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Optimizing the Milwaukee Playoff Rotation

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Jason Kidd gets a lot of hate for his rotations. Despite that, I decided to take a shot at what those rotations should look like for the playoffs. So now you’ll have a place to direct your hate in the off days before Game 1.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks have made the playoffs and are preparing to take on the Toronto Raptors! Saturday’s game is still a few days away, but it’s never too early to start tweaking hypothetical rotations.

Before we start, let’s acknowledge how shocking it is that this is even a prominent discussion for Bucks fans. For most teams, the idea of “playoff rotations” offers their team a chance to cut away the mediocre minutes of the 11th, 10th and even 9th guys on the roster. For the Bucks, this isn’t really the case. The Bucks have about five players who undeniably should and will earn major minutes come playoff time. Past that it’s a whole bunch of “crappy depth” — players that you probably don’t want to include in a playoff rotation but have to, and who aren’t discernibly better than the other players in their skill group. In addition to that dynamic is the center “situation” the Bucks have on hand.

Thus, there is an interesting debate on how Jason Kidd will (or should) craft his rotations for the team’s upcoming series against Toronto. Should he scrap Thon’s minutes altogether? Can he afford to fluctuate between John Henson and Spencer Hawes, or between Michael Beasley and Mirza Teletovic? How many minutes can he play Giannis, and how should he maximize those minutes?

These questions surrounding Milwaukee’s potential rotations are nothing if not fascinating. Regardless of if you agree with that, here are my answers to them.

Rules/Assumptions

  • These are rotations for Game 1 of the series. Realistically, they can and will change as the series progresses, but for now we will take one game at a time.
  • The rotations will be constructed as to maximize the chances of winning the game at hand (while also pacing for about a 6 game series).
  • That being said, the series isn’t totally in a vacuum. For example, Thon playoff experience is a real, albeit marginal, factor.
  • We’ll assume the game is competitive throughout, with no garbage-time minutes.
  • These are not a prediction, but rather my view of what an optimal rotation would look like.
  • The minute counts are purely abstract estimates best served as outlines, and not meant to be strictly adhered to. The important part is the construction of the rotation itself.
  • For the purposes of an exercise like this, the rotations will be rigid. Realistically, circumstances would change them (and I’ll address that as needed).

My method for accumulating minutes started with giving the top five guys as much as they could handle, and then working in the fringe starters and Dellys of the world around them. For organizational purposes, we’ll sort by position here. Ready?

Point Guard

Malcom Brogdon (PG): 34 minutes

Matthew Dellavedova (PG): 14 minutes

It’s a little tough to put this much trust in a rookie (albeit one that doesn’t exactly play like a “rookie”), but Brogdon’s just too much better than Dellavedova at this point to not give him at least 32 minutes. This number would be higher had he had the playoff experience Dellavedova has (yes, I think it matters even for a guy like Delly).

Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Khris Middleton (SG, SF): 38 minutes

Khris hasn’t looked particularly great lately, but he’s still easily this team’s second best player. Again, if having the best top-line talent means as much to a playoff series as conventional wisdom seems to suggest, playing the series’ third-best player (yes, if Middleton comes out of his funk I think he’s better than DeRozan) as much as possible is going to help. That being said, he is still coming off a serious hamstring injury, so what would ideally be 40 is being cut down to 38 for the sake of series longevity.

Tony Snell (SG, SF): 34 minutes

Thank goodness for that MCW trade. While in an ideal contending year Snell would be coming off the bench for 20-25 minutes per night, I’m more than grateful to give him starter’s minutes given the alternatives (one of them is playing Delly and JET more minutes together — so yeah).

Jason Terry (SG): 16 minutes

I actually would be comfortable giving the JET closer to that 20 minute range if the rotations I came up with allowed for it, but they didn’t. Terry’s been great this year, and he’s pretty much the only veteran with more experience than Delly that the guys can count on.

Power Forward/Center

Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF, PF, C): 42 minutes

This team goes with Giannis and is night and day with him on and off the court (offensively and defensively). Plus, if Milwaukee has one advantage in this series that needs to be utilized as much as possible, it’s having the best player in it. To be frank, this number would be a few higher ideally, but we’re going to keep Giannis a little more fresh so he can grind out some center minutes (more on that later).

Greg Monroe (C): 26 minutes

Monroe’s play has been shaky as of late, and the idea of Lowry and DeRozan attacking him at the rim is not great, but he’s still the best center on the team right now. Ultimately, unless you’re comfortable with Thon Maker (rookie with physicality issues), Spencer Hawes (is Spencer Hawes), or John Henson (still getting back into the swing of things...wait, why am I adding a qualifier here, it’s John Henson) playing significant minutes, Monroe is getting 26, at the very least. Ideally he gets more, but that’s a tough proposition given that he’ll be coming off the bench and that all of his minutes in a given half pretty much have to come in one “stint.”

