Bucks' Big Four: Highly Offensive

Remember that story about Scott Skiles' small forwards? How he's coached the likes of Shawn Marion and Luol Deng? What could possibly prevent you from recalling that rousing Friday night of reading, I don't know.

In any event, the recent big trade reminded me. Now, with Richard Jefferson in the fold, as well as Joe Alexander and Desmond Mason, the Bucks have quickly turned a need into a surplus. And Skiles yet again has a premier small forward at his disposal.

The trade also netted the Bucks a player that just might feature in a fearsome offensive foursome. And I mean "offensive" in a very good way.

No team in the NBA finished the season with four 15.0+ point scorers in 2007-08, according to our research.

With the addition of Jefferson (22.6 ppg last year), the Bucks have a legitimate chance to boast a quartet of guys that could hit the 15.0 per game mark next season, along with Michael Redd (22.7), Mo Williams (17.2), and Andrew Bogut (14.3).

Offensive juggernaut in the making?

Before you get too excited, consider that there remains a distinct possibility that the team will make some personnel moves before the season. More importantly, having perhaps the most potent scoring foursome could go for naught if the club doesn't improve vastly on the defensive side of the ball. We saw that in painful detail all throughout last season, perhaps most strikingly and recently on Tax Day Eve.

Think of it this way: The Knicks weren't that far away from having four guys get 15.0 each last season. The problem was that Jamal Crawford (20.6), Zach Randolph (17.6), Stephon Marbury (13.9), and Eddy Curry (13.2) turned the ball over at least twice per game each, contributed heavily to an offense that rarely flowed, and provided roughly the same defensive resistance as Kenyon Martin... when he's sitting down.

And so it must be said: The new Bucks' big four also turned the ball over more than a couple times each last year, and when you have the worst defense in the NBA, no one is excused, though Bogut made wonderful strides. Jefferson can't cure that type of defensive deficiency all by his lonesome either.

What then will make the Bucks deviate from having a knack for playing like the Knicks? Waving your fist at the television didn't work in December, crying in your Miller Genuine Draft at the game didn't work in February, and getting some fresh air and checking the box score the next morning didn't change anything come April. It's confounding, spending time laughing at the Knickerbockers' fiasco before coming to the realization that the Bucks weren't all that different in the end, aside from payroll and media scrutiny. A slightly worse defense and barely better offense resulted in three more wins for the Bucks than the Knicks, hardly a measurable difference.

There is reason to hope Jefferson will offer some nice things defensively, but that's difficult to project with much specificity. There are however a couple specific areas in which the addition of Jefferson and subtraction of Yi and Simmons will help the Bucks' offense run more smoothly and efficiently, in addition to his obvious pure scoring exploits.

The Bucks had a below average offense last season, ranking 22nd in efficiency. One way to help improve efficiency is to get to the line with more regularity, assuming you're not Dan Gadzuric. Though it would be pretty cool if you were.

Last season, Michael Redd made more than double the free throws per game (5.4) of any other Buck. Mo Williams, a guy who didn't even attempt a one-pointer in the first five games of the season, finished second with 2.5 free throws converted per contest.

All was not fine at the line, something readily apparent even in December.

RJ, who finished ninth in the NBA with 6.6 free throws made per game, is here to the easy-points rescue. His 79.8% accuracy makes them pretty easy indeed, though getting to the line in the first place is no walk in Lake Park. Jefferson attacks the basket with conviction, a sight that is all-too-often foreign for Bucks fans.

A shell of himself despite being shy of his 30th birthday, Simmons didn't make a free throw per game last season. And while he was comfortable once at the line, Yi hit only 1.8 per game, typically more content to loft a deep jumper than mix it up down low.

A subtler difference between Jefferson and the departed duo is how they take care of the ball. Jefferson boasted a pedestrian 1.27 assist/turnover ratio last year, but he had the ball in his hands a ton and was responsible for carrying the team's offense. Simmons had a 1.03 and Yi a 0.61, two of the team's worst assist/turnover ratios.

I bring up this statistic because it's a strong indicator relating to a team's overall offensive efficiency. Just check out the clubs at the top and bottom of last season's assist/turnover ratio rankings. The teams high on the list are mostly dynamic offenses, and very good teams overall in fact. Not so much for the team's at the bottom, the Bucks (24th) included.

The trade, combined with a full year of Ramon Sessions, whose 3.53 ratio was easily the team's best last season, should see that the Bucks move on up this statistical ranking.

The Bucks had the NBA's worst defense last year, so it's both natural and appropriate that we focus our critiques in that area. We must remember however that the historically bad defense merely overshadowed an offense that underachieved, and was a significant portion of the 26-win season. Jefferson gives the Bucks not only another scorer, but many reasons to believe the offense will take a sharp turn for the better.

  • As a sidenote on the trade, it's interesting (worrying?) to see that Jefferson shot a rather woeful 42.5 % in the clutch while Yi Jianlian (57.9 %) and Bobby Simmons (57.1 %) rated among the NBA leaders in the "clutch," which 82games.com defines as "4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by 5 points." I'll take my chances with Jefferson on the court however, any time during a game, and  cross my fingers that the percentages will even out a bit this season, again giving the Bucks the "clutch" play. I also am happy to have RJ's far superior throughout an entire game, since the points count the same in the first quarter as the fourth.
  • I'll also note that Charlie Villanueva, though he may be on the way out, currently provides another worthy offensive threat for the Bucks, despite his underwhelming point per game totals (11.7 last season). Anyone that's seen the kid play knows he's in the NBA because he can truly burn up a basket when he's feeling right. If you haven't yet witnessed VNuv on a good night, we recommend you tune in to a Bucks-Raptors game.
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