Young players, old players, it doesn’t really matter that much who the Bucks are playing right now

Butler's return has caused some angst among fans. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Butler’s return has caused some angst among fans. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

It’s been a difficult season for the Milwaukee Bucks rotation. Through 10 games, Larry Drew has used eight different starting lineups. If you looked at the Bucks injury report in the past week, you could have seen as many as eight guys listed as anywhere between “day-to-day” and “out”. Milwaukee hasn’t had its full compliment of players all season, training camp included and this isn’t a group that’s been together for a couple of years. The Bucks came into the season with 11 new players on the roster, an unprecedented amount of roster turnover for this organization.

“It felt a little weird as the game progressed, looking down the bench and seeing all the bodies that I do have to put in the game now,” Drew said after Wednesday night’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. He finally had 12 healthy players. “That was a little different. As we get guys back we’re just going to have to incorporate them and get them used to playing.”

Drew probably swoons over the thought of some consistency on his roster and having guys used to playing. Knowing who he’ll have and having them for a few weeks would finally give him a chance to figure out what lineups play well together, who works in what role and whether or not his veterans can play the way the Bucks expected when they signed them this past summer.

So expect to see a lot of Caron Butler, a lot of OJ Mayo and a lot of Luke Ridnour (at least until Brandon Knight is back, then expect to see a lot of him) in the near future.

This is where things may get a little tricky for Drew, particularly if he cares much about what’s being said outside of the Centers Cousin and Bradley.

I suspect, and really I don’t suspect as much as I know, that the thought of extended minutes for Butler/Mayo/Ridnour is infuriating for some. There’s a strong swell of support in the Bucks fan community, especially among those who use Twitter, for playing young players as much as possible. Every minute that Butler is on the floor is a minute that Khris Middleton could be playing. When Ridnour and Mayo are playing, Nate Wolters isn’t. And how the Bucks aren’t playing Giannis Antetokounmpo 25 minutes every night appears to be one of the great mysteries of the world to some people.

So Drew will take a beating on Twitter during Bucks games for the foreseeable future when any of the Bucks young players are not in the game. All that matters to fans is that they play. Poor play is a development opportunity. Good play is great, because it means a young player has gotten better. Consider this some sort of “Madden Logic”.

We’ve all grown up playing Madden Football and participating in the franchise mode. The first thing any fan does when he jumps into franchise mode is trade his mediocre veteran players for draft picks. Young players are inserted and if we don’t see them go from a 79 to an 85 in a year, we draft players and insert those players into the lineup. Whether they play poorly or play well, they get more points on their overall rating and we’re thrilled, because development is what matters.

I’m not 100% sure this is how development actually works in real life. Scott Skiles said early last season that maybe Larry Sanders was having a good third season because of how much he sat and watched in the first two seasons. Ekpe Udoh has been playing regular minutes since his first year and he appears to be the exact same player on November 22, 2013 that he was on November 22, 2011. Brandon Jennings has never averaged fewer than 30 minutes and has never learned how to consistently play basketball at a very high NBA level.

The only thing I feel pretty certain about is that if a player isn’t a part of the future, he’s already a part of the past in the minds of many Bucks fans. Butler’s feel-good homecoming is last summer’s news. His sub-40 shooting percentage is what’s happening now and he’s got both Middleton and Antetokounmpo sitting on the behind him, so get rid of him as quick as possible. That seems to be the thinking. Which makes sense, because the goals of the Milwaukee Bucks’ fans and the goals of the Milwaukee Bucks can never be in alignment.

I don’t know if Drew is wrong to play Butler and want to figure out what he’s got in his veterans at the expense of younger players. I certainly don’t think chasing a playoff spot is a smart strategy this season, but I’m not so certain that this Bucks team, even at full strength, is that much of a playoff contender, despite the hopefulness entering the season. But I also don’t think that Middleton and Wolters are going to some day be integral rotation players on a good team. Developing them would be fine, but developing young players into 8th and 9th guys on a roster shouldn’t be the goal of a season.

