In Defense of Corey Maggette

There’s rarely a question about whether or not Corey Maggette is a competent offensive player. Debate will likely always rage on about how selfish of a player he is and if Maggette “getting his” necessarily amounts to positive team production, but it’s hard to say that Maggette isn’t skilled at scoring points. He does that in bunches and very efficiently year after year. The big knock on Maggette though, is that he lacks awareness of what’s going on around him. Maggette may bull his way to the hoop and end up scoring or at the free throw line, but more often than not, you won’t be seeing Maggette knifing through the lane and dropping the ball off to an open shooter on the weak side.

Teams and fans alike have more or less learned to accept this as Maggette’s offensive game. The pluses seem to outweigh the minuses, so Maggette continues to collect paychecks and find ample playing time. But that awareness bugaboo rears its ugly head on the defensive end as well and it’s there that the concern that Corey Maggette may destroy everything that was good and fun about the Milwaukee Bucks last year as soon as he steps on the court.

Within seconds of the finalization of the trade that brought him over from Golden State, Maggette was being labeled the Bucks weak link defensively. His poor defensive rating, offensive mindset and the checkered success of the teams he’s played on make him an easy target for those worried about the Bucks messing with the good thing that was last season’s team. Immediately after the trade, I noted that Maggette’s field goal percentage against and defensive rating both were considerably worse than Carlos Delfino, the Bucks primary small forward last season. But it’s possible the change of scenery may do wonders for Maggette the defender and that I underestimated just how damaging playing in Golden State’s system was for him, his lack of awareness be damned.

A good starting point is the field goal percentage Maggette allowed. To an extent, it’s really difficult to hang Maggette out to dry for allowing a high percentage of shots to be made against him. The most glaring difference in the successes against defending certain plays that Maggette and Delfino faced was their difference in defending post-ups. Maggette was posted up 179 times last season and scored upon 49.2% of the time. Delfino was posted up 69 times last season and scored upon 42% of the time. Is Delfino  a vastly superior post defender than Maggette? That seems doubtful. Let’s dig further in to who was doing the work on these two.

Maggette spent games guarding David West, Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani/Chris Bosh, Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Charlie Villanueva to name a few.

Delfino was posted up by, among others, Luol Deng, Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, Tayshaun Prince, Shaun Marion and Carmelo Anthony.

Simply looking at those lists of names, isn’t it clear that Maggette was going to have more problems defending inside than Delfino? This isn’t Maggette’s fault. He was spending the majority of his time on the court last season at the unnatural position of power forward. Given his strength and athleticism, I’d be willing to bet he’s a much better fit defending small forwards posting up than Delfino is. It’s not unreasonable to assume his  defensive shooting percentage while defending post-ups would be much closer to Delfino’s if he were a Bucks player last season. But, Maggette struggled defending players outside the arc every bit as much as he did in the paint.

Maggette allowed 44.2% 3-point shooting on the season. He wasn’t alone in poor 3-point defense on the Warriors though, as the team finished second worst in the NBA in defending the three with opponents shooting 37.5% against them. Watching Synergy Sports Video of Maggette’s attempts to defend the three, or most players on the Warriors attempts to defend the three for that matter, shows a distinct difference in how the Warriors and Bucks value defense.

Time and again Maggette and his teammates were slow to rotate over to open shooters. By the time most Warriors were able to make it over to a shooter, they lazily closed out with hands sort of high. Such disinterest and lack of effort defensively simply won’t allow Maggette to get minutes in Milwaukee, of that I can assure you. Effort seems to come easier to those on winning teams, so it’s natural to expect Maggette to find the energy to close harder on 3-point shooters. Of course, Maggette’s laissez faire defensive attitude and general lack of awareness stands out here. Perhaps in the same way that you won’t often see him make a great extra pass, it will be difficult to envision him rotating onto an open man to prevent a clean look at the hoop.

But this is something that makes the Corey Maggette’s of the world enticing. It’s not difficult to project that with proper coaching and a little more effort, they can be more than competent defenders. Perhaps you remember the first half of the Milwaukee Bucks season last year. There was no “Fear the Deer” mantra. It was just a team full of high effort guys that were more often than not physically over matched. Charlie Bell was stuck guarding players three and four inches taller than him and 20 pounds heavier. He wasn’t quick enough to stick with most point guards, but had trouble with bigger shooting guards.

And this was one of the Bucks premier perimeter defenders. It’s no wonder that A. B. and C. on the Bucks list of things to do this off season was add more athleticism and length. Even if a player that contained that athleticism is dogged by whispers about a losing mentality and a lack of defensive awareness.

The not-so-secretive secret to success in the NBA is to have gobs of talent, athleticism and skill and find the right coach to navigate the bumpy road of egos and motivation to get everyone on the same page. Last year was a testament to the success Coach Scott Skiles had in that regard. He proved he could handle a mildly talented team, generally a group that seems as if it would be easier to handle. Now Skiles will get an opportunity to handle a squad with more. More talent, more skill, more athleticism and potentially more problems. At or near the top of Coach Skiles things to do in training camp this year will certainly be, “get Corey Maggette playing Milwaukee Bucks defense.” Hopefully for Milwaukee, that will not require the kind of magic most initially thought it would.

I watch the Milwaukee Bucks often and write about what I see…

3 Comments

  1. Isn’t it interesting that the Bucks now have a strong and serious Defense whereas we can worry whether an Offensive player can get minutes because of his Defensive abilities? Having been a Bucks fan all my life, I’m proud that the Bucks are succeeding on the Defensive end. We’ve been promised Defense for years before Skiles and now we have it!

  2. Nice analysis of our new SF, Jeremy. I’d be interested to see you take it a step further and look at the Michael Redd effect. While both players are extremely different offensively, they both have reputations as poor defenders. It was obvious that Mike Redd never adapted to the defensive mentality of Skiles in the little time he was on the court. It’s worth pointing out that while there was a small sampling of games, Skiles had little to no effect on Redd’s defense. Couple that with the fact that Maggette has been in the league just as long as Redd, meaning he might be as set in his ways as Redd, and we might see Corey riding the pine Danny G style.

  3. Maggette’s question mark isn’t awareness – it’s attitude. He just doesn’t seem like a Scott Skiles guy. Of course, who knows – Bogut has repeatedly stated that Skiles turned his game around by holding him accountable, so maybe the same thing happens to Maggette.