When healthy, Zaza Pachulia has put up solid numbers. But is he worth the three-year deal Milwaukee signed him to last summer?
*Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Behind the Buck Pass contributor Justin Becker.
Let us take a look at the disastrous season for the Milwaukee Bucks and review five mistakes which have led to the team’s demise:
Recycling Pachulia and Delfino
In the offseason, the Bucks signed two players who had played for them in the past. It’s not a problem, except that they are spending around $8 million per year on two bench players who are at least 30 years old.
ZaZa Pachulia never backs down from anybody and he is a reliable back up, but that’s about it. Sure, Pachulia is only 30 years old, but he’s played 10 seasons in the NBA, and with his style, that body is very much depreciated by now. Still, he is a good addition, but not at $15 million for three seasons after averaging 5.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season.
Carlos Delfino played for the Bucks for three seasons, from 2009-2012. He averaged 10.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 36.6 percent from three-point range in 178 games with Milwaukee. Last season, Delfino played for the Houston Rockets and posted decent averages of 10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest. The Bucks signed the 31 year-old Delfino in the offseason to be their small forward, but a foot injury has prevented him from playing a single game.
And then shortly after signing Delfino, the Buck dropped another bomb. On August 29, ESPN reported:
“TheMilwaukee Bucks will acquire Caron Butler from thePhoenix Suns, which will change Carlos Delfino’s role with the team. Delfino was tapped as the Bucks starting small forward when he signed his three-year, $9.75 million contract, but now he is the backup.”
So much for Delfino’s role as the Bucks’ starting small forward. And again, there was another surprise: Butler was waived in February.
If the Bucks didn’t win with these guys in the past, when they were still in their prime, why take them back at a higher price? Delfino and Pachulia are not bad players at all, but they are past their prime and have no upside.
Upon news of the OJ Mayo signing, ESPN reported:
“TheMilwaukee Bucks signed free-agent guardO.J. Mayo, hoping he will add some much-needed offensive punch to a roster that is searching for some after a summer of upheaval. In Milwaukee, Mayo will immediately become an offensive focal point like he was in the first few months of last season in Dallas while starDirk Nowitzki sat out with a knee injury.”
But that has not been the case. Look how Mayo’s production has diminished thus far this season:
|2012-13||35.5 mpg||15.3 ppg||3.5 rpg||4.4 apg||0.3 bpg||1.5 spg||44.9% FG|
|2013-14||25.9 mpg||11.7 ppg||2.4 rpg||2.2 apg||0.3 bpg||0.5 spg||40.7% FG|
On Jan. 19, OJ Mayo said this about his role and his team:
“It’s hard to get in a rhythm when you don’t know what’s going to happen for you night in and night out. You may get 6 minutes or 30 minutes. There’s no staple to what we’re doing.”
Mayo looks as lost as the others on the team. His minutes are down to 17.0 per game and his scoring is down to 7.0 points per game in March. The other stats don’t matter. Mayo scores, and that’s about it. Is that worth $8 million per year.
If the Bucks wanted a young veteran to shore up their lineup, shouldn’t they have dangled the cash to someone like Nick Young instead? He’s doing much more than Mayo, and he doesn’t seem to be as much as a headache.
On March 14, according to Yahoo Sports, Bucks head coach Larry Drew said:
“But right now that three-man rotation has been so good and I really don’t want to disrupt that. I’ve had a sit down talk with O.J. and just said, ‘Look, you’ve got to stay ready for me.’ He gave me the nod that he would. He was very, very good about it.”
How good has the three-man rotation been? The Bucks were 2-6 over the first two weeks of March prior to that interview. So where was the “so good” that Larry Drew was talking about? Isn’t Mayo too expensive to be a guy whose role is to stay ready?
Losing both Jennings and Ellis
Let’s face it, the Brandon Jennings – Monta Ellis experiment did not work out. The Milwaukee Bucks were hoping to have two cat quick scorers in the backcourt; however they ended up not complimenting each other and were playing too much isolation basketball. The Bucks will never move past the first round of the playoffs playing that kind of basketball.
