Corey Maggette finally speaks...but will he start?

We've had plenty of conversation about Corey Maggette since the Bucks acquired him from Golden State a few weeks ago, but of late it's been less about his game and more about...well, his whereabouts. Since June 22, the Bucks have drafted, signed or traded for seven players, and only two of them haven't had a formal press conference to announce their arrival to Milwaukee. One was second round pick Jerome Jordan, which is understandable given that the Bucks sold their rights to him within hours of picking him 44th overall on draft night. 

But it had been a bit of a mystery why the only other player who hadn't been heard from was Maggette, the $10 million per year scoring machine acquired from Golden State before the draft. Despite the Maggette trade going down two weeks before John Salmons and Drew Gooden officially signed (and showed up all smiles at the Bradley Center), we had yet to hear a peep from Maggette--no presser, no radio interviews, no newspaper quotes.

Only last week came news that Maggette's physical had revealed a relatively minor ankle injury, requiring arthroscopic surgery and thus delaying official approval of the trade by over a week. That put to bed the conspiracy theories about the Bucks working on a follow-on trade, and only yesterday did Maggette finally make his Milwaukee media debut in an interview with WSSP (thanks to Speedingtime for the link). There's not a whole to be gleaned from the interview except that he's hanging out in L.A.. as his ankle heals, though if you like awkward questions, you'll probably enjoy hearing him asked "how do you respond to people saying you don't try on defense?" and "do you think Miwaukee is a terrible, boring city?" Welcome to Milwaukee, Corey.

Maggette will score, but will he start?

No one doubts Maggette's ability to score effectively. Though some might scoff at scoring numbers put up in Don Nelson's system, consider that Maggette has averaged over 20 pts/40 minutes in eight straight seasons, and has been exceptionally efficient as well (career 58.1% true shooting) thanks to his incredible ability to get to the line (over 10 fta/40 minutes six straight seasons). To put that in perspective, the Bucks as a team averaged ony 20.4 fta/game last year--only 17 ft/40 minutes for five guys at a time.

Still, it's very possible Maggette is utilized as a super sixth man rather than as a starter, a role he's excelled in (if not exactly embraced) with both the Warriors and Clippers. In discussing Gooden and the Bucks' improved rebounding, John Hammond mentioned on WSSP this week that Andrew Bogut, Gooden and Carlos Delfino would give the Bucks a frontline with three strong rebounders and defenders. Some might debate that claim about Gooden's defense, but all the stats check out on the rebounding side. What's more interesting is that he alluded to Delfino starting ahead of Maggette at small forward, ignoring Maggette entirely despite the fact that he's also one of the league's best rebounding threes. His actual words don't put anything in stone, but they seem telling:

"If you look at our frontline initially, if you want to pencil in Carlos Delfino for now, for discussion's sake..."

Hammond is always quick to note that Skiles is the one who determines who plays and who doesn't, but you have to think his comments are broadly indicative of the organization's overall thinking right now. And while Maggette is no doubt better compensated and more talented in a general sense than Carlitos, he seems a much clearer fit as a second unit scoring machine than a starter trying to integrate with an already-successful unit. I'd be surprised if Maggette doesn't play 25-30 mpg regardless of how he's used, but having more of those minutes come while the Bucks' other scoring threats are resting could have a key balancing effect for a team that was just 23rd in the league in points per possession.

If it ain't broke...

In 258 minutes as a unit last year, Skiles' first choice combination of Jennings/Salmons/Delfino/Mbah a Moute/Bogut outscored opponents 482-422, good for a whopping 14.3 pts/100 possession differential. To give you a frame of reference, the Bucks overall outscored opponents by a margin of 104.9 to103.1 per 100 possessions, so the performance of their starting unit after Salmons arrived was nothing short of fantastic.

Nobody would argue Defino was the catalyst for the Bucks' incredible finish, but he's exactly the kind of quality role player you can play alongside Jennings and Salmons, both of whom need to be handling the ball a significant amount to be effective.  Given the need to also get Bogut touches in the post, it's crucial to have at least a couple starters who can be productive without requiring a lot touches or shots, and both Delfino and Gooden fit the bill. As we saw a year ago, Delfino's a capable defender, good rebounder, willing passer, and the perfect guy to park in the corners (a ridicuous 37/66 in the left, 30/82 in the right). Mbah a Moute also fits the mold of complementary player, but I'm not convinced the defensive upgrade he provides over Delfino makes up for his limited offensive game, particularly at small forward. Hopefully Luc brings a more consistent jumper next season, but until that happens he looks more like a situational player brought in to defend mobile PFs and star wings.

Maggette's boost off the bench

Another nice part about Maggette coming off the bench is that he's done it before. Despite his prolific scoring figures, he came off the bench in 21 of 70 games last year and has rotated between the bench and starting lineup for most of his career. While Maggette maintains that he's a starter, he's been both accepting and productive as a sixth man. It's easy to take that for granted--in theory these guys should adapt to whatever the coach asks them, right? But then consider how easy it would have been to make Michael Redd a sixth man before all his injuries. Don't underestimate the politics of benching a one-time franchise player who has a $90 million contract.

Deploying Maggette as a sixth man also gives the Bucks more freedom with their second unit options. A year ago the Bucks were incredibly dependent on Luke Ridnour to provide scoring off the bench, and we also shouldn't forget that Jerry Stackhouse got an absurd number of plays called for him considering his age and declining effectiveness as a scorer. Both guys could still carry the Bucks' offense in spurts, but Ridnour's career year is unlikely to be matched and Stackhouse can't consistently bring it night in and night out anymore. A year ago, Maggette shot better as a starter (53%) but still put up good numbers off the bench (15.9 ppg in 25 mpg on 47.6% shooting), and in 08/09 he was actually more effective off the bench (18.6 ppg on 48.3% shooting in 29 minutes vs. 18.7 ppg on 42.7% shooting in 35 mpg).

The presence of Maggette, and to a lesser extent Chris Douglas-Roberts, has made re-signing Stackhouse unnecessary (obviously) and also decreased the pressure for the Bucks to re-sign Ridnour, whose scoring knack is no longer as useful. Hammond has sounded increasingly resigned to Ridnour finding a fat contract elsewhere, though his tone also seems to suggest the Bucks aren't too broken up about it. It's a weird combination of effusive praise and cheerful indifference, almost like a college coach watching one of his players leave for the pros.

"I think Luke's going to have a great opportunity for himself--and he deserves it.  He deserves the contract he might be receiving from another team.  It's not that we're not going to continue discussing things with him, we will. But I think it's going tobe pretty difficult for us and we'd be thrilled for him if he gets a great opportunity."

Hammond's resignation was more understandable a couple weeks ago before the Lakers and Knicks solved their point problems, but it's a bit tougher to figure out Ridnour's next move now that both of his most obvious suitors seem to have moved on. Miami would no doubt also be thrilled to add Frodo to their ridiculous core of SuperFriends, but it's tough to say if Ridnour is up for leaving money on the table given he's 29 and coming off the most productive season of his career.

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