January 12, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) shoots the ball over Golden State Warriors power forward Ekpe Udoh (20) during the third quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Magic defeated the Warriors 117-109. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Warriors/Bucks Trade: An Exercise in Compartmentalization

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(Photo: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE)

In the day after the trade, it’s easy to look at the five-player deal between Golden State and Milwaukee and try to figure out who “won” the trade.  The easiest, but most dangerous comparison, is to match up Monta Ellis and Andrew Bogut and base the decision there.

But this trade wasn’t really about Monta Ellis.  Really, it wasn’t.

The Bucks have had two glaring holes for most of the season, and the players in the trade addressed both of them.  One is going to be here long-term, and the other will be here for a year or two — but longer if this crazy experiment turns out well.

To evaluate the potential implications of the trade, it may work best to compartmentalize the players being dealt and work from there.  Breaking them down by role, the categories become:

1) Monta Ellis for Stephen Jackson

2) Kwame Brown

3) Andrew Bogut for Ekpe Udoh

That last one looks preposterous, but like the Bucks, the Warriors are buried in small-market basketball — invisible to most fans and hiding skilled basketball talents from the eyes of most.  It’s not as lopsided as one might think.

Monta Ellis for Stephen Jackson

Given that most Bucks fans would gladly have traded Stephen Jackson for a vial of flu virus, getting Ellis instead of Jackson is huge. But the refrains of criticism are repetitive, to say the least.

“He’s too small to be a shooting guard.  Jennings is small for a point guard, too.  And there’s only one BALL!!!!!!”

Relax.

All season long, the Bucks have needed a player who can create good looks when needed.  Brandon Jennings has taken on the role, though the mantle of “Team’s Primary Shot Creator” clearly doesn’t suit him.  (And the other candidate for the role this season, Stephen Jackson, was obviously a poor match.)  The Bucks needed a shooting guard, but more importantly, someone to help Brandon create.  The Bucks have lots of facilitators — Brandon, Shaun Livingston, Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, and yes, even Drew Gooden — but only one creator.  Now they have another.

After this season, Ellis will have two years left on his contract if he uses his player option.  His contract isn’t ridiculous in scope.  If it works out for him in Milwaukee, then that would be terrific.  If not, then both sides can split and move on.  (Please let there be no talk of ‘mandatory’ extensions this week.  Everything written about Monta here is null and void if the Bucks extend him prematurely.)

As far as his defense goes, the Bucks have had a resurgence, in part, due to the tandem backcourt of Brandon and Beno.  If Skiles can get by defensively with that pair, he can get by with Ellis.

Of course, Monta is decidedly not ever going to be the MVP of a Finals team.  But given that the Bucks didn’t have their choice of Dwyane Wade or Derrick Rose at the trade deadline, this step is one in the right direction.

And, once again, he’s not Stephen Jackson.   Big advantage: Bucks.

Kwame Brown

The real impact of getting Kwame won’t hit until his contract comes off the books this offseason.

Brown signed a one-year, $7 million-dollar contract with the Warriors in December.  In January, he tore his pectoralis major muscle and underwent surgery that was expected to keep him out of action for three months.  If the Bucks make the playoffs, they won’t turn away an extra center with a defensive bent.  But given that he is slated to miss most or all of the regular season (with an oddly similar timetable to Bogut’s), it is a long shot that he contributes anything that benefits the Bucks on the court.

But Kwame was thrown in the deal to make the numbers work, and one very real value of this trade for the Bucks lies in the fact that they were able to trade away big salaries without taking back any team-unfriendly contracts. Big advantage: Bucks.

Andrew Bogut for Ekpe Udoh

Here’s where it gets dicey.  Bogut was a #1 overall pick, a franchise-maker.  He has “true center” size and the ability to be a defensive force inside.

Look up and down the rosters of both Golden State and Milwaukee, and ask yourself this question:  “Which player has the potential to be the best or second-best player on a team that wins an NBA title?”  The answer is probably Andrew Bogut.  Throw in the added problem that players like Bogut don’t come to Milwaukee often — rarely through the draft and never through free agency.

It’s natural to want to keep Bogut.  For the reasons above, I still wish they had kept him.

That being said, it’s not crazy to look to the future and think about who is going to be the more impactful player going forward:  Andrew Bogut or Ekpe Udoh.

Post-elbow injury, Bogut has been a hot mess on offense.  Last year, he simply could not make free throws.  This year, his free throws looked better after offseason surgery helped him get some flexibility in his right arm, but in the low post he was frightful.  He went to his left hand too often on shots that had no touch.  When he used his right arm, he rushed his post moves and sacrificed accuracy for getting his shot off unblocked.  He was hitting 20% of his shots from 3-9 feet — while still taking over five of those shots per game.

Udoh is 6’10” with a 7’4.5″ wingspan.  Bogut led the NBA is blocks per game last season (2.6 per game), but Udoh blocked a higher percentage of shots than Andrew did.  There are murmurings that Udoh doesn’t want to play center, but the reality is, he doesn’t have a choice.  With Udoh, the Bucks have seven power forwards on the roster.  (That’s counting Tobias Harris, but perhaps he’ll develop into more of a small forward, if the Bucks are lucky.) Some of them have to play out of position.

And for all the talk about how Scott Skiles can’t coach this team, and how Monta will be the straw that breaks Skiles’ back, think about this notion: “Who could be more of a Skiles guy that Udoh?”  From all accounts, he is big, mobile, coachable, and defensive-minded — a healthy, longer Luc Mbah a Moute.  Doesn’t Skiles want that kind of player?

(Photo: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE)

Udoh isn’t a stat stuffer.  For points, rebounds, assists, you may want to look at a guy like Drew Gooden — but there is so much more to the game than that:  stopping a pick-and-roll, talking to your teammates, rotating to help in the low block.  Here is a look at Udoh’s advanced stats compared to the players taken below him in the 2010 draft.  Udoh smokes the competition, including rising star Greg Monroe.  And +/- numbers indicate that the Warriors have been far better with Udoh on the floor than without him.

Zach Lowe of SI.com also gave an assessment of what Udoh could mean to the Bucks:

The most painful price of doing business, in terms of on-court talent, may well be Udoh. He’s at least two inches shorter than Bogut and thus not a “true center,” but the Warriors have played top-10-level defense with him on the floor in each of the last two seasons, per Basketball Value.

That may not sound like much, but when you consider Golden State ranked among the bottom five in points allowed per possession in both of those seasons, you realize something really interesting might be going on here.  Udoh is a willing defender with smart feet and a wingspan longer than those of several taller players, and he has lately flashed an improving offensive game. He’s not an explosive pick-and-roll threat at the rim — not even close — but he has a steady mid-range jumper, and the Warriors have been going to him on the block with solid results. He is a very nice (and cheap) get for the Bucks, who are suffering with the game but overmatched Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova splitting minutes at center.

Ekpe hasn’t turned 25 yet, he’s already gone through the growing pains of a rookie season, and the Bucks can keep him cheaply under contract through 2015.  Most importantly, he doesn’t have a long history or injuries, nor does he have a running feud with his head coach.  (Last night, Mark Jackson was literally in tears about losing Ellis and Udoh.) He’s also not trying to get the hell out of the NBA wilderness that is Milwaukee.  Well, not yet, at least.  Long live the Udoh Era.   Advantage: Golden State, for now.

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Tags: Andrew Bogut Ekpe Udoh Golden State Warriors Kwame Brown Milwaukee Bucks Monta Ellis Stephen Jackson

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