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Milwaukee Bucks NBA Free Agency Preview 2011: Guard And Swingman Options

The Milwaukee Bucks are preparing NBA free agent signings to begin on December 9th, and in the spirit of the season I am providing a look at interesting players who will be available in some capacity. First I covered the Bucks' roster, then I covered free agent big men and now I take a closer look at guard and swingman options. Let's go:

Just so we are on the same page regarding the chart posted below, here is what you need to know:

I have researched and indexed player stats relative to the relevant positional league average, meaning that a score of 100 is average for each player at his respective position. Anything less than 100 is lower than the average (in red), and anything greater than 100 is higher than the average (in green). Usage and %Ast do not have assigned colors since they are both more value-neutral, or perhaps more accurately, they require a case-by-case assessment.

Ex: Beno Udrih had a TS% of 58.8 in 2010-11, and the average TS % for all PGs for the season was 53.3... (58.8 / 53.3)*100 = an index score of 110. This means Udrih had a TS% 10% higher than an average PG in 2010-11.

In this edition I have juxtaposed the current positional groups from the Bucks' roster with some key free agent names at PG, SG and SF. Money wouldn't be well spent by the organization if they acquired players who either duplicated production already on the roster or make some small incremental addition to a team strength. The value will come for the 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks if they can sign or acquire players that mitigate their greatest deficiencies.

To keep it fairly simple, the Bucks need to find: (1) someone who is an efficient (above-average) shooter, (2) a three-point specialist to spread the floor and (3) someone who can score effectively at the rim and from 3-9 ft. The Bucks are also in a spot where they just need a legitimate big body to stick at C to spread the minute load and keep Andrew Bogut fresh in the compressed schedule.

Can any of these needs be met by reasonably inexpensive players on the market in 2011? Let's take a look...

Advanced Stats Glossary (The unklchuk special)
True Shooting Percentage (TS%)- A player's shooting percentage weighted to account for free throws and 3-pointers. An accurate expression of shooting efficiency. Usage Rate (USG) - the number of possessions a player uses during his time on the floor.
Percentage of FGs Assisted (% AST) - The percentage of a player's total made field goals that are assisted by a teammate. Free Throw Attempts per Field Goal Attempts (FTA/FGA): Measures how well a player draws shooting fouls and gets to the free throw line relative to the shots they take.
Total Rebound Rate (TRR): The percentage of total available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor. Assist Rate (AR): the percentage of a player's possessions that ends in an assist.
Offensive Rebound Rate (ORR): The percentage of total available offensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor. Turnover Rate (TOR) - the percentage of a player's possessions that end in a turnover.
Defensive Rebound Rate (DRR): The percentage of total available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor.

1. Marcus Thornton PG/SG - 6'4" | 24 yrs old | Restricted | 2011: 12.8 pts, 1.7 ast in 24 min/gm | 16.5 PER

Marcus Thornton is the rootinest tootinest shooter in the free agent market. Sure that title might have something to do with the fact that J.R. Smith is stuck overseas under the terms of the contract he signed in the Chinese Basketball Association, but the point is that Thornton gets copious buckets at least partially because he attacks at a high volume. For a player who was often allowed to work in isolation and pick-and-roll for the lowly Sacramento Kings late in the season in 2010-11, Thornton produced an alarmingly low assist rate while posting an average shooting efficiency. It's not the stuff legends are made of, that's for sure.

Even so, a player talented enough to attack defenses in isolation and force an extra rotation or hedge is something most NBA offenses rely upon to some degree, so expect the 24-year old combo guard to be in demand when the checkbooks come out in a few days.

The interesting issue with a player like Thornton, who does little well outside of volume-based scoring production, is trying to peg just how much of an impact his skillset makes when it comes to building an efficient team offense. In searching around on the topic, I found this interesting excerpt from a Hickory High article that explores whether Thornton deserves the 'pure scorer' label in the first place.

Thornton ranked no higher than 33rd in offensive efficiency in any possession type. He was ranked in the top 100 in offensive efficiency for spot-ups, off screens and the mysterious "other" category. However those possession types accounted for just 27.7% of his total offense last year. 36.1% of his possessions were used on what I would typically think of as the domain of the pure scorer, isolations and pick-and-rolls as the ball handler. In those situations he averaged 0.85 and 0.78 points per possession, ranking 102nd and 106th in the league...[He] is [a] high volume, moderate efficiency scorer[]...

...This is not a questions of specialist or versatilist. Thornton [is] [a] specialist[], but [his] specialty is versatile offense of average efficiency.

As for how much he will command on the RFA market, a recap of my Twitter exchange with SB Nation's Tom Ziller should be enough to know he probably won't be in a Bucks uniform any time soon:

Steven von Horn
Good man. I knew I could trust you. BTW, how much will Marcus Thornton cost an interested team? Bucks need scorers...

