After using Charlie Bell in a three guard starting lineup in Saturday's win, Larry Krystkowiak will play the matchups against Denver on Wednesday and has opted to give the bigger Bobby Simmons a chance to start against Carmelo Anthony. It's a move I've been hoping we'd see, as the starting lineup with Desmond Mason had been playing at a deficit all year: 104.8 pts/100 possessions scored vs 110.5 allowed. With Mason out and the Bucks looking to shake things up anyway, Bell did a nice job distributing the ball on Saturday, piling up seven assists without taking a single shot from the field. But as disruptive as he is defensively, Bell's insertion into the starting lineup makes the Bucks rather small at the three spot, and long-term shuffling Bell to the off guard spot and Redd to small forward isn't the answer.
Of course, Simmons's promotion has unfortunately little to do with his actual production this year. In 21 mpg he's averaging 6.5 ppg while shooting .422/.286/.696, all told helping to explain his remarkably poor PER of just 9.43. Ironically, only Bell (6.93) has been less efficient in PER terms, but at least Bell has been providing defensive intensity. Physically Simmons isn't quite back from the assorted foot troubles that plagued him for nearly two years, looking a step (or three) slow on defense especially. So don't be confused when you hear someone on RealGM refer to "Lt. Dan"--they're not complimenting Dan Gadzuric on his military-like discipline.
His slow start to the season aside, there are still some reasons for Simmons to start. First, with Mason out he's the only real small forward on the roster at the moment. Secondly, given Simmons is making $30 million over the next three years, the Bucks have every incentive to get him back in the swing of things, if for no other reason than to make him slightly less untradeable. And while on the one hand Krystkowiak was adamant about rewarding the hard work and defensive energy provided by Desmond Mason, his patience didn't pay off with improved production from the starting unit. Below is a table from BasketballValue.com, a site that tracks team units and their relative efficiency:
In spite of Simmons' shortcomings, the Bucks have actually played well in the short amount of time when he has played with the other starters, outscoring opponents by a total of 122-101. It's a small sample size--less than a full game--so it's not something to get carried away with. But what is more interesting (and troubling) is that of the ten lineups that have played the most minutes, the Simmons lineup is the only one that has outscored opponents this season. In fact, the Bucks are one of just 11 teams whose most frequently used unit has played at a deficit, and of those teams the Bucks have shown by far the most patience, playing the starters 432 minutes together despite being outscored by nearly six points per 100 possessions. To put that in perspective, of the teams with starters who get outscored, the Knicks have played their starters the second-most with just 229 minutes--barely half of the Bucks' total. In other words, while most teams react to poor results from their starters by playing them less or switching lineups, if only to try something else, the Bucks actually play them more. In fact, only the Magic (497 minutes, +0.99 pts/100 possessions) have played their starters together more than the Bucks, a stat only partially explained by the Bucks' healthy start to the year.
Of course, it's not as simple as poor personnel management. The Bucks' reasoning is that putting together a lineup with two new starters requires patience, and the Bucks' good health before the Mason injury also never forced them to change things up. Moreover, Simmons' slow recovery, Bell's shooting woes and Villanueva's inconsistency have made it hard for Krystkowiak to feel good about benching any of his starters, as no one on the bench was giving him much reason to make a change. Especially given his emphasis on accountability, it's not surprising that Krystkowiak has been loathe to reward guys who started the season out of shape (Bell, Simmons) or otherwise not producing (Villanueva, Gadzuric). But in trying to establish some sort of rhythm the Bucks have been unnecessarily averse to experimentation, sticking with a losing combination. Unfortunately, we haven't seen much of the other combinations and most of them don't look that promising either, so there's no magic bullet to be gleaned from the stats. Still, Krystkowiak has made it clear that the team's 4-11 run since its hot start demands something be done. Experimentation may or may not reap tangible results, but at the moment the Bucks don't have much choice.