PEOPLE WANT MOAR MIDDLETON! (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
PEOPLE WANT MOAR MIDDLETON! (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Middleton has only played just over 700 NBA minutes, but he hasn’t demonstrated much outside of an ability to make some open shots. He isn’t a difference maker as a rebounder or passer. He’s not a particularly impressive slasher and for all the talk I’ve heard about his defense, I don’t see many impressive defensive metrics for him. shows that he’s ranked 278 in the league in points per possession defensively and his defensive rating of 106 per Basketball-Reference plants him firmly in the middle of the Bucks roster.

Wolters has handled a difficult situation well, but he’s been a bad shooter and physically lacks many next level traits. He’s not some fantastic passer that will out craft opponents night in and night out either. I think he could stick around for a while, but his first 10 games have been outrageously less impressive than another former Bucks second round pick that everyone was very high on, Ramon Sessions, and he’s about as average an NBA player as you’ll find.

I’ll give you Giannis. I hate seeing him not play as much as anyone. Well not as much as anyone, I suppose. Some people on Twitter are closer to crazy than not if that’s how they act in real life. I’d like to think I’m a bit more even keeled.

But either Giannis needs to do something differently or the coaching staff needs to do something differently when he’s on the court. You’d never think that he and Caron Butler play the same position when you’re watching tape of the two of them at the three. When Butler plays the three, he’s running off screens, actively involved in the offense and always on the move. Most of his time without the ball in his hands is spent above the break.

Giannis more or less plants in  the weak side corner and waits for a shot attempt to go up so he can crash the offensive glass. I’m not sure if he’s not involving himself because he doesn’t know how or if the coaches aren’t calling plays that involve him. I don’t see how his minutes are really benefiting him at this stage if he’s just standing around though.

But we’re just 10 games into a season. There is plenty of time for Giannis to learn and the coaching staff to reevaluate his place on the roster. Middleton and Wolters? They’re just guys that have been serviceable.

The lack of Middleton/Wolters action isn’t so troubling to me when thinking about what’s really important this season. The most important things the Bucks can do this season are figure out whether or not Knight is the point guard of the future and make a decision on either John Henson or Ersan Ilyasova going forward. Everything else is peripheral.

Three years from now, it seems unlikely that many players on this roster will still be on the Bucks. When Henson’s minutes are unnaturally limited, I can see the cause for concern. If Knight isn’t playing when he returns, go nuts. Those guys could potentially be apart of the future. Those are the guys that are important now and will be important later. Use your breath on them.

But it seems like you’re getting worked up over nothing if you’re taking to the streets and demanding to know why Khris Middleton isn’t playing 30 minutes a night.

Categories: ROTATIONS!

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  1. Look at the next 8 games on the schedule. Bucks will be 6-12 or 8-10 after that stretch. Doesn’t help tanking efforts much. I’m sayin they win 26 games minimum this season

  2. “But I also don’t think that Middleton and Wolters are going to some day be integral rotation players on a good team.”

    What a horrible analysis here. 10 games into a season. Two bright spots on a bad squad. Losing credibility fast here pal.

      • I agree that Middleton is being discounted heavily. While it may be akin to be the bes-looking Kardashian sister he has been our best player during this 10 game stretch. Will he be a superstar… but to doom him as an 8th or 9th guy is short-sighted and I am not sure why seeing if Knight is the PG of the future is more important that Middleton at this time. As for Henson/Ersan I am not even sure the Bucks view Henson as a 4, he seems to be getting a lot of looks at the 5 as well. There are no easy answers with PT but I feel that if the minutes given out were earned, we would see a different allocation. Drew is always talking about iso’s slowing the ball movement down and from my waching experience so far that would refer to Neal, Butler and Mayo.

        • Right. And, just as Jeremy uses his defensive barometers to try and paint him as a ho-hum defender (which, in this instance, is a bit ridiculous – Middleton is clearly our best on ball defender) one can simply point to this:

          There are two Bucks who possess a positive +/- over the course of this young season:

          Khris Middleton

  3. Appreciate your thoughts, Jeremy, and in the spirit of good debate…

    Not sure why you’re so quick to relegate Khris to scrub status for the rest of his career? He’s only 22, only an inch shorter than Giannis, and seems to have all the skills and athleticism to be a solid starter and possibly more in the NBA. Were you not impressed with his reverse lay-up after cutting to the hoop against the Trailblazers? There’s no way to be sure that Khris is going to be a stellar success, but why write him off so soon? Why not give him at least 24 minutes a game to see how he develops?

