Pistons fans have reason to be excited about Kuester. While Curry had just a few years of assistant coaching experience since his playing days ended, Kuester has been in the coaching game since 1980 and in the NBA coaching game since 1995. This man served as Cleveland’s offensive co-ordinator last year, where he turned the NBA’s 20th-best offensive team into its 4th-best. I think Dumars chose the right guy this time.

Sekou Smith is talking about Marvin Williams’s aggressiveness in Atlanta. Here’s what I said about young Marv back in August: “Marvin Williams needs to get the ball more and he needs to be more aggressive. He’s an efficient young player, but he doesn’t assert his will on the game often enough.” It seems they’re recognizing this in Atlanta, and I really hope what they’re saying now translates into how they play in the regular season. Colour me skeptical, though, ‘cause with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Mike Bibby, Al Horford, and now Jamal Crawford, that’s a lot of mouths to feed. If Williams is going become a bigger part of their attack, both Marvin and coach Woodson are going to have to do their parts.

Finally, if you haven’t read Adrian Wojnarowski’s excellent piece on the Warriors, you absolutely have to. This is normally where I try to add something, be it an extra piece of evidence or some criticism, but I’ve got nothin’ on this one. Just read it, he nailed it. Can’t stand seeing young talent continually wasted in Golden State.

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Filed under Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Coaching, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Layups, League-Wide Stuff, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors

Looking Forward: Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks have had an underwhelming off-season. After a 2008-2009 campaign where important coach Scott Skiles improved this team’s defense and toughness the same way he did in Chicago, Bucks fans have watched as three of their four most talented players have been let go.

First, Richard Jefferson was moved to San Antonio for cap relief, Kurt Thomas, and Amir Johnson (who was later traded to Toronto along with Sonny Weems for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic). Then, Charlie Villanueva was allowed to walk, choosing to sign with Detroit. Finally, the team declined to match Minnesota’s below-market-value offer sheet to Ramon Sessions. This is all kind of understandable in the scheme of things, as the Bucks are cash-strapped, in a small market, and nowhere close to being a serious contender. If you’re a Milwaukee fan, though, it had to hurt, epecially considering the Jefferson trade represented the colossal failures of the previous two summers, where they had 1) drafted Yi Jianlian 6th overall and 2) traded Jianlian and Bobby Simmons to New Jersey in exchange for RJ.

As I said, the off-season’s been underwhelming in light of what they’ve lost this summer, but let’s examine the guys the Bucks have added to the roster:

1. Brandon Jennings: Milwaukee fans can be legitimately excited about this rookie. You know the story: played in Italy last season instead of becoming another slave to the NCAA, sick handles, great court vision, tons of potential, but needs time to develop. He may have come under fire a bit earlier this summer, but he seems like a great kid. Anyway, he will probably make tons of mistakes, turn the ball over too much, and miss jumpers this season. That’s fine, he’s only 19. Be patient with him.
2. Jodie Meeks: He can score. He really can. He gave up the chance to be on an absolutely stacked Kentucky team this year in order to be picked 41st by Milwaukee. For his sanity’s sake, I hope he gets some burn this season and contributes. You know he’s going to be watching John Wall and company tear it up next year.
3. Hakim Warrick: This is the Bucks’ only real free agent signing. I guess he will replace Charlie Villanueva. He’s a different kind of player than Charlie V., but still an effective one. He can score, he can guard, and he can play both forward positions (although he is most suited to the 4). Good one-year signing, but is he part of the Bucks’ long-term plans?
4. Kurt Thomas: He’s exactly the type of player Scott Skiles likes – not flashy, but smart and tough. He’ll play excellent post defense, grab boards, and hit open jumpers from the wing. He’s way past his prime, but he’s still effective. If I’m Skiles, I’m happy to have him, but if I’m the GM I’m already looking to trade him to a better team for young talent.
5. Carlos Delfino: He has a chance to start at the 3 for Milwaukee. He’s got handles, he can shoot, and he rebounds at an excellent rate for a wing player. Watching him in Toronto, I appreciated his toughness and his ability to space the floor on offense, but I grew tired of his inconsistency. Let’s hope this is the year he avoids those 3-12 shooting nights.
6. Roko Ukic: We’re all infatuated by his potential – he’s a 6’5 point guard who can get to the basket and make very nice passes. However, his shooting and decision-making leave a lot to be desired. He’ll be 25 in December, so his deficiencies in these areas are worrying to even the most ardent Ukic supporters.
7. Ersan Ilyasova: He was below average in his first NBA go-round, but has been productive overseas. If you haven’t noticed, he’s absolutely killing it in Eurobasket right now, so Bucks fans have reason to be excited about him. You’ve gotta wonder if there will be minutes for him in the rotation, though – he’ll be competing against Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, Kurt Thomas, Hakim Warrick, and Joe Alexander.
8. Walter Sharpe: Um, Sharpe has played 20 minutes in his NBA career. I’m not going to pretend I have anything to tell you about him.

