Plumlee Trade – Fixing a Mistake

Yesterday the Bucks traded Miles Plumlee to Charlotte for Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert. Steve Novak was cut as part of it to free up roster space (maybe we’ll see him as a coach?).

The trade itself is not really worth getting into too deep. Hibbert can’t play anymore and Hawes is a “stretch 5” currently shooting 27% on wide open 3’s. They won’t likely help the team. More than likely, they just give some options when the Thon/Moose rotation doesn’t work (due to defense, foul trouble, etc.).

What’s good about it though, is that it fixes a disaster of a signing from the summer. Miles getting 4 years $50 million deal when seemingly nobody was offering him anything on that same continent was terrible. He shows flashes of usefulness when he can roll to the rim and occassionally make some athletic blocks, but he can only do that. If he doesn’t roll, teams can just trap the ball handler and kill the offense. Also, 4 years, $50 million.

So Hibbert is on a one year deal. Hawes has a $6 million player option for next year. Hopefully he shows signs of usefulness so he can be encouraged to opt out.

After this move, here’s what the salary situation is like going forward.

Reminder, the cap is projected at $102 million for 2017/18. So if Moose/Hawes opt in, the Bucks won’t be able to sign free agents.

The best case is Moose & Hawes both opt out, leaving the team with about $82 million on the books for nine players. That would leave the team some room to sign a few low level free agents plus their rookies.

There’s also the Jabari Parker situation. Parker has been a mess lately, but still is likely to get a max extension (since there’s a new CBA, he’s much less likely to get the Giannis style near-max).

We don’t have any reliable info (at least I don’t) on the salary cap for 2018/19 and beyond, so I just threw in a $25million figure for the first year of a likely Jabari extension. Also including some estimated rookie deals. Here’s what we get.

I left Tony Snell out, but I assume he’ll get signed and that could add another $5-8 million per year.

They also have a Middleton deal coming after next year, since he’ll likely opt out if he’s playing like his old self. Expect that $13 million number to go up.

So even with this move and even with the Moose contract being up after next year (if not sooner), the Bucks likely do not have any cap room going forward. Part of that is the reality of having a team with three all-star caliber players. But part of it is their own doing. The Delly contract still bothers me. They couldn’t have predicted Brogdon being this good, but here we are. We don’t know if he’ll develop enough to be the primary point guard, but if he does we’ll have $61 million committed to two bench players over the next three years (Henson and Delly). Next year alone there is $31.8 to Henson, Dellavedova, Teletovic. Over the last 15 games that trio combined is averaging 55 minutes per game. That’s a lot of money tied up to guys who only play part-time.

Going into this year, it would be easy to think that it would be 2018 and beyond to really be worried about. And it is, but the early part of this season may have accelerated the timeline a bit. With Middleton back and healthy (knock on wood), this team could be pretty serious next season. They played like a 4 seed for much of this year, still have a positive net rating (for now… it’s at 0.2) and are just behind the Thunder with a -0.3 point differential. That’s after losing 9 of their last 10 in pretty embarrassing fashion.

So let’s say the Bucks legitimately compete next year. By that, I mean they are going for home court in a playoff series and have a good shot at winning a round. They’ll expect to keep climbing from there and giving the ages of Giannis & Jabari, 2018/19 would be the year to make the big step forward, contend for an East finals (and a TON can change, but think about it, the Cavs may not be the Cavs, Lowry & the Raptors could be broken up or at least much older, the Celtics… who knows). You’d like to add pieces to support that push. But it looks like they won’t have any hope of doing that unless they’re able to unload more contracts before next year’s trade deadline.

This doesn’t even get into what all this means for Kidd. I assume his extension gives him safety. But the defense continues to be a disaster, the offense can’t put together multiple games of competency, and they just traded away his guy (Miles) after giving him what I can only assume was a contract that Kidd pushed for (and don’t forget, another Kidd guy in Vaughn flat out can’t play). I don’t think he’s on the hot seat, but with so little room to maneuver and the prime-Giannis era fast approaching, the Bucks are going to want to get this figured out fast.

I’d imagine more is to come.

Bucks Offseason Not Done After Plumlee Signing

I was about to write about whether it appeared the Bucks had improved enough to make a run back toward the playoffs this year. But then the Plumlee signing happened and I realized I couldn’t answer that question yet. Plenty of people have discussed whether the signing of Miles Plumlee was smart, foolish, overvaluing the big guy, etc. But there’s consensus that committing to four years of another center who can’t flex to other positions means the Bucks have more moves to make. And likely before the season starts.

There are two major issues to address, and they may be able to handle both in one move. The first is there are currently four centers on the roster if you assume Maker is destined for that role (he’ll probably get some minutes behind Parker early on though). One of those guys is Monroe, who seems destined to move somewhere. It will be tough to make up his offense, but hopefully giving a few more shots to each of the stars will balance things out. Moving him should upgrade the defense, but also make the minutes easier to distribute.

What gets tricky without Monroe is there’s no clear starting center. We’re left with two good backups and one unknown prospect. It’s likely Henson and Plumlee will get 20-ish minutes each and it seems likely the hot hand will start as neither offers a definitive matchup advantage.

The other issue is at guard. It appears Delly is the most likely starter, but the situation is quite similar to center where the group of Dellavedova, Brogdan, MCW, Ennis, Vaughn offer a lot of bodies but no clear starting player. There’s some great options for backup spots where you could see a variety of combinations of those guys putting up points vs other backups.

So at the moment, it looks like this.

bucks-starters

I’m assuming Monroe is not part of the picture. In an ideal world, Monroe would get moved for a clear starter in the backcourt. But it’s hard to assume his value is that high. It’s not like teams are saying “gee, we’ve got too many shooters, gotta move some”.

The other tricky part is figuring out who to bring in that would fit. The Bucks want Giannis handling the ball as that really increases his offensive value barring some major shooting improvements. But they need someone who can defend point guards and shoot. Most starting-caliber point guards, even if they could be acquired, aren’t likely going to accept a role where they suddenly move off the ball. Those players wouldn’t likely be as good in those scenarios either. So you’re left looking for smaller shooting guards who can defend point guards. Like CJ McCollum sized dude, but who can defend.

That all seems to point to Delly being the best option. He’s not very talented with the ball in his hand, so there’s less lost value moving him to the side on offense. He can competently guard point guards. And he’ll hopefully get open looks from outside with the attention being put on the future 3. He may not be good enough to start on most NBA teams, but this is an unusual situation where there aren’t a ton of options that are better. And for this year, when we’re not expecting Giannis/Jabari to destroy the world yet, it may not matter.

So that means a possible Monroe trade isn’t so tough. You grab whatever shooters or assets a team is willing to offer. Accept his value is low and moving him (and the resulting increased touches for others) is more of an investment in your future stars than anything else. But regardless, it’s a major change that seems inevitable. Maybe he sticks around through the start of the season, but for now the team looks very much incomplete.

Bucks Hope Change Leads to Stability

Think back to December 12, 2015 in Milwaukee. It’s the end of the game. The BMO Harris Bradley Center is packed with fans screaming as loud as they can. The home team dribbling out the clock. The opponents looking dismayed as they count down the moments until they can flee to the locker room.

