Those on the end of the bench most deserving of your empathy

There are a lot of players not playing in the NBA.  A lot of guys come to the arena night in and night out, prepare themselves, go through warm-ups, toss on a jersey and find themselves glued to the end of the bench all night long.  They do this night after night.  They’ll play here or there — blow outs are usually a strong opportunity for them — but they typically can safely assume they won’t be getting any run.

Not all these players are created equal though.  Some are veterans, some are rookies.  Some are big men, some are guards.  Some lack enough skills to earn regular minutes, while some have virtually no skill at all.

Often they earn the hearts of their team’s fans by not playing.  That’s right, these guys become fan favorites, not for what they are doing, but for what they aren’t doing.  They become the underdog, the guy who is denied an opportunity.  For a team like the Bucks (read: a team that has numerous players under-performing night in and night out), these players catch on even quicker.

The logic isn’t difficult to follow: “If John Salmons keeps playing this bad every night, why isn’t Chris Douglas-Roberts getting more of an opportunity?”  This isn’t crazy.  CD-R was a very good scorer in college, showed flashes last season and has had a couple 30-point games this season.  He suddenly dropped out of the rotation as January was ending just five games after his last 30-point effort.  Since his benching, he’s become something of a cult figure among Bucks fans.

But I think there’s a science to picking and choosing which players that have been relegated to the bench should be most adored.  It’s worthwhile to hope your favorite team starts playing some guys, while other guys are more or less a lost cause.

And I don’t mean to write CD-R off as an NBA player.  I just mean to write him off as a meaningful member of the Milwaukee Bucks.  But I don’t blame him.  It’s more them than him.

The two biggest case studies this season in players buried on the end of the Bucks bench have been CD-R and Larry Sanders.  I’ve delved into CD-R’s stretch a bit already.  Sanders minutes were so limited through January and February, that he eventually earned a demotion down to the D-League simply to get him some playing time.  All while Jon Brockman was figuring regularly into the rotation.

That’s one of the two biggest differences in the CD-R and Sanders situations.  CD-R is currently behind, in some order, Carlos Delfino, Corey Maggette, Salmons and Keyon Dooling as a Bucks wing.  Dooling has been splitting his minutes between the one and two for some time; Coach Skiles feels very confident in him as a two and he’s played there frequently throughout his career.  That’s four guys in front of CD-R, all of whom are signed up for at least one more season in Milwaukee.  CD-R is in the last year of his rookie minimum deal.

Sanders meanwhile, bounces between the four and five, where Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova and Brockman reside.  Sanders primary competition as backup center is Brockman, an undersized, limited upside banger.  Brockman isn’t the worst player in the NBA, but it’s unlikely a team is going to have a lot of success with the 6-foot-6 Brockman playing center.  Physically, there’s nothing he can do that anyone else in the Bucks front-court can’t do.

That’s where Sanders differs from Brockman and where CD-R doesn’t really differ from the Bucks other wings.  Sanders makes plays no one else on the Bucks can make.  Against the Suns last Friday, in one motion Sanders missed a short jump-hook, grabbed the offensive rebound, moved to the opposite side of the basket and dunked.  The whole thing happened in less than two seconds and showed the combination of length, quickness and power that’s unique to Sanders on the Bucks.  Each time he plays, it’s a learning experience.

CD-R isn’t blessed with those kinds of gifts.  His truest talent is what he can do in isolation.  He keeps his dribble alive often and finds seems into which he can drive.  His vision is limited to the basket though, so he’s not creating for anyone but himself.  And he doesn’t have the athleticism to do anything other than attempt very difficult shots when he is able to get into the paint.  So he’s a lot like John Salmons.  But even less consistent.

Sure, he’s only in his second year, so there’s some hope that CD-R can get better, and I’m sure he will.  He’s improved greatly as a shooter from last season.  But he’s not suddenly going to become a special player.  And I’m not so sure Larry Sanders will either.  But there’s a least a chance Sanders becomes a difference maker on most nights.  That’s the kind of guy you hate to see wasting away on the end of a bench for a team 10+ games below .500.

