This is the first in a series of posts that will attempt to answer some of the most intriguing and important questions facing the 2011-12 Bucks. Today’s question: How will Stephen Jackson fit into his role as third musketeer in Milwaukee’s scheme?
When/If there is an NBA season in 2011-12, Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings will be the focal point of the Milwaukee Bucks offense. Beyond those two, Stephen Jackson steps into the role of third fiddle, vacated by the awful John Salmons. Jackson carried the Charlotte Bobcats offense in 2010-11, and his acquisition has elicited a reaction similar to when GM John Hammond brought in Corey Maggette last offseason.
When Maggette arrived in Milwaukee, he was expected to join with John Salmons as the Claritin remedy to the Bucks’ scoring allergy. Coming off a 46-win season in which the team finished 23rd in the NBA in points per game, Bucks fans and writers (admittedly, this one) were thrilled to see Hammond sacrificing defense for some consistent offense. Or so we thought.
Maggette’s reputation as the NBA’s premier ball stopper and defensive traffic cone surfaced soon after a pre-season debut that displayed his most dependable talent: drawing fouls. Maggette began to faze himself out of a Milwaukee rotation that, above all, emphasized defense and a focused work ethic on and off the court. Stories of discontent in the Bucks locker room surfaced, including a few Bogut comments about players showing up unprepared, and it became gradually clearer that Maggette was a liability regardless of where he was in the Bradley Center.
Combine Maggette’s reduced minutes with Salmons’ scoring numbers crashing back to earth like the UAR satellite, the Bucks scored 5.8 fewer points per game than in the season prior, despite reducing their opponents’ per-game average by 3.3 points. Both failures resulted in a deal that sent Salmons back to Sacramento and Maggette to Charlotte, while bringing in Stephen Jackson to replace Salmons at shooting guard.
Naturally, exchanging Salmons for Jackson certainly looks like a good move on the surface. Captain Jack has sailed an NBA sea of team colors (seven), but at every stop teammates and coaches have done nothing but compliment hits locker room presence, work ethic, and ability to embrace and thrive in the face of a changed circumstance. However, Jackson also shares a combination of Salmons’ and Maggette’s less desirable offensive qualities, and the 33-year-old undoubtedly will be expected to carry the same 35-minute nightly workload as Salmons with increased production.
Offensively, Jackson gives the Bucks a much wider range of skills that should help boost the team’s league-worse scoring numbers. Jackson is a better passer (18.4% assist rate vs. Salmons’ 17.5 and Maggette’s 11.4%) with good court vision, and although streaky, possesses a much more palatable post-up game (4.3 shots at the rim in 2010-11, 55.6%), as well as long range shooting ability (5.4 attempted threes per game). Throw in a healthy Carlos Delfino, and the Bucks should benefit from defense’s respecting the team’s back-court range.
Jackson’s 2010-11 PER (14.6) was better than Salmons’ (12.8), and his true shooting percentage (51.9% vs. 51%) was just a tick higher. He has always been known as a high volume, low percentage scorer, leading the Bobcats with 15.8 shots per game last year. Pairing Jackson with Brandon Jennings, another player that requires a lot of wiggle room with shot attempts in order to find his stroke, should be a bigger concern than anything else Jackson brings to the table.
Some of Jackson’s shot dominance can be attributed to the Bobcats’ lack of offensive options in 2010-11, as he led the team in usage (27.4%). That number is likely to drop on a team with more options, although Bucks shooting guards were responsible for 16.2 per game last year. Perhaps the biggest myth about Jackson is his lockdown defense, but he should have no problems transitioning to a system that has had proven success with lesser players.
The biggest risk associated with Jackson (age aside) is his frequent shooting and lack of consistency doing so (sound familiar?). But ultimately, Captain Jack boosts the Bucks veteran locker room presence, full court energy, and scoring options that were heavily lacking a season ago.