For the NBA, the summer of 2016 was the convergence of money needing to be spent and players just waiting to be signed and get a slice of that BRI pie. Last offseason, everybody got paid, period. Giannis Antetokoumpo, who signed a 4-year/$100 million extension and is set to become one of the game’s highest-paid stars, didn’t even maximize his potential dollar value!
The Milwaukee Bucks did not use the explosion of the NBA salary cap to make a huge splash, but instead targeted players that would be a good fit next to their franchise cornerstone. In free agency, the Bucks acquired Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic, and just before the regular season Milwaukee swapped Michael Carter-Williams for Tony Snell. Michael Beasley was also an opportunistic addition, paying nothing (Tyler Ennis, who is now a member of the woeful Los Angeles Lakers) for a shot at a dynamic bench scorer, which is exactly what Beasley was.
Each of these players brought mostly complimentary skills to the table (primarily shooting and defense), and (despite the inflated contract values of Delly & Telly) they were all expected to do the little things that help players like Giannis, Jabari, and Khris Middleton do the big things.
All in all, that’s exactly what the Bucks got, but it wasn’t exactly how we imagined it. Mirza Teletovic (and his top-5 ranking in 3PAr) was about what we expected, but both Tony Snell and Michael Beasley were demonstrably better, while Matthew Dellavedova vacillated between below- and far below-average (relative to expectations.)
How much does this matter to the Bucks? What lessons can be learned from these offseason acquisitions? And how likely are these four players to remain in Milwaukee beyond the summer?
As we noted above, Mirza’s MO is simple: if he’s in the game, he’s going to jack up threes, and your spacing is going to improve. Despite struggling with his accuracy (34.1% this season vs. 36.7% for his career), Telly hoisted up enough shots to help support the Bucks’ burgeoning offense.
Oddly enough, Teletovic’s gunnery somehow helped Milwaukee’s defense more than it helped the offense. According to his On/Off splits on basketball-reference, the Bucks were +0.8 in Offensive Rating with him on the court...while Milwaukee opponents were -6.8 by the same metric. This overall +7.6 On/Off mark ranks Mirza atop the Bucks roster, and I would be lying if I immediately knew the explanation for that statistical oddity.
If I had to guess, though, it would come down to one of the buzzwords surrounding the Bucks’ roster-building: spacing. Teletovic’s absurd rate of attempts from behind the arc pulls defenders away from the paint on offense, and since Mirza usually matches up against PFs, the associated effort level necessary to cover a shooter like Telly could also reduce the effectiveness of that player on the other end.
Of course, it may also be a product of the Bucks’ bench generally outclassing most NBA bench units. Mirza played the majority of his minutes alongside Malcolm Brogdon (leading candidate for Rookie of the Year) and Greg Monroe (dark horse candidate for 6th Man of the Year), who at times were so effective against backups they made anybody who shared the floor with them look good.
In any case, we can safely conclude that Mirza Teletovic is a known NBA quantity. He’s a very good shooter who defends better than you’d expect, and at $10.5m for each of the next two seasons, there’s not much reason to expect any major changes in his contributions.
As one of the last remaining passengers on the S.S. MCW, seeing Tony Snell’s “breakout” year happen alongside Michael Carter-Williams’ continued descent into journeyman-hood was tough. But as a Bucks fan, seeing Snell become a viable 3&D wing on a team that needs 3&D wings was a fantastic surprise.
At 6’7” and 200 lbs, Snell has shown the ability to switch between defending SGs, SFs, and a handful of PFs, and while it’s never ideal he doesn’t usually get embarrassed when he needs to cover a PG in a pinch. Though his statistical profile is unimpressive (ESPN’s DRPM has him ranked 49th among shooting guards with -0.79, and basketball-reference ranks him 57th with 1.4 DWS), he exhibits the rangy versatility coveted by Jason Kidd’s blitz-heavy system.
More importantly than his defense, Snell’s shooting rebounded this season, exponentially increasing his value. With a Telly-esque 3PAr of 65.6% and an overall conversion rate of 40.6%, Snell is providing valuable spacing on the offensive end without taking many possessions away from his teammates. Surprisingly enough, his 2016-17 usage (12.1%) is the lowest of his career, despite having played in far more minutes (2,336 minutes, nearly a thousand higher than any year prior).
But the biggest surprise was actually inside the arc. Looking at the table above we can see that Snell’s overall field goal percentage took a huge leap, but an even bigger leap was seen in Snell’s finishing at the rim; at 68.5%, Tony Snell scored up-close as well as Jabari Parker, Michael Beasley, and yes, even Giannis Antetokounmpo.
