Basketball is a funny sport. NBA basketball is even funnier. It is so dynamic that every game tells its own unique story, offering us watchers ever new opportunities to react wildly in any direction. But it also contains 82 games in a season, so while we can go nuts after the result of one, two, five, or ten games, what “really matters” is the unifying themes we can detect in sample sizes of 20, 40, and 82 games.
So when we asked for you readers to submit questions earlier this week the tone of the inquiries was directly impacted by Milwaukee’s poor start to 2024 and the impending showdown with the Boston Celtics on national TV.
Then the Bucks mercilessly beat the brakes off the Celtics in front of the whole nation (so much so that TNT opted to cut away from the slaughter for an equally-meaningless Mavs-Knicks alternative).
So keep that context in mind when you read the questions below. I did my best to capture the pre-Thursday zeitgeist in an effort to discount the impact a single gigantic victory over a top rival may have on the larger themes in the Bucks universe.
To your questions!
_ha_ha_ha asks: Is the prevalence of the 3 pointer ruining the NBA? Every Bucks/Celtics game seems to hinge on whether the Celtics hit 40% of their 3s no matter what else happens. Or am I just salty because it feels like the Bucks are usually on the wrong end of it?
Yes, you were salty when you wrote in this question, but that’s understandable because recent history (last night excepted) bears out a slight edge for the Pacers. Over the last 10 matchups between Milwaukee and Boston, the Bucks 3P% averaged out to 37.4% and the Celtics at 41.3%. Not as bad as you’d think! And you were actually low-balling the Celtics when you guessed that they make 40% of their threes. In games where they shot at least 40% from three, they were 6-2 in that span.
As to whether the three-point shot is ruining basketball, that’s an interesting question. While there have been increases in raw attempt rate and a slight increase in makes, we also supposedly live in the most athletic time in the sport’s history. In theory, the post wars of yesteryear have moved further from the basket pitting guys who engage in tests of speed/agility rather than that of brawn — footwork, desire, and reading the court retain their value regardless of where the action occurs.
Does it make a clutch of games boring because the shot percentage is so lopsided as to be insurmountable? Yes. But I think there is value in recognizing that as three-pointers have become dominant we are also benefitting from jumps in coordinated team play to get everyone better looks. We’re seeing assist numbers that we haven’t seen since the mid-80s, so maybe an entertainment equilibrium is on the horizon?
Xiao Biduen asks: Where is this team mentally and emotionally? Will GA “check out” before the season is over?
Pre-Celtics win: The season is on fire and it is only a matter of time until the whole edifice comes crumbling to the ground in a horrific explosion.
Post-Celtics win: We may never lose a game again.
Serious answer: It feels like we’re stuck in a sort of chicken-egg paradox here. The head coach has an aggressive defensive system that requires buy-in. It doesn’t work right away (especially for the center) and guys get deflated, so the system that would only have a shot at functioning with something close to 100% effort (and may have needed 150%, given the perimeter defenders available) really crumbles. Yet the coach hasn’t flashed a lot of flexibility to give guys hope of a meaningful change in a direction they like, so now we’ve got Brook Lopez not even bothering to box out from time to time. I’d characterize the mentality as simmering frustration prone to occasional eruptions.
For your second question, I think Giannis would be the last guy to throw in the towel. If it gets truly bad he’ll push for radical change before he checks out.
moosehoops asks: I like Adrian Griffin, I think he is a good person, but not a good coach. Who should the Bucks replace him with?
Let’s go to the oddsmakers from this past summer for some names!
As far as assistants who were looking for their first shot to be a head coach, Quinn would’ve been an interesting option coming from Spoelstra’s staff, but I think another first-time head coach would take some hubris if Griffin gets canned. Doc is there in media waiting to be called out of the wings and he has a plethora of experience, even with limits in playoff success. Scott Brooks and Mark Jackson may as well not be on this list.
I guess it’d come down to Rivers v. Atkinson for me. If you’re looking for a guy to stabilize the culture and who has experience balancing star egos... well, maybe Doc makes a deal of sense.
stoneAge asks: Let’s say you get the GM job for one day, just exact at this point of the season, having lost 4 out of 5 games.
- What needs do you see the team having roster wise? What would be the first changes you would undertake just before trade deadline?
- How would you value the job done from the former GM Horst? You’ve got two second rounders and these players to make things happen.
- Straight to the head. Would you fire Griffin?
stoneAge did me a solid and already provided the timeline framing for his questions. I’ll tackle them in order:
- Let’s just ignore the regular season and drill down to the playoff rotation. What we have in terms of archetypes are as follows: Lead guard (Dame), flexible wrecker (Giannis), third fiddle (Khris), lumbering center (Brook), Jeff Teague (Cam), wing defender/mystery box tickets (MarJon/AJJ), small ball defender (Jae), chaos energy big (Bobby), shooter guy (Malik), we’re doomed if we play him but he’s a good guy (Pat). Against it all, I still think the key to winning in short bursts like the playoffs lie in a proper small-ball lineup as it unlocks a ton of strategic options. In that vein, an alternative to Jae Crowder is a must in case Jae returns and just doesn’t have it a la last season. Easier said than done, I know, and if I had a better suggestion than PJ Tucker I’d make it. At least PJ would also bring that scorching internal fire to the player corps that I fear we lack right now. As far as outgoing pieces to make said trade, Bobby, Pat, and either of MarJon or AJJ are the likeliest options. Also, I’d ask Robin to please retire. Pretty please, even.
- Truly, as frustrating as the coaching hire has been, as weak as the roster is in certain respects, if I were GM for a day making sure Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to sign on dotted lines to commit his future to Milwaukee would be my top priority. My predecessor got that done for me, so that does weigh heavily in his favor. I’d be critical of his not having the gumption to pull the trigger on holdovers with tradable deals to help restock my ammo a bit. I’d also be mad that I’m spending two full roster spots for nepotism purposes, even if it furthered his drive to whatever ends he has in mind. I think there is still a ton of potential waiting to be uncovered in the Dame-Giannis dynamo and that the right coaching staff is out there somewhere to make it work — if I can figure that part out, a lot of the peripheral pieces return to their proper place as second- or third-order problems and not the first-order issues they’ve become because of the misfiring of the top line guys.
- Not during the season, but unless there is some meaningful sign of life the rest of the year and into the playoffs, he’ll be out of a job come summertime. If I’m GM I’m privy to the discussion he and his staff are having on how to get his two superstars to function together/buy in, and I probably have a sense that they don’t know the answer. Apologies if the decision seems too cut-throat, but there is way too much riding on a very small window for you to find yourself on the clock here. Obviously a Finals appearance or a title changes the calculus — until that comes to pass, I’m evaluating all my options for (another) clean reset later this year. (PS — obviously if Giannis (or Dame, maybe?) come to me and say fire this guy right now or I will demand a trade, Griffin is losing his job ahead of schedule).
Some good questions with long answers. I welcome your own answers to your co-readers’ inquiries in the comments below and encourage you to keep sending in questions on coming editions of Questions & Antlers!