Outweighing the negative with the positive

Corey Maggette heading to the basket is a scary sight for defenses.

I’m not sure what it would take to make the trade of Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell for Corey Maggette look bad this season.  Perhaps if he refused to leave the bench, but then again, Bell and Gadzuric wouldn’t have done that anyway, so no.  Maybe if Maggette started escorting opponents to the rim, then I’d have my doubts.  Or if he began to score on the Bucks hoop, that would be an issue I just couldn’t overlook.  It’s safe to say, it would take a lot for me to regret the Bucks trading away their possible 13th and 14th men for Maggette, because he can just be so overwhelming on offense.

Maggette is taking free throws at a rate (10.5 per 36 minutes) that’s even ludicrous for him.  Despite averaging just over 21 minutes per game, Maggette has attempted 23 more free throws than his closest teammate, Brandon Jennings (57-34).  Even better, Maggette is converting a career high 89.5% of his free throw attempts.  So offensively, Maggette has done his part and brought to the table what the Bucks hoped he would.

That wasn’t really what concerned folks when Milwaukee added Maggette though.

Sure, people worried he’d ruin on court chemistry with his, um, shall I say, resistance, to passing the ball, but most people were willing to take the problems with the pluses when it came to Maggette’s offense.  After all, he alone could fix the Bucks free throw problems.  It was his supposedly non-existent defense that really had people up in arms when the Bucks made the move to acquire the small forward this summer.

So how has Maggette been defensively?  While it’s early, the results have not been overwhelmingly positive.  As well as the Bucks have played with him on the court offensively, they’ve been equally as bad defensively.  It isn’t all his fault, basketball is a team game after all, but the statistics paint a grim picture of his defense thus far.  Milwaukee’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) with him on the court through nine games, has been 107.2.  With him off the court?  93.7.  Coach Scott Skiles isn’t putting it all on his new small forward though.

“He’s played pretty good D,” said Coach Scott Skiles earlier this week.  “He’s bought into what we’re doing, our team defense, and he’s trying to execute the game plan defensively.  We haven’t seen it as much of an issue.  He missed a good portion of camp, he’s picked up our defensive schemes pretty quickly.”

When seeing that poor of a defensive rating, it seems like Maggette’s struggles could possibly be attributed to the entire bench, but that hasn’t been the case.  The team’s rating with Ersan Ilyasova on court has been 98.7, compared to 100.4 when he’s not on the court.  Luc Mbah a Moute has been particularly stunning defensively, with the team measuring at 95.1 when he’s on the court versus 103.7 when he’s not.

The question of why Maggette has struggled on defense has always been a difficult one to answer.  He’s one of the more imposing small forwards in the league, looking more like Ray Lewis than Ray Allen.  His strength seems like it could/should be a significant advantage for him when guarding the opposition.  Skiles has been happy with the way he’s used it this season.

“He’s not afraid to use his body, that’s for sure,” Skiles said.  “He gets up and tries to get into guys.  He fights guys over screens and things like that.”

Maggette’s apparent increase in the use of his body to stop offensive players has gotten him into trouble at times this season, and could be playing a role in the rough looking numbers opposing teams have put up against the Bucks while he’s played.  Through nine games, he’s averaging 5.5 fouls per 36 minutes, by far the highest rate of his career.  Teams coaches by Skiles traditionally are among some of the biggest offenders when it comes to personal fouls every season and Maggette’s lack of familiarity combined with that history seems to be playing a big role.  Milwaukee’s other big off-season acquisition, Drew Gooden, has had his share of foul trouble too.  He’s averaging five fouls per 36 minutes, a significantly higher rate than his career three and a half average.

Maggette has established himself over the past few years as a player surprisingly willing to give up his body to take a charge and he showed some of that off against the Knicks last Tuesday when he took two charges.  But real progress for him defensively appeared to come earlier this season in Boston.

With the Bucks trailing the Celtics with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of their loss at Boston, he appeared to execute the Bucks defensive game plan to perfection.  Maggette used his size, quickness and strength to filter a driving Paul Pierce to the middle of the court where Brandon Jennings was helping off Rajon Rondo.  Jennings was able to reach in and strip Pierce clean thanks to a great defensive effort on the play by Maggette.

Fouls have played a role in limiting his minutes, but so has Coach Skiles.

“We’d also like to manage Corey so he’s ready as well later in the season, so that he’s still strong and ready to go,” Skiles said.  “He did have ankle surgery. As best we can, we want to help him maintain himself.”

Maintaining himself through his physical, free throw reliant style of play has often been a challenge for Maggette.  He’s only eclipsed 70 games five times in 11 seasons before this one.  Despite missing all but one pre-season game though, Maggette hasn’t missed a game yet as a Buck, playing in all nine this year.

Milwaukee doesn’t need Maggette to be a special defensive player.  Andrew Bogut and Mbah a Moute rise to the occasion when Milwaukee needs a stopper down low or on the perimeter.  All the Bucks need Maggette to do is stick to the game plan, filter players into help and know where he’s supposed to be.

So far, his shortcomings have been on display a little more than anyone would like to see, but it hasn’t hurt Milwaukee too bad.  They’ve gotten back to back strong performances out of him offensively and blown out the opposition in both games.  So long as Maggette continues to bring his offensive skills to the table he, and the Bucks, can get away without being much on the defensive end.

Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com.  Follow him on Twitter.  Then become a fan of Bucksketball on Facebook (to the right).

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  1. Hey Jeremy, you posted the teams’ defensive rating with him on and off the court, is there a similar offensive stat for the team with/without Maggette?

    • 106.2 with him on the floor 98.4 with him off. They’ve certainly been better while he’s out their offensively, but not quite enough to offset his defense. But given his limited minutes, it really hasn’t been much of an issue yet. And remember that he’s still shooting less than 45%, which is really low for him. Those numbers could change quickly.

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