Good Cop / Bad Cop: The Beno Udrih Edition

This good cop/bad cop series is meant to drop all pretenses and provide a transparent discussion about the reasons for hope and pessimism about each player on the roster. By giving insight into the competing arguments on various players on the roster, we can hopefully arrive at more reasonable overall assessments and expectations. Enjoy!

The following quote from Sactown Royalty's post-trade piece on Beno Udrih simultaneously pulls us in two completely different directions:

Two years ago, trading Beno might have been met with joy around these parts after a disastrous 2008-09 campaign for both the team and for Beno as a player.  But he redeemed himself in the eyes of many with his effort and consistency these last two years, and while he wasn't our most talented or exciting player, he was a guy you could count on each and every night.

Like many of the players already on the Bucks roster, Beno Udrih apparently has both the capability to play a season worth of "disastrous" basketball, and the potential to put together a full campaign of consistently above-average play. The "anything could happen" logic probably doesn't inspire much confidence among Bucks fans who just suffered through a season of mostly disastrous basketball, but a new player certainly deserves a fresh look. How does Beno Udrih fit in with the Bucks, and what type of performance should we expect from Beno going forward? Let's take a closer look...

Good Cop: First, we need to address the fact that he comes pre-packaged with an awesome nickname. Although the crew at Sactown Royalty came up with more than a few good names for Beno, and Kings TV analyst Jerry Reynolds often used the line "Beno Draino" to describe his successful stop-and-pop jumpers, I think there is an indisputably great nickname that should be used if Udrih plays well in a Bucks uniform. In my opinion, Beno Udrih must be referred to as Draino Udrih for as long as he keeps his TS% among the top 5 on the team. [*Note: This brings me to a larger nickname etiquette issue I have resolved during my lockout free time: limited role players and below-average performers simply should not be allowed to be referred to by nicknames (apology to Jon Brockman and very nearly to his teammate Brandon Jennings). I strongly believe nicknames should be merit-based awards bestowed by fans only on deserving players, because communicating extra affection for bad players just doesn't feel right to me]. 

The really good news for Bucks fans is that Udrih shouldn't have any trouble meeting that nickname performance threshold. Last season, Beno Udrih posted the 5th highest shooting efficiency (58.8 TS%) among all NBA PGs who played in at least 40 games and logged at least 15 minutes per game. Two seasons ago he ranked 15th. Just for reference, Brandon Jennings ranked 47th (out of 55 qualifying PGs) last season, and he ranked 55th (dead last) two seasons ago. Furthermore, Frank has pointed out that Beno will specifically help the Bucks improve upon their league-worst shooting at the rim (57.9%), as he led all point guards in finishing at the rim with a startling 73.6% (min 40 games, 20+ mpg) in 2010-11 after finishing behind only Steve Nash in 2009-10 with 71.3%. This past season, Udrih posted a TS% higher than any player on the Bucks roster, and even in 2009-2010 the only regular Bucks player who shot better than Udrih did was Luke Ridnour (57.0% for Luke vs. 56.6% for Udrih in 09-10). In other words, I have a good feeling that we will be able to call this man Draino Udrih for as long as he is in a Bucks uniform.

Also, did I mention he is younger and cheaper than John Salmons?

Bad Cop: His past two seasons have been pretty good by any measure, but shouldn't we be skeptical of a guy who suddenly put together two nice statistical seasons after being an underwhelming role player for most of his career? The shooting numbers look great on paper, but I see two obstacles impeding his reproduction of these efficiency percentages for the Bucks:

(1) Udrih's shooting numbers came on teams that won a total of 49 games over the past two seasons. Those Kings teams earned a combined record of 49-115 in the 09-10 and 10-11 seasons, with an aggregate winning percentage of .299. Why is this a source of skepticism for his individual achievements? This simple answer is that good numbers are much easier to post in low-leverage situations. When NBA teams get up by healthy double digit margins on bad teams like the Kings, the intensity level typically goes down. Backups and fringe starters often come into the game with the task of merely holding the lead, rather than increasing the margin, so letting guys like Udrih hit softly contested stop and pop jumpers in a 15 point game really isn't an issue if the teams are just harmlessly trading baskets until they get to go home. It's difficult to say what portion of Udrih's numbers were posted in garbage time situations, but the Kings were certainly blown out more than a few times over the past two seasons. Will he be the same player when the intensity level is higher and the Bucks are playing tight games down the stretch? Here are his clutch numbers (expressed in a per 48 minutes of clutch time format) for this past season, with "clutch" being defined as 4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points:

