We’re in the thick of the Milwaukee Bucks regular rotation now, and today is the day that do-it-all reserve and NBA champion Pat Connaughton makes his exit from our annual exercise. Let’s hope that this one doesn’t leave a mark...
No foul call for Pat Connaughton on this play... pic.twitter.com/yco0J9KN2l— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 13, 2021
Everyone’s favorite Milwaukee real estate mogul was originally drafted in the second round back in 2015, though it was actually his second time being drafted by a professional team (the first being a fourth-rounder in the 2014 MLB draft). Curiously, the NBA pick that became Pat Connaughton was originally moved by the New Jersey Nets in 2011, routed through Utah and Atlanta before coming to Milwaukee, and in 2014 sent back to the Nets (now in Brooklyn) in exchange for...former head coach Jason Kidd.
A quick draft-day trade to Portland led to Pat actually getting selected, and after three years with the Blazers, the Bucks picked him up on a nifty little two year deal, and Milwaukee was able to keep him around in the 2020 offseason with a much-maligned (at least back then) two-plus-one contract that still pays well below the league average salary for a playoff-competent wing.
While Planet Pat can keep up with Giannis in the weight room, Connaughton isn’t quite up to the same on-court burden as the reigning Finals MVP. At 6’5” and 210 lbs, he has good-but-not-great size for a shooting guard. His leaping ability is impressive, but his lateral quickness is less so. He’s strong enough to stand his ground against opposing forwards, but he lacks the length to be an impact defender. He has a real knack for rebounding, a skill that Milwaukee leaned on heavily during their playoff run.
Most importantly, he found his range from deep (37.1% from three in the regular season, 38.9% in the playoffs) while taking the vast majority of his shots behind the arc. This mid-career shooting renaissance turned Connaughton from a “jack of all trades, master of none” backup into a critical component of Milwaukee’s postseason small-ball lineups. He has the trust of his teammates and coaches, and routinely got the call when the Bucks needed his versatility. Before PJ Tucker was acquired, the lineup featuring Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, Giannis, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton was Milwaukee’s presumptive small-ball answer, and there’s no indication that Connaughton won’t be a part of the calculus moving forward.
Taking Pat out of the contest before any of the starters or Bobby Portis makes sense, but how did Connaughton get edged out by Donte DiVincenzo? For one thing, Donte (24) is four years younger than Pat (28), and youth always gets a boost in theoretical rankings. DiVincenzo is a similarly talented rebounder for his position, and he also can boast superior playmaking ability (career 4.8 assists per 100 possessions for Donte vs. 3.5 for Pat) and swoops in for steals about twice as often (career 2.1 steals per 100 for Donte vs. 1.1 for Pat).
But those high highs are counterbalanced by some low lows, as DiVincenzo’s rewards carries a fair bit of risk. Donte is one of the Bucks’ most frequent over-helpers on defense, a habit that produces a steal or a deflection far less often than a blown rotation or a late contest. Connaughton, on the other hand, demonstrated a far higher degree of defensive discipline this past season, making fewer mistakes and all but eliminating his signature fly-bys when closing out on shooters. Combined with his durability, Connaughton suddenly looks like a far safer option in high-stakes situations than DiVincenzo, who has also struggled with injuries since joining the league.
It comes down to what fans are more comfortable with, and if the gambling ways of Donte DiVincenzo is more helpful alongside the Bucks’ main core than the steady contributions of Pat Connaughton. In this case, it seems that Pat is left on the outside looking in, but either way we can expect to enjoy another season of Massachusetts’ finest.
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