NBA championship victory? Nope. Not even a playoff win over a hated rival. This was the scene for a December game. December 12, 2015 to be exact, when the 10–18 Milwaukee Bucks faced the 24–0 Golden State Warriors. The Bucks, of course, prevailed. Despite a huge turnout of folks who had been die-hard Warriors fans for about 6 months at that time, it was a playoff-like atmosphere for the Bucks. Prior to this game, a double-OT victory against the Cavaliers in November was the only game with such a vibe. This would end up being the last such game for 2015–16.

Despite the excuses, the Warriors being on a long road trip, coming off a double-OT win of their own in Boston the previous night, being without Harrison Barnes, etc., it was a huge game for the Bucks. This was one moment throughout a disappointing season that reminded people of the promise of the future. Milwaukee built on this the following week when they went into Golden State and lost, but played the Warriors very tough. Validation that the young roster of the Bucks seemed to have some of the right pieces in place. The length + athleticism formula of the Bucks helped them lower the three point shooting percentage and slow the offensive pace of the Warriors. This same formula was put on display recently when OKC took the same Warriors to 7 games.

Of course, it took the Thunder using that model with incredible intensity and two of the most talented players in the league just to make a playoff series close. The Bucks don’t have that, and they never came close to sniffing the playoffs. You know the rest. The Bucks are a lottery team, Golden State is in the Finals again and (as of writing this) making an incredibly good Cleveland team look incredibly bad.


Remembering this game is actually sad. Wins like the streak-breaker against the Warriors are a familiar experience for Bucks fans, and not for positive reasons. The 2015/16 Milwaukee Bucks oldest starter was Greg Monroe, born in 1990. Since Monroe was born, the Bucks have won two playoff series. Both of those were in the same year, 2001. For the last several decades, the most memorable games the Bucks have played were largely in the regular season.

Throughout that stretch, you can point to plenty of numbers that are typical of bad teams with poor ownership. The Bucks had two head coaches during their first 20 years as a team. They’ve had 12 in the following 32. Stability in coaching, players and the executive ranks is virtually always a priority for teams that win. It’s non-existent for the losers. Bad owners rarely treat sports franchises the same way they treat the businesses that made them wealthy. Instead of investing in long-term growth and sustained greatness, they think there’s always a quick fix. Coaches, especially, are like junk stocks. If there’s not immediate returns, you dump it and move on.

The few remaining loyal Bucks fans have become jaded and expect failure. Irrational fans demand the team be blown up after a bad stretch of games, want coaches fired, think every player is a bum. This is not unique to bad teams. What is unique, is even the more rational fans just assume all those things will happen. We’ve all become conditioned to believe a 1st round playoff loss is the goal every season. If that goal isn’t met, major and short-sighted moved must be made to achieve it next year.


It appeared that even though the new ownership group said the right things, they may be following that same ugly pattern. Kidd was the perfect type of higher profile hire that could go badly, especially with his desire to control personnel. The actual GM, John Hammond, is coming up on the final year of a contract with no extension in sight. The team signed Greg Monroe, a move said to be made in order to prove to other players that Milwaukee can be a viable destination for them, but that had all the makings of a quick-fix. And as the 2015–16 season went on, we started to hear rumblings that owners were not happy with Jason Kidd. Here we go…

But suddenly, it appears that may not be the case. At the end of May, the Bucks hired Justin Zanik away from the Jazz to be their assistant GM. Zanik is very well respected around the league and it’s said he had a big part in building the impressive Utah roster. Whether it’s for one year or slightly longer, Zanik is going to learn the ropes from Hammond and take over the full GM job.

This move is positive by itself, but it has interesting ramifications for Jason Kidd. For one, Zanik and Kidd have different agents. There’s been talk and worry that Jeff Schwartz had too much influence on the Bucks, with several of his clients getting roster spots on the team. This creates some needed separation there. It’s also interesting as investing in the grooming of a hot GM candidate seems a strong indicator that Jason Kidd will not be making personnel moves, officially or unofficially.

You’d think this could be the beginning of the end for Kidd’s tenure. But the public statements are that he’s working on an extension. This could be all PR, but it would be perfect timing to just not talk about Kidd’s contract and let the relationship dissolve. The Bucks could say they liked Kidd as a coach, but didn’t see him as the future GM, and decided to part ways. But at least saying they’re working on retaining him as coach hopefully is an earnest statement.


Both of these moves set up to be great for the Bucks. Kidd has shown promise as a coach just as Zanik seems to have the tools to be a good GM. They’re each very raw though. Securing them in a position where they can learn on the job with a team that has no serious expectations to win is a solid move and a big change of direction for this team. Assuming these two men pan out, they are on a timeline similar to the players. When Giannis and Jabari are hitting their primes in 2–3 years, the coach/GM combo should also be comfortable in their roles. Theoretically this sets up for a serious opportunity to compete. Coincidentally, that timeline also lines up with the opening of a new arena that will feature higher ticket prices and a lot of pressure to grow attendance.

There’s a ton of variables at play here. We’re assuming Antetokounmpo and Parker can be the foundation of a contender. We’re assuming you can take those two and build a roster around them without major deficiencies in spacing, shooting or defense. We’re assuming Kidd doesn’t want to battle for more power or bolt for a situation with less pressure. We’re assuming people in Milwaukee will pay money to watch a team that isn’t a winner yet.

But for now, there’s hope. For the first time in decades, the Bucks appear to be staying true to their #OwnTheFuture marketing mantra. For now, we’re not seeing knee-jerk decisions in effort to get a few wins now at the expense of the long term. And the “future” we’re being sold isn’t some imaginary destination that requires winning multiple draft lotteries or signing free agents that would never play in this town. The future is largely in place, the only hope is the growth continues. If the young core develops at the same pace they have, there’s a very real glimmer of what could be a winning team.

Will they be a title contender? That’s an extremely bold statement. But if you have two young all stars (or more, depending on Middleton and/or anyone else who joins the team), one of them potentially a superstar player, you’re far ahead of the bulk of the league. At that point, the moves needed to fill out the rest of the roster are more realistic. So assuming that growth continues, you can legitimately start thinking in those terms.

Being a Good Teammate

I took a job a while back that seemed like a step down at the time. I was heavily recruited in my field and decided to go to a company that was still very much growing. I could’ve gone elsewhere for more prestige or a better title, but I felt like this was something that would pay off as the company expanded. It was a logical move in the end as I wasn’t super far along in my career and had room for some risk (even though it was a small risk).

Things started out slow, and the growth didn’t really come as expected. Fast forward a bit, and I was asked to change my role and take charge of a team that was in disarray. It was in an area that was outside my comfort zone a bit and handling responsibilities I really wasn’t fond of. I wasn’t happy about it, but felt like there was little alternative at the time.