Thon Maker (C): 17 minutes

This is probably the most interesting decision we’ll be looking for come Saturday — what to do with the non-Monroe minutes at center?

Thon has proved competent (for the most part) in his six minute starter stints, but he’s still a rookie that’s unpolished, both mentally and physically. How will he fare in a playoff atmosphere against a behemoth in Jonas Valanciunas, that will surely push him around for every second he’s out there? Starting Henson under the hopes that #PlayoffHenson shows up and can be competent is an option, and one that I seriously considered. But Henson is still working his way back into the flow of things (somewhat) after his injury, and it’s tough to throw him in there and expect both him and the team to gel after limited minutes with him for the past month. And I’m not starting Spencer Hawes mainly because I don’t want the Bucks to lose, no matter how many unnecessary dribble moves he would theoretically pull off.

So I decided to stick with Thon for the starter’s stint, and to close out the first half. He’s not necessarily worse than the alternatives, and even if he was, I’m sticking with him for continuity’s sake. Plus, trying to win aside, I’ll be damned if the team doesn’t get him some valuable playoff experience, especially in a probably-inconsequential series in which they are a long shot anyway.

This brings us with what to do with the closer’s minutes at center. They’re going to Giannis. Giannis at C is probably the most dangerous and hard-to-deal-with lineup Milwaukee could theoretically throw out there, given it’s utilized optimally. Plus, the Raptors have occasionally went small with Ibaka at center since acquiring him, so if the Bucks don’t try Giannis at center out of initial strategy, they may be forced to anyway. This is naive to go in with this gameplan, given that we’ve only seen it sparsely throughout the season, and they haven’t gone as well as you’d hope. But the Bucks are long shots anyway, and I want to get weird.

Mirza Teletovic (PF): 19 minutes

Despite Jason Kidd’s seemingly reluctant attitude towards playing the two together, I still maintain that Teletovic is the best complement at the 3 / 4 spots to Antetokounmpo. So, in a playoff series where the main goal of our rotations and game plan should be centered around optimizing the best player’s minutes, we’re doing so by putting his best complements around him (sorry, Beas). It helps that I’m not afraid of Toronto’s 4s (Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson) hurting Teletovic enough for me to regret sending him out there for the closing minutes.

Rotation

Concessions/Omissions/Thoughts

  • Yes, there is no Michael Beasley. He’s almost definitely going to work his way into Jason Kidd’s rotation at some point, and I’m totally prepared for him to put up 15-20 in one game. The thing is, I’m not even sure the Bucks would be more likely to win that game even with that performance. I’m not going to split 19 minutes up between Teletovic and Beasley, so I chose Teletovic for all of them. Ultimately, I prefer the style of play and fit of Mirza better, and see a better chance of winning with Good Teletovic than Good Beasley.
  • I really struggled leaving John Henson out of the rotation completely, and he’s another guy I’m almost sure will see some run at this point. I considered giving him the 10 closing half minutes, but that quickly turned to 5 once I had my mind set on Point-Center Giannis to close the game, and 5 minutes isn’t really a feasible way to keep a guy involved and motivated (then again, neither is benching him entirely, but that was the cost of Center Giannis).
  • It’s almost impossible to put the best talent on the floor at all times and still manage egos by mixing guys in and out like Kidd’s done in the regular season, which can’t really cut it for the playoffs. That’s mostly a commentary on leaving Henson, Beasley, and Hawes out entirely.
  • I ultimately made the tradeoff between two Giannis minutes and the opportunity for him to play center, to keep him more fresh when he has to battle with the grunts inside. Maybe playing a guy like Henson or Hawes at the cost of that to get those two more minutes is worth considering (I definitely did).
  • The underlying problem with trying to maximize Teletovic’s minutes with Giannis is that Teletovic is the only other guy you really want playing PF, which fundamentally forces you to play him in all of Giannis’ rest minutes.
  • In general, I tried to minimize Delly/JET floor time, as to not force one of them to have to cover Lowry or DeRozan. I was able to limit it to just 6 minutes, but they’re there. Sorry.
  • Speaking of those 6 minutes, those two are sharing the court with Khris, Mirza, and Monroe during that time. Double sorry. It was the ultimate cost to avoiding as many aforementioned Delly/JET minutes.
  • Making a rotation is super hard. I obsessed over this for hours, and there’s still things I hate about how it turned out.
  • That said, I am clearly much, much smarter and know much, much more about the internals of the team than Jason Kidd and his staff, and these rotations should be treated as such.