Happy Patriots Day, friends! Or if you're not in New England, Happy Bucks-Bulls Game Two Day.
First off, if you're looking for more Bucks-Bulls chatter (and who isn't???), I had the pleasure of joining Mike and Chuck on 105.7 The Fan Monday morning to talk about Saturday's Bucks loss and what to look for going forward. You can download mp3 audio here or listen on the player below.
One thing we didn't have time to discuss was the Bucks' rotations on Saturday night, but as we head into game two tonight I'd suggest keeping an eye on the backcourt rotations in particular. I mentioned in our recap that the Bucks were unable to recreate the Michael Carter-Williams/Aaron Brooks mismatch on Saturday that they exploited repeatedly in the Bucks win over the Bulls on April 1, which was somewhat expected considering Brooks had started in place of Derrick Rose two weeks ago. But while it's always tougher to isolate a bench player against a starter, it's worth noting that the Bucks still made some interesting (dare we say questionable?) choices in terms of their guard rotations.
Mainly, many of us were left wondering why Jason Kidd and his staff opted to play Carter-Williams extensively with backup point guard Jerryd Bayless. That pair has produced miserably as a tandem since Carter-Williams arrived from Philadelphia, and playing them together also allowed Tom Thibodeau to hide Brooks defensively against the smaller Bayless. Thibodeau responded to Bayless' arrival in the first and third quarters by inserting Brooks, and both times MCW continued to play for another few minutes without being able to find a switch onto the 5'9" Brooks. Even with Bayless playing pretty well individually (11 points, 5 assists on 4/7 shooting), the Bucks were -12 with him on the court while the MCW/Bayless combo finished -7 in under 10 minutes of action. We shouldn't put too much stock in one-game +/- samples, but in in a game decided by just 12 points it's not trivial either.
Moreover, from what we saw this season those results shouldn't be a shock. Lineups featuring Carter-Williams and Bayless were outscored by an average of 7.2 points/100 possessions this season, while lineups featuring Carter-Williams and O.J. Mayo (who came in a few minutes after Bayless in the first quarter) outscored opponents by a whopping 11.3 points/100. I don't doubt that Kidd had some good reasons for trying the lineups that he did, but the data suggests Bayless and MCW are a duo to be avoided, and the results on Saturday did little to refute that.
Of course, underlying much of those lineup issues are the struggles of Bayless and the bench more broadly since the all-star break. The Bucks were +6.9 pts/100 with Bayless on the court before the all-star break, but an ugly -10.2 pts/100 since then, so there really aren't any Bayless combos that have looked good over the past couple months. In fairness, that trend is common to most of the Bucks' reserves, and it bears itself out in the Bucks' overall lineup data. Of the 88 two-man combos the Bucks have used since the all-star break, 27 have positive point differentials, including the 10 most common pairings (ie Kidd is getting it right in that regard). However, 26 of those involve at least one of the current starters, pointing once again at the struggles of the bench. Only one bench duo has had a positive differential since mid-February -- Miles Plumlee and the now-released Chris Johnson were +6 in just 20 minutes. Yikes. As a result, logic would suggest Kidd rely less on his bench going forward, and at a minimum avoid playing Bayless at the two guard. It might not be a silver bullet for the Bucks' problems against the Bulls, but it would seem to give them a better shot.