    Does anyone else suspect that just maybe a couple of our vets are auditioning for other teams? Regardless, I haven’t been advocating going with the young guys to the exclusion of the vets, but rather putting the young guys first with vets mixed in to provide guidance and stability on the floor. This requires vets who are unselfish; the ones who want to dominate the ball should be sent away.

    It’s always tough to tell if playing the newbies is helping them with experience or hurting them with discouragement. One way is to ease them into the NBA with 15-24 minutes per game (which, by the way, is all I wanted for Tobias last year; and lest I be rebuked for living in the past, the example is relevant for how we develop our young players at present). I’d give Giannis and Nate these minutes for the next month or so, then decide whether they’d do better developing in the D-League.

    To me, the best potential for the Bucks, in a loose order beginning with the most promising: John, Larry, Brandon, Khris, O.J., Giannis (and maybe a surprise from among the rest). I think fans would be excited about the Bucks if those guys played 30 or so minutes per game (and if maybe a couple of the other guys were traded for a crafty/creative point guard to help Brandon stimulate the offense). At least that’s how I would be excited, and I so want to get excited about this team (which is why I’m being so wordy, almost as a plea). Otherwise, it’s going to be a long, pointless, miserable slog until, perhaps, draft day.

  4. Before I address your writing, Jeremy, let me just say many fans realize we’re in a really great position right now. What you media-types like to label ‘Tanking’ – which is an old, divisive, and over-used term – is actually more commonly referred to as ‘Rebuilding’. Try that on for size. It will help you keep your and your colleagues’ blood pressure down. You see, we would much rather win or lose by playing our young guys because, frankly, we obviously see the game and the business of NBA basketball quite differently than the relatively unsuccessful philosophy of Bucks management. And, at the same time, we also recognize this same difference could be our saving grace: The Bucks veterans are so pedestrian and thoroughly unimpressive we’re actually better off playing them. We will undoubtedly acquire a better draft pick in what is potentially shaping up to be the best draft of our generation. So, to that end, keep trotting out Commander Neal. Keep trotting out Commander Butler. The Bucks management will drive your unintentional Tank for us.

    Now, on to your piece…

    Here’s the problem with dismissive rhetoric from folks mandated to stroll the old company line: It’s ineffective because objectivity; history; statistics; and results are actually on the side of the educated fans. Instead of strolling out a ridiculously apathetic notion that it doesn’t matter who the Bucks play this season, you could humbly pose this entire premise as a question. Invite discussion. Invite healthy discourse. You can stroll out ridiculous analogies like playing Madden (And, please, this is basketball for crying out loud: the NBA 2k series also has a franchise mode) to try and build a case, but, it’s actually trite and belittling. The fact you want to hang your hat on Brandon Knight says enough. It is widely known and discussed league-wide that Brandon Knight lacks the natural instincts of a PG. For every positive (his quickness, his strength, his defense) there are negatives (poor decision-making; lack of instincts; mechanical; inconsistent shot). Let me propose something to you: In your attempts to be pedagogic to fans who have been following this franchise for decades – fans who have played basketball; coached basketball; and lived and breathed it – propose something innovative and thought-provoking like moving Brandon Knight to the 2. Further, after dismissing Khris Middleton and fans’ overall excitement for his game, you propose he’s more promising than OJ Mayo at the close of your article. SO, where exactly do you stand Jeremy? Because, frankly, you come across just as confused as Bucks management.

    The problem passionate and knowledgable fans have with strolling out Butler, Neal, ZaZa, and Ridnour is it is systematically a part of the same inexplicably incompetent management strategy that has driven the Bucks into irrelevance over a 10 year period. The Bucks have consistently been buyers instead of sellers. They have consistently played the likes of Gooden and Daniels (!!!) over promising youth. They have signed journeymen role-playing veterans in deference to playing their youth and/or signing other young and cheaper FA’s. All the while, they have won 1 – yes, a mere 1 – playoff series in that span while seeing attendance plummet. This is about evolving. This is about relevance. This is about accountability.