It wasn’t fun and I continued to not enjoy it despite efforts to keep my eyes on the future. It’s hard to remain focused on possibilities when your present day is frustrating and unrewarding. When it starts to look like your circumstances aren’t going to change, that’s when it can turn sour. Suddenly a great opportunity feels like a giant mistake. You feel like your talents are being wasted, like you could be helping in other areas but the situation won’t allow it, like your career is taking a nose dive. That’s how I felt.

Should you find yourself in a situation like this, it’s likely you’ll check out mentally. You start to not care, your quality of work gets worse, and the negative feelings snowball. It’s easy to start lashing out at people around you and to start acting like a jerk in general.

But you know what? You shouldn’t. You don’t have to blindly act like everything is sunshine and rainbows, but you should act like a damn adult. Be professional and find a productive way to improve your situation.

Basically, don’t act like Greg Monroe.

Bucks Defense – Trying to Make Sense

I found this funny stat that showed Monroe is the best player on the Bucks in terms of defensive win share. He was 69th in the league. As of writing this, he’s down to 74, as BBR updates often. But I thought it was actually kind of an interesting little stat. I don’t think it says anything about Monroe being secretly a good defender, as that’s so far from the truth.

So last year with Sanders at center, or even Zaza or Henson, the big thing they offered was that early help against pick and roll. The goal was trap the ball handler, force them to pass out of the play, and the long wings on the Bucks would be able to recover across the court before anyone could attempt an open shot. Zach Lowe broke this down incredibly well last year.

That’s clearly not working this year, and it’d be easy to blame Parker/Monroe for their role in it. But oddly, teams are running pick and roll against the Bucks at one of the lowest rates in the league. The percentile number there is telling, and the Bucks are doing a terrible job on defense during those plays, but it’s not like teams found a new weakness in that defensive plan and are exploiting it.

Instead it’s the spot up shooting that’s killing them, as most of us probably knew.

I’m not smart enough to reconcile any of this into something meaningful… I guess if I were, I’d be a basketball writer or coach, haha. But I’ve been trying to pay more and more attention to the defense and just learn/understand more. So part of that is that I can see Monroe stink on defense a lot, but I don’t know that it’s really hurting them. There aren’t many dominant big guys he has to cover. And even last year, it seemed the big guy mostly had to run to the free throw line to help. They never seemed to do any crazy switching where the 5 had to hang with a guard and Monroe wouldn’t be able to keep up.

That’s where I start getting lost. I almost gave up trying to compare to last season and dig through lineups and whatever. Especially after watching them play Detroit the other night, or New Orleans not long ago, it feels like every play involves a pass in the paint, the defense crashing in, then a kick out (plus maybe an extra pass or two) for an open 3.

The Bucks are allowing basically one more made 3 per game this year. They were in 11th worst last year at allowing 3 point makes. This year they are 5th worst.

And smart writers have pointed out that all along, 3’s were going to be a result of their aggressive defense against the pick and roll… but if teams aren’t running that, what’s missing?

They went from 2nd in points allowed/possession last year to 19th this year. One extra 3 per game shouldn’t impact that too much. The defensive rebounding is certainly bad, but the NBA stats on putback rankings have the Bucks doing a little better than average. Nylon Calculus has the Bucks 3rd worst in offensive rebound points allowed/100 poss – but if you strip the #1 best and worst teams from that list, the span between good and bad is pretty insignificant. It pretty much lines up with the put back data from NBA.com.

If you look at opponent stats year-over-year, they’re a bit worse pretty much everywhere. I grabbed all those numbers on a per game and per possession level and have them below:

While they’ve gotten their points in a different manner this year, the offense isn’t terribly different. The net result is their offensive production is similar enough to last year, but the defense is giving up about 5.5 points more. And it seems to be a combination of doing basically everything a little worse.

What is somewhat interesting to me, and maybe there is some clues hidden in here, is simply looking at the win/loss splits. Of course virtually every team is going to play noticeably better in games they win. Usually the only difference is when you get into teams that win/lose a lot of close games or crazy anomalies like Golden State this year who has barely lost a game and thus their splits are skewed.

So here’s what this looks like:

I’ll save you a lot of sorting on league-wide stats, but essentially the Bucks defense on a DefRtg level are one of the best in the league when they win (compared to all other teams in wins) and one of the worst when they lose (compared to all others in losses).

Trying to understand why that happens is alluding me a bit, but I’ll try to find some hints. For one, my casual observation is that they play a lot better against good teams or at least in big games (e.g. national TV, Saturday nights, etc). To try and quantify that, here’s how they look when the opponent is above .500 vs below (use the filter on the right to show above vs below .500 opponents):

Hmmph. They have a slightly better record against under .500 opponents and their defensive rating is pretty similar.

Bucks 2015/16 Pre-Trade Deadline Review

We’re almost to the all-star break and have the trade deadline looming in the 2015-16 NBA season, so when your team has the third worst record in the conference it’s about time to look to the future. Since the Bucks are a good candidate for a bigger move before the trade deadline (and really no team is the same year to year), we won’t make any assumptions about the specifics of the future roster and will try and do this in terms of what should possibly be done now vs after the season and beyond. After the trade deadline passes, we’ll do a recap and make adjustments based on any moves that go down.

Current Roster & Salary Outlook

All numbers from Basketball-Reference.com

So there’s already $60.8m on the books for 16-17, with three bench spots potentially opening up via free agency (one of those spots being Vasquez, a player I like that came in a bad trade. Painful reminder of how that trade looked foolish at the time and is idiotic today).

We’re still expecting an $89m cap in 2016, which puts the Bucks in the same spot as much of the league. They can sign a max player if they wanted, but will have to compete with more than money. Regardless, money won’t be an issue immediately.

Contract Decisions

There’s a few players the Bucks will have to start make decisions about next year, both before the season and during, if not sooner. You can gather from the spreadsheet above, but here’s the breakdown.

OJ Mayo 

He was hoping for a big year to get a nice contract next season, but even with a 3 year high in minutes, he’s struggled to score and missed a lot of time by starting the season with an injury. Especially when he was injured, I loved Mayo as a glue guy (if you know Mayo’s history, you’re laughing right now). He was great early on, helping point things out to the young players, cheering from the bench, all the stuff you’d love one of your oldest and most experienced players (at a ripe old 27) to do.

I don’t know if it’s the poor team performance or his individual performance, but that seems to be turning. Lately there’s been a lot more arguing with refs, with coaches, being silent on the bench. It looks like the old Juice is back.

I’m still optimistic he’s just in a funk and can turn it back around. He’s still one of the few guys out there every night during shootaround working on his shot. He’s still a good defender and can definitely contribute on offense. I’d like to see him get what may be the biggest contract of his career next season, but on another team. If Mayo were having the season he hoped for, a 4 year deal at $40-45m would be in play for him. Maybe more given the direction of the cap. Unfortunately for him, he’s playing closer to the level of a midlevel guy.

Bottom line, I don’t see him coming back. It appears during MCW’s benching that the team decided Mayo doesn’t have a future as a starting PG. Even at a reduced salary from this year, there is enough money committed to 2017-18 already that you don’t want to add too much to the books while Giannis and Parker are going to be getting deals in the near future.

The other Expiring contracts

Bayless, Plumlee, Copeland and Vasquez. I could see the first three coming back as bargain contracts to fill out the bench.

