What to Watch For: Bucks
Here’s an important preface: What is described below probably won’t significantly affect Milwaukee’s long- or short-term future.
With that said, it’s unfortunate the Bucks incidentally acquired two players who are better than the two players for whom they were traded. It’s also unfortunate Milwaukee didn’t reach buyout agreements with those two players, Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien.
(Aside: This overlaps as a criticism of the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bucks won last month’s trade by virtue of shedding Gary Neal’s $3.25 million salary for next season. Meanwhile, the Bobcats were willing to significantly downgrade at backup point guard — from Sessions to Luke Ridnour — just to secure the services of Neal. Never mind that Charlotte already had Ben Gordon, who is essentially a poor man’s Neal. They subsequently waived Gordon. Ridnour and Neal have PERs of 1.1 and 8.2, respectively, through six games. The league average is 15.0.)
Since acquiring Sessions and Adrien, Milwaukee is an objectively better team. Its average scoring differential was -9.3 in the 53 games prior to the trade; in the nine games since — eight in which Adrien and Sessions played — the average scoring differential is -2.0. In just over two weeks, Milwaukee’s average scoring differential increased by over a full point, from -9.3 to -8.2. By comparison, the Philadelphia 76ers have gone from an average scoring differential of -10.5 to -11.2 over that span. In other words, the Bucks are actually improving at a faster rate than the 76ers are tanking.
Granted, correlation doesn’t equal causation. But Sessions and Adrien have played at an incredible — and extremely unsustainable — level. Since rejoining the Bucks, Sessions has a 19.9 PER – which would easily rank in the NBA’s top 50 over an entire season – and is averaging 19.8 points per 36 minutes. Adrien has a 22.0 PER and a defensive rebounding rate of 31.3 percent, which has helped shore up one of Milwaukee’s most glaring weaknesses.
In short, Sessions and Adrien are helping the Bucks play better. And they are doing this at a time when the front office (not the players and coaches, obviously) should probably be doing the exact opposite of actively trying to win games.
They are also playing a lot.
Perhaps the Bucks are just doing due diligence and evaluating what they have in Sessions and Adrien. But the 27-year-old Sessions and the 28-year-old Adrien, whose contracts are both expiring, aren’t a part of the future – and if they are, they likely shouldn’t be. The Bucks are supposedly committed to a multi-year rebuild.
“It’s not ‘in a way rebuilding,'” John Hammond said during an interview on 1250 WSSP last month. “We are rebuilding. You could look back at teams that have gone through this process that we’re undertaking right now [and] very, very seldom — I don’t want to say never — has it ever happened that you get to this point and you get yourself in the position that we’re in right now, in a complete rebuilding mode, and you can just jump out in one year … and have that kind of a competitive [playoff] team. … I think probably the worst thing to do is try to speed up the process.”
If this is the case, bringing back Sessions and Adrien shouldn’t be a priority. Rebuilding teams usually don’t bring in veteran hustle players; they sign the likes of Brandon Davies, Hollis Thompson and Lorenzo Brown.
Yet, Sessions and Adrien are here. They’re helping the Bucks play better, and they’re playing more than younger players who have a legitimate future in Milwaukee.
Sessions and Adrien have logged a combined 364 minutes in their eight games with the Bucks. Over that span, rookies Nate Wolters and Giannis Antetokounmpo have played a combined 353 minutes. Wolters and John Henson have played 342 minutes.
This is neither the blueprint for tanking nor rebuilding.
What to Watch For: Magic
Aside from buying out Glen Davis’ contract, not much has changed for the Magic since these two teams last met. Arron Afflalo is still having a career year. Tobias Harris, whom the Bucks traded last season, will still treat this game differently from others. Doron Lamb, who joined Harris in the trade to Orlando, is still struggling to translate his game to the NBA. Although his signature three-point shooting has improved since leaving Milwaukee, his field goal percentage remains well under 40 percent this season.
Time — 7 p.m. CDT
TV — FS Wisconsin
Radio — 620 WTMJ
Bucks: Ekpe Udoh (right knee swelling; questionable), Larry Sanders (fractured right orbital bone; out), Carlos Delfino (right foot surgery; out)
Magic: Victor Oladipo (sore ankle; day-to-day)
PG Nate Wolters
SG Brandon Knight
SF Khris Middleton
PF Ersan Ilyasova
C Zaza Pachulia
PG Jameer Nelson
SG Arron Afflalo
SF Maurice Harkless
PF Tobias Harris
C Nikola Vucevic
Choose the Form of the Destroyer: Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic is averaging 16.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game against the Bucks in his career, which spans a decent sample of eight games. The only team he scores more against is Portland. Bucks killer!
One team wins.