Jason Kidd’s New Favorite Tactic


It started with a simple pregame interview with Charles Gardner before the Bucks hosted the Cavs Wednesday night.

"“We’ll have Giannis come off the bench… We’re just making a change.”"

Predictably, this sent Bucks fanatics into an initial state of paranoia and lunacy. Why bench arguably your best player randomly with no explanation? Some explanations suggested Jason Kidd and company wanted to see Giannis feast on an opposing team’s bench. Others said the coaching staff was experimenting playing Giannis and MCW less together. Nonetheless, it was all speculation.

Fast forward to the end of the first quarter, and Giannis is still M.I.A.: zero minutes played. If Giannis was going to play at all this game, he would most likely have to enter to start the second quarter at the very least; he didn’t. The shared paranoia amongst Bucks fans heightened.

Finally, a few minutes into the second quarter, Jim Paschke officially announces to the FSN audience that Giannis will not play tonight. Oh boy.

To place a giant cherry on top of the already colossal ice cream sundae of paranoia, Kidd tops off the whole debacle with perhaps the most awkward and hostile post-game presser in recent memory. Unfortunately, this presser never happened to make it to bucks.com like most others do (how convenient), so you’ll have to rely on me for a depiction of it if you didn’t catch it: It was bad.

The reporters came in, did their job and asked the obvious question of why Giannis never saw the floor, and Kidd fired back at every question like each one was unjustly accusing him of murder. He continually repeated “coach’s decision” and treated reporters like they were out of line for asking such questions.

This lead to the typical overreactive speculation and conclusions from Bucks fans on the Internet. The conclusions ranged from “tanking” out of the Bulls series (…what?) to “Kidd was a bad hire because he’s overrated as a coach and tonight’s slip-up with the media showed his true colors and huge ego” (okay then).

But the interesting part is that it didn’t seem like a slip-up at all. In fact, it almost looked like he was trying to make the situation more controversial. He took a somewhat defusable bomb, pulled it out in front of all of us, and intentionally detonated it for everyone to see.

So why? Why would a head coach want to make a controversial decision he made even more cryptic and mysterious? My theory: that was the point all along.

The NBA season is long, involving constantly flying between cities for back-to-back games and putting your body through an intense physical toll. But, more importantly, there’s a mental toll as well. By the time you’ve played as many games as Giannis has this season (he had been the only Buck to not miss a game), you can start to take things for granted. Your mind starts to drift in games, you start to settle for jumpers, and you’re not engaged in every defensive possession. So, how do you fix this?

It’s easy to say “just give him a game off”. Well sure, that might help. Spending a game on the bench is probably a good way for a player to take a load off mentally and refocus for the remainder of the season and playoffs. But, how do you go to the next level in this strategy?

You light a scorching fire under his ass.

You not only bench him, but you make it as controversial and confusing to the player as possible by giving him no warning or explanation whatsoever. You love the speculation, the paranoia, the mass confusion. You know why? Because it makes it all the more confusing and significant to the player. You make him panic. You make him wonder what he did wrong. You make him angry when he realizes he may not have even done anything wrong. You make the player never take his minutes for granted again that season.

And that’s exactly what I think Kidd was trying to do. I think he wanted to make Giannis really think about where he is and what he’s doing: He’s playing major minutes and a crucial role for a playoff team in a league of the world’s most talented basketball players. Of course, Giannis knew this already. But it’s easy to take those things for granted in an 82 game season. So by momentarily confiscating this unbelievable opportunity he’s earned, Kidd makes him value his minutes again just as much as he should, which is a hell of a lot.

If this is the case, it wouldn’t be the first time Kidd’s used this tactic before. For November 7th’s game against the Pistons, Khris Middleton received a very similar DNP-CD. Frankly, the only difference between that benching and Giannis’ one was the spotlight Giannis’ snub deserved at the time. Not nearly as many people cared when a rotation player sits compared to when a franchise’s cornerstone sits.

Coach Kidd even made this comparison himself:

"“You look back, Khris (Middleton) was down, didn’t play. It’s fair to say this isn’t the first time it happened.”"

After that game, Khris “turned it on” completely and became the 3-and-D analytics darling the Bucks regularly depend on today.

Maybe this even becomes a famous staple of Kidd’s coaching technique that becomes a regular thing that happens a few times each season. Unfortunately, this might be not be so practical. If a benching by Kidd does become more and more common, it won’t catch people as off guard as they were on Wednesday night, and the player will know what Kidd’s trying to do. The mystery will be somewhat lacking.

But we do know one thing. This time, Kidd’s tactic did do, well, this:

So sure, Jason Kidd might have actually wanted to give Giannis some rest in a game they would probably lose anyways, and maybe that’s all there is to it. But I think he also took the opportunity to try and boost his young star’s passion; just about the scariest thing you could possibly do to him right before his first playoff series ever.

But some will continue to view this tendency of Kidd’s fundamental gap in his coaching technique and say his reasons “should probably be communicated to avoid it becoming an issue in the locker room.

No matter what your opinion might be on Kidd’s actions with regards to this situation, after watching Giannis absolutely destroy the Knicks on Friday, I think most of us can agree with Giannis himself:

Next: The Value of Michael Carter-Williams In The Post

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