The Milwaukee Bucks’ 2011-12 season is officially over, and they’ve got some work to do.
Among the haystack of questions with impending answers (the fate of Ersan Ilyasova, the future of John Hammond and Scott Skiles), the one involving Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will be most indicative of where the franchise is heading. Which would you prefer?
The Bucks can’t have both. Not with their alligator arms and discomfort playing together (Saving The Skyhook has a great write up on their time together). Not with a defensive-oriented coach forced to adjust his entire philosophy to fit the Bucks’ sudden reliance on offensive firepower to pull out victories against the Pigpen of NBA teams.
That’s one of the many uncomfortable realities of the Bucks’ future. Milwaukee cannot compete for a championship (or beat elite teams) with two players capable of scoring 40 points and giving up 45 in the process. Especially when both are alpha scorers, and neither is taller than 6’3” (and that’s even being generous to Ellis).
Obviously, it’s naïve to assume that the Ellis-Jennings backcourt is the root of all Milwaukee’s problems. But they’re not a collective part of the solution either. Nearly all statistical evidence, including that from Ellis’ time sharing a backcourt with Stephen Curry, says that the Ellis-Jennings partnership is not long for this world.
Jennings is comfortable working off the ball and often pairs well with pass-first point guards, and while 49% of Ellis’ points in Milwaukee have been assisted, he’s putting up his lowest scoring numbers since his rookie season. Jennings blossoms in transition, and looks most comfortable using his instincts to read and react while the defense is sitting on its heels.
Ellis is clearly a better passer (5.9 assists per game) and a much more capable drive-and-kick point guard than Jennings. He’s also built to withstand a barrage of sweat and muscle around the hoop (64.2% FG at the rim vs. Jennings’ 57.2% FG), and often has the finesse to match. Jennings has to rely on his first step creating enough space for a layup, and has an advantage in shooting range (32.9% 3FG vs. Ellis’ 278% 3FG).
The Milwaukee Bucks will inevitably stand at this crossroads sometime in the next few months. Keep Jennings and lose a better scorer and passer, sending a message that the Bucks are still riding a bet on his potential as a consistent point guard.
Keep Ellis, and Milwaukee will rely on a seven-year veteran with 15,481 minutes on his legs. Given his cost, Jennings would probably reap more in a trade, but is Ellis really worth the $13 million he gets now, and will likely negotiate for, in the near future?
Of course, they could just blow the whole thing up, but that’s unlikely as long as Herb Kohl is owner, Hammond is general manager, and Skiles in coach.
No offseason move will better predict the Milwaukee Bucks’ current, and future, situation than the one involving (or not) Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. If we measure offseasons in terms of hype, the Bucks’ last two summers were like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I’ll leave you to guess how this summer’s interest, and significance, is shaping up.