With these guys joining a healthy Michael Redd, along with Andrew Bogut, Charlie Bell, and Luke Ridnour, these Bucks could challenge for the 8th seed in the East. I see that as the ceiling for this season, given that Scott Skiles hasn’t worn out his welcome yet. He’s capable of making teams achieve more than they should on paper and is excellent at disguising individuals’ defensive flaws. This is what makes him a good coach.

I would be very worried about this if I was a Bucks fan, though. The last thing this team needs is a mediocre season where they finish with a record just good enough to keep them from getting a high draft pick. What I advocate is the same as what PG of All Things Hoops has called for: Play small-ball, trade guys like Kurt Thomas and Charlie Bell, and listen very seriously to trade offers for Michael Redd. The losses of Villanueva, Sessions, and Jefferson are only excusable if this franchise commits to a rebuilding plan. I know Skiles would hate to hear this, but this club doesn’t need a decent record in 2009-2010. At this point, Milwaukee fans just need a team that has a chance to compete a few years down the road.

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Filed under Free Agency, Looking Forward, Milwaukee Bucks, Trades

A Closer Look: Coaching Matters

VDN UPSET!

This is a guest post by my buddy Julian, who writes the blog Comedy Landfill. Like me, he’s a huge NBA fan, so sometimes we have arguments that end up in one of us wanting to write a blog post defending our case. So, here ya go. Also, tell him to start tweeting again.

I recently had a discussion with the creator of this blog, about the effects of coaching on a team. VDZ wasn’t convinced that coaching had all that much to do with a team’s fortunes in the NBA. I agreed that the NBA, unlike many different sports in the world, was player-driven, where the teams with the best players, in virtually all cases, were the best teams in the league. Kobe, Pau Gasol and Odom on the Lakers? Championship. Phil Jackson (one of the greatest, if not the greatest coach of all time) tried and failed to make Kobe plus a bunch of scrubs successful in the mid-2000s. Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen? Championship, and that was with oft-disrespected Doc Rivers at the helm. The year before that, they were one of the worst teams in the league.

My argument, however, was that coaches DID play an important part in the success and failure of a team. I pointed to Stan Van Gundy as a guy who made a significant, real impact on the Orlando Magic, turning them from an also-ran eastern conference team into a legit contender through a great rotation, a great gameplan, and some expert play-calling. This debate intrigued me enough to do a rundown on coaching changes that happened last season, in order to get a better idea of how coaching can change a team, for better or for worse.

Mike D’Antoni (NYK):
Offensive Rating Before: 104.7 (23rd)
Defensive Rating Before: 111.9 (29th)
Pace Factor Before: 91.6 (15th)
W-L Before: 23-59
Offensive Rating After: 108.1 (17th)
Defensive Rating After: 110.8 (23rd)
Pace Factor After: 96.7 (2nd)
W-L After: 32-50

After several outrageously poor seasons under the helm of Isiah Thomas, New York Knicks GM Donny Walsh decided to bring the Zeke era to a close, by demoting him and hiring recently fired Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni’s system is a pretty intriguing one, and judging by his statistics, it’s not hard to see why. Take a look in the difference between the pace of the Knicks before he got there, and after he got there. Going from middle of the pack to the second-fastest team in the league (only behind warp-speed Golden State) in one season is incredible. The offensive rating, while making a jump, obviously did not increase by as much as the pace. The problem here, in my opinion, is that while the offensive structure was re-vamped for the better, the team still didn’t have players that were efficient enough on the offensive end to complete Mike’s vision of a Pheonix Suns east. Defensively, they improved as well, but I think that I’m going to chalk that up to Isiah Thomas being terrible, and Mike D’Antoni steadfastly refusing to play notorious non-defender Eddy Curry, as well as adding a defensive scheme that made at least SOME sense. The win differential was +9. That’s pretty darn good, but with the caveat that they won only 23 games the prior season, and the improvement landed them 9 games under .500, which isn’t something you can brag about to your friends if you’re a Knicks fan.