That’s the kind of guy worth being freed.  Now that Bogut is ready to roll and will return to the lineup, Sanders will likely head back to the bench for the Bucks, but hopefully not for Tuesday’s entire game, or any extended period of time.

And so long as we’re hoping, let’s hope too that CD-R is eventually able to find a spot in someone’s rotation down the line, so he’ll be able to get in the good graces of fans for what he is doing, rather than what he isn’t.

Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog  Follow him on Twitter.  Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).

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  1. I can understand burying CDR at the end of the bench: so many healthy wings already in front of him, although it’s not like some of them are doing more than he can. Skiles refusal to utilize Sanders more often before the injuries to all the bigs piled on just baffles me. I can understand playing him behind Bogut, Ilyasova and Gooden when you’re more worried about winning than developing a very raw rookie, but you absolutely cannot sell me on the merits of playing Brockman over Sanders. The former really has no long-term future with the team, is probably as good as he’ll ever be, and scares opposing offenses far less than any other big on the team. The latter is a mid-first round pick with upside that shows small flashes of being a long-term fixture and another tenacious shot blocker. Give the damn kid a chance to iron out his game.

  2. The stats don’t tell the story on this one, watching the games and/or coming to the Bradley Center settle it for me: Sanders has a chance to be the Bucks starting PF while Brockman should not be resigned. Luc Richard has also had an offensive coming out party this year. Get him some more practice and he could be a great SF option netting an easy 10 points a game.

    It is obvious Skiles doesn’t like CDR and I doubt he’ll be coming back. The Bucks are going to have a lot of holes to fill this off season and they’ll be rewarded with a bad draft pick. Luckily for them, nobody seems to want to win the 8th spot, so hey, we might see Boston vs. Milwaukee in the playoffs if the Pacers don’t feel like playing for the next two weeks. They have now lost four in a row and we have the Cavs tomorrow.

  3. I feel like I somehow got sucked into like CDR just like the post says. I wish the guy got more playing time and for some reason I like his game. Sanders I love though, he drives me crazy every time he shoots a jump shot from way more outside than he ought be, but he just has so much energy out there. He’s got a hand in the face of everyone shooting.

  4. This is not a convincing argument. CDR deserves playing time, based not only on what he’s done but on what he can do.

    Off the top of my head, I think four guys on this team have had 30 points or more in a game this year. Given their spectacular shooting woes, the Bucks must put better scorers on the floor more regularly. CDR is a better scorer than most of the guys mentioned here.

    Maggette looks to draw fouls so often now that his jump shooting ability has diminished. He seems largely incapable of converting an old-fashioned three-point play as well. Salmons has shot terribly most of the season, and only appears to be playing as many minutes as he is because he’s signed to a long-term contract. Delfino and Dooling are streak shooters at best; unlike CDR, neither effectively drives the ball to the basket consistently.

    And that latter point is the second best reason for why CDR should be playing, as anyone who saw the Wizards game last night can attest to. The Bucks have few finishers around the basket on fast breaks, due to bad hands and a lack of touch. CDR proved reminiscent of Paul Pressey around the basket at times earlier this year. That is the type of finisher the Bucks need on the wing.

    Dooling’s on the downside of his career; he’s not going to get any better. This is true of Maggette and Salmons as well. Ditto Michael Redd, whom the Bucks seem clueless about fitting into their rotation. (Hint, Scotty: PLAY HIM. YOU NEED SHOOTERS!!!!!) Losing CDR in the off-season would merely age their rotation that much faster. Decrepitude or total rebuilding will soon follow. Count that as reason number three to put CDR on the floor.

    We need to find out what he can do. We need to forget the playoffs. (Cue Jim Mora!!!) The Bucks need to be thinking longer term.