Tom Ziller
Oh, Beno's got you covered! I think Thornton ends up at $7M/year, should be $5M.

Thornton is on my list because we all should be watching how NBA GMs develop the market for high-volume, moderate efficiency scorers, as it might become important if Brandon Jennings improves to this level of production at any point in his career.

2. Rodney Stuckey PG/SG - 6'5" | 25 yrs old | Restricted | 2011: 15.5 pts, 5.2 ast in 31 min/gm | 18.4 PER

Rodney Stuckey makes the list for an interesting reason: he was drafted to the Detroit Pistons while current Bucks GM John Hammond was still the VP of Basketball Operations for the Pistons. Stuckey sort of came out of nowhere on draft day, hailing from little-known Eastern Washington University, and has been producing very respectable numbers for some very hard to respect teams. While he generally seems to suffer from the same shooting problems that plague Brandon Jennings (the orange thing doesn't go through the round metal hole enough), Stuckey has the size and strength to consistently attack the basket, create for teammates and draw shooting fouls on his own attempts.

I'm not sure the price will ultimately make sense, but it would be hard to imagine the Pistons make any serious efforts to match competitive offers for Stuckey, considering they just unexpectedly drafted a duplicative talent with the 8th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft (Kentucky combo guard Brandon Knight). He's 25 years old, Hammond was involved in drafting him, and he is better than Brandon Jennings at this point in his career. I'm curious to see where Stuckey ends up, because he appears to be unnecessarily blocking the development of Knight out in Detroit at the moment.

Any time a team is phasing out the most talented and productive player on their roster, it's certainly worth finding out whether you can take such a player off their hands at a discount rate.

3. Shannon Brown PG/SG - 6'4" | 26 yrs old | Unrestricted | 2011: 8.7 pts, 1.2 ast in 19 min/gm | 13.6 PER

Frank pointed out a free agent rumor mill link somehow forged between Shannon Brown and the Bucks, but it's hard to make any sense out of the connection. Brown lacks the ball-handling skills to operate as an effective point guard in a traditional NBA offense (he has been conveniently hiding this weakness in the triangle offense out in LA), and he lacks the size to contribute regularly at shooting guard.

Beyond basic size and skill limitations, he isn't particularly good at anything outside of finishing anywhere inside 10 feet, and I'd be interested to know what portion of those stats have been padded by fastbreak opportunities he would likely see much less of in Milwaukee. He just doesn't strike me as an effective half-court player, and as long as Scott Skiles is around it will be something the Bucks need to consider with every potential signing.

Forever an intriguing athlete, Brown has simply failed to turn into anything more than a second or third-string NBA guard, and at 26-years old it wouldn't be wise to bet on any significant improvement on a plodding team like the Bucks. I just don't think he's all that good, and I'm still a bit mad at him from parlaying the 'Let Shannon Dunk' campaign into a pitiful performance in the 2010 NBA Dunk Contest. If you have fond memories Brown getting off to a strong start in 2011 and burying deep threes with ease, keep in mind the complete picture and look at his abrupt regression to career numbers.

Shannon Brown 2011 TS Splits
Split GP MIN TS%
October 3 19.3 60.7
November 15 18.5 61.8
December 15 18.8 51.7
January 15 19.1 51.3
February 13 21.8 46.5
March 13 18.4 48.6
April 8 17.4 42.4
Last 10 10 17.8 41.9
Season 82 19.1 51.8

4. Arron Afflalo SG - 6'5" | 26 yrs old | Restricted | 2011: 12.6 pts, 3.6 reb in 34 min/gm | 13.6 PER

Another player that makes the list simply because he was drafted to the Pistons while Hammond served as the team's VP of Basketball Operations, Afflalo is a self-made player that has built a solid career on tough perimeter defense and selective shooting tendencies. In 2010-11, he spent most of his time on the Nuggets matching up against the opponents' top perimeter scoring option and then picking his spots to contribute on offense. Think of Afflalo as a poor-man's LRMAM on defense, and a rich man's LRMAM on offense. Afflalo has proven less effective as a matchup defender than Luc, but his high shooting efficiency from multiple ranges on the floor could undoubtedly help a team like the Bucks.

Does that scale tip from LRMAM to Afflalo offer any more value to the Bucks? It might not matter in the end, as the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers are both pushing to devise a sign-and-trade for the 26-year old SG, and other more cap-solvent teams like the New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves are among multiple teams expected to consider extending an offer sheet to Afflalo when free agency opens. It should tell you something about the value of a player like Afflalo when multiple championship contenders have targeted him early in the free agency process as an any means necessary type acquisition.

Quite honestly, it might actually help the Bucks' cause that a reputable defender and nice offensive role player like Afflalo is on the market to deflect interest in LRMAM anyways.

