We’ve been having something of a meeting of the minds over the past week here at Bucksketball.com regarding where the Milwaukee Bucks decision makers may want to direct their attention this coming off-season. We’ll get the discussion rolling in part one and close it out in part two. – JS
What needs addressing this off-season the most? I’d say shooting guard, and then I’d say it’s not even all that close.
82games.com makes the strongest empirical argument here, as Milwaukee’s collective PER at the shooting guard position this season was 11.4, while opponents managed a 13.5 PER against the Bucks at that position, leaving them with a net -2.1. But anyone who has watched the Bucks over the past two years knows the importance of the two guard position and how much trouble it has caused the Bucks.
Before John Salmons arrival in the 2009-10 season, Charlie Bell logged the majority of the minutes there and could do little aside from harmlessly parade into the lane, representing no true threat to score or create. He was a spot-up shooter being asked to do far too much. And while we all forget it because the Bucks post-Samons trade impressed so much, Milwaukee’s offense was brutal for the first half of that season. Virtually the only difference between that offense and the one that mucked up this past season was that team’s ability to hit some threes
Once Salmons arrived though, the onetime point guard brought to life the Bucks offense. He drove as a threat: he could pass or finish equally as well. The Bucks had shooters all around him, ready to capitalize off his drive and kick game. With him dropping assists and scoring 20 points regularly, the Bucks offense flourished for the first time under Coach Scott Skiles.
So much of the Bucks offense starts out of the wing that it’s crucial they have someone creative and adept at scoring logging heavy minutes there
It is hard to say shooting guard isn’t the most pressing need for the Bucks. Salmons’ 14 points per game on 41.5 percent shooting is unacceptable for a player that averaged 35 minutes per game. The team needs more efficient scoring from that position, especially considering Brandon Jennings is unlikely to ever shoot a high percentage. If Salmons is able to shoot at the 46 percent clip he averaged before this season, then the Bucks problem is solved. Based on his age and track record for playing well when first acquired by a team and then declining, it’s hard to see Salmons doing that.
While improving the shooting guard position is of utmost importance, acquiring a true backup center is another pressing need. It’s hard to figure out what John Hammond was thinking last offseason. When your starting center is coming off of a serious, season-ending injury, you have to do more than trade for 6-foot-7 Jon Brockman. I know Drew Gooden logged minutes at center too, but is that really ideal?
While with the Sacramento Kings as a rookie, Brockman was a solid rebounder and hustle defender. While with the Bucks this season, he was good at drawing charges and that is about it. Brockman’s numbers dropped almost across the board in Milwaukee. He went from averaging 13.1 rebounds per 40 minutes as a rookie to 10.8 in his second season. If you watched him at all this season, you probably concluded that Brockman would be a solid 11th or 12th man, not one of your top options at backup center.
So how do they solve the problem out on the wing? Draft? Free Agency? Trade? I say give Salmons peyote and send him on a vision quest to find his offensive spiritual forefathers: Oscar Robertson, Sidney Moncrief or Ray Allen.
But what if Milwaukee just minimizes/changes the role of the shooting guard? Bringing in a new assistant coach can do that.
When Skiles first took over coaching duties, the 2008-09 Bucks posted a respectable offensive rating of 106.7, according to Basketball Reference. In 2009-10, that rating dipped to 104.9 and in the most recent campaign, the team’s rating fell to 101.6. That’s the worst Bucks offense since the NBA/ABA merger.
The three best teams Skiles has coached, the 1999-00 Suns, 2000-01 Suns and 2006-07 Bulls, were offensively ranked 16th, 22nd and 21st respectively in their years. The man had Jason Kidd in his prime and his offense still sucked.
This isn’t a call for Skiles to be fired, far from it. He’s proven he can win and the defense has been a mirror to the offense — it’s only gotten better every year. So the offense doesn’t need to be great, it just has to be good enough. A minor tweak in the coaching staff could go a long way. What Skiles needs is an offensive-minded assistant coach the same way that Doc Rivers needed Tom Thibodeau for defense. Kelvin Sampson might be leaving, so there could be a vacancy to fill anyway.
I think the struggles Skiles had while having a point guard as talented naturally as Kidd illustrate the need for a shooting guard and a sound shooting point guard more than ever. If ever Kidd had struggles, it was with his shooting early in his career. He was “Ason Kidd” for nothing. With little help creating on the wing and a poor three-point shooting point guard, Skiles has had problems.
When Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich ran a Skiles offense, he had two multi-tasking guards capable of shooting and getting to the hole off the bounce. That was his offense at its peak.
Skiles doesn’t strike me as the type who controls his assistants incessantly, but he also doesn’t seem the type to bring in an offensive guru to alter the system he’s been running his entire coaching career. Working inside of the structure that’s already present in Milwaukee seems to be most viable for the time being. If the Bucks hit the ground without a parachute next season after falling off a cliff this past season, then there may be some serious organizational re-structuring that would involve a change in offensive philosophy.
Even if Skiles copped to an offensive quality control assistant, where would he look? I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head.
With that in mind, here are a few wings I’d love to see in Milwaukee, in no specific order:
Turner can create, but I question if he has the athleticism to score 20 points a night. Even if he doesn’t, he could be a terrific bench option for 25 minutes a night. Burks has the athletic chops and seems to be lining up as a real option for the Bucks. Maybe he won’t be ready to come in and do damage right away, but his athleticism would be intriguing. Smith can shoot it and he’s been more adept as a passer than his reputation may indicate. He’s handled point guard duties on more than a few occasions during his Denver stint. Sure he’s combustible, but that may serve to drive his price down to a downright affordable amount for Milwaukee this off-season.
And Hobson was touted as a poor man’s Turner. He was in Milwaukee all season working out and rehabbing from his two hip surgeries. It’s been a while since he’s last played in a game, but if he’s a competent shooter, he may be able to provide some solid relief minutes next season.