The last week of September brought us the two most important things in the world of basketball: the return of the NBA (yay!) and the return of ESPN's Zach Lowe from vacation. A week later, Zach delivered his first thoughts on the post-Khris Middleton Milwaukee Bucks, including some options for how the Bucks might attempt to replace Middleton's shooting in the starting five:
Here's a lineup puzzle Milwaukee coaches are staring at: Try to get all three of Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Mirza Teletovic (and Teletovic's pristine gelled hair) on the floor at the same time. Slot a center with that trio, and you're playing super-big, with two of Parker/Antetokounmpo/Teletovic forced to defend wings. Downsize, and one of those three has to guard the opposing center. Milwaukee is confident all three can handle that in limited doses against some center types, and those smaller groups have a chance to be really exciting. (They could also be fatally awful at rebounding.)
As Jason Kidd works through that, expect Milwaukee's front office to chase wings; they've called the Kings about the ghost of Ben McLemore and are open to moving either Greg Monroe or Michael Carter-Williams in the right deal, league sources say.
You may recall Eric Nehm and I discussing the possibility of Giannis/Parker/Teletovic combinations in our podcast reacting to the Middleton news last week, and in general it's something I'd hope to see the Bucks experiment with during the preseason. It's not to say that Teletovic would necessarily be pushed into the starting five -- he's proven extremely comfortable in a sixth man role elsewhere -- but you have to imagine Kidd will want to find ways to get his team's best (healthy) shooter on the court with Giannis and Jabari, especially in late-game situations. The only other obvious guy to have on the court in those situations is Matthew Dellavedova -- the only bona fide three-and-D guy left with Middleton hurt -- but after that there aren't any sure-fire options for building dangerous two-way lineups.
Hopefully Kidd isn't bashful with his Petri dish, though it's worth noting that his historical preference for playing a traditional center combined with the logjam of bigs on the roster suggests "small" lineups with a Giannis/Jabari/Mirza frontline may be less likely. Still, as Lowe points out, a jumbo lineup with only one guard (presumably Delly, who I always want the court at this point) presents other potential issues. I could see the jumbo approach working against teams lacking a pair of dynamic wings, but who knows.
The Search for Shooting Continues
As for McLemore, he's been mostly disappointing through three seasons in Sacramento and appears destined for a bench role after the acquisitions of Arron Afflalo and Garrett Temple. Interestingly, on paper the Kings would seem like one of the teams that could also be a good destination for Carter-Williams...I mean, right? For starters, their only proven NBA point guards at this point are Darren Collison (a career backup currently suspended eight games for domestic violence) and Ty Lawson (who might have lost the ability to play basketball the past two seasons). Besides, they've shown an openness to starting non-shooting point guards previously (see Rajon Rondo last year), and in general I won't pretend to know what Vlade Divac and company will or won't do. Via Marc Stein, the teams have indeed considered the swap, but it's Sacramento that has been holding firm thus far:
The Bucks, sources say, have since offered former Rookie of the Year guard Michael Carter-Williams to the Sacramento Kings in a trade proposal for Ben McLemore and will continue to probe for potential deals after the Kings rebuffed that pitch for 2013's No. 7 overall pick.
Sources stress, though, that recent speculation about a Monroe-to-Charlotte trade in exchange for Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Hawes does not fit that description. Lamb would certainly fill a need with the Bucks, but the Hornets -- already committed to trying to nurse Roy Hibbert back to prominence on a one-year, $5 million deal –- are said to have no interest in Monroe.
That said, you can make the case that MCW is a clearly better overall player than McLemore -- the former has his faults, but he's shown a more consistent ability to make a positive impact in the NBA, even if his destiny is as a sixth man rather than major-minute starter. It's true that McLemore would fill a bigger need in Milwaukee, and I imagine many Bucks fans would prefer McLemore simply because he's not MCW (for the record, I don't think that's fair, but it's true). Still, McLemore shouldn't be confused for a lights-out shooter or consistent defender either; anyone acquiring him is more or less trading for the Theory of Ben McLemore, which could be interesting but ultimately may not be worth terribly much right now. I'd be happy to give him a shot and hope he comes through in a contract year, but what would you give up for him?
I also don't think McLemore is as good as someone like Jeremy Lamb, who is only slightly older and looks vastly superior by any advanced metric despite shooting marginally worse from three (34.6% vs. 33.6%) over their careers. To be honest, I was kind of surprised by how big the gap was between the two on paper; though he's yet to carve out a consistent role in the NBA, Lamb is a career 14.4 PER guys who has posted 16.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assist per 36 in four seasons, compared to 12.8, 3.6 and 1.7, respectively, for McLemore. Lamb was also a sneaky-good RPM guy last year, ranking fifth among all shooting guards in DRPM (+1.87) and 14th in total RPM (+1.00). Compare that to a -2.02 mark for McLemore and Lamb suddenly looks kind of underrated, right?
The big caveat here would be context; McLemore has played four seasons in the turbulence of Sacramento compared to Lamb having the benefit of superior teammates and coaching in OKC and Charlotte, suggesting that a change of scenery might go a long way to helping McLemore realize more of the potential that made him a #7 overall pick. Then again, we're not exactly talking about feral children or something -- guys like Thomas Robinson and Nik Stauskas have been disappointments even after escaping the California capital.
Monroe's post-up game becoming a rarity | NBA.com
Bemoaning Greg Monroe's archetypal irrelevance in the modern NBA has become an almost reflexive exercise, so it was nice that he offered a reminder of how productive he can be with an excellent showing off the bench on Monday in Chicago. Steve Aschburner reports that the changing landscape of the league isn't lost on the Moose:
"Uh … for sure it's not what I envisioned when I came," said Monroe, who does enjoy his Bucks teammates and who praised Kidd and the coaches' communication. "But like I say, you just have to adjust. I have to take advantage of my time on the court and try to be as productive as I can. And try to help our team win by doing the things they want me to do while I'm on the court. That's what I'm focused on. Most everything else will take care of itself as long as I focus on playing."