“We evaluated all of our options and we determined this was the best one for us at this time. We’re excited about being able to add a young point guard, who we expect to have a long and successful career with us,” Bucks GM John Hammond said after the “Brandon” swap (trade with the Detroit Pistons that brought Brandon Knight to Milwaukee in exchange for Brandon Jennings).
Jennings is scoring 1.7 fewer points per game for Detroit compared to last season, but he is averaging 1.3 more assists in two fewer minutes of playing time per game. The Pistons have 13 more wins than the Bucks this season.
Knight is having the best scoring season of his career at 17.6 points per game. His assists average has increased by 0.9 per game as well, but remember that he’s playing for the Bucks, so he’s taking four more shots per game in almost the same amount of playing time.
So if Jennings was too individualistic for a point guard, how come Jennings’ 15.6 field goal attempts per game last season is practically the same as Knight’s 15.0 attempts this season.
At least the Bucks had an identity with the Jennings-Ellis backcourt. They have none this season. And as good as Knight has been and could be, he does not really possess the superstar swagger of both Jennings and Ellis. Knight is more of a silent worker who works under the radar.
Brandon Knight was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as saying:
“So what is our identity? I think that’s something we have to define and we have to play to that identity if we’re going to be anywhere near the team we want to be.”
Brandon Knight doesn’t know the identity of the team, much as the other players don’t. Despite being drafted 8th overall in 2011, Brandon Knight is also searching for his own identity. Now that’s not a good match.
Is this Hammond’s idea of the best deal possible?
Too many changes to the starting line up
When the Bucks overhauled their 2012-13 roster, it was expected that they would have chemistry problems to start the season, but nobody expected them to be 14-60 right now. The Bucks are ranked 28th in scoring and 25th in points allowed. They are also 23rd in rebounding, which says a lot. It’s not just a lack of chemistry, but a of talent that’s hurting them.
As early as three games into the season, Larry Drew had already doubted his starting unit. In an interview with FS Wisconsin on Nov. 4, Drew said:
“That might not be a good combination. I’m concerned about our energy, our speed, our activity with that first unit. I’m very concerned about that. I have to reassess that and maybe that’s not a good starting five.”
And yet again on Jan. 26, Fox Sports Wisconsin reported after the Bucks lost 112-87 to the Hawks:
“Drew again threatened changes, saying he’s going to have to go with players who play hard. But at this point it’s unclear if there is such a lineup. He’s changed the lineup quite a few times and had 19 different starting lineups, but said it would be the ‘biggest cop-out ever’ if the players used that as an excuse.”
By February 24, Drew had used 23 different starting lineups through 52 games, according to basketball-reference.com. Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball.com noted that Drew applied the same strategy when he was still with Atlanta:
“Drew had to use 29 lineups last season with the Hawks, but throughout his time in Atlanta, he generally knew he had Smith, Johnson and Horford to count on.”
So Larry Drew obviously tried to do the same with the Bucks, however they don’t have players like Smith, Johnson and Horford to fall back on. Instead, it’s been a horror film this season.
Hiring Larry Drew
When Larry Drew was hired, he had this to say:
“I am very, very excited about being here. I’m going to do everything in my power to put this group together as fast as possible, to making us competitive, to making sure these guys are in tune with each other. If I do that, chances are we’re going to be a pretty good basketball team.”
“I’m not a big fan of predictability. Offensively, I think that’s very easy to defend — but Milwaukee’s two young big men, Henson and Larry Sanders, will have big roles.”
Unfortunately, when Larry Sanders played only a total of 52 minutes in the first three games, he complained:
That was already a red flag, and it was only the beginning. Drew’s inconsistencies have obviously led to one thing after another. The most notable effect is the inconsistency of the team to play at a high level on a day to day basis. Let’s just cut this short because Drew is a nice guy: too many new players, lack of chemistry, no superstar, inconsistency and the wrong coach equals the worst record in the NBA.