Larry Brown (CHA):
Offensive Rating Before: 104.6 (24th)
Defensive Rating Before: 109.4 (20th)
Pace Factor Before: 91.8 (14th)
W-L Before: 32-50
Offensive Rating After: 104.7 (27th)
Defensive Rating After: 106.1 (7th)
Pace Factor After: 88.3 (27th)
W-L After: 35-47

Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown took the reigns of a struggling Charlotte Bobcats team, and incorporated the players into his well-worn system. His system, of course, being a no-nonsense, defense-first, play-call-on-every-possession, slow, deliberate game. He also got a big overhaul midway through the season, landing the dynamic Boris Diaw and tough as nails defender Raja Bell for the chronic underachiever Jason Richardson. As a result of both coaching and personnel changes, the team’s defensive efficiency skyrocketed from 20th to 7th in the league, and it’s offense languished from and already miserable 24th in the league, to a near-bottom 27th. To no-one’s surprise, their pace factor also went from middle of the pack to slower than molasses. Even with that massive defensive improvement, the Bobcats went 35-47, improving by a meager 2 games (unimpressive considering how inept the guy Larry replaced was) and missed the playoffs yet again.

Rick Carlisle (DAL):
Offensive Rating Before: 111.1 (8th)
Defensive Rating Before: 106.1 (9th)
Pace Factor Before: 90.2 (22nd)
W-L Before: 51-31
Offensive Rating After: 110.5 (5th)
Defensive Rating After: 108.4 (17th)
Pace Factor After: 91.5 (16th)
W-L After: 50-32

Mark Cuban, the fiery owner of the Dallas Mavericks, hates, and I mean loathes losing. If you’ve ever seen him on the sidelines playing your favourite team, you’ll instantly realize that he both takes the game waaaay too seriously, and also that he would do anything to make his Mavericks a better team. That’s the main reason why he sacked the former Coach of the Year, elf-voiced Avery Johnson after getting (Marv Albert impression) REJECTED by Golden State in the first round two seasons ago. Enter Rick Carlisle, another former coach of the year, and regarded by most as an all-around good coach, albeit with a reputation of alienating his players after a few seasons. In any case, as you can see, the team got a bit better on offense, and a lot worse on defense. One of the reasons for both of those things might be the acquisition of Jason Kidd during the offseason. Jason Kidd used to be one of the best defenders at the PG position in the league, but Father Time has waved his magic time staff and slowed Jason Kidd down considerably. Especially laterally. Father Time hates side-to-side movement. Anyway, they sped up marginally and won 1 less game. Pretty much treading water. What does that say about Rick Carlisle? I guess it says that he’s a mediocre coach? That may be a bit harsh, but I’m sure that Mark Cuban expects a better result than treading water. The huge drop in defensive efficiency from 2 years ago to last can’t be considered good, and it can’t all be blamed on personnel changes.

Vinny Del Negro (CHI):
Offensive Rating Before: 103.9 (26th)
Defensive Rating Before: 107.2 (14th)
Pace Factor Before: 93.0 (11th)
W-L Before: 33-49
Offensive Rating After: 108.4 (14th)
Defensive Rating After: 108.7 (18th)
Pace Factor After: 93.1 (9th)
W-L After: 41-41

