Money doesn’t always bring happiness. People with ten million dollars are no happier than people with nine million dollars.– Hobart Brown
Like it or not, money is one prism through which the world is viewed. For an NBA team, especially a small-market one like the Bucks, the salary cap’s presence forces teams to evaluate their players relative to their price tags. Even if Andrew Bogut tweets (rightly) that money doesn’t buy happiness. And even if Corey Maggette commits amazing acts of generosity with parts of his $10,000,000+ earnings this year.
Prior to the 2010-11 season, Milwaukee General Manager John Hammond traded for Corey Maggette knowing that Maggette would be making $31 million dollars over the next three seasons. He gave up Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell, i.e., spare parts and smaller, shorter contracts. What was Hammond hoping that Maggette would bring to this Bucks team? Surely, Hammond knew what to expect; the scouting report on Maggette’s game is transparent — everyone around the league has an intuitive read on the the things Corey does well and, just as importantly, the things he doesn’t do well. (For a story that reads like a crystal ball, check out the piece by Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer written shortly after the trade.) With all that in mind, here is the “book” on Maggette:
- He scores well and his elite NBA talent is the ability to draw free throws at a high rate.
- He’s a defensive liability.
- As a result of his high usage, he’s a ‘ballstopper’.
Now that his first season in Milwaukee is complete, it is time to look at the data and see if these assumptions held true.
Did Maggette get to the line as frequently in Milwaukee as he has done previously for other teams? One aspect to consider is that Corey played less this year than he has in past seasons, so looking at the data won’t mean much unless the numbers are adjusted for playing time. To make it even and fair, look at his free throw rates per 36 minutes of playing time.
The data indicate that while Maggette still converts the free throws that he attempts at a high rate (and comparable with previous seasons), he did not get himself to the free-throw line with the same frequency that he did in years past.
What caused this drop-off? Shot location and selection looms large when it comes to free-throw rates. Drive to the hoop and the numbers go up. Take a bunch of jump shots and those same numbers deflate. Rapidly. What type of shots did Maggette take this season? Below are the data on the percentage of shots taken in each location on the floor.
In Golden State, Maggette took 59% of his shots within 15 feet of the rim. In Milwaukee, the numbers completely reversed, as Maggette took 59% of his shots from a distance further than 15 feet. To be effective and to maximize his primary NBA skill — drawing free throws — Maggette needs to take fewer long-range jump shots. While the discrepancy may be attributed partly to pace (Golden State played at a higher tempo than Milwaukee, presumably resulting in some easier transition opportunities near the hoop), the sizable gap shows that he eschewed his best weapon.
Judging a player’s defensive skill poses more difficult problems than judging offensive talent. The numbers are scarcer, and the measures used (steals, blocks, etc…) are often irrelevant or misleading. Defensive efficiency has fewer holes than most yardsticks, since it standardizes for pace and relies only on the end result: points allowed per 100 possessions. The best way to examine Maggette’s play is to compare the Bucks’ numbers with and without him on the court. NBA Statscube — an excellent source of NBA comparison statistics — has the relevant data, which is shown below.
With Maggette on the court, the Bucks were yielding over 4 extra points per 100 possessions. The Bucks did generate more offense with Corey on the floor, but not enough to make up the difference. In fact, if you subtract the 1399 minutes Maggette played from the equation, the Bucks outscored their opponents last season (they played 2565 minutes without him). If he can’t boost his team’s scoring ability, then Maggette quickly turns into a liability because he becomes a soft spot in an otherwise stout Milwaukee defense.
And about that ‘Ballstopper’ label…
Not true. That is to say, it didn’t hold true according to the data on Maggette’s season with the Bucks. Note below the numbers on field goal percentage and assists (per 48 minutes).
With Maggette on the floor, the field goal percentage (almost 2%) and assist numbers (0.4 per 48 minutes) went up. Beyond that, though, free throws made and points rose, too. The three-point shooting plunged when Maggette took the court, but higher numbers in most other areas show that Corey helped the offense generate points.
In conclusion, let’s finish with the most telling statistic of all: winning percentage. Maggette has been in the NBA for 12 seasons.
After going 0.500 in his rookie year, his teams have only had a winning record once (’05-06) and, perhaps most tellingly, it occurred during a season in which he was largely injured and out of the lineup. To summarize: Maggette is a high-volume shot-taker who scores a lot of points of bad teams. His defense certainly does not compensate for any other shortcomings; it is a weakness in its own right. The redeeming quality to his game is the ability to draw free throws. Scott Skiles’ challenge is to take all these factors into consideration and use him effectively. With all the shortcomings, it’s no small task. You could even call it his 10 million-dollar dilemma.