    It’s amazing to me how defensive a failing sports organization is when it comes to the passionate and educated opinions of their fanbase. We fill the stadiums (or, in the Bucks case, we don’t). We buy the jerseys. We ARE the city. And, yet, we are treated as though we are irrelevant. If the franchise doesn’t change its tune…sooner than later nobody will care if they get a new stadium or not. But, I suggest you; your colleagues; and the decision-makers within the Bucks organization start marching to a different drum.

      • Wow. A stupid comment on a piece of writing that’s not insulting anyone, only pointing out one mans opinion. I agree with him, so I guess that makes me dumb too doesn’t it?

    • this.

      The problem passionate and knowledgable fans have with strolling out Butler, Neal, ZaZa, and Ridnour is it is systematically a part of the same inexplicably incompetent management strategy that has driven the Bucks into irrelevance over a 10 year period. The Bucks have consistently been buyers instead of sellers. They have consistently played the likes of Gooden and Daniels (!!!) over promising youth. They have signed journeymen role-playing veterans in deference to playing their youth and/or signing other young and cheaper FA’s. All the while, they have won 1 – yes, a mere 1 – playoff series in that span while seeing attendance plummet. This is about evolving. This is about relevance. This is about accountability.

  5. This is seriously unbelievable to me. I’m out of state now and obviously am not in tune with the feelings of the city of Milwaukee, but I cannot believe there is a group of Khris Middleton truthers out there. Khris Middleton?

    I watch a majority of the games on league pass and Middleton has been a nice player. When the Bucks traded for him, there were a lot of people out there that said he had the potential to be a good rotation piece and I think that is what I’ve seen for the most part this season. He does some nice things, but he isn’t special. There is no disputing that he is younger than other players on the team (and thus has more POTENTIAL) and playing well right now, but let’s not get carried away.

    The fact that Jeremy is receiving vitriol for this piece is beyond me. It’s almost like this is some of the commenters first time on the sight. It’s almost like they haven’t seen the disdain Jeremy has had for the Bucks decision to remain in the middle of the pack. Like they never saw him write about the terrible Tobias Harris trade. Jeremy is not at all saying he likes the Bucks decisions or agrees with their direction. He is just stating facts. Khris Middleton is a nice player who will likely come off the bench and be a serviceable bench player for years to come, but he is not going to be a top-tier starter in this league and unless he’s on an awful team, he’s not going to be a starter in this league.

    • I don’t see anyone getting carried away with Middleton, saying he had vastly outplayed Butler thins year. Vitriol? Disagreement is what I see and since Middleton has played about 800 minutes in the NBA I think it’s a bit early to peg him as bench-guy for the rest of his career. I’ve seen no one here say he will be a star just saying he shouldn’t be ignored so easily.

  6. The difference between Middleton/Wolters and Butler/Neal is that, even though Khris and Nate may never be more than those 9th or 8th players on a contender, that’s what Butler and Neal are right now… and trending downward. For Giannis, I can understand (though don’t like) the “he needs to learn the system and adjust” approach, but both Middleton and Wolters have proven they can handle the NBA floor. Thus, it makes no sense to play Neal and Butler more than the young guys because the young guys could still turn that corner. The “vitriol” of Nate and Khris seem to be more “treating symptoms than the cause” because the Bucks have shown through the years, with a few exceptions, that they would rather play mediocre vets who have a history of being mediocre than mediocre rookies who could develop merely because they lack that history.

  7. Why write guys off so quick. Based Ln what we’ve seen so far to conclude that neither Middleton or Wolters are cPable of being solid rotation players is nothing short of foolish.

    Either one of them develops a consistent jumper and Voila you have a solid rotation guy.