After reading these stats to my friend, who hates Vinny Del Negro, he instantly said “THEY GOT DERRICK ROSE STUPID” (Ed.: That was me). Well, I suppose that’s true, but the Bulls still jumped up a very impressive 12 spots from 26th to 14th in the league, while only dropping about 4 spots on defense (which also might be “Derrick Rose stupid!” considering how poorly he defended last season). Another reason for the uptick in offense was the brilliant trade made halfway through the season, where the Bulls shipped out an underperforming and overpaid Andres Nocioni for the versatile and efficient John Salmons. The difference in speed between the two seasons was almost negligable, but the massive jump in offensive efficiency was enough to catapult them out of the basement of the Eastern Conference into the middle of the pack, and coupled with their relatively middle of the pack defense, gave them the ultimate middle of the pack record of 41-41. The reviews coming out of Chicago were mixed. Some were forgiving of Vinny’s rookie-coach mistakes, while others were not. They said that his rotations left a lot to be desired, and that the plays he drew up out of time outs rarely worked. However, the offense looked a lot better, and he put the ball in the hands of Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, which seemed to work pretty well. He also wrung a pretty great season out of Joakim Noah, allowing him to play through his mistakes, while keeping a lid on the dressing room drama. While he may have his detractors in Chicago, he certainly had quite an impressive season for a rookie coach (making it to the playoffs, giving a shorthanded Boston a run for it’s money).

Scott Skiles (MIL):
Offensive Rating Before: 105.3 (21st)
Defensive Rating Before: 112.8 (30th)
Pace Factor Before: 91.3 (17th)
W-L Before: 26-56
Offensive Rating After: 106.7 (23rd)
Defensive Rating After: 107.9 (15th)
Pace Factor After: 92.6 (11th)
W-L After: 34-48

It’s interesting that we get to examine how an outgoing coach does on another team after analyzing his replacement, and we get to see that with Scott Skiles on the Bucks. Now, to be fair, Skiles is getting a bit of a raw deal here, because the ratings on offensive and defensive efficiency during his last season with the Bulls are tainted by a dreadful interim coaching job done by a man by the name of Jim Boylan, who coached the team for 56 games in 2007-2008. Milwaukee has been one of the worst run franchises in the league for a while now, and looking at the stats, it’s not hard to see why. Dead-last in defense, bottom ten in offensive efficiency, one of the worst W-L records in the league; Scott Skiles had his work cut out for him when he arrived. What happened was a pretty impressive turnaround, not unlike Larry Brown’s, where the Defensive efficiency went through the roof, and the offensive efficiency increased as well, but actually slipped in the rankings (I suppose the league in general was less efficient in 2007/08). Unlike Larry, they didn’t play at a super-slow pace; in fact, the pace went up under Skiles! In fact, in his time coaching the Bulls, the pace factor never dipped below 11th in the league. This may be surprising, because most people equate excellent offenses with speed, and speed with a porous defense, when in fact, it’s the opposite under Skiles. The formula worked, at least partially, because like Mike D’Antoni, his team improved by 8 games, from 26 to 34 wins. It’s amazing what a functioning system and identity can do for a team, isn’t it? With D’Antoni, the Knicks became a run and gun squad, and with Skiles’ Bucks, they became a gritty, hard-nosed defensive team, when before, they were simply floating around, amorphous and directionless.

Conclusions

From this list, I think you can make a couple of intriguing observations: one is how much a coach can change how a team operates. Mike D’Antoni’s system had a real, observable effect on how his team played. The pace went through the roof, as did the offense. Skiles increased the pace, and made the defense much stingier. Larry Brown slowed the game down to a crawl and instituted a defense that was one of the best in the league. These aren’t just small swings, some of them are 15-ranking swings, which can’t just be attributed to personnel changes. The style of ball changed when the new coaches arrived. In terms of actually winning games, the evidence is not as strong. Skiles and D’Antoni boasted large improvements in this category, but from god-awful to merely “poor”. A more impressive jump was Mike D’Antoni’s second season in Pheonix, where he took the team from under 30 wins to over 60. That is obviously a result of the system matching the players perfectly, as well as the addition of a pointguard that could actually carry the gameplan out.

I think that by looking at these new coaches, we can actually see that coaching does have an observable effect on the fortunes of a team. Sometimes dramatic ones. I think that it’s at least evidence towards teams performing better when they have an identity, rather than directionless. It’s certainly very strong evidence that coaches are very good at implementing their system. Most importantly, I think that this illustrates why the NBA isn’t just a “player’s league” like so many people seem to believe, and that coaching has a strong influence on how the game is played.

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Filed under A Closer Look, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Coaching, Dallas Mavericks, Guest Posts, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Stats