“We think Luc is more valued here playing under Scott Skiles and his system than he would be anywhere else in the league. We know the value of that, and we plan to have him here as a member of the organization.” - Bucks GM John Hammond
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a fantastic and versatile defender. Netting him as a second-round draft pick, the Bucks pulled a coup on the rest of the league. His teammates like him, he says and does all the right things from a citizenship point-of-view, and he’s a good solider.
In an Eastern Conference with LeBron, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, the Bucks have been quite fortunate to have one of the NBA’s best defensive forwards.
But John Hammond cannot get carried away. Milwaukee is now and, for the foreseeable future, will continue to be a member of the NBA’s second division. They do not have the budget to outbid multiple suitors, nor do they have the cap room for expensive mistakes. And for all of his defensive glory, Mbah a Moute is a complete albatross on offense.
Looking at Luc’s superficial numbers doesn’t tell the whole story, though. His basic stats actually look pretty good — he made 46.3% of his field goals last year, which was a decent mark on a team that finished dead last in the NBA in that category.
The problem? Mbah a Moute’s style of play distorts that figure entirely. First, his lack of three-point attempts enhances his shooting percentage, because every other NBA small forward playing high-volume minutes takes those lower percentage threes. Second, part of what makes Luc so damned endearing is that he hustles and works to get lots of tip-ins and other high-percentage finishes close to the rim. Unfortunately, it’s his presence there that clogs the paint, and there are other stats to bear that line of reasoning out.
Mbah a Moute’s Shooting Effectiveness by Shot Location
Most small forwards use the jump shot to draw defenders away from the paint. Of the 29 NBA small forwards who averaged over 25 minutes per game in 40 or more games played, all but two of them averaged more than 4 attempts from 16 feet or longer, i.e., jumpers.
The two exceptions? Mbah a Moute and Shawn Marion, each with fewer than 2 attempts per game.
Mbah a Moute and Marion are alike in many ways. Both possess the versatility to guard (and guard well) both small forwards and “stretch-4″ power forwards. Both lack consistency in their jump shots, preferring to score closer to the rim.
Unfortunately, the comparison ends there. On “tweener” shots between 3-9 feet, Marion scored more often than any other small forward; he made 133 buckets there. LeBron was second with 83. Luc made 6. Or is that “six”? In any case, it shouldn’t be a small enough number that one needs to consult an AP Style Manual.
Mbah a Moute also did not make a single three-pointer on the season.
In summary, of those 29 small forwards, Luc was simultaneously the worst shooter from two places — three-point range and the 3-9 foot range – in terms of both field goals made AND percentage.
Dead last, in both places, under both criteria.
Yes, Luc scored well at the rim. But Marion was more productive than Mbah a Moute at the rim, too, in terms of both percentage and volume. (71% to 58% FG, 230 field goals to 128).
Without jump shots, Marion has come up with effective ways to score. Mbah a Moute has not.
Mbah a Moute’s Effect on His Teammates’ Shooting
Using the statistic of effective field goal percentage, here are the numbers (from 82games.com) for the shooting percentages for the Bucks and their opponents in 2010-11, comparing the times when Luc was on and off the court (he was on the court for about half of the minutes the Bucks played). Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) is similar to field goal percentage, except that three-point field goals are weighted proportionately for their increased value.
• Bucks: Luc on court: 45.8%, off court: 47.7%, net change: -1.9%
• Opponents: Luc on court: 47.9%, off court: 48.4%, net change: -0.5%
While Mbah a Moute defended well enough to force opponents into shooting a lower percentage while on the floor, the 0.5% difference wasn’t enough to offset the disruption that he brought to his own offense, a negative difference of 1.9%.
Though a 1.9% difference may not seem like much, consider that the league-wide range of values for eFG% — from the top marksmen Spurs (52.7%) to the erratic Bucks (46.7%) — was only 6%.
Last year wasn’t an aberration, either. The eFG% numbers from 2009-10 tell the same story:
• Bucks: Luc on court: 46.8%, off court: 49.4%, net change: -2.6%
• Opponents: Luc on court: 49.1%, off court: 48.2%, net change: 0.9%
Not only did his presence have the same stifling effect on the Bucks’ shooting, but opponents actually shot a higher percentage with Luc on the court than they did with him off it.
None of these stats take away from the fact that Mbah a Moute is a top-grade defender. But his defensive skills are counterbalanced by his offensive ineptitude. A team that finished dead last in every meaningful offensive stat category can’t gloss over those flaws.
Is there a solution? Perhaps not, but it may be reasonable to consider a SG/SF combo from the trio of Udrih/Delfino/S. Jackson, while using Mbah a Moute to spell Drew Gooden, whose defensive numbers stoop to a level on par with Luc’s offensive ones.
Of course, that assumes that the Bucks re-sign Mbah a Moute, which is something they should not do if another team overvalues his services.