If you believe a slick-shooting point guard is the fundamental building block of a great offense, then you probably have some serious questions about the recent trade of Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee. The MCW move makes the most sense as part of a deeper plan to bolster an aggressive and successful switching and blitzing defense, but maybe there's more than meets the eye when it comes to rehabbing the broken offensive game of Carter-Williams. Passing up an opportunity to nab a lightly protected NBA Draft pick from the Suns (via the Los Angeles Lakers) means there has to be something simmering beneath the surface with MCW, right?
We know a modern starting point guard in the NBA can't live on passing and vision alone. Jason Kidd's intriguing pre-deadline plea for young guys to "slow down" could easily apply to Brandon Knight and MCW, as both guys are turnover-prone, ball-dominant guards, but at least Knight could hang his hat on three-point shooting.
Carter-Williams has just left everyone hanging. For all his vision and point guard purity, MCW ranks in the bottom 15 percent of all NBA players in pick-and-roll efficiency, according to Synergy Sports. For all his size and athletic fluidity, he sits in the bottom 10 percent of all NBA players in transition efficiency! Something needs to change. There's a long a difficult path ahead of MCW to rebuild his jumper (again) and become a credible threat beyond eight feet from the rim. But maybe, just maybe, there's "one easy trick" to rapidly increase the value of Milwaukee's massive new point guard. That's what we discuss in part two of our trade analysis podcast series (listen to part one here).
The blueprint for unlocking MCW emerged last season in Brooklyn. With the help of Jason Kidd and his innovative coaching staff, Shaun Livingston (who looks and feels a lot like a mature version of MCW) leveraged his massive frame to score with aggressive post-ups and crafty off-ball cuts. The results were quite impressive (even if the storyline flew under the radar a bit). Follow this link to Basketball-Reference.com and pay close attention to the shot allocation in 2013-14 for Livingston.
He posted eye-popping career-highs in % of FG attempts within three feet (35.9% vs. 27.3% career) and within 3-10 feet (28.1% vs. 20.1% career), which lowered is average FG distance to a career-low of 7.5 feet (vs. 9.7 feet career). This transformation allowed him to deliver 55%TS (vs. 52%TS career) with a 1.2% 3PAr! So, how did this change happen?
A spike in post-ups, careful management of pick-and-roll opportunities and exploitation of mismatches highlighted Livingston's success. Zach Harper of CBS Sports wrote a great piece on this development last season. But post plays aren't all that efficient overall, due in part to low foul rates, tough in-between shot distances, and the potential for turnovers. Here's a quick overview of points per possession on different play types I put together prior to last season:
You can see the post ups aren't going to solve all of MCW's problems, but for massive guard with limited shooting range it may represent the best path forward. As a distributor in the post with good vision and length, he should be able to kick out to open shooters (check the spot-up average value). And did I mention that Livingston posted the very best post up efficiency in the entire NBA during the 2013-14 season? Or that Kidd managed to get Kendall Marshall into the 96th percentile on post-up efficiency this year? Maybe there is a bit of Kidd magic that could move MCW forward in his development. It should be fun to find out.
If that isn't enough to get you excited, then you probably want to talk a bit more about the Lakers pick. Suns GM Ryan McDonough parted with the pick (top-five protected in 2015, top-three protected in 2016) as part of the trade, and it seems the Bucks passed it off to Sam Hinkie and the Sixers to get MCW. McDonough explained to SB Nation's Suns blog why he dealt that high-end asset, saying in part: "I think analyzing the Lakers situation there's pretty high variance there as to what the pick could be. If you ask me how the Lakers are going to be a year from now i have no idea."
Perhaps the Bucks felt similarly about the risks with deal. To give you an idea of the likelihood of L.A. conveying the pick this year, Kevin Pelton of ESPN ran simulations and determined there is an 84 percent chance the Lakers keep the pick this year. The Sixers are estimated to have an 80 percent chance of landing the pick in 2016, and 70 percent of the time it's expected to be a top-10 selection. That puts some pressure on Kidd and company to transform MCW as they did with Livingston, doesn't it? Hopefully the post-up angle pays off, even if it feels a bit like a "one easy trick" scam.