Bayless has missed time because of injuries, but is a bit of a spark plug when he gets in. A lot of the bench lineups lack offense (and many of them are just plain lost), so he’s occassionally a good option to have. He also shares an agent with Jason Kidd.

Copeland and Plumlee almost never play and neither has much upside. They seem like good dudes and are by no means wasted roster spots. Copeland has a little history with Kidd from a year playing on the Knicks together, which I suspect is how he ended up in Milwaukee. In either case, they could be back or move on, and should take whatever option gives them the most money and/or potential playing time.

Vasquez is the one that hurts a lot. The trade has been recounted and analyzed many times. Bucks got Vasquez, gave up a 2015 2nd round pick (Raptors took Norman Powell, who is a typical 2nd round pick at this point) and a 2017 1st round pick. Lots of caveats, as there typically is with trading 1st rounders… It’s the Clippers’ pick and came to Milwaukee via the equally shameful trade (for LA) where Delfino and Raduljica went to LA for Dudley and the pick. It’s lottery protected, and you don’t expect LA to be in the lottery anytime soon. That means Toronto should expect a late 1st round pick in 2017.

What makes this so bad is, Vasquez is at best a backup. I’m assuming even though we had Mayo, Bayless and Ennis as options, the team wanted a more reliable guy off the bench to cover for MCW. I’d guess this may have been partially related to the unexpected success the previous year, and there was some degree of pressure not to take a big step back this year (didn’t work). Regardless, Vasquez is hurt and won’t play much, if at all, the rest of the year. I can’t imagine they’ll sign him, which means the Bucks gave up a valuable pick for 361 minutes of backup point guard play.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis is a lot more interesting. He’s still incredibly exciting and likely has superstar potential in him, but I think everyone hoped for a bigger step forward this year. His PER of 16.5 is not impressive, but he’s so young you don’t worry much about that. His defensive rating of 108 is bad, as well as a step back from last year. You’d think the poor team defense is the biggest factor there. His shooting away from the rim is still horrible.

Source: http://vorped.com/sc/c39c28d6464b4786bba2364e049ddac7
Source: http://vorped.com/sc/c39c28d6464b4786bba2364e049ddac7

You’d just hope for more this year. Instead, most indicators say he’s taken a step back. If you put any weight on stats like VORP and WS, he’s much worse and in some cases well below average. Ignore the YouTube highlights, watch games and just focus on him. It’s getting worrisome. You can see it in person and on TV… he just seems eager to make the highlight play. But his offensive skillset is still so limited, there aren’t many options to make that play. If he can’t score, or the possession doesn’t focus on him, he drifts off to the perimeter and loses interest.

source: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/a/antetgi01.html
source: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/a/antetgi01.html

Let me be clear, this does not mean you give up on Giannis. He’s of course barely 21 and this is his second season as a full-time starter. He’s had very different lineups around him each of his years with the team and his role has shifted a bit, but those are not things that should prevent growth.

You have to still assume that with this much raw talent and rare the rare size/skill combo, that Giannis will keep improving. You have to hope this year is a bump in the road. Again, he just turned 21. He’s probably three years away from really entering his peak.

But that’s where questions start to pop up. 2016-17 is the last year of his rookie contract. He’ll be a restricted free agent after next year, which helps, but there will definitely be teams legitimately trying to sign him (as well as probably a team or two trying to screw the Bucks into matching a silly contract). That means the Bucks could be hit with a sizable contract, something they may regret if this year is a darker omen of the future.

But what else can they do? A trade before he becomes an RFA has massive potential to be a disaster. It’s almost unheard of for good reason. Nobody would support that. You basically have no choice but to let 2016-17 play out, see how he’s progressing, and re-sign him regardless. There’s no way they let him walk, and even if next year is horrendous, there still would be sign/trade options as a worst-case, just based on his youth and potential.

That all seems like an overreaction, but I am a tad worried. Giannis came into the NBA so raw, that there was no rational way you could expect him to actually play like KD at the same age (even though the comps were certainly flying around). You’d have to think he’ll hit his prime later than typical players, simply because of the development needs. But when you don’t see the progress and you don’t see his game improving, it is concerning. The big fear is that Giannis ends up as a swingman version of DeAndre Jordan. An player that is able to overcome a lack of skill development with athleticism (which translates to being an overpaid player that you have to sit in crunch time).

That is not what the Bucks want. Ideally Giannis is the 2nd best player on the team at his peak, maybe the best. If he developed his offensive game, he has no ceiling. If he coasts on his athletic ability, it will be a dead end for the long term growth of the team. What could be a contending core of Parker/Giannis/Middleton a few seasons from now would likely end up being just another team stuck fighting for an 8th seed. They’d almost certainly have max money committed to each of those three players, and limited depth as a result. Middleton is not going to be the 2nd best player on a title contender, but projects to be a great third option. If Giannis isn’t a top 10 (or better) player, there’s no way this current core is a contender. That’s the quandary.

Players That Could Get Traded

Fire up the rumor mill! Even though one of the Bucks’ owners said they weren’t going to panic, there still is likely going to be some moves made during this season and leading up to next. I won’t speculate on specific moves, but instead, I think these players could be sent away in a potential trade.

John Henson

Henson’s extension kicks in next year, where his salary will be $9.5m and increase an extra $1m each of the following three years (through 2019-20). If he were paid that salary this year, it would be an atrocity. Next year with the increased cap, it’s a lot more tolerable but still a substantial amount of money for a player that will struggle to hit 20 minutes a game as long as Monroe is on the team.

Henson is a great bundle of energy that hasn’t been consistently contained to date. Last season, it appeared he was putting it all together after Larry Sanders fell apart as a high minute backup to Zaza. He was great in pick and roll and cutting to the rim. His rim protection appeared to be a skill that would turn him into a starter (which he was for a bit). But as the season went on, his inconsistency seemed to grow. This year, it’s more ups and downs. He’s an impressive shot blocker, but hasn’t offered much else and is always in foul trouble.

If Henson could be a reliable starter, he’d actually be an interesting fit for the team. If you move Monroe, he’d balance out the offensive touches a lot and his length, rim protection and athleticism would really help the defense. But I don’t think anyone is ready to believe that is an option.

Trading him this year is a bit interesting. His value is probably still high as teams will see him as a player on the rise under a contract that is easy to swallow with the new TV money. But his salary is low this year, which means if you’re going to trade him for anyone that makes an impact now, you’ll probably have to package him with another vet like Mayo to make the numbers work.

Other Trade Possibilities

OJ Mayo – I talked about his value above, and his nagging hamstring problem isn’t helping things. You don’t see teams putting a lot of value on expiring contracts since the new CBA and you especially won’t see it now since virtually everyone has max cap room next year. Still, he’s likely to be a part of any deal the Bucks make and has value on any team that wants to compete now but needs depth.

Plumlee, Bayless, Copeland – They’re all expendable, even though they’ve been very much needed to fill in depth due to injuries. Any of these guys could probably get more minutes elsewhere, but aren’t really helping anybody. But don’t be surprised if they’re tossed in to help contracts line up.

