Milwaukee Bucks: Jason Kidd Continues To Switch His Lineups

Nov 6, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd draws up a play for Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) against the New York Knicks during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. The Bucks defeated the Knicks 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd draws up a play for Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) against the New York Knicks during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. The Bucks defeated the Knicks 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

In a season of frequent Milwaukee Bucks rotation changes, has Jason Kidd‘s latest move strayed over into the realms of unnecessary tinkering?

As we near the end of his second season as the Milwaukee Bucks head coach, Jason Kidd continues to march to the beat of his own drum.

That’s generally not a negative when it comes to head coaches either. Many of the best to have called the shots from the sideline could be described as single-minded. The confidence they have to take control and make the big decisions, is a byproduct of the same trait that fixates them on success.

The question is at what point does a coach become single-minded to a fault? At what point is narrow-minded a more apt description?

If Kidd’s focus on his end goals never wavers, he has at least shown a willingness to adapt and experiment. Kidd doesn’t deal with his starting lineup or his rotations with sentimentality, and in reality many of his moves may be based more on sending messages to his players rather than any real basketball adjustment.

More from Bucks News

Think back to his benching of Giannis Antetokounmpo against the Cleveland Cavaliers last season.

Think back to his benching of Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams in Charlotte earlier in this campaign.

Then of course, most recently we had Greg Monroe‘s slide to the bench ahead of a meeting with the Celtics.

Of course, there have been other more minor adjustments in the time since too, with Carter-Williams switching back and forth from the bench as much as anybody. At what point do the changes become no more than unnecessary tinkering though? When do they start to do more damage than good?

On Wednesday after a 12 game spell on the bench Monroe was re-inserted into the starting unit to play the Miami Heat. Jerryd Bayless joined him with a rare start at point guard, yet with O.J. Mayo out due to illness it may be wise to not read too much into that.

Monroe has played in 63 of Milwaukee’s 65 games so far this season. With Miles Plumlee in the starting lineup in Monroe’s place for that 12 game period, the Bucks won at a .500 rate, while in games Monroe has started the team’s percentage falls to .392.

More from Behind the Buck Pass

With strength of schedule among many other things potentially factoring into that number, it can’t be broken down as simply as that. In an examination of Monroe’s role with the team that’s just a single piece of evidence.

Digging a little deeper via NBA Stats to compare both the performance of the team and Monroe, between Monroe’s first 50 starts of the season and the point he found himself on the bench brings some fascinating results.

With Monroe as a starter for that significant chunk of the season, the Bucks scored an average of 101.5 points per 100 possessions, allowed their opponent 106.2 points in that same timeframe, while playing at a pace that would bring the team an average 96.07 possessions per 48 minute spell.

With Plumlee in the starting berth the results look a whole lot better. The offensive rating climbed up to 103.6, the defensive rating plummeted to 102.2, and importantly for a young and athletic team, the pace ratcheted up to a mark of 100.03.

That’s better offense, better defense, higher pace and as a result the difference between the two spells is that there was in excess of a six point swing in net rating in Milwaukee’s favor during the smaller sample size.

Mar 9, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Miami Heat forward Amar
Mar 9, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Miami Heat forward Amar /

For perspective in a broader context for that spell with Plumlee in the lineup the Bucks ranked seventh in the league in defensive rating and 15th in pace, up from their overall season rankings of 21st and 22nd in those categories respectively.

Those who never agreed with the move to bench him in the first place argued at the time that Monroe’s personal contribution was statistically superior to many of his teammates to begin with, and that the move greatly underestimated his value. There were also plenty who were quick to point out that the starters role didn’t mean anything as Monroe may just as easily play as many if not more minutes coming in off the bench.

The truth is there’s still something to both of those points too. Monroe coming off the bench in many ways benefited both parties in terms of the quality of their output, and the way that was broken down makes a lot of sense.

Monroe’s minutes did in fact drop off during his time coming off the bench, but only slightly. 30.4 per game as a starter, 29.2 starting as a sub.

What really becomes interesting is when you start to look at how Milwaukee dealt with and without Monroe in terms of on/off in both cases, and the overall implications on the team’s usage.

Monroe’s offensive ability has never really been in doubt throughout this whole process, the questions have been more intertwined with how his offensive skills do or do not mesh with those of his teammates.

Through Monroe’s first 50 starts, the drop-off when he would come off the court in terms of scoring was nothing short of catastrophic. The Bucks were scoring 103.7 points per 100 possessions with Monroe on the court, but that number would drop off to 97.7 per 100 possessions once he’d take a seat.

With Plumlee starting at the five spot, the team managed to improved its scoring with Monroe on the court to 104.2, but also to do so significantly when he was off the floor too, climbing to 102.8 points per 100 possessions. It doesn’t take any deep thinking to figure out the reason for that either.

From an early point in the season many were calling for greater staggering of the rotations involving Monroe as it became abundantly clear that he could feast against reserve big men who were no match for him.

The lineup change gave him a higher percentage of time in those kind of scenarios, while when he was on the bench there was greater space, freedom and most importantly touches for the likes of Parker and Antetokounmpo to maximize their offensive outputs.

