If you’re a Bucks fan, it stands to reason that you’re also a Brewers fan. After all, Milwaukee’s pro basketball team ranks a distant third behind its pro baseball team and that pro football team a ways to the north. If you’re a Brewers fan, you probably remember Bill Hall, probably not fondly though.
That’s not entirely his fault though. It’s largely his fault, but he can’t take all the blame. Think back a ways, remember the good times with Bill Hall. He was once an effective utility man for the Brewers. In 2005 and 2006, he alternated between third base, shortstop, second base and then eventually centerfield, never truly mastering any of them, but playing competently enough that he earned at bats practically every day. Having someone who could fill in and play a number of different positions is always a nice luxury to have, especially for a smaller market team like the Brewers.
Hall did his best playing all those positions, but ultimately wanted to settle on one spot and the Brewers appeared to desire likewise. Both parties worked towards Hall becoming the new Brewers centerfielder and then when that didn’t work, the new third baseman and then when that didn’t work, the newest Brewer on a different team. That didn’t work so well for Hall, but fit the Brewers like a glove. It was a sad story. Perhaps had Hall just succumbed to the life of a utility man, things could have been salvaged for him, though his inability to produce offensively may have caught up to him regardless of where his was playing.
Ultimately, everyone has to be able to produce something offensively in baseball and the story isn’t all that different in basketball. For all the great defense some players play, they have to have a niche on offense. Some never find that niche and are banished to the ends of benches or losing teams.
No one wants to see Luc Richard Mbah a Moute banished. He is just better suited for the utility role, just like Bill Hall before him. Off the bench, Mbah a Moute can come in and defend multiple positions for a few possessions, even if he has to play out of position on offense. That doesn’t kill Milwaukee’s offense, because it’s a fairly limited dosage. But when he’s forced to be the corner release as a small forward in Milwaukee’s offensive sets, for more than 20 minutes a night as he has been lately, it’s nothing but trouble for the Bucks. He’s clearly a guy who needs to be around the hoop on offense.
Mbah a Moute has his niche: he can score at the rim. No, he isn’t posting up and dropping in eight foot hook shots or driving for rim rattling dunks, but he can come out of a pile of bodies with the ball and dunk or lay shots in off the glass. Mbah a Moute struggled earlier this year finishing around the rim, but he’s come around and is now back up over 50% at the rim (51.5% to be exact). He’s incredibly limited every where else on the court, but Mbah a Moute can clean up a mess as well as any other Bucks player.
What he can’t do though, is effectively play small forward on the offensive end. And that’s playing no small part in the Bucks monumental offensive struggles right now. I’m not heaping this whole stinking pile of offensive suck on Mbah a Moute, that’s not fair, but his increased playing time with Carlos Delfino out of the lineup has turned the negative of Delfino’s absence into a significant double negative. It’s bad that Delfino’s gone and worse that the Bucks have replaced him with a player not fit for small forward play. Let’s take a look at a set the Bucks run over and over throughout games.
Brandon Jennings brings the ball up and after Mbah a Moute and John Salmons swap position on the wings, the ball almost always heads to Salmons on the wing. After the pass, Jennings heads to right of the top of the key outside the arc and Mbah a Moute heads to the short corner. The big that is closer to the hoop generally moves outside of the basket area.
After catching, the center or power forward (it seems interchangeable, in this case Ersan Ilyasova at center) moves down to set a screen for Salmons. Salmons now penetrates through the paint, and his next move depends on what the defenders of both Jennings and Mbah a Moute do. If neither helps, he keeps towards the hoop.
If either Jennings’ defender or Mbah a Moute’s defender steps in Salmons way, he has a pass to make. This play worked well on Saturday, as D.J. Augustin continuously stepped in to help on Salmons who was able to find Jennigns for a number of threes in which Jennings had time to set himself up. Often this seaso though, Salmons has forced up shots over a defender switching onto him from Mbah a Moute or the center that set the original screen with much less success than he had last season. Mbah a Moute isn’t an outside threat though, so he must sink in more than Delfino ever did and in turn, that shrinks the court and gives his defender less room to make up if said defender steps up to defend Salmons.
It should come as no surprise that Mbah a Moute’s PER as a small forward is a paltry 6.1. His skill set is not a great fit for the small forward position at this point in his NBA career and if he’s spending his time wasting away in the short corner, his above average offensive rebounding ability isn’t as easy to apply. Yes, he’s athletic enough to defend virtually any player on the court, but that doesn’t mean he’s a natural fit for a position that typically requires ball handling and shooting. As Milwaukee’s finest defender outside of Andrew Bogut, no on wants to see a huge minute reduction for Mbah a Moute. Just a minute reapplication in which he spends the majority of them at the four and not the three.
So long as Delfino’s out, there aren’t a lot of other answers at the three for Milwaukee. Chris Douglas-Roberts has looked promising offensively in his first two games, but nowhere near ready to go on the other end. Corey Maggette is battling a few issues himself, but even when he’s healthy he may not be the answer the Bucks are looking for, as he’s never been known as a court spacer or corner 3-point shooter. Part of the reason Mbah a Moute is starting is necessity. With CD-R back though, it may be wise to give him a look as the starting small forward next to Mbah a Moute as the new starting power forward.
Answers have been hard to come by for the Bucks thus far and it doesn’t look like Luc Mbah a Moute at the three is one of them.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).