Our evolving conversation surrounding Jason Kidd and his grasp on the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coach role covered his strengths yesterday, and today we flip the script and examine the weaknesses we’ve observed. Joining me on this journey is Brett Abramczyk, who appears to have a great handle on Kidd’s coaching from his playoff rotation article (and subsequent Locked On Bucks appearance) last month. We put our heads together and tried to answer this question: What is Jason Kidd bad at?
What would this piece be if we didn’t start with everyone’s favorite Kidd gripe? Rotations throughout the Jason Kidd years have often been inconsistent, often featuring funky-but-in-a-bad-way results. For example, it wouldn’t shock me if, say, Rashad Vaughn, Jason Terry, and Matthew Dellavodova have gotten some run together this year. (Editor’s note: they did!)
Fringe players like Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, and John Henson will float in and out of the lineup, though the fact that Kidd’s been able to keep them engaged despite this inconsistency partly absolves it. Though it’s probably picked at more than it ought to be, concerns about playing Giannis Antetokounmpo too much or too little in a given game are sometimes justified.
Managing minutes for multiple viable NBA players is not an easy job, but there were a number of opportunities that the team missed out on. Most notably was the Giannis-Mirza two-man lineup, which contributed to Telly’s team-leading +/- rating and generally delivered good times on offense. Why did Giannis and Teletovic share the floor for only 493 total minutes, which was only 44% of Mirza’s playing time, and a whopping 17% of Giannis’? Giannis plus shooting equals good basketball, and the lack of Milwaukee’s most prolific shooter was glaring at times. It wasn’t the only missed opportunity, but it looks like one of the largest.
Many fans have criticized the Bucks’ offense as simplistic, predictable, and out-of-date. Those criticisms are supported by the team’s outputs; over the course of his tenure, Kidd’s Milwaukee teams have finished 13th (2016), 26th (2015), and 26th (2014) in offensive rating. Over those same seasons, the Bucks also ranked 21st, 30th, and 25th in three-point rate (3PAr), while ranking highly in points scored at the basket and in the paint. To be sure, the Bucks have excellent close-range scorers, but in a league that values shooting, at some point the conversation has to become about more than “keeping up” with current trends. The Bucks added shooting in the offseason, but it never felt like they actually used it.
Though it’s hard to precisely assign blame for it, Khris Middleton’s shot selection this season (and particularly in the playoffs) is almost inexcusable. Calling the fact that Middleton, a career 40% three-point shooter, shot only 3.0 3PA per-36 minutes in the playoffs “wasteful” is a borderline-criminal understatement. Khris has shown a growing love for the midrange — and part of that is on him — but it’s hard to watch ATO plays drawn up for those shots time and time again and not wonder if Kidd is encouraging those shots behind the scenes.
While the offense might be oftentimes underwhelming for large stretches of Kidd’s time as head coach, the defense has been the opposite. On some nights, it’s fantastic! On other nights, it’s miserable. On nearly all nights, it’s unpredictable. This is the foundation of a defense that can’t be trusted, which is a problematic premise to work from.
We [the Bucks] finished the season 9th in forcing turnovers, at 14.7 per game. 29th in total rebounds at 40.4/g.
If we would have flipped those ranks (9th in rebounds, 29th in turnovers), we would have forced 2.6 fewer turnovers, but gained 3.9 more rebounds, and therefore, 1.3 more possessions overall on average during the game. With an offensive rating of 106.9, we would gain an extra 1.39 ppg with those extra possessions, moving our net +/- from -0.2 to +1.2. The online Pythagorean win calculator says that point differential gets us to 44 or 45 wins.
Maybe the points off turnovers mitigates that a bit, but I think the more possessions we have, the better off we are.
Many of us have criticized the defense, and even the most stout defenders will admit that executing the scheme requires maximum effort and focus; the slightest divergence on either track causes the entire system to come apart at the seams. And while it might work against lesser competition, even on the nights when the defense seems to be working, it’s hard to imagine veteran playoff teams so dumbfounded by an ultimately solved scheme. It worked for a while against DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. It won’t work against, say, LeBron James or the Spurs.
Making (smart) adjustments.
Part of Kidd’s management style appears to include an aversion to micromanagement, at least when it comes to making in-game lineup changes. This largely correlates to the composure he demonstrates with his players, and can be attributed as one of the causes of the change in Milwaukee’s environment over recent years.
But sometimes an even keel can come across as aloofness. Too often, fans have observed times when a change would clearly benefit the team, without that change actually being implemented. “Frustrated” only begins to describe the feeling one experiences when watching Michael Beasley get sealed off by a screen, or a faster point guard (pick one, any one!) simply run around Matthew Dellavedova on the perimeter...but nothing changes. These instances both highlight the team’s talent issues (which might not be Kidd’s fault) as well as pinpoint the game stretches where the Bucks’ losses pile up (which Kidd at the very least shares the fault).
Going back to our discussion about Kidd’s strengths, his tendency to tinker with using unconventional tactics can be qualified as a strength. But why be willing to make changes to “see what happens,” and not when the team is either losing a lead or watching a deficit balloon out of control?
When Jason Kidd does seem to make adjustments, they appear to come out of accidental happenstance rather than intelligent foresight. It doesn’t feel like “playing Giannis at center is a unique look that might leverage his playing style better” or “we should at least experiment with it now in the regular season.” Rather, it’s “oh hey, this small lineup I was forced to throw out there seems to be working — let’s keep it out there.” Either something accidentally falls into his lap, or one of his throw-crap-at-the-wall sessions happened to work. The adjustments come to him, not vice versa.
This isn’t to classify Jason Kidd as an unintelligent person, or even a lacking basketball mind. His playing resumé alone gives him more than enough to fall back on, and his success as a coach (despite our nitpicking) shows more talent than most. It might be better to be lucky than good, but when you’re showing Cosmo Kramer-levels of luck, it calls into question how good you are.
What other weaknesses have you noticed during Kidd’s tenure? Are any of these items able to be classified as strengths? Let us know in the comments, and make sure to come back tomorrow when we go off-course and delve into the unknown.