That’s what a lot of the great debate boils down to. Who should be running the show for Milwaukee on the offensive end?

Considering that Antetokounmpo and Parker went through the best 12 game stretches of their professional careers with Monroe on the bench, it only fuels that debate.

Corroborating it is a different issue, but the numbers certainly correlate that Monroe’s reduced role coincided with a jump for the so-called “big three”.

Prior to the lineup change, Monroe led the Bucks in usage at 24.2 percent, yet that was a number that dropped to 21.3 when he started to come off the bench. Interestingly, that pushed each of Middleton, Parker and Antetokounmpo above him during that time span.

Feb 9, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) shoots during the second quarter against the Boston Celtics at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 9, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) shoots during the second quarter against the Boston Celtics at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

What remains important to note is that Monroe remained incredibly useful for the Bucks coming off the bench, and if anything it appeared Kidd’s understanding of how and when to use him grew as a result.

Prior to the switch, Monroe played in 80 percent of what NBA Stats would deem to have been clutch minutes for Milwaukee, putting up 26.1 points per 100 possessions.

Out of the starting lineup, that number increased to the Louisiana native playing 93 percent of the team’s clutch minutes and scoring 27.4 per 100.

It’s not really a reflection on Monroe as a player, but considering the rest of the team’s roster makeup, they’re best served to him taking advantage of mismatch minutes, and adding a strong low-post option late in games.

That sort of option to decide games is what many felt Milwaukee lacked last season, but with hindsight the realization has to be that there was no real evidence that they needed 48 minutes of that player.

Kidd deserved immense credit for stepping up and making a decision that nobody was really calling for, when he benched Monroe in the first place. Even if it was little more than an experiment out of desperation, you can’t deny the man the plaudits when it was proven worthwhile.

What you can say about it was that it was random. Like many of the other changes mentioned earlier, there’s never a sign, never a pattern, and it always comes off feeling somewhat like a bait-and-switch. That was the feeling many Bucks fans were left with when news of Monroe’s return to the starting five emerged.

You found something that was working, the numbers suggested it, the optics suggested it, so why in the world would you decide to change it?

To compound the issue further, Jim Paschke relayed in commentary during the Fox Sports Wisconsin broadcast of the Miami Heat game, that Kidd indicated to him this is the lineup he plans to finish the season out with.

In a lost season, it’s all too easy to say that experimentation can do no harm or it doesn’t really matter, but of course it does. This is how you learn the necessary lessons to ensure that next year isn’t also a lost year.

As an organization, a fanbase and a community, I’m not sure that anybody who has watched this season unfold could have asked for more of Jason Kidd at a late juncture of the season than to find a strategy that improves the team’s record, their offense and defense, and spurs the team’s young core trio on to greater involvement, confidence and production.

Moving away from that feels unthinkable, but closing the book on returning to it would truly be a cardinal sin.

Interestingly, Plumlee responded to returning to the bench in Wednesday’s game against Miami with a season high 18 points. The team once again looked at its best when he was on the floor, and in spite of Monroe’s generally instrumental role in close games, Kidd must even have recognized it as it was Plumlee who finished the majority of the game out at the five.

Neither player can or should be defined by single plays, and that is not the intention of the next two clips. All that this footage does is highlight what are some of the biggest differences in style between Monroe and Plumlee, and explain why they influence the team in different ways.

In a moment that ultimately resulted in many on Twitter having a good laugh, let’s take a look at a sequence where Monroe finds himself crowded in the paint but determined to score himself, in spite of Jabari Parker finding himself wide open in the corner.

That’s not to say that Monroe did the wrong thing. He drew contact and got to the free throw line. Whether the pass was truly on and if Monroe could execute it are largely immaterial. What it offers is a quick glimpse at Monroe’s mentality.

Moose is not a selfish player in any way, but when he gets the ball down low his first and likely his second instinct is always going to be to find a way to get a shot up for himself. That doesn’t make him a bad player, and in fact the opposite certainly stands for him on offense, it’s just indicative of a heavy usage style which can have a significant impact on the way his team plays.

On the other end, with the game on the line, Plumlee gave a glimpse of the type of defense that many don’t believe Monroe is even capable of. With the Bucks up by five with 20 seconds remaining, Dwyane Wade drove to the basket.

In that scenario, you don’t want to bail him out, you want to challenge the shot without fouling and force him to make the field goal rather than free throws to keep his team alive.

Plumlee showed great awareness and discipline, and his excellent verticality resulted in a piece of textbook defense that virtually sealed the victory for his team.

With Monroe’s future reportedly uncertain in Milwaukee with the potential for trades and Plumlee set to be a free agent this summer, it’s important to note that this isn’t about Monroe versus Plumlee. Rather it’s a battle of styles and an opportunity for Milwaukee to learn which one they need to lean closer towards moving forward.

We’ve had plenty of time to see how the offensive minded, post-dominant, high usage center influences the team. After promising early returns it only seems right that the Bucks take the same sort of consideration with the defensive-minded, background rim-runner.

Next: Giannis Antetokounmpo At Point Guard Creates Summer of Decisions For Milwaukee Bucks

Now is not the time for Kidd to dig his heels in. He found a change that was positive, the next step is to return to embracing that.