    I have no problem with the analysis or saying you don’t believe either player has much of an upside, but to matter-of-factly state that they don’t is… Well it’s stupid

  8. It’s way too simple here folks. The Bucks are god awful. To me it’s extremely black and white. Butler and Neal are ball hogging vets who have always been role players on their teams and are using this squad to boost their volume and showcase themselves for the next team. Luke Ridnour, albeit still semi-effective, is an aging vet who wasn’t going to stick around anyways past this season. Brandon Knight is definitely not a point guard, unless you like rooting for turnovers and loses. He’s already had two seasons of data and graded out as one of the worst in the league. Great talent, more suited for a shooting guard/emergency pg role. Zaza is the definition of backup center. Don’t know what to think of Udoh, maybe doesn’t belong in the league. Mayo is a on a 3 year deal and you can live with his mistakes because he was brought in to be a volume scorer. Ersan, when healthy is an ideal stretch 4 so he’s legit. Sanders is locked into “the franchise contract” plus he’s important once he figures it out. That leaves Giannis, Middleton, Henson, Wolters, and that weird center Raduljica. I’d say most of these guys are responsible for the only two wins this team has. Now I’m not saying you dial that up as your starters, but let’s be real guys, your not close to playoffs and anywhere near .500 is like kissing your sister. Play the Youth, it’s a no lose. You can handle finishing middle of the road with them, because, “holy shit that lineup got us 30wins!” and if they as expected suck, then you finish where you want, in the top 5.

  9. When this team was built to challenge for a 6-8 seed, it was with the idea that the veterans would carry them there, and the young guys would contribute wherever possible. 10 games in, with so many injuries, I don’t think it’s fair to scrap that plan entirely and roll with nothing but unproven talent.

    Middleton and Wolters have been so incredibly good that they’ve gotten us to exactly 2-8. If those two guys were responsible for actually winning a game or two, I could see the argument for getting them more burn, but as it stands, we need reinforcements in the form of bodies who have actually won NBA games before.

    The Bucks are a running joke amongst NBA fans and bloggers for their constant pursuit of the 8 seed, but I would imagine that actual NBA players (you know, the guys that matter) actually appreciate a team trying to be competitive. It’s already hard enough to draw free agents to Milwaukee, I don’t think that being seen as a team that will scrap it’s whole season and start playing 2nd round rookies over established NBA talent after 10 games would help their reputation amongst players who can actually help them win games down the line.

    • Would having a franchise type player help? Would FAs be enticed to playing here because Carom Butler is winding down his career here? Where will this “established NBA talent” be next year or the year after? Why do metrics show our “2nd round rookies”(I’m only aware of one)outplaying our “established NBA talent” at PG and SF? And this ?:

      Middleton and Wolters have been so incredibly good that they’ve gotten us to exactly 2-8

      It takes 5 guys, Middleton and Wolters have easily been two of our top 5 players, how about the established talent. Just my opinion but so far this year our best players:

      1. Middleton
      2. Zaza
      3. Wolters
      4. Mayo
      5. Henson

  10. I’m all for winning 2 out of 10 games this season and ‘competing’ for a legit star. How else does this team break out of mediocrity?

  11. I think the main point of this article is the most important part. People can nit pick the Wolters/Middleton comments to death but the real issue here is that Sanders, Henson, Knight, and Giannis are, for better or worse our core players. I agree with Jeremy whole heartedly when he says the most important thing for the Bucks to do right now is to figure out what they have in these players. These are the players, with the exception of Giannis, that need SIGNIFICANT minutes in games. Now I say with the exception of Giannis because I think Jeremy made another good point when he talked about how sitting on the bench can be a positive experience for young players. Stunting a players development by giving them too many minutes right out of the gate can be a real problem. We saw it with Brandon Jennings. Sanders and Henson on the other hand have stated before how sitting on the bench helped them learn the game better. Giannis has perhaps even more to learn from the bench than those two did, given he is a young foreign player, so I am okay with him not playing huge minutes. I do however think he needs to get 10 to 15 minutes a night which I hope/think will start to happen as the season progresses.

    As for Middleton and Wolters, I like Middleton. I think he has the potential to be a nice 3 & D guy (despite his mediocre defensive stats thus far) and I enjoy watching him play far more than Butler. Is it really that big of a deal who starts though? Butler is only playing five more minutes a game (30mpg for Butler compared to 25mpg for Middleton). Is starting Middleton and playing him five more minutes really going to make a difference in terms of his development? I doubt it. I am less high on Wolters. I thought he was fun to watch in the beginning of the season because he made some nice plays for a second round pick I expected to be sitting on the bench for the entire season. The novelty of his game quickly wore off however. Its pretty doesn’t have the athleticism or vision to be a dynamic player maker and his shot is not where it needs to be right now. Now maybe he can address all of those issues and be a decent starter one day? Maybe. But the Bucks can’t afford to let him work out the kinks as a starter on this team at the expense of the development of all the other players I mentioned above. We need someone to run our offense competently and Ridnour and Knight are better suited to do that right now.

