Stephen Jackson Edition: Milwaukee Bucks Success/Failure Project

The Milwaukee Bucks added veteran shooting guard Stephen Jackson to the team in a surprise three-team trade on draft day, and at the time the move generated a measure of optimism among fans. One of the most redeeming qualities about Jackson in the eyes of many Bucks fans digesting the trade was that Stephen Jackson wasn't John Salmons, whom Bucks fans and analysts had grown weary of after he signed a long-term deal with the team last off-season. In essence, Jackson will replace Salmons in the lineup for 2011-12. Out with the old and in with the... other old?

Here is why I am doing this: The Introductory Piece

Here is what I am doing: For each player on the Bucks roster, we will take basic statistical measures (FG%, 3PT%, TS%, Assist Rate, Turnover Rate, PER, etc.) and define ranges for each measure that qualify as either success, tolerable performance, or failure for the player in question.

To be fair, different ranges and different measures will be used for different players and diverse positional groups. It isn't fair to hold Brandon Jennings up to the standards of Steve Nash or Derrick Rose, but is it fair to say he needs to be better than league averages for a PG to be considered a success? I will try to create reasonable starting points for a discussion and explain why I chose a certain number as a cutoff.

Here is what I have already done: Brandon Jennings Edition

Star-divide

After combing over the numbers and comparing Stephen Jackson directly to John Salmons, it might actually be a problem that Stephen Jackson isn't John Salmons. First off, Jackson (33 years old) is nearly two full years older than Salmons and a more expensive contract on a yearly basis. When comparing the careers of the two players, Jackson actually sports a lower career true shooting percentage average, lower field-goal percentage average and lower three-point percentage average. In other words, he is not a master of offensive efficiency.

The numbers aren't good by any means, but at least Jackson has been putting his numbers up against NBA starting talent at all times and has been good enough to become a focal option on multiple squads over the years. Salmons simply couldn't handle the extra responsibility that Jackson has been shouldering with some measure of success for nearly a decade in the NBA. So, if the comparison to Salmons doesn't get us to a very comfortable place in the end, where does this addition leave the Bucks?

The thing to remember is that Jackson is 33 years old. NBA players typically don't get better heading into their mid 30s, and although Jackson has never really relied on elite athleticism to prop up his game, there still isn't a very good reason to think he will have a personal Renaissance this late in his career.

With this fact in mind, I looked to Jackson's best shooting efficiency numbers for a single season after turning 30, and then compared it to five-year NBA average shooting numbers for swingmen (SGs and SFs). Unfortunately for the Bucks, he has been steadily declining since turning 30.

Looking to the chart, the thresholds for failure are set at Jackson's best season over 30. It would be unfair to think he should perform as well as he did in his prime, but using the over numbers for seasons over 30 creates a proper context of accountability for his performance. Jackson has never been particularly efficient anyways, but if he falls any further off the table from his "old man" standards, the shooting performance must be considered a failure. As you can see by the marks on the chart, Jackson hasn't had many successes under my terms, but the bar can't be set too low. On the flip side, the thresholds for success are set by the five-year averages of NBA swingmen, because anything above average for his position has to be considered a success.

Here's the visual aid:

Even if fans don't have much hope for a good offensive season from their new starting SG, the real reason he has been billed as a positive addition is his experience. With a reputation for taking big shots and a style of play that lends itself to late game isolation looks, Jackson will be counted on as the primary offensive option in the clutch. Sure he is an NBA vet with a reputation for being clutch, but is there any evidence to back it up? In fact, what would it even mean to be clutch?

To find out, I crunched the numbers four years worth of clutch data for Jackson and for the league at 82games.com. Recall that the site defines clutch situations as:

4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points.

To make the analysis more meaningful, I dealt specifically with high volume clutch shooters across the league over the past four seasons. These represent the trusted starters and late game players across the NBA and roughly amounted to a pool of 110 players per season with regard to Clutch FG%, and the top 75 players in attempts for Clutch 3PT% per season. The thresholds are for failure are set at Jackson's clutch averages over the past four seasons, while success is defined by the NBA averages. Again, the sobering revelation is that Jackson has been a below-average clutch player for quite a while, and the past two seasons are no exception to that trend. Here is a closer look at the clutch data, if you can stomach it:

Stephen Jackson Clutch Shooting (Past 4 Seasons)
Clutch FG%
Season NBA Average* Stephen Jackson Diff.
2007-2008 43.1 47.4 4.3
2008-2009 42.9 35.6 -7.3
2009-2010 42.9 30.7 -12.2
2010-2011 42.6 35.7 -6.9
Clutch 3Pt%
Season NBA Average** Stephen Jackson Diff.
2007-2008 34.3 45.7 11.4
2008-2009 36.6 16.7 -19.9
2009-2010 31.3 31.4 0.1
2010-2011 33.2 27.6 -5.6

* NBA Average For Clutch FG% Based On All Players With At Least 100 Minutes Of Clutch Play

** NBA Average For Clutch 3PT% Based On Top 75 Players In Terms Of Clutch Time 3PT Attempts.

So there it is for everyone to see. Jackson has likely been surviving on reputation alone for the recent past, and not much should be expected from him by fans in 2011-12 despite his pay grade and high profile. To expect good things would just set yourself up for a letdown. If he can do anything better than an average NBA SG it is probably best to consider that contribution a pleasant surprise. I hate to break the bad news in such an emphatic way, but I can't really see this move working out particularly well for the Bucks. In fact, this project, in tandem with my roster indexing project, has opened me up to the idea that Hammond really targeted Shaun Livingston from the Bobcats and simply bit the bullet on Jackson to make it happen. Dunleavy passing Jackson on the depth chart would be just fine by me, but hey, maybe S-Jax will prove the trend wrong.


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