Question Week: Can anyone other than Khris Middleton be a reliable outside shooter?

There are a variety of questions the Milwaukee Bucks will have to answer heading into what should be an exciting 2015-16 season. We’ll tackle one a day the rest of this week in a five-part series as we begin thinking about next season. – JS

  • Part I: Will the addition of Greg Monroe hurt the Bucks defensively?
  • Part II: Who plays the four if Jabari Parker isn’t ready to start the season?

Who knows? That’s the short answer, at least for now.

When the Bucks shot the ball from outside last season, they shot it surprisingly well, ranking seventh in the NBA in three-point percentage. The issue was volume, as Milwaukee attempted the fifth-fewest threes in the league. Considering they played at close to a league-average pace, that ranking is concerning. Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that the Bucks lost half of their three-point production from last season. Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova, Jared Dudley and Kendall Marshall accounted for 49.5% of Milwaukee’s made threes, and if you exclude Khris Middleton’s team-high 109 makes, O.J. Mayo (99) is the only other player to hit more than 40.

Middleton following up his breakout 2013-14 campaign with an even better 2014-15 season is enough to believe he’ll continue to shoot at around, or better than, a 40% clip, but the Bucks desperately need him to pull the trigger more often.

Part of the reason Middleton has been so efficient is his selectiveness. He rarely launches contested threes and almost never shoots off the dribble (98% of 2014-15 threes were assisted). That said, given the personnel around him, Middleton may have to tone down that selectiveness just a bit. Middleton was among the NBA’s top 15 most-efficient outside shooters last season, yet he ranked just 64th in attempts. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to climb into the top 30 next season, which would mean attempting roughly one more three per game.

Outside of Middleton, the roster is still largely void of outside shooters. Chris Copeland steps in as essentially the replacement for Dudley, but he’s played only sparingly over the last two seasons and is coming off of a serious offseason injury. If he rediscovers the touch that guided him to a 42.1% three-point rate in 2012-13, getting him on a one-year, minimum deal will be a steal — but that’s a big “if.”

Khris Middleton shoots over then-opponent Greivis Vasquez.

Mayo has been as hot and cold as any player in the league over the past two seasons, and Jerryd Bayless, whose 37 made threes were good for sixth on the team last season, logged his worst percentage (30.8%) since his rookie year.

I still have my reservations about the Greivis Vasquez addition, but one thing he brings is a quick trigger from outside. Vasquez ranked 26th in made threes last season while converting at a 38% clip, a hair below his career-best 40% mark in 2013-14. Able to play both guard spots, Vasquez provides Kidd with a big, versatile weapon off the bench. Bayless and Tyler Ennis will also see minutes at point guard behind Michael Carter-Williams, but Vasquez is by far the best shooter of the three and is the only one – Carter-Williams included – who truly forces opposing point guards to hedge out high in top-of-the-key pick-and-rolls

What will ultimately determine how successful the Bucks can be as an outside shooting team, and as a team overall, is the development of Carter-Williams, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jabari Parker.

The Bucks are counting on all three to make Tiny Gallon-sized leaps this season, and the short-term fate of the franchise largely depends on it. Middleton, who turns 24 later this month, probably belongs in this group, too. As a max player, the expectation is that he’ll expand his offensive game to become more than a three-and-D marksman.

Each of the three were below-league-average three-point shooters last season, with Antetokounmpo all but abandoning his outside game after showing encouraging touch as a rookie. They aren’t magically going to develop into 40% shooters in one summer, and that’s not what the Bucks are asking. What’s more important than knocking down threes at an efficient rate is just being a threat to shoot them.

Antetokounmpo’s reluctance to shoot last season was almost comical at times, and by the second half of the season opponents simply stopped closing out hard altogether.

It’s no secret that developing confidence in that phase of his game is Antetokoumpo’s top priority this offseason, and if he can shoot the three at around an average rate it should do wonders for opening up driving lanes. He struggled with turnovers in the lane last season and often had difficulty getting all the way to the rack, instead settling for difficult, fading looks.

Antetokounmpo had 57 of his shots in the restricted area blocked last season, a staggering number for a player with his ranginess. The lack of respect Antetokounmpo received on the perimeter made it easy for defenders to hang back and wait for him to come to them, drastically increasing the chance of a strong contest at the rim.

This possession, against the Pistons in November of last season, is an excellent example. Jonas Jerebko gives Antetokounmpo a huge cushion on the perimeter, effectively forcing him – even with a Pachulia moving screen inhibiting – to take a longer path to the basket, where Andre Drummond is waiting to thwart the attempt.

Here’s another instance against Orlando a week later. Aaron Gordon is standing at the free throw line when Antetokounmpo has the ball at the top of the key, providing him more than enough time to react and block the shot at the rim (and run the floor for an uncontested dunk on the other end).

Shoutout to Nate Wolters getting some face-time there.

Much more on this tomorrow, as we examine how the Bucks will handle late-in-the-shot-clock situations.

Categories: 5 Questions

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  1. Well, if Vaughn, Vasquez and Copeland don’t help the Bucks shooting the 3 it will make things very tough. That’s mainly why all three were acquired.

    Mayo, Parker and Giannis could contribute as well with improvement. Mayo really need to jump his percentage or why have him?

    Middleton surely will be asked to look for the 3 much more aggressively. But I’m not as worried about this subject as some. Kidd will figure it out.

    • If there’s one thing Jason Kidd has been known to figure out, it’s 3-point shooting.


  2. I’m really glad to see multiple days worth of posts, I missed reading bucksketball. I hope everything is going well with you guys. I’m really liking question week, so far they have all been questions I’ve been asking myself all summer. I keep going back and forth on this one particularly, I think it’s fairly safe to say they aren’t gonna be one of the best 3 point shooting teams, but I could see them being better than last year, especially with further devolvopment from Giannis, Parker, and maybe even mcw. I could also see them being worse, especially if Copeland doesn’t shoot like he did in his first two seasons, and after being stabbed, I’m not convinced he will. I do really like the Vasquez pick up and wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the season at 2 until Parker comes back. Overall I’m going into the season with cautious optimism, I think this core team is gonna be really good, I’m just not convinced it’s gonna be next year. I expect them to stumble a bit out of the gate as they try to find who their shooters are and build chemistry with the new guys.

  3. I think Jabari can definitely be an outside threat. He already has a good mid-range shot, I think its just a matter of getting more minutes this year and experience. I have really high expectations for Jabari to be the star of the franchise.

  4. Vasquez will give you the scoring you need look for about 12-14 avg in this offense and 6+ assists ..I think he will eventually start…
    Been watching MC-W clips and he does miss lots of open players, does not see the play developing, anticipation,that is just youth, he will get that.
    You will see the difference between a guy who can run an offense and one who is learning. GV might be the best think that happened to MC-W as far as learning the game.
    I assume Kidd got GV for a purpose , he wanted him last year but he had a good offer from Toronto.
    I see another playoff for GV in Milwaukee . He already has been in three playoffs in his 5 year career as a big contributor.
    Good luck Bucks,,,