  12. Why shouldn’t folks be up in arms when they have to watch a starting line-up of Ridnour-OJ-Caron-Ekpe-Zaza? We had much more talented veterans last season and we all rightfully viewed that team as a disaster.

    Let’s be blunt. This is no win now line-up. Maybe that is the point in light of the stakes at play in the 2014 draft. I would prefer not to be that cynical.

    You posit that we should demand that John Henson and Brandon Knight get their minutes, but we shouldn’t worry about minutes for Khris Middleton and Nate Wolters because they aren’t very good based on interpolating 10 games as a predictor of their NBA careers. Really? Middleton and Wolters have made a bad team better. They have been a very nice surprise (in a mostly depressing season) and, most importantly, have shown smarts and leadership and pretty darn solid basketball skills.

    Brandon Knight for Nate Wolters? Why? Joe Dumars dumped Brandon Knight at 21 years of age. What does that tell you? It tells me that he needs to earn his minutes at point guard. He may not be as good as Nate Wolters. I don’t equate John Henson and Brandon Knight in terms of future cornerstones. We had to take Brandon Knight to get rid of Brandon Jennings.

    I think that it is obvious why everyone wants to see Giannis. He flashes incredible athletic skill most every time that he steps on the court. Is he ready to be a difference maker or even an NBA ready player? Of course not. That is fine. We get it. However, watching Giannis make a monster dunk or Larry Sanders’ style block every now and then sure beats watching a well past his prime Caron Butler for 30+ minutes per game.

  13. Wow! I can’t help but think this is the best discussion/debate we’ve had on this site since I started participating last January or so. If we can disagree passionately but respectfully — not being too harsh in what we say about others, nor too sensitive about what others say about us — then this site of Bucksketball, which is already good, could become a great forum for the fans to hash things out… both the negative and positive.
    I sincerely think that Jeremy & Co. (I mean that designation to be taken in a positive way) do a good-to-excellent job of leading this site and setting the table for us fans. My hunch is that they’d be happy to get some good-natured jazz about their observations and opinions, along with some compliments, as well.
    It’s all for fun, and a good place to escape for a time from the more important matters of the world.

  14. Can’t help myself sometimes I just get excited about a young player that gives EFFORT for his team.

    Maybe the recent past has swayed my true nature about the game…..sorry,….(sigh)

    Go Bucks

  15. I find myself less concerned with the minutes Giannis gets this season, and more concerned with the minutes he gets next year. He may not be ready at the moment, and Drew would know that better than anyone. With a full year to teach him, let him work on his body, get comfortable with the country, the pro game, and the offensive scheme, he should be in a much better situation NEXT season.

    That’s when he needs to be force fed 25-35 minutes per game, no?

  16. I said a while back, I think during draft time, this is part of a new , 3 year plan. Unfortunately the injuries happened and were stuck with what we have for the time being, but ANY coach needs to figure out his rotations for the season when injured players get back. Jeremy’s point about having to see these guys is a legit point. There is plenty of time to develop Giannis yet.

    Having Zaza, Caron, and Luke around is for mentoring purposes for this squad, but they still need to play and carve out their “playing” role on this team. That being said, Knight & co. all need to figure out their roles. It’s still a young season. Also, Jeremy’s point about Larry watching, benefits just as much as the playing time he got. So Caron , Luke, and Zaza have playing roles as teachers as well. So their playing time will be needed this year and next, might as well get used to it.

    Luke , Zaza, and Caron are needed for this year and next, and then they’ll be traded or cut as the younger guys have developed, but for right now, its WAY too early to demand superior minutes for rookies and 2nd year men, they need to learn how to play against NBA quality defenders first, get acclimated to the NBA court atmosphere and learn how to play with each other. NONE of which has been accomplished yet. Young guys should watch, see how its done, then see then can mesh their game with the guys they play along side. Please, Bucks fans, have no expectations for this year, and just be happy with whatever bright spots we can get from time to time. 3 years, this should be a much better squad.