A new era of Bucks basketball is upon us, as 11 players from around the globe will be making their debut (or return) to the organization this season. In preparation of the upcoming season, I’m going to examine each individual acquisition through the powers of Synergy Sports Technology which allows users to watch footage of every single NBA moment from the last four seasons. To start out the series, titled “Synergy Sights,” I’m going to take a look at former Spurs guard Gary Neal and examine the finer points of his offensive and defensive ability to determine the different traits that he’ll bring to Milwaukee.
Offensive Pick and Roll
The following two plays are different examples of how relaxed Gary Neal looks when he’s working in two separate pick and roll sets. In this first video, Neal uses a simple pick set by Boris Diaw to find an opening around the center of the three point line. As you can see from the chart below, that area at the top of the perimeter is key to Neal’s perimeter success. Despite his success from the perimeter (35% from the three-point line), Neal was extremely inefficient in the pick and roll – shooting just 39%. While that could be blamed on the fact that he shoots nearly half of his attempts from around the perimeter, it’s still a troubling thing to see from a player who will be a big part of Milwaukee’s backcourt rotation.
While Gary Neal is known primarily for his abilities as a perimeter shooter, this clip features a different side of his offensive arsenal. After San Antonio’s bench corps worked the ball around the perimeter, Matt Bonner eventually dishes it off to Neal. As Neal hangs around the perimeter, DeJuan Blair moves from the right side of the paint to set a pick for the 6-4 guard. With mere seconds left, Neal moves around the pick as he penetrates to the paint and puts up a smooth running floater.
The following play shows off a different side of Gary Neal’s overall offensive arsenal that really wasn’t spotlighted during his time with San Antonio. While his success in this play could be due to San Antonio’s terrific offensive execution, Neal still worked this play to perfection. The play starts out with our subject dishing the ball off to Manu Ginobili. Then, Neal rolls off a designed screen set by Diaw as he works through the paint to get to his designated area.
After working around another screen, Neal receives the pass from Manu as he makes an excellent spin move around Ryan Anderson to gain some more open room inside the paint. The play ends with Gary Neal putting up a quick leaning floater with a defender directly ahead of him.
While there really isn’t a set screen in this play compared to the previous one, Neal still shows off his ability as a catch and shoot player. In Milwaukee, coach Larry Drew will mainly use Neal in pick and rolls and spot-up situation but it’s still promising to see his ability as a catch and shoot player after working off-ball.
According to Synergy, Neal works best in off-ball scenarios as apparent by averaging .96 PPP (Points Per Possession). Efficiency will probably always be an issue for Neal as his NBA career continues, but his success as an off-ball player could pay dividends as he starts his Bucks carer.
Common among most spot-up shooters in transition situations, Gary Neal spends a majority of his time stationed around the perimeter waiting for an opportunity. This play is a small exception to that rule as Neal takes over as San Antonio’s leader in transition after collecting a loose ball on the defensive side of the court. Without showing off blazing speed, Neal was easily able to work around Jimmer Fredette as he glides towards the paint without much trouble from Sacramento’s defense.
As a standout three-point shooter (shot 35% last season), Neal should be stationed around the perimeter for the majority of transition opportunities but it is encouraging to see some sort of versatility in his offensive game. Of course, those aforementioned skills from the perimeter could lead to some issues because Neal is prone to making horrendous decisions which the biggest concern that most Bucks fans have about him going into the upcoming season
Defensive Pick and Roll
The majority of this piece thus far has focused on how Gary Neal could possibly affect the Milwaukee Bucks, but the following play showcases how he could hurt the team on the defensive side of the ball. Fundamentally, Gary Neal looks pretty solid despite struggling to get around Pau Gasol’s set screen. The main problem with this play is how Neal just lost focus on the play as Darius Morris was breaking his way to the rim. While Morris probably would have drove to the rim successfully despite Neal’s best efforts, it’s still irritating to see Neal show such a lack of effort on that play.
Breaking away from flat-out negativity, the play above is a small showcase of Gary Neal’s overall defensive patience and ability to close-out on an opponent. After being caught up in a Dirk Nowitzki screen, Neal is able to work around it as he tries to close-out on Darren Collison who’s stationed around the perimeter. Perhaps it was due to luck more than overall skill but Neal was able to close-out and get a piece of Collison’s three point attempt.
The last two plays shows off two separate aspects of defending the pick and roll. While the effort shown in the 1st play was lackluster at best, Neal’s opposition averaged a subpar .84 PPP which is definitely above average compared to other bench guards in the league.
To really understand Neal’s overall defensive ability level when he’s trying to work against off-ball screens, I’ve selected the following three plays because they show different sides of what Neal has to work against in terms of defending off-ball screens. In this first play, Pelicans (then Hornets) guard Eric Gordon moves cross-court as he works around an off-ball screen set by Ryan Anderson. The quick 6-3 guard swiftly moves around Anderson as he penetrates to the paint and puts up a successful running floater.
Even though it’s an extremely small sample, this play does showcase Neal‘s less than stellar open-court speed which allowed Gordon to get the open space necessary to make the running floater.
While the previous play involves Neal trying to defending a cutting opponent, this clip shows him trying to close-out on a moving jump shooter. As former Knicks sharp-shooter Steve Novak moves around an Amar’e Stoudemire screen, Neal is able to closely track his movements towards the perimeter as Novak is preparing to shoot. That preparation allowed Neal to get in the face of Novak and change the path of his shot.
To be blunt, this is a pretty bad defensive sequence by Gary Neal. Perhaps you can rest most of the blame on basic confusion as Neal left his assigned man(Jason Terry) to follow Chris Wilcox who was rolling to the paint after setting a screen for Paul Pierce. The experienced Pierce recognizes Neal’s mishap as he swings it to an open Jason Terry who makes the three point shot.
While that mishap shouldn’t be excused, Neal’s opponents averaged 1.01 PPP which could be blamed on an extremely small sample size (46 FGA) or the fact that he’s just not that great of a defender.
To finish up with this look at Gary Neal, we take a look at how he’s able to defend his opponent in spot-up/man-to-man situations. The following play is probably one of the best examples of Neal’s overall ability to defend his opponent because of his 10 second battle with Kings guard Marcus Thornton. While a simple step-back was enough to fool Gary Neal, he was still able to recover quick enough to at least put a hand in the face of Thornton as he was putting up the corner jumper.
Throughout the defensive section of this piece, we’ve examined Gary Neal’s positive and negative features as an overall defender. The following play is probably his best showcase as an overall defender because of how active and focused he appears to look. While you could put some of this on Neal being in the right place at the right time, he was still able to make a smooth transition from defending Mario Chalmers around the perimeter to guarding Chris Bosh as he attempted a turnaround jumper. Of course this is probably one of the lone times that Neal will be face to face with a 6-10 forward like Bosh but it was still interesting to see him work against a power forward.
The addition of Gary Neal to Milwaukee gives the team another valuable perimeter shooter that can work inside the team’s back-court rotation. Besides his above-average ability from beyond the arc, Neal really doesn’t bring that much to to the table that an average D-League could bring. While he can penetrate to the rim or work as a pick and roll defender, he’s just an average who could either help or hurt Milwaukee in the limited amount of time he’s on the court.