Major Trade Possibilities (aka “Can this roster work?”)

There’s plenty of “blow it up” and “go for the lottery” talk happening among fans this year. People want to trade everyone, I’ve even seen talk of moving Jabari among fans and at least one media member. But let’s look at this realistically, the current starters are almost certainly staying put. The team, from ownership down, has stayed on message that this is about the future. And when your oldest starter turns 26 in June, there’s no reason to worry about accelerating any timelines.

But even so, you’ve got to look to that future and wonder if there’s any way it could work. The ideal scenarios involve Monroe continuing to dominate the low post. Giannis really lives up to his name, can score 20 a night by killing it in transition and punishing smaller forwards or less agile big men in the post. Parker turns into a stretch 4 that can still make spectacular plays around the rim. Middleton keeps growing as an all-around wing player that can play the two guard or small forward in small ball lineups. MCW being a top notch two way guard that can distribute to everyone, get to the rim and score, and hopefully develop a respectable mid-range game.

There’s several problems with that scenario.

  • Touches. There’s only so many to go around. When your five starters all want to be the leading scorer, it won’t work. Even with the popularity of the “big 3” concept in team building, you usually have one or two ball-dominant scorers in that group and one guy that is a star but comfortable as a third option (Bosh, Jordan, Ibaka, Garnett are all examples from recent big-3 lineups). The Bucks have a team that ideally is a “big 5” concept, which just won’t work. You can’t keep everyone happy. Hopefully one player of the bunch would emerge as a true #1 scorer that you can rely on game to game as well as in crunch time.
  • Spacing/Points in the Paint. Parker, Monroe, and Antetokounmpo all score over 64% of their points in the paint. Add MCW and that group is taking 32 shots/game inside 8 feet. Spacing is an obvious problem for this team today, but can you really see it getting better? Kidd says Parker has a future as a stretch 4, but it would be far easier and even more logical for his body and athleticism to work on a post game first. Giannis and MCW have ugly shots and it’s really hard to imagine either of them adding a lot of range. The starters manage to score a lot of points regardless, but predictably are shut down in crunch time when defenses tighten and the paint is blocked off. I would hate to see what this lineup looked like in the playoffs, where any competent defensive group should be able to almost completely deny the paint.
  • Rim Protection/Defense. I’ll lump these two together, even though they are different issues. The defense as a whole stinks for many reasons. Compared to the unit that dominated last year, there are three new starters and Middleton is in a new position. Parker is a bad defender, and he’s hampered more by this entire season essentially being his comeback from a torn ACL. Monroe is a worse defender. MCW and Giannis both have the ability to be good, but you can’t rely on them even in one-on-one scenarios consistently, and they both take chances or get lost when switching. All of that is a problem, and it’s hard to imagine finding a solution.

    Parker has the talent to be a better defender though, and the MCW/Giannis duo really just need discipline. That will take time. Monroe is a lost cause at this point. He can improve, and the coaches should be expecting that out of him, but his deficiencies are so great that there’s no way I see him ever getting to an above-average level.

    Then there’s rim protection, which is a growing concern. Based on the league numbers for anyone playing over 30 minutes/game, Giannis is the best rim protector on the team, and he’s still bad at it. Henson is of course, one of the best in the league, but we already covered the issues with his lack of playing time and the things preventing him from getting more. One thing you see watching the Bucks on defense is all of the big guys cheat back to the paint, likely because they get burned so frequently on easy baskets and there’s no one guy in there to deter shots at the rim. But when they’re doing that along with trying to trap ball handlers and switch everyone on pick and roll, they end up with wide open 3’s all over the place.

    The Bucks are giving up 9.3 made 3’s a game, 3rd worst in the league. That’s coming on 25.5 attempts (36.5% is 7th worst). But what’s shocking is an average of 11 3-point attempts a game (43% of the total attempts) are wide open (no defender within 6 feet).

    It’s a mess all over, but one would think that with Henson as a starter to guard the paint and some more effort and polish from the other guys, we’d see far different results. Instead everyone is trying to guard the paint AND the perimeter at the same time, and thus, nobody is protecting anything.

Those are all pretty fundamental issues that don’t have easy solutions given the current roster. And I don’t think you can have a realistic contender by only addressing a handful of them.

For example, you could move Monroe for maybe draft picks or more young talent, then start Henson at center. That evens out the touches and should help the defense all around. There’s still no shooting and even less crunch time scoring (Monroe does make for the most reliable scoring option late in games).

And even so, you may have something with the kid Vaughn as yet another scoring option, but there’s nowhere for him to get minutes. Ideally, you’d want the flexibility to put Middleton at the wing in spots and have Vaughn at shooting guard. But that means benching one of your supposed foundational players to open that spot. That works in spots, and maybe it would be just what the team needs for stretches, but it mostly speaks to the idea that you need to bench at least one starter in order to attempt to fix spacing.

MCW is going to keep coming up as a way to fix things long-term, and you’re not necessarily wrong for thinking that. Mostly, people want to replace him with a guard that can shoot. But two shooters does not fix spacing or the touches issue. And unless you’re finding a way to get an elite point guard without giving up a starter, any guard with a better shot is going to be giving up something else or maybe several somethings.

The reality is that a lot of things need to go right for this team to work. Giannis, Parker and MCW all need to show dramatic improvements in their shooting if they ever hope to be on the floor together as part of a contender. They need to improve enough that when you start bringing in subs, you can leave one or two of them out there and not have performance fall off a cliff. Right now that’s the case, as the entire bench is a negative, but on good teams would be helped out by keeping one of the stars on the floor with them. Moose is probably not part of the team when and if that time comes and that means Henson (or someone else) needs to step in as a reliable presence on defense.

If all of those things don’t go perfectly, it would mean that building a contender requires moving several pieces., including Parker and/or Giannis, along with looking at options in the middle and at point guard. A lot of fans don’t want to hear that.

But in the end, that’s all part of having a young team. The Bucks can listen to any offer for any player right now, but I’d imagine Monroe or Henson are the only core players they’d serious consider moving. The rest can work itself out through player development and additional draft picks and smaller trades throughout the next few years.

We’ll check back in after the trade deadline and see what, if anything, changed. If the team looks different at that point, we’ll re-evaluate the outlook.

Bucks Coaches: Kidd Vs. Prunty by the Numbers

Jason Kidd returned to the Bucks bench tonight, putting to rest (for now) negligent speculation by dicks like Woj rumors that the hip surgery was a convenient way to get out of job that seemed to be going south. Prunty did an admirable job by at least not allowing a poor-performing team to get noticeably worse, and there were even a few sparks along the way that offered hope the Bucks were improving. But now that his interim tenure is done, let’s take a look at how the team performed with each coach so far this year.

All stats from nba.com

First, the basic overview:

So what changed here? Not a lot. The record is better, and the Prunty wins have come against the following teams:

  • 76ers
  • @Pacers
  • @Wolves
  • Mavs
  • Bulls
  • Hawks
  • @Hornets
  • @Heat

It’s a mixed bag of opponents, but wins are wins. Especially the four games on the road, since their most “impressive” road win prior was an early game against the Knicks.

