The timing seems strange. Corey Maggette just had his best game in what seems like a year and half, but after Milwaukee's 90-77 loss in Chicago, Maggette didn't sugar-coat things. He spoke to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal:
"If I had to grade it, I'd grade it an F," Maggette said of his time with the Bucks. "I'm just going to be honest. We've still got a lot of time. We've still got to stay positive."
Harsh words, ones that can be read from a whole mess of angles. There's no denying Maggette's role in Milwaukee has been largely a mystery to this point, marked by a string of performances as inconsistent as the rest of the team. He was supposed to be a potential 6th Man of the Year candidate, a guy who would be asked to do little more than get to the rim and get to the line. He was never expected to buy into the defensive system entirely. As the quintessential "instant-offense" bench player, it wouldn't be an issue if he occasionally got burned on a slow rotation or lost his man on a backdoor cut.
Sadly, things have not worked out as planned. Before you respond to this poll, read on.
Part of the prediction has come true. Maggette hasn't totally bought into any sort of defensive system. Heck, he hasn't even seen the court with any regularity. Regardless of the effect a string of injuries may have had, it's been pretty difficult to argue against him being in the metaphorical doghouse, and the Bulls game might have simply represented the rock-bottom of circumstances: the Bucks are so riddled with injuries that few options remain. True offensive threats are at an absolute premium in Milwaukee these days, especially when Andrew Bogut misses almost everything he throws up. The fact that Maggette has been relegated to a last-resort speaks to how much of a wreck the team has been to this point.
The stats say he hasn't been awful, but defensive statistics hardly tell a complete story, and there's no denying that swapping Maggette out for almost any comparable player on Milwaukee's roster is probably a defensive improvement. But whatever level of performance he's managing on that end evidently isn't satisfactory to the people in charge, and it's enough to keep out of games. What other explanation can there be, when the offense has been nothing if not ineffective to this point?
True two-way superstars are incredibly rare. Guys like Michael Jordan or Tim Duncan, who augment brilliant offensive games with spectacular abilities to frustrate their opponents on the other end. Corey Maggette will never qualify for such a title; it's laughable to even bring the point up. But the Bucks' defense was best in the league early in the year when he was logging more minutes. If Scott Skiles is a standout defensive coach, one defensively-challenged bench player shouldn't be an insurmountable obstacle. Doc Rivers runs Ray Allen out in the starting lineup every night, for cryin' out loud!
Yet here in Milwaukee, the perception is that you have to earn your playing time by showing a dedication to defense and playing hard. In words: as the defense goes, so goes the offense. I'm here to offer a counter arguement: the Bucks are 12-18. They have the worst offense in the league and are dangerously close to a historically poor shooting year. The percentage of shots they take from 16-23 feet is ninth-highest in the NBA, even though they are the fourth-worst shooting team from that range. Only the New Jersey Nets shoot worse at the rim. If there's a crisis in Milwaukee, it's not an underperforming defense. It's an offense that needs a jump start--not from a car battery, but from a nuclear generator.
Is Corey Maggette the answer to these problems? Not on his own. But remember how excited we all were about the prospect of running a guy out on the floor who would just go go go score score score? There were reasons for that excitement. Maggette remains, when he's playing well, a uniquely dangerous player. So why has he fallen apart in Milwaukee?
I spy a couple explanations. Although his shooting numbers on long two's are mostly in line with his career numbers, he's taking eight shots per 40 minutes from that distance, a huge jump from the last few years. He's also shooting his fewest shots at the rim in 4 years. We've heard a lot about floor spacing in Milwaukee, and how a general lack thereof is causing trouble, allowing defenses to collapse on anybody who gets close to the basket. Why doesn't Maggette get the same concession? In Golden State, Maggette was often playing with Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson, constant shooting threats who could prevent defenses from converging on the rim every time Corey barreled towards it. Ever since Carlos Delfino went down, opponents have made clear their intention to let Milwaukee's shooters shoot, and it certainly hasn't burned them.
In response, I propose a radical idea: start Maggette. Run out a lineup of Dooling (for the time being), Salmons, Maggette, Ilyasova, and Bogut. While Dooling may lack Brandon Jennings' playmaking ability (I use "may" literally there, as many have begun to question Jennings' playmaking ability), he's still a capable point. With Dooling, Salmons, and Ilyasova offering at least a threat of perimeter shooting, this is probably the best floor-spacing lineup the Bucks have right now. If Maggette goes selfish, barreling toward the rim every time he gets the ball, then bench him. But this idea that our defense is worth preserving at the expensive of one of our most talented offensive players is quickly wearing out.
It may be too early to worry about things like this, considering the Bucks are still totally alive in the Eastern Conference Playoff race. A lot of people feel that Maggette just isn't a Milwaukee guy, and that his success will always be held back by a level of discontent. But if we grant that things aren't going well right now, then don't we have to consider how we'd feel if they were?
Maggette gives his experience an "F." As a fan with high expectations, would you grade things much better?