So what to make of Tony Snell’s future in Milwaukee? Having concluded the last year of his rookie contract, Snell enters restricted free agency as an attractive supporting player. With the lion’s share of possessions going to Milwaukee’s forwards, a wing player who offers versatility on defense while offering low volume/high accuracy on efficient shots (behind the arc and at the rim) would be an ideal piece. Not only that, but Snell is well-liked in the Milwaukee locker room, and could be signing a hefty (and well-deserved) new deal this summer. But how much is “too much” for the Bucks?
Much like with the aforementioned Tony Snell, the Bucks’ signing of Matthew Dellavedova was to fill a specific need: the team was in the market for a super-low usage point guard who could play defense, hit some threes, and manage to avoid mistakes, all on a low-usage diet. The Cleveland-era Delly fit that description to a tee, and some of his high-profile teammates were sad to see him go:
Congrats to my brother! @matthewdelly on his deal! Good luck in Milwaukee! Very deserving to you and your family. 1— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 1, 2016
While he didn’t have to fight any bears this season, why does it feel like Milwaukee fans are relatively down on Delly? On its face, his unimpressive statistical resumé doesn’t spur optimism. A single-digit PER score (9.4), a startlingly-high turnover percentage (18.8%, worst of any Milwaukee guard who played more than 10 games), and a deflated three-point FG% (36.4%, the worst of his career) all help paint the picture of an offseason mistake.
Signing Dellavedova may turn out to have been a mistake, but it doesn’t appear to be due to any significant regression on his part. Nearly all of Delly’s per-game and per-36 stats were in-line with his career averages, even if his advanced statistics took a dip. The primary reason for this, in my view, is playing him as a starter instead of a reserve (54 games started this season, only 14 starts in 2015-16).
This is an institutional opportunity, rather than a personal one. Dellavedova, as it turns out, is not cut out to be a starting point guard in the NBA. Going into the season, the Bucks didn’t have any other options, so Delly became the starter by default. But was that even really the main issue? Delly started each game that he played in November, December, and February (when the Bucks were a .500 team, 20-20); the two months where Dellavedova didn’t start the majority of the Bucks games were January (5-10, their worst month) and March (14-4, their best month).
With the emergence of Malcolm Brogdon, the set of expectations upon Dellavedova next year is reduced by virtue of not needing him in the starting lineup. The expectations on the Milwaukee Bucks, however, are elevated. Delly does a number of good things, but should not be expected to a lead guard in an NBA rotation with postseason aspirations. Just because he can fill in as a starter doesn’t mean that he should, and it’s up to the team to create an environment where that isn’t necessary.
Coming to the team in September in the wake of the Khris Middleton injury, Beasley was a low-risk gamble for a team that needed more independent scoring. If anybody could be perfectly cast as anything, Michael Beasley is that guy. Concerns about his defense and playmaking were valid, but after eight years in the league, the notion that Beasley could be a complete player was an outlandish one.
But even as “just” a scorer, Beasley surpassed fans’ expectations. Coming off the bench, he scored 20.3 points per 36-minutes on .533/.419/.743 shooting, and at 25.2% usage he soaked up possessions with his efficient bucket-getting, which propped up Milwaukee’s highly-rated bench units. Alongside his steady rebounding (12.0% Total Rebounding Rate), it was easy watching Beasley do his thing.
Looking ahead, the picture becomes far less clear. With the expected rehab of Jabari Parker and the continued excellence of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, it doesn’t look like there will be space for another high-usage forward who also makes less than $1.5 million on the season. Beasley could be in line for a decent contract, and it is unclear whether the Bucks will be the ones that sign the checks. In any case, whoever Beasley ends up with should know what to expect, even if they need to retrain him on Snapchat.
The Bucks’ elder statesman arrived from Houston as an unexpected addition; on a team that values youth and length, here they are signing Jason Terry, who doesn’t offer either. But what JET did bring turned out to be just what the team needed.
Terry, who was born in NINETEEN SEVENTY-SEVEN, ended up as a valuable contributor on the second unit (18.4 minutes/game) in no small part to his three-point accuracy (42.7%, his highest rate since 2006-07). His usage was low, his 3PAr was high, and he almost always knew how to move the ball to the best spot on offense while communicating (and hyping up the fans) on defense.
JET also gave us this, which was one of my favorite things to ever transpire on a basketball court:
omfg J.R. Smith decides to stop playing defense to say what's up to Jason Terry, gives up layup...PEAK J.R. https://t.co/oW0MJblJn7— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) November 30, 2016
But will he return to reprise his role as the wise veteran mentor? That much is unclear. He would likely sign a veteran minimum deal, but seventeen years is a long time in any profession (especially the NBA) and Terry is not likely to have that much fuel left. Then again...
This has been a relatively light-hearted look at some of the players that are on the Bucks’ margins, but as we’ll discuss more going forward, the margins matter so much more for Milwaukee than they have before.
So what do you think? Agree or disagree? Do we work to keep any of these five guys? If so, which ones? Under what circumstances? How long, and for how much? Let us know in the comments!