They’ve managed to make a real impact on the offense as well, while keeping the defense at a consistent but still terrible level.

The major caveat to the general numbers, and all of the numbers really, is to remember the team is super young and started the year off unhealthy. Parker slowly increased his minutes and is still working on getting his game in order. Mayo missed a lot of time to start the year. There was an MCW injury and benching under Kidd as well. Prunty has had some injuries as well, but nothing major and his available roster has been a lot more steady.

Let’s look a little deeper at what’s changed. Here’s kind of a summary of advanced stats that begin to tell more of a story.

I start with assist/TO ratio because it’s an interesting number. It’s barely changed, but the Bucks were ranked 10th in the league under Kidd and fell to 20th under Prunty. While a lot of teams settled in and improved their ball movement and care over the first few months, the Bucks stayed put.

The Bucks have been strong at generating assists, especially under Kidd where they were 4th in Assist % and Assist Ratio. With Kidd calling the shots, the Bucks live with their poor-shooting athletes cutting to the basket. Since Prunty has taken over, there’s still plenty of that, but it’s been mixed up with more isolation (especially as Middleton has started to find his shot) and a lot more work in the paint.

The offensive rebound and shooting numbers speak to that latter point. Prunty has going heavy on inside work on offense, with Parker, Giannis and Monroe all getting heavy use inside in the post and facing up. Of course, keeping guys inside to grab rebounds often creates more chances for easy shots on the other end, which does not help their struggling defense.

The pace numbers are still really slow compared to everyone else. Part of that is their offensive spacing has been a mess all year, so they have to rely on slow developing plays in order to score. That could be Moose in the post, multiple screens to get Middleton open, or a lot of dribble-drive attempts to get someone to the rim. That hasn’t improved and outside of a trade it won’t this year. Still, all of those numbers are fairly average.

The bigger part of the pace seems connected to the terrible defense. They’re one of the bottom teams in defensive rebounding rate and opponent 2nd chance points. That will limit possessions. They also do slow down opponents a bit with their frantic defense, in the sense that possessions take longer. It just hasn’t been effective enough to limit points

That hasn’t changed, nor would you expect it to as Sean Sweeney is primarily responsible for the defense and has struggled to keep the same scheme as last year with vastly different players.

So what has changed the most? Style of offense, by far.

We’re talking fairly small changes in terms of absolute points here and the Bucks are scoring more as a whole, so most categories should be better. But the big changes are down low, where they are scoring more points and spending more of their time.

What’s the reason for the shift in how they score? Well it goes back to the previous point about health. The primary starting five coming into the year was MCW, Middleton, Giannis, Parker, Monroe. It’s that same group today. But due to injuries, that’s not who played early on.

That lineup played 110 minute for Kidd. They played 268 minutes for Prunty. Kidd had to play a lot of odd lineups, including starting Tyler Ennis at point guard at one point.

Bottom line? The Bucks coaching story is really a non-story. It appears the real story is the delay in getting the ideal players on the floor together for an extended period of time. We’re not seeing great results since it happened, but things are getting better here and there. The offense is better, the record is better. Maybe by the end of the year we’ll see more improvement across the board.

Miracle in Motown – Packers Fans: R-E-L-A-X

Yep, I just pulled out the most overused quote in the last 10 years of Packer fandom. Packers fans in Wisconsin and abroad are still overjoyed by the very improbable comeback victory over the Lions last night in Detroit. A game that saw the Packers down 20-0 at one point in the 3rd quarter and looking just as lost on offense as they’ve been for virtually every game this year 1. Traditional rankings have them 28th in total offense (great at running, really really really bad passing) and 9th in total defense (mediocre vs the run, really good vs the pass). Of course, the traditional stats leave out a ton. Their pass defense is likely fairly good, but not great and certainly not top 5 or top 3 as some stats have them. Opponents don’t have to score a lot, because the Vikings offense doesn’t score a lot (21 points/gm, 26th in the league). There’s no garbage time passing in blowouts vs the Vikings either, their average scoring margin is +3.4. And since they run a lot, the Vikings have are top 10 in time of possession, so opponents aren’t getting a ton of changes to move the ball. They have a good third down defense, but that’s hidden by the fact that they don’t get in a ton of third down situations (the Vikings are middle of the league, allowing 0.314 first downs per play – all of these rankings are per teamrankings.com, btw). So all that said, the Vikings have definitely been inflated in stature by who they’ve played and how they play. They’re a good team, but I’d guess they have the ability and performance level of a team with a couple more losses than they actually have.

But all that said, it’s still hard for a rational observer to get excited about the Packers. Their offense still rates poorly in every category but points (they are getting a decent rate of points/game and points/play despite being bad in every other category, so essentially they have fair success at big plays). Yes, the defenses they’ve played have been tough,. Denver and Carolina, both who made the Packers offense look pathetic, are two of the best defenses in the league (if not one and two respectively). But the Broncos do not have one of the best defenses in NFL history, and they made the Packers offense look like one of the worst ever. Beyond that, they struggled to put up points in a loss to the Bears, a win against the 49ers and essentially 6.5 out of 8 quarters agains the Lions. Those are not defenses that strike fear into your heart.

The Packers’ defense is in a similar spot to the Vikings. They’re pretty good, not great. They’ve been put in a lot of bad spots by failed drives on the offensive side. They’ve been matched up against some of the better offenses in terms of either scoring, yards or both and done better than expected in many cases (the only real exception being the Broncos game). They aren’t an elite defense, but there are enough stats that put them in the top 10 (and just barely) to simply agree they are definitely above average.

So why have I spent the last 1400 or so words rambling and throwing out numbers about the Packers and their opponents, seemingly drawing no conclusion? It’s about perspective. Last night, the Packers beat a really bad team. In doing so, they’ve done what they’ve largely done all year and beat a team they were favored to beat (the Packers are 8-4 overall and 7-5 vs the spread). They’re still a fairly inconsistant team having lost 3 games they were favored (the 4th loss being that pick’em at MIN, which means GB would have been the favorite on a neutral field). Two of those losses had the Packers favored by eight or more points (at home vs DET and CHI). Prior to last night, they had only two wins where they were favored by less than five points (vs SEA and @ MIN). Their offense shows no trending signs it will be okay, and with what was supposed to be a top running back in Lacy being repeatedly benched for performance and offensive linemen going down for at least periods of multiple games lately, it may get worse. The defense is clearly not good enough to win games on their own.

So sure, the Packers may win the NFC North. Winning in the playoffs against the superior Panthers and Cardinals will not be in their favor, but the division and a single home playoff game is realistic. They have an easier remaining schedule compared to MIN and currently have the tie-breaker (which would obviously be decided in week 17 if a tie were in play). But if they win the division, it will be because they continue to be the same team they’ve been all year. They’ll win because they’re a team that can do enough against inferior teams to win (most of the time). And they’ll win because maybe Minnesota is a little more worse-than-the-record-indicates than the Packers and have a slightly tougher road ahead. The Packers are basically in a favorable spot to win the division without any change in quality of play.

