Mirza Teletovic, a 6-foot-9 forward who averaged 12.2 points per game for the Phoenix Suns last season and previously played for current Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd, has apparently reached a verbal agreement with the Bucks on a three-year, $30 million contract.
I’ve spent the last four hours of my life dedicated to Teletovic. I’ve watched hundreds of shots. Read about his initial signing with the Nets. Carefully observed him finding cutters over smaller defenders and lobbing outlet passes. I’ve seen him tap rebounds to teammates while barely getting off the ground. I’ve spent a lot of time with Mirza Teletovic clips and statistics today.
After my research, I can confidently write at least one thing about him: He’s a jump shooter.
This guy shoots a lot of jump shots. Tons. Of his 777 total field goal attempts last season, two out of every three of those was a jump shot. And the vast majority of those jump shots were from behind the 3-point line. 61.7% of his attempts last season were from three, which put him in the company of prominent shooter types like Danny Green and Channing Frye. The standard comparison for Teletovic has been Ryan Anderson, but judging from last season, he’s even more Ryan Anderson than Anderson himself. Teletovic plants himself on the perimeter and successfully shoots jumpers.
Teletovic is a professional shooter. Shooting is what got him to the NBA and kept him there NBA. He grabs rebounds at a below-average rate for a power forward. He’s not much of a passer. He isn’t the sort of guy who protects the rim or challenges shots in the paint and on top of that, he’s too slow to chase most small forwards around on the perimeter.
Per Basketball-Reference, Teletovic was one of the worst defenders on the Suns, with a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of -2.7. The only players with worse numbers were Jordan McRae and Cory Jefferson, two guys who played fewer than ten games for the team. He has little mobility and won’t be bringing that scrappy physicality and charge taking skill that made Ersan Ilyasova a Milwaukee favorite and adequate defender for many years. He only took one charge last season. Zach Lowe mentioned Teletovic’s defense when writing about the Suns’ decision to start both Tyson Chandler and Alex Len late last season:
Just start one of Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer, even if it makes Chandler feel bad — just as long as you do not play Teletovic at small forward.
But, the shooting. Teletovic is one of 56 players who has hit at least 300 threes in the last three seasons and among that group, he was 25th in 3-point percentage. His numbers could be even better, but he missed time with a pulmonary embolism in 2014-15, which may have affected his performance before he was shut down. He’s similar to the aforementioned Frye, but slower and shorter. He’s Steve Novak with the ability to at least perform non-shooting tasks at minimum NBA level. Like many stretch bigs, he’s most comfortable planting himself above the break when he fires away. His shot charts from the last three season show as much:
Jon Leuer is another ex-Sun stretch big. He landed a similar deal with the Pistons just after the Bucks signed Teletovic in the past week. Leuer got to the free throw line more frequently, was a better finisher in the restricted area and a better pick and roll player. Last season was also the first where he attempted over 100 threes. He hit 38%. It’s safe to say Leuer – a former Bucks second-round pick – is a more well-rounded player overall, but a much less prolific 3-point shooter.
It’s interesting how the Suns used Teletovic vs. Leuer last season. Leuer was the roll man in pick and rolls in 23.5% of his possessions, whereas Teletovic was the roll man just 8.9% of the time. But Teletovic was Phoenix’s chief spot-up option. Teletovic led the Suns in spot-up field goal attempts last season with 276 attempts. He finished in the 88th percentile for points per possession on spot-up plays at 1.14 PPP. Phoenix didn’t play the two of them together very often – just 450 minutes on the year – but they didn’t really fill the same role either. Leuer was kind of transitioning into a stretch role, whereas Teletovic only knew that role. That’s why Teletovic is more comfortable as a shooter and potentially a safer bet for Milwaukee.
Teletovic’s 3-point shooting expertise matters a great deal when comparing these players or any other free agent forwards the Bucks could have been targeting. They’re paying a premium to get someone they can trust to make threes. Last season, the Bucks hoped Chris Copeland would be able to deliver as a 3-point shooter. He couldn’t even get on the court. They’ve seen enough out of Teletovic to know he can at least keep himself on the court defensively and as a rebounder.
So, that’s why the Bucks signed Mirza Teletovic. A season ago, they were a terrible 3-point shooting team – bottom ten in percentage and last in the league in attempts. Teletovic was one of the league’s most proven 3-point shooting free agents, and he plays a position where Milwaukee needed to add some depth. The Bucks were regularly trotting Johnny O’Bryant out there as a backup power forward this past December and January.
Now the Bucks will use the veteran Teletovic as a primary backup at the power forward position. If he doesn’t shoot 35% or better from deep, he’s borderline not worth playing. But Milwaukee is counting on him – alongside Matthew Dellavedova – to be the shooter they were missing last season and a good fit alongside its promising young trio.