Editor’s Note: A special guest appearance today from Dan Sinclair of the Bucks blog Where 55 Happens.
It’s obvious that John Hammond and the Bucks’ organization made finding a big-time scorer a top priority this off-season. After acquiring Corey Maggette in a trade everyone has heard plenty about, the question of who would start at small forward in Milwaukee became a major talking point. Incumbent Carlos Delfino is coming off a solid year of long-range shooting and strong defense. His performance on Argentina’s National Team further showcased his abilities and left many thinking he could even improve on last year’s performance. So does Delfino have the fast-track to the starting job, or does Maggette’s high-profile acquisition and useful skill set give him the right to step in? Let’s consider some factors.
Offense: Sorry Carlos, but there’s not much of a question here. Delfino’s shooting has improved pretty consistently every year, especially from deep, but his ORtg remains at a relatively pedestrian 103 owing to a sub-par inside game. Despite his athleticism, Delfino hasn’t shown consistent ability to get to the line either, never averaging more than 2 free-throws per 36 minutes. Maggette, meanwhile, has actually invested in timeshares at the free-throw line, seeing as he spends so much time there (9.5 FT/36MIN). Maggette has topped a 110 ORtg for 7 straight years including an excellent 116 rating last season with the Warriors. The fact that he reaches such a number sans three-pointers is a testament to his stellar shooting and ability to draw fouls and make his free-throws (.821 career FT%)
Defense: Yeah, pretty much the exact opposite. For every bit that Maggette exceeds Delfino in offensive efficiency, Delfino runs circles around him on defense. Not literally, of course, since running in circles around your man has never proven to be an effective strategy, although Mike Bibby says he’ll keep trying. Maggette’s “defensively-challenged” reputation arrived in Milwaukee about a month before he did, and sadly, the numbers support it. According to Synergy Sports, Maggette’s 1.03 points per possession (ppp) allowed was good for 411th in the league. Meanwhile, Delfino’s 0.84 ppp lands him at #60. Delfino showed exceptional ability to fight around screens (0.71 defensive ppp on shots off screens, 25th in NBA) and stop isolations (0.78 dppp). He’s also a capable thief, averaging better than a steal per 36 minutes. Not much to argue here.
Worth as starter: I’m willing to bet that Coach Skiles, when making his decision on the starting SF, will consider more than just each players’ raw ability. It’s important to also consider how those skills fit into the lineup. In this case, we’re contrasting a versatile defender with some outside shooting ability to an efficient, effective scoring machine with a tendency for tunnel vision. The Bucks went after Maggette because he scores lots of points, plain and simple. But does he need to be on the court at tip-off to do so? Delfino, meanwhile, wouldn’t be a primary option on offense but is certainly a passable shooter in spot-up situations (1.09 ppp last year). Were Carlos pushed to the bench, it would just be another do-it-all swingman riding the pine. I would contend that Maggette’s outstanding scoring ability is a talent easily translated to a bench role. Focusing the second unit around Maggette by surrounding him with capable defenders will allow him to focus on his primary objective: make the round thing go through the circle, and repeat. Scott Skiles has always shown a propensity for micro-managing player rotations, so “bench role” doesn’t have to mean “minimal role.”
Advantage as Starter: Delfino…kinda
Contract: It’s not really a big issue, since the Bucks are actually in a pretty solid financial situation for the time being, but I’ll admit that Maggette is making starter’s money. If the coaching staff and management are prepared to look past this largely cosmetic issue, so am I. Still, it’s hard to ignore 9.6 million dollars.
Advantage, For What It’s Worth: Maggette
Health/Continuity: Maggette is known at least partly for his health issues, including his current rehab stint following ankle surgery back in July which will likely keep him out of the entire preseason. He has averaged about 65 games per season for his career. Delfino has played in 82 games two of the past three years, missing only a few games last year because of a freak accident. Maybe it’s just a cosmetic concern, but conceivably having Delfino in the starting lineup for every game is an attractive proposition.
Intangibles: For how much I’ve discussed and thought about this little issue, I’ve never gotten a good read on how the players feel about it themselves. Delfino, being an international superstar now, was unavailable for comment (Jeremy’s note: He was around, but only briefly and there were three to four times as many media members there than there were last year.). Also, I don’t know his phone number (it’s not DEL-THR-EENO, I tried that). Thankfully, Jeremy was able to ask Maggette about it at Media Day last Monday.
“I’m a starter type player. Like I told Scott, it’s up to him. He’s the coach, I don’t make the decisions on that. My job is to win, it’s just that simple. Whether I start or come off [the bench], I can score 20 either way, it doesn’t make a difference.”
Pretty innocuous comment, really. Being a new face in the locker room, Maggette probably isn’t looking to start shooting his mouth off about playing time and how the coach hates him and how his quarterback is drawing up secret plays with the tight end. No, wait, that was TO. My mistake. If you were to ask 10 random NBA players whether they’d rather start or come off the bench, how many do you think would pick the latter? It’s less glorious, less lucrative, but not less important. Not in this case. Maggette has an excellent shot at 6th Man of the Year if he fits in as a reserve (John Hollinger views him as a strong candidate and feels that his presence on the bench would give Milwaukee the league’s best second unit). I don’t doubt Maggette would like to start. I’d actually be disappointed if any NBA player didn’t aspire to start for a talented team. But if he’s willing, I think he would flourish in such a role. Carlos, meanwhile, has really grown into the starter’s role. He brings a valuable versatility to the starting lineup and gives the Bucks three above-average perimeter defenders from the opening tip. After excelling this summer as a focal point of his home country’s FIBA National Team, it’s obvious the skills are there to justify the position. If nothing else, I think he’s earned it.
Advantage: I say Delfino, and I’m making the decisions here so that’s that.
It’s a tough question, and now that Training Camp is underway it’s up to the coaching staff to figure out the lineups and rotations that maximize Milwaukee’s potential. Once you factor in all the other guys who need minutes, it becomes even more complicated. But for now, with my limited information and tiny brain, I’m voting for Carlos.