So essentially, last night was not a turning point. It was simply a game where it took incredibly extreme and unlikely circumstances for the Packers to beat a mediocre team that they were favored to beat from the start. Relax, Packers fans. Relax.

  1. side note, Football Outsiders had the Packers ranked 9th in their adjusted offensive DVOA coming into this game. I respect those guys a lot and cherry pick their stats plenty, but I’m missing something here. Their non-adjusted rank is 20. DVOA adjusts for playing from behind in the 4th quarter, where GB has done garbage time damage lately, but it appears mostly that their schedule is far tougher than I’m giving credit.). But then, boom, 14 unanswered points. Hold the Lions to a field goal. Score again on a 3rd down Rodgers run where it looked like we’d have to settle for a 35+ yard field goal.

    And then, the real miracle. After stopping the Lion’s attempt to run out the clock, Rodgers takes over on his own 21 with only 23 seconds left.

    Two incompletions later, they’re still at the same spot but facing 3rd down and 79 yards to go in 6 seconds. Game over, time for Packers fans to start looking forward to baseball season. Here comes the predictable chaos of cross-field laterals in a desperate attempt to make magic happen. According to some random win probability calculator I found, the Packers had a 3% chance of winning in this scenario. Pro-Football-Reference.com says there’s a 10.46% chance of a win here, but has zero plays in its archive where this scenario resulted in a win. Let’s just say the odds are against Green Bay here.

    So like most fans, I’m half watching this little back and forth. The ball goes back to Rodgers (Aaron) and at this point I’m only interested in seeing if the franchise quarterback is going to get hurt on this pointless play.

    And, I guess because it’s the Lions. Because they are one of the most poorly run franchises in league history that has only won one single playoff game over a 75+ year span and forced one of the greatest players in NFL history to retire early out of disdain. Because their coach may have died in 2011. Because their coach is from Wisconsin and may secretly be a Packers fan. Because Detroit keeps getting crapped on or crapping on themselves as a city.

    Or much more likely, because the Lions are a bad team that makes more mistakes than most and the NFL always favors calls that “protect” quarterbacks, there was a flag on the field after the play and time had run out. And of course, it was against the Lions.

    Let’s be clear on this one, it shouldn’t have been a facemask call [2. In previous iterations of the rule, this may have been the often annoying 5 yard incidental facemask penalty, which would’ve allowed a hail mary attempt, but from 10 yards further out (71 yards) and essentially zero chance of the throw even reaching the end zone). You can clearly see in replays that Taylor’s thumb grazed the facemask, maybe latching onto it for a fraction of a second. And the bulk of the grab/pull motion was on Rodgers’ shoulder pads. But Rodgers did some acting when a hand came near his face and the ref saw the head turn. When it’s heat of the moment and the game is potentially going to be decided whether on what the ref does, it makes sense that they go with the seemingly obvious visual and the idea they are protecting player safety. Sure, with zoomed-in slow motion HD replay, we see it’s not a facemask. But from 20 yards away in real time? It sure looked like one. Sorry Lions fans, your player made a really dumb move, his hands should have been nowhere near the helmet.

    Anyway, 15 yard penalty and essentially a free play with no time left from 61 yards away, we all know what happened. Packers win, miracle victory, amazing comeback.

    And suddenly the narrative is that the Packers are back or at least have hope. Why not? They’re 8-4, lead the wildcard in a conference full of mediocre teams, have one more game against the division-leading Vikings which could at least put them in a tiebreaker situation for the North lead. And they have Aaron Rodgers! There’s plenty of reason to think will make the playoffs. There’s a reasonable amount of hope they can win the division, with winnable games against Dallas and Oakland coming up (before playing Arizona and Minnesota). The Vikings might have a slightly harder remaining schedule, also playing the Cardinals but with games against more competitive teams verse Chicago and the NY Giants.

    Minnesota has a bit more at stake too, despite being in the division lead by a game (half game at this point, but 1 game going into Thursday night). Let’s say the Packers go 2-1 in their next 3 games. If Minnesota also goes 2-1, they would have a single game lead over the Packers going into their week 17 matchup at Lambeau Field. Because the Packers beat Minnesota a couple weeks ago, the winner of that game would win the division. Obviously that’s a lot of pressure on both sides, but the Packers would be almost certainly be favored in that game (in their last meeting, the line was a PK w/ Minnesota being at home).

    You could make a good case that Minnesota is also one of the more fraudulent good teams. They have the weakest schedule in the division and one of the weakest ones in the conference. They’ve only beaten two teams that currently have above .500 records (the Raiders & Falcons, who are both 6-5) and have lost to the only other above .500 teams they’ve played (Packers & Broncos). Their offense and defense both near rank middle of the pack per Football Outsiders [3. See, cherry picking

Is Time Up for Mike McCarthy & Aaron Rodgers?

photo courtesy of packers.com
photo courtesy of packers.com

For the third straight year, the Packers lost in the playoffs.  For most teams, this wouldn’t be so terrible, but the Packers feature one of the two or three best quarterbacks of the past decade.  Someone who is believed to be a sure fire Hall of Famer.  A quarterback who has nine seasons behind him and might be seeing his window of opportunity closing.

The early responses point to a few common themes in the Ted Thompson era.  Many critics are saying there’s a lack of overall toughness, citing repeated losses to very physical Giants and 49ers teams.  Others say the defense is terrible.  And there’s a healthy mix of complaints about a lack of veteren leadership / free agents.

Let’s look at the criticism and see if we can sort out what is going wrong with this team.

Toughness

This is a rather difficult thing to measure.  But let’s see if we can quantify it a bit.  Looking just at the most recent playoff loss, there are a few possible “toughness” numbers (per NFL.com).

49ers avg yards/carry: 5.6

Packers avg yards/carry: 4.0

49ers sacks allowed: 3

Packers sacks allowed: 4

49ers QB Hits: 6

Packers QB Hits: 2

You might look at some of those numbers and think they indicate San Fran is the tougher team.  They run more, they have a better pass rush, they allow fewer yards against the run.  But there is a lot more to it than that.

Running the ball, San Fran barely did anything in the traditional sense.  Gore carried 20 times for a 3.3 yard average.  His longest run was 10 yards.  The yards/carry average was grossly inflated by Kaepernick’s 98 rushing yards and 14 yard/carry average.  And his long runs did not come as a result of the option, but pass plays where he felt pressure and his first read wasn’t open.  Basically, he scrambled and Green Bay couldn’t catch him.

On the Packers’ side, they were facing the 3rd rated rush defense in the league and performed admirably.  Their running game is the best it’s been in years.  I’m not sure how you can rationally argue this.

The pass rushing stats are a bit more subjective, but Green Bay has been very limited in that department all year.  With the strength of San Fran’s offensive line and all the injuries on the Green Bay defense, it’s not much of a surprise.  The 49ers have allowed 2.4 sacks per game this year, so Green Bay was pretty much right on pace.

The Packers’ pass protection remains a mystery.  They without their projected starting left tackle the entire season.  The fill in was lost during the playoff game.  They also have a first round tackle who has yet to get on the field for any meaningful amount of time (although it’s beginning to look like this is less about injury and more about ability).

