The Milwaukee Bucks were going to have to make an important decision this offseason.
Way more important than me having to decide whether or not to put a space in offseason. I could just go back and delete this paragraph and no one would be the wiser. The Bucks can’t just go back and erase contracts. Well … it’s been a crazy week. Typically they can’t. Exceptions to every rule, right?
But if the Bucks signed Brandon Knight to a four year deal worth more than $50 million this coming offseason, they would kind of be committing to an offense led by Knight for probably the next four years, at least the next two or three years.
Evidence does more than suggest that was an unpalatable idea to the Milwaukee Bucks.
It’s hard to argue that Brandon Knight wasn’t good this season. He’s shooting 44/41/88. He leads the Bucks in points per game (17.8), assists per game (5.4), steals per game (1.6), minutes per game (32.5) and shots per game (14.3). Had he been selected for the All-Star game, it doesn’t seem like people would have been too upset. For all intents and purposes, he was Milwaukee’s best player during this season, a season of redemption and revival. He’s a hard worker to the point that O.J. Mayo spent part of his in Florida working out with him to get in better shape. His work ethic and general high character also set a great example in a fairly young locker room. He’s a natural leader.
Yet he struggled as a playmaker. He leads the Bucks in assists per game, but also in turnovers per game at 3.2. Among players who average 5.4 assists per game or less, Knight is second in the league in turnovers per game. He often drives into the paint and appears without much of a plan other than, assuming he’ll probably find a way to get a shot up. He doesn’t appear to play selfishly in order to obtain stats, but rather because he seems to feel he’s the best scorer on the team and is almost unstoppable. Sometimes that thought would be correct. More often, it would be incorrect.
I don’t know if Michael Carter-Williams is the point guard of the future for the franchise that’s now traded away three point guards named Brandon. He has some similarities to a young Jason Kidd, in that he passes the ball a lot, occasionally gets triple-doubles and often misses jump shots. No question some of those are intriguing qualities.
While he too turns the ball over a great deal (4.5 per game), he averaged nearly eight assists per game for the league’s very worst offensive team. Sure they play fast, but only a handful of guys can make shots, so that helps to balance out potential speed stat inflation. He’s grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game, which could partly be attributed to his size. He’s 6-foot-6, which seems like a good thing for a point guard. It’s not unreasonable to suspect he may do more work in the post, ala Kendall Marshall, now that he’s arrived in Milwaukee. His size should be an asset in Milwaukee’s aggressive defensive schemes as well.
But he has some rather obvious flaws. He’s shooting less than 40% from the field this season and has made just 26% of his 333 3-point attempts as a pro. Hell, he’s made only 64% of his free throws this season. Shooting is a big problem for him. Flaws and strengths exist in every basketball player and are often pronounced in younger players. He’s a typical young basketball player.
What is absolutely certain about Carter-Williams it that he has two years left after this season and they add up to less than $6 million, which means he’ll have two more years to show the Bucks whether or not he is the point guard of the future and it’ll cost the Bucks probably less than half what Knight would have cost them next season alone.
Brandon Knight wasn’t able to definitely prove he was the right point guard for a future championship team in his season and a half in Milwaukee. Everyone agrees he made some strides this season, but it’s very clear he didn’t make enough strides that the Bucks felt comfortable committing to him long term. So rather than deal with his free agency by matching any offer he got and then trying to make the best of it or letting him leave while getting nothing in return or trying to work out some sort of sign and trade deal, the Bucks essentially hit the reset button with another young point guard now.
Looking at this directly as a trade of Knight for Carter-Williams seems short-sighted (Also, literally inaccurate, as the Bucks also got Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee. But we’ll dive into them separately, as this is the main course). In the interim the point guard swap changes some things about this season, but the Bucks really traded a long term commitment for long term flexibility. Knight was the girl the Bucks were happy dating, but not the girl they wanted to spend the rest of their life with. And the bonus for Milwaukee is that Carter-Williams gives the Bucks the ability to be flexible going forward while not taking much of a step back this season. He’s capable of providing probably at least 75% of the on court value Knight provided and if things go well, maybe he can provide more than that.
This trade best primes the Bucks to build for the future while staying probably somewhat close to as competitive as they have been all season.
Personally, I don’t think this season matters all that much, but some people may feel like making the playoffs and staying competitive is valuable in the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which should be the ultimate focus this season. Not only does Giannis gets to keep playing games that matter, but he gets a point guard that will probably move the ball a bit more and maybe even create better shots for him. If the Bucks deemed continued short term success important, Carter-Williams makes a lot more sense than a draft pick, while carrying similar value.
So the salary cap doomsday clock is set back, as this season continues down the same playoff path.
A potential win-win scenario has played out and now the Bucks have a lot of time to decide what the future holds at the point guard position. They have tons of flexibility as far as their salary cap goes and have more players on affordable deals with upside today than they did last week.
That sounds like a team focused on tomorrow to me. That sounds like a strategy that I can get behind … for now. We’ve still got many moves ahead in the coming months and there’s a possibility that this season’s success could change the course of the franchise going forward. But if this trade deadline is any indication, it appears that it won’t.