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NBA 3-on-3: Pick Your Milwaukee Bucks Top Trio

Do Monta and Brandon make your 3-on-3 team?
Do Monta and Brandon make your 3-on-3 team?

The latest theme in our SB Nation network-wide posts is a fun one. With FIBA recently announcing that it would seek to include 3-on-3 hoops in the Olympics, we thought it would be fun to imagine how a 3-on-3 tournament among NBA teams might shake out. We're starting today with each team site nominating their team and we''ll be following with a tournament bracket in the coming weeks.

As fun as an imaginary 3-on-3 tournament might be, let's start with a reality check for our beloved Bucks. Depth is typically a luxury in a standard five-on-five game with 12 active players, but it's no substitute for absolute star power--hence our constant grumbling about the Bucks' inability to nab a legitimate star. And that's doubly true in a 3-on-3 game, where it's all the more difficult to gang-tackle opposing stars or paper over a lack of top-end talent with a strong bench. My long-time partner in crime Alex Boeder probably put it best last night when we were discussing the concept via email: "The Bucks are better suited for a 12-on-12 tournament than 3-on-3."

Pretty much.

Perhaps most tellingly, looking at the Bucks roster you won't find anyone who qualifies as a complete no-brainer for inclusion. That's a testament to both their depth and the fact that their two biggest stars share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. So while Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova would generally be considered the Bucks' "big" three, you can make a reasonable case for excluding any of them depending on who your other two guys are. Namely, it would likely be difficult to play Jennings and Ellis together given their lack of size and defensive shortcomings, while you could argue that Ilyasova might not be preferred as the team's token big man due to his lack of center size. So who ends up on the Bucks' roster? Hit the jump to find out my picks--and tell us your own.

The rules we're assuming are similar to those employed FIBA in the "3x3" competitions its held since 2007 and impact roster construction a fair bit, so let's start with those

Baskets inside the arc are worth two (2) points, baskets outside of the arc are worth three (3) points.

Games are one 10-minute period -- team ahead at the end of 10 minutes wins;

UNLESS a team reaches 31, in which case that team wins (FIBA rules state 21, but that with 1 and 2 pointers);

7 fouls results in the bonus situation;

You can't foul out (since we didn't allow subs);

12 second shot clock;

Game is played half-court.

Some observations before plunging into the picks:

  • Playing half-court dramatically impacts the value of players like Ellis and Jennings, both of whom would look much better in a full-court setting. Conversely, traditional big men become more valuable since they don't have to get up and down the court.
  • On the plus side, the reduced court congestion would help the likes of Jennings and Ellis find driving lanes.
  • Having at least two guys who can stretch the floor seems critical given the challenges of playing team defense in this setting.
  • With two fewer players on the court it's tougher to use specialists than in a standard game. Horrible defenders and guys with zero offensive skill are necessarily tougher to hide.
  • It's too bad the Bucks don't have a brilliant pick-and-roll pairing--good luck stopping Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
  • Larry Sanders LOVES the no foul-out rule. Unfortunately, the other team would probably be living at the line with Larry involved.
  • Because teams will have an easier time scoring from open play, you're also more likely to see hack-a-Shaq strategies employed against bad foul shooters. Consider the Lakers: would you rather defend Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard straight up, or just grab Dwight and make him earn it from the line? For that reason alone I'd argue that Pau Gasol would be a better pick in this setting than Howard.
To piece a roster together, I started with the basic assumption that you need a primary ballhandler, a wing player who can vaguely defend at least a couple positions and a big man who will have to bang with the Howards and Andrew Bynums of the world.

1) Primary ballhandler: Monta or Brandon?

I'm not sold on the Jennings/Ellis combination long-term for the real Bucks, and the tandem's defensive shortcomings and lack of transition opportunities would likely only be magnified in a 3-on-3 setting. All told, I just didn't see any way to include both of them in a 3-on-3 setting, so it comes down to picking which one fits best. Brandon is the more dangerous perimeter shooter and better ballhandler, while Monta is bigger and the more explosive finisher.

After going back and forth for a while, I'm settling on Ellis primarily because of versatility. While neither is a good defender, Jennings is smallish even by point guard standards, while Ellis has a better chance of matching up with most opposing guards--remember, not every team will be fielding a true point guard.