There are certainly bigger and faster teams compared to the Packers, but I don’t think you can really prove it’s an issue.

Defense

I covered the run defense already.  On the pass defense side, Kaepernick had 227 yards and a 53% completion rate.  Coupled with one touchdown and one interception, this wasn’t a terribly impressive game on paper.  But visually he dominated once again.  Kaepernick still is not an accomplished passer.  You can watch him follow a single receiver on every play, and either force the pass or run if that player isn’t open.  He’s occassionally hitting a second read these days, but it still looks to be rare.

Even with those limitations, he still kept making plays when it counted.  Especially at the end of the game, where the 49ers were 4/4 on 3rd down and 3/3 on the final drive of the game.

Giving the league’s 8th rated offense (according to FootballOutsiders.com) the ball with 5 minutes left, only needing a field goal to win, is not a good situation for any defense.  The Packers made some critical mistakes (Bush allowing Kaepernick to run past him on 3rd and 8) and had some big missed opportunities (Hyde’s dropped interception), but ultimately just looked outmatched on the final drive.

The rest of the game, they looked really solid.  When the offense was absolutely pathetic in the first quarter, the defense stopped two drives inside their own 10 yard line.  The only touchdown they allowed in the first half was a result of a terrible bit of defense that led to Kaepernick’s 42 yard run.  That play included a lot of people out of position.

But basically the two big Kaepernick runs and the Davis touchdown were the only plays where the defense did not look good.  A good defense wouldn’t allow those plays, but this performance was still much better than what we’ve seen in the past.

Veteren Leadership

There are all sorts of variations of this theme thrown out every year under Thompson.  Let’s look at a few numbers for defensive & offensive starters… Below is name followed by years of experience.

Offense

– Aaron Rodgers: 9 years
– TJ Lang: 5 years
– Josh Sitton: 6 years
– James Jones: 7 years
– Jordy Nelson: 6 years

Defense

– Tramon Williams: 7 years
– Ryan Pickett: 13 years
– BJ Raji: 5 years
– AJ Hawk: 8 years
– Brad Jones: 5 years
– Clay Matthews: 5 years

11 of 22 starters are 5+ year veterens.  Every one of those 11 players were on the Super Bowl roster, all but Brad Jones as a starter.

So what we’re really talking about here is free agency.

In the last offseason, probably the most prominent free agent to change teams was Elvis Dumervil.  While his 9.5 sacks for the Ravens looks good, he was just a situational pass rusher.  He totaled 31 tackles and 3 passes defended.  While the 3rd down presence would help, it’s hard to imagine $5.2 million per season being worth it for such a limited player.

While plenty of people wanted Greg Jennings to stick around, it’s hard to argue against the results without him.  The biggest struggle the Packers’ offense faced was the loss of Aaron Rodgers.  No receiver group could make Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn look good.

Where the Packers missed in free agency is at the less attractive end.  Glenn Dorsey was a big contributor at the end of the season for the 49ers.  Chris Cante is an ideal 3-4 defensive end that eats blockers all day.  Shaun Phillips was a steal compared to Dumervil, but offered virtually identical production.  And these were all positions of great uncertainty entering the season.

Injuries

I don’t know if enough data will ever be available to figure this one out.  The Packers players get injured more frequently than the rest of the league.  This has happened historically under Thompson.

I’ve tried to pull data about player growth from high school to the pros, and it looked like a lot of Ted Thompson draft picks showed big increases in BMI (35-30% increase from high school to pros).  The rest of the league, appears to have gains more like 10-15% over the same timeframe.  The theory is that players are bulking up fast, to a size larger than their frame is designed to hold.  so you have someone with the skeleton of a linebacker by the mass of a lineman.  Potentially, if your body isn’t meant to hold that kind of weight, it could break down more often.  There’s no science I know of to support this, it’s just a guess.  Trying to turn correlation into causation.  But data from high schools is not reliable enough.  Too often, it seems players measure bigger than they really are (maybe to appear bigger and get noticed by scouts?).  I’d love to look further into it, but without access to scouting data, I think it’s a dead end for now.

Beyond that, there are plenty of questions out there about the conditioning staff and McCarthy’s training/practice program.  Changes have been made in both departments over the year, with no changes.

Regardless, something desperately needs to change.  The Packers had 15 people on injured reserve this year, and had a lot of missed games by other starters.  You cannot operate a team that way and expect them to be successful through the postseason.

Playcalling

I’m not throwing this entirely on McCarthy, since Rodgers runs the show in the no huddle to a great degree.  But things just don’t seem to make sense year after year.  In 2007, Favre’s last year with the team, McCarthy had a young team and a very shaky offensive line.  He dealt with that by using a fantastic variation of the west coast offense.  The Packers were a late game Favre meltdown away from the Super Bowl that year.

Ever since, we haven’t seen that willingness to adapt to adverse situations.  In Sunday’s game, despite struggles with the 49ers’ pass rush, the Packers kept sending their receivers deep play after play.  In most instances, one receiver would go short on a slant with everyone else 15+ yards deep.  If that short pass wasn’t open, it left Rodgers waiting in the pocket far too long for routes to develop.

And then there’s the Cobb run inside the red zone.  And the wasted timeout at the end of the first half.  Nearly every game includes questionable moves like this.  The team nearly missed the playoffs because McCarthy didn’t go for two later in the Bears game.

The Packers have obviously built their offense around big plays, but they can’t expect them every snap.  There needs to be some adjustment to the playcalling philosophy to allow for adapatation against tough defenses.  Just like the first touchdown drive on Sunday when they went exclusively with runs and short passes

Closing Windows

Next year will be difficult for Ted Thompson to orchestrate.  Two thirds of their starting defensive line will be unrestricted free agents.  Sam Shields, James Jones, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Jermichael Finley, Mike Neal and CJ Wilson will all join them.  The following year will see the same time come for Jordy Nelson, Bryan Bulaga and Randall Cobb.  Tramon Williams is a likely cap casualty in 2014 with $9.5 million in salary and bonuses due.  The team has $107.8 million in spending against the cap (according to OverTheCap.com) for next year, before drafting anyone or even getting a full roster.

The point is, things are going to get a lot harder.  All of this doesn’t take into account teams like the 49ers and Seahawks contuing to develop, along with other powerhouses around the league.  If the Packers hope to not let another hall of fame quarterback career go by with only one title, they are going to have to figure out a lot of issues that don’t have obvious answers.

Unless you believe there is a coach out there that can make an immediate impact given the existing talent, you can’t make a change in that department.  The aging roster and heavy contracts of Matthews & Rodgers won’t allow big splashes in free agency, and history shows there really aren’t big splashes worth making most years.  Thompson will likely need to replace veterens on the team currently with lower priced options (via draft and lower tier free agecy).

But he’ll need to go on a talent evaluation run that ranks up there with the best GM’s of all time, as the window of opportunity for this team appears to be closing.

 

 

Ted Thompson 1st and 2nd Round Draft Picks

Just throwing some data out there.

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