 Team  Player
Gm
Min
+/-
+/-
Fga
Fg%
3pA
3p%
Fta
Ft%
Pts
Ast'd
Reb
Ast
T/o
Blk
Stl

    SAC    Udrih  47 171 -48 -14 10.1 .389 3.4 .250 7.6 88% 15.5 50% 4.2 5.6 2.0 0.3 1.4

Although the FG% doesn't look too good, here are the PGs who shot a worse FG% in at least 75 minutes of clutch play last season (in descending order below Beno): Devin Harris Rodney Stuckey, Steve Nash, Kyle Lowry, Jordan Farmar, Ty Lawson, John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Jamal Crawford, DJ Augustin, Raymond Felton, Lou Williams, Derrick Fisher, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Jose Calderon, and Luke Ridnour. Now take a look at Jennings' specific numbers for the sake of direct comparison.

 Team  Player
Gm
Min
+/-
+/-
Fga
Fg%
3pA
3p%
Fta
Ft%
Pts
Ast'd
Reb
Ast
T/o
Blk
Stl

MIL        Jennings 36 141 1 +0 24.2 .310 7.5 .227 14.0 87% 29.0 40% 6.5 2.7 2.7 1.0 1.7

Beno outperforms Jennings in just about every listed category, but Jennings owns the advantage on both raw statistical +/- and adjusted statistical +/- in the clutch. Although it is dangerous to extrapolate such a small sample into +/- ratings that often require years worth of data to become reliable, and a disparity in the quality of teammates undoubtedly comes into play as well, we can still see that Jennings always kept his team in the game while Beno couldn't prevent his teammates from pulling the whole squad down in close contests. This is not to say that I wouldn't trust Beno to operate the offense in clutch situations with the Bucks, because he owns the edge in production over Jennings (and anyone who saw a Kings game or two last season knows Cousins and Evans bear most of the responsibility for the negative clutch +/-), but I want to bring to light the issue of how garbage time stats can be an entirely different animal than the points earned in high-leverage situations. 

(2) After playing the last four seasons in a run-and-gun style offense for the Kings, Udrih will need to readjust his game to fit the more structured half-court approach of Skiles and the Bucks. You have to wonder whether his recent career peaks in production and efficiency are related to the fast-and-loose style of play promoted in Sacramento. Indeed, the Kings have played in the open court a lot over the course of the last two seasons, ranking top-10 in the NBA in pace each of those years. Meanwhile, the Bucks have been in the bottom half of the league in terms of pace over the same period of time, ranking 19th in 09-10 and 25th in 10-11. Beno did play for similarly slow-paced teams as a limited role player during his first three NBA seasons with the Spurs, but he posted two of the three worst True Shooting percentages of his career, the three worst Field Goal percentages of his career, and two of the three worst Three-Point percentages of his career during those years. Could this be chalked up to youth rather than issues with playing in half-court oriented offenses? Sure, but the issue is certainly one worth watching closely while he attempts to integrate himself into the rotation.

Good Cop: Good points, but Udrih did work well on those Spurs teams as a role player and picked up two rings for his efforts, so I think he can contribute to a winning basketball team. As for how his role will shape up for the Bucks, I see Udrih putting the necessary pressure on Brandon Jennings to perform at a high level night in and night out, ala Luke Ridnour circa 2009-10. He's not going to overwhelm you with his skills or his talent, but it seems he has really discovered what he does well and has tailored his game to accentuate his best traits...ala Luke Ridnour circa 2009-10. When the offense gets bogged down, clogged up, or loses its flow, I anticipate that a dose of Draino should do the trick on most nights.

Bad Cop: Will he actually get on the court? In what seems like a constantly recurring theme under Skiles, there is a distinct possibility that Beno's defense isn't good enough to earn him meaningful minutes. It feels absurd to suggest that Skiles would let another offensive talent rot away on the bench while the Bucks struggle to score, but how can we dismiss the thought after watching last season. In the last four campaigns, with Udrih playing more than 30 minutes per game, the Kings have ranked 25th, 30th, 21st, and 20th in team defensive efficiency. Given the amount of minutes he played, it's hard to write those rankings off as Beno simply being dragged down by his teammates. In fact, we can be pretty confident that he bears at least some responsibility for those bad defensive teams, as he allowed his PG counterparts to produce a 17.9 PER during the 2009-10 season and a PER of 17.5 during the 2010-11 season, each time leading to a net negative production when compared to his own outputs. I can agree that Beno could work well in the Ridnour role, but there is always the looming issue that Skiles might stand in his way. 

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