Offensively there are also tradeoffs. Via, Jennings was a better operator in P&R (0.85 points per play vs. 0.75 for Ellis), but Ellis actually had a very good post game last year (1.06 PPP) and was surprisingly better as a spot-up shooter (1.29 PPP in GS, 1.0 with the Bucks) than Jennings. Ellis' propensity for jacking up long twos cuts into his effectiveness as an isolation scorer (0.72 PPP), though Jennings isn't much better (0.77).

2) On the wing do you want the savvy shooter (Mike Dunleavy) or the ultra-versatile defender (Luc Mbah a Moute)?

Another tough pick. Defending LeBron James and Kobe Bryant is hard enough with four other guys on the court to help, and the challenge is only exacerbated in 3-on-3. That makes Mbah a Moute an exceptionally valuable guy defensively, where his versatility would be all the more useful. Unfortunately, Mbah a Moute's limitations on the offensive end are also magnified with only two other guys on the court, though his movement off the ball and offensive rebounding are definite pluses.

The reverse is mostly true of Dunleavy, who owns the sweetest stroke on the team and might have the best basketball brain as well. Via Synergy, he ranked 11th overall in PPP and among the NBA's best in a variety of scoring scenarios: spot-up (1.28, 10th), off screen (1.03, 17th), handoffs (0.96, 16th) and in transition (1.38, 21st). Defensively his lack of foot speed would be a huge concern again elite wing players, but it's worth noting that the Bucks were dramatically better defensively with him on the court (5.6 pts/100 possessions fewer allowed) and he had good opponent stats as well (10.1 opponent PER at SF).

So in the end it comes down to the obvious question of whether Mbah a Moute's defensive advantage is greater than Dunleavy's offensive edge--a question we'll surely be revisiting when camp opens.

3) Up front do you want a legitimate post defender/shot-blocker (Sam Dalembert) or a floor-stretcher who will cause matchup headaches (Ilyasova)?

Neither Dalembert nor Ilyasova will ever be confused for transition guys, but Dalembert's value gets the more sizable bump in a halfcourt setting due to his superior abilities as a defensive rebounder, post defender and rim protector.

The problem for Dalembert is on the offensive end, where Ilyasova's combination of perimeter shooting (45% from three) and scrappy hustling are a huge advantage, particularly as a pick-and-pop option. While his lack of bulk would be a huge disadvantage in defending legit centers, Ilyasova would also be an exceptionally difficult cover for big men accustomed to hanging around the paint defensively. Some might argue that you could play Dalembert and Ilyasova together by putting the Turk into more of a combo forward role, but I've never been a big fan of Ersan playing on the wing. His lack of footspeed is more apparent when guarding perimeter players and he'll see far fewer open looks there as well. Moreover, his cluelessness in the post doesn't allow him to take advantage of smaller players on the block.

Note that I didn't consider Ekpe Udoh, Sanders and John Henson because I didn't see them as offering any clear advantages over Dalembert, particularly in defending legit centers.

The Team: Monta Ellis, Luc Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova

Each pick was difficult in its own way, but the wing and big man decisions were particularly difficult because they're rather interrelated. Ellis and Jennings are something of a toss-up on their own, but I went with Ellis' superior size and athleticism as a starting point for building the rest of the team. From there, a Dunleavy/Ilyasova pairing would give ideal floor spacing and open up acres of space for Ellis to operate. Running high P&R with Ellis and Ilyasova could create all sorts of headaches for opposing defenses, who would then be forced to leave Dunleavy wide open to offer a third defender as help. But it would also leave the Bucks with three below-average one-on-one defenders, a potentially fatal combination in a 3-on-3 setting.

That essentially left only two other options for the frontcourt pairing: Mbah a Moute/Ilyasova or Dunleavy/Dalembert. Ellis, Dunleavy and Dalembert would be the more traditional lineup, but in the end I viewed Ilyasova's ability as a mismatch threat to be too intriguing to exclude. That led me to the extremely difficult decision to drop Dunleavy in favor of Mbah a Moute, which adds an elite and versatile defender at the expense of the team's best pure shooter--basically the same decision Scott Skiles will be facing this fall as he looks at his starting lineup. We aren't including a fourth man in our 3-on-3 lineup, but if we did I'd tab Dunleavy. That way you could go with the all-offense approach and pair Dunleavy and Ilyasova (especially if the other team's wing player wasn't a superstar), or opt for a more balanced approach with Mbah a Moute/Ilyasova. That pairing provides more flexibility in terms of matchups, both move well off the ball and the pairing complements each other pretty well in general.

So now the ball is in your court--who is on your ideal Bucks 3-on-3 team?