5. Marco Belinelli SG/SF - 6'5" | 25 yrs old | Restricted | 2011: 10.5 pts, 1.9 reb in 25 min/gm | 12.1 PER

If you gave every NBA player a jersey with the same design and no name on the back, Marco Belinelli is one of the few fringe-starters in the league that I probably couldn't identify by style of play. I know he exists, but I'm not sure how he goes about existing. The one thing that caught my eye when indexing him, aside from his age, is his above-average accuracy from 16-23 ft and three-point range.

The Bucks are in severe need of a long-range specialist to make teams pay for quick double-teams on Bogut in the post, and Belinelli would appear to fit that mold well. He is not known as a very good defender, and also struggles as a rebounder, but the Bucks are working from positions of strength in both respects and could likely assimilate Belinelli without too much damage to those areas of their game.

Considering the Bucks ranked 24th in 3PT% last season, wouldn't it be nice to see a professional three-point shooter on the roster at some point? A very sophisticated look at the most valuable three-point shooters in the NBA ranked Belinelli at No. 6 overall among all NBA starters.

6. Reggie Williams SG/SF - 6'6" | 25 yrs old | Restricted | 2011: 9.2 pts, 2.7 reb in 20 min/gm | 14.9 PER

Reggie Williams is fascinating on so many levels. Seemingly born to score the basketball, Williams led the NCAA in scoring two consecutive seasons while playing at the Virginia Military Institute, burst onto the scene in the NBA Developmental League with the Sioux Falls Skyforce (26 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game) and eventually earned a spot on the Golden State Warriors in 2009-10. When Reggie Williams steps on a basketball court, at any level, he scores in bunches. The argument could be made that he has been the product of high-pace offenses, but the numbers tell a different story.

In fact, Williams isn't a great transition scorer at all, but he is an elite spot-up shooter and a deadly three-point threat with supplementary isolation skills that make him doubly effective in half-court sets. With all of these positive traits on his resume, what, pray tell, is holding him back from a starting job the NBA? Defense, of course. As it turns out, Reggie Williams is a bad defender of pick-and-roll ball-handlers and a mind-bogglingly horrible isolation defender. He ranked 340th overall in the NBA in points-per-possession allowed defending isolation plays in 2010-11 according to Synergy, so it is entirely possible that one well-placed orange cone would be of better use on defense than Reggie. Well okay, maybe not an orange cone, but a broomstick on wheels might give him a run for his money.

However, it stands to reason that if any team could absorb a talented offensive player with limited defensive skill and get the most from the fit, the Bucks should be first in line. This is the type of move that would validate the efficacy of Skiles' vaunted defensive 'system,' right? What's the point of having a defensive coach if he can't effectively coach defense to less than excellent defensive players?

By the way, the same sophisticated study cited for Marco Belinelli among most valuable three-point shooters in the NBA for non-starters and ranked Williams at No. 6 overall in that grouping.

7. Daequan Cook SG/SF - 6'5" | 24 yrs old | Restricted | 2011: 5.6 pts, 1.7 reb in 14 min/gm | 12.8 PER

Cook is nothing more than a simple spot-up shooter, but once again, it is something the Bucks could use to capitalize on teams that try to throw quick double teams at Andrew Bogut in the post. Options that can stretch the floor help create better shots for everyone else in the lineup by extending the distance and arc of defensive rotations.

8. Caron Butler SF - 6'7" | 31 yrs old | Unrestricted | 2011: 15.0 pts, 4.1 reb in 30 min/gm | 14.2 PER

He's old and probably shopping for either (a) one last payday or (b) a contender set to make a deep playoff run, so the only reason the Bucks have been implicated are his deep ties to Racine, WI that go all the way back to his days at Park High School. He shoots well from deep, but I can't imagine the Bucks are really in the running, and he isn't young enough to spark a personal interest in devoting more space to the analysis.

9. Peja Stojakovic SF - 6'9" | 34 yrs old | Unrestricted | 2011: 8.5 pts, 2.3 reb in 19 min/gm | 15.2 PER

He's a true shooting specialist that may be available on a one-year deal if no contenders come knocking at his door during the free agent frenzy. He ranks 33rd all-time in NBA history for career 3PT%, 54th all-time in NBA history for career TS% and 4th all-time in NBA history for career FT%. How you like them apples?

Not only would Peja offer that much needed three-point threat, he could also contribute in end-game situations when playing with the lead. The luxury of being able to send a player with the 4th all-time career FT% in NBA history would afford the Bucks with the best late lead protection money could buy. Besides, Peja already has his ring, so he might be looking for spot where he can contribute on a nightly basis (ala Jerry Stackhouse in 09-10) and push career milestones.

Rebounding schmebounding. Bogut and company could cover up Peja's flaws and make the most out of his shooting talent.

If you would like more information on the 2011 free agent group, you should check out Tom Ziller's full list of restricted and unrestricted free agents and his preliminary breakdown of the field. For constant updates on signings, trades, rumors and offers, be sure to visit the NBA rumor StoryStream.

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