The dust is still settling from what was undoubtedly one of the most hectic 10 minutes in recent NBA history prior to this afternoon's trade deadline, but this much is clear: The Milwaukee Bucks are going to look and feel a lot different the next time they take the court as a team.
Milwaukee shocked the NBA world with a late deal that sent point guard Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns and brought in Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, and Miles Plumlee. We'll be covering every angle of the deal over the next few days, but for now we have to start with the drastic switch Milwaukee is making by swapping Knight for Carter-Williams.
The drastic differences in skillset are immediately evident in comparing the numbers for each player.
In the simplest terms, this is a trade that sends out shooting and and brings back passing. Brandon Knight had emerged this season as one of the most accurate three-point shooters among point guards in the NBA, buoying his overall True Shooting to a solid 55.6 percent. Carter-Williams, on the other hand, sports shooting numbers that would make Brandon Jennings blush.
That's a concern, there's no way around it. The modern NBA seems to become more reliant on three-point shooting and floor spacing every year, and the Bucks just acquired one of the worst shooters in the league in the context of his shot volume. Knight's accuracy made him deadly as a spot-up shooter to complement the rest of Milwaukee's lineups, something that MCW will not be able to replicate.
However, while Knight has MCW completely outclassed as a long-distance sniper, Carter-Williams has a marginal advantage as a scorer near the rim. MCW has hit 62.7% of his shots within three feet of the basket this season, compared to 58.1 percent for Knight, and takes a much larger percentage of his total shots from within ten feet (over 50% versus about 36% for Knight). MCW is also fourth in the NBA in points per game on drives to the basket, though he only shoots about 44% on those plays.
The effect these differences will have on Milwaukee's spacing could be dramatic. Milwaukee's recent starting lineup has included strong shooters in Khris Middleton and Jared Dudley, but Dudley has been playing somewhat out of position. The Bucks don't shoot a ton of threes anyway, but losing Knight certainly has the potential to clog things up. It will be crucial for Jason Kidd to manage his lineups in a way that keeps at least one shooter on the floor at all times, and preferably more. To that end, now would be a great time for Ersan Ilyasova to rediscover his form from behind the arc.
That conveniently brings us to passing, where the needle swings decidedly in favor of Michael Carter-Williams. The metrics give MCW a significant edge as an assist man, and it's not hard to believe those numbers would be even better had he not spent the early years of his career on a roster as bare as Philadelphia's has been. His 27.4 usage rate (actually higher than Knight's 26.7) will, or at least should, drop considerably in Milwaukee as he cedes touches and shots to his dramatically-improved teammates.
Milwaukee has been at its best offensively when moving the ball from side to side and creating mismatches with size. Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Middleton can take smaller defenders into the post, and Giannis is developing into a borderline deadly off-the-dribble attacker. Carter-Williams seems like a better bet to maximize the talents of those other players (including Jabari Parker when he returns) because of the pass-first mentality he carries, anecdotal as it might be. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Michael Carter-Williams creates 24.7 points by assist per 48 minutes, compared to 17.9 for Brandon Knight. He sees the floor well thanks to his size and can hit an open man on the move. He should flourish in Milwaukee's transition-based attack as both a passer and scorer.
If there's a concern with regard to running the offense, it's that Carter-Williams' turnover rate is even higher than Knight's, about 20% higher. That won't help a Bucks team that struggles to take care of the ball, but it's another number that should fall as Carter-Williams' usage declines.
Offense is where the most visible differences are, but there's another point strongly in Carter-Williams' favor, and it could be a big one. By a number of metrics, MCW has been one of the best defensive guards in the NBA this year. He's second in ESPN.com's DRPM and the Sixers are more than seven points better per 100 possessions on defense when he's on the floor. The Bucks as constructed hang their hat on defense, and adding MCW to the mix could push them from troublesome to terrifying on that end. That in turn could bolster the offense by creating more opponent turnovers and misses to spark the transition game.
Lastly there's the matter of cost. While Knight will carry a $9 million cap hold into the summer and likely sign for significantly more as a restricted free agent, Carter-Williams still has two years left on his rookie deal and is owed just $5.6 million over the next two seasons combined. Assuming the Larry Sanders buyout goes down as expected, the Bucks have likely opened up max cap space going into the summer without necessarily hurting themselves in the talent department.
Make no mistake, the Bucks will be a very different team when they take next take the court, and it will take some tinkering to make things work. But with all eyes still firmly on the future, Milwaukee bought itself more time to fit everything together and an intriguing young player to run the show.