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.
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. MySynergySports.com 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.