Last Thursday was something of a letdown for most Milwaukee Bucks fans, as the trade deadline came and went without a move by Jason Kidd's club. Despite an apparent willingness to consider offers for Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks couldn't find a deal to their liking for Moose, MCW or anyone else on the roster, setting up a 28-game post-all-star schedule that began on Friday with the same group that started the season in late October.
Then again, maybe that inactivity will prove for the best. With Monroe and MCW coming off the bench, the Bucks have won four of five while seeing dramatically improved play from franchise cornerstones Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Parker returned from his trip to all-star weekend in Toronto with back-to-back career nights against the Hornets and Hawks, while Giannis managed the best statistical night of his career in a dominating triple-double performance on Monday against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. On Tuesday night Eric Nehm and I took some time to discuss the deadline, what it could mean for this summer (renewed pursuits of Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday and Ricky Rubio?), and the effect that the lineup change is having on the likes of Giannis, Jabari, and benchwarmer-turned-starter Miles Plumlee.
By now you probably know all about the exploits of Antetokounmpo (21.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 5.7 apg!) and Parker (22.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg!) since the all-star break. Much of that would seem to trace back to Kidd's decision to bring Monroe and Carter-Williams off the bench, a move that has simultaneously paid dividends on the scoreboard while enabling Giannis and Jabari to become bigger focal points in first and third quarters. Though the sample remains a modest 52 minutes thus far, the new starting lineup featuring Plumlee and O.J. Mayo has outscored opponents by nearly 20 points per 100 possessions while posting the best rebounding and assist rates of any Bucks lineup with more than 50 minutes together on the court.
The overall data suggests it fits within a broader trend. Giannis and Jabari have been particularly effective offensively with Monroe and MCW on the bench, with Monroe's presence appearing more problematic than MCW's. Still, it's also interesting to note that Khris Middleton has seen the opposite effect, struggling to score efficiently with neither Monroe nor MCW on the floor.
Intuitively, both trends make some sense. Monroe's ability to attract double-teams is especially valuable for a perimeter shooter like Middleton, who also frequently uses Monroe as a safety valve in P&R. On the flip side, Jabari and Giannis are at their best when the Bucks are forcing turnovers and getting out in the open court, something that's in theory easier to do with Monroe out of the game. There's also the ball-watching issue: though he's a good passer, the Bucks' offense with Monroe often tends to bog down in an effort to get their big man the ball. Are guys like Giannis and Jabari more likely to drift out of the offense in those situations? Presumably yes, though it's not to say the Bucks' renewed emphasis on letting Giannis push the tempo would be impossible with Monroe on the court.