The Milwaukee Bucks signed Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic last offseason believing that they would fit well with the new direction of the team. Now, both have struggled. Why?
While a disappointing year in terms of results, the biggest takeaway from the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2015-16 season was the organizational identity they had stumbled upon. Thanks to the emergence of Point Giannis, management and fans saw a future built around the unique talents of the Greek Freak.
Rather than simply cobbling together talent with less regard for direction, the Bucks could look for a specific type of player, one that would fit well with the team’s current roster and needs.
Because of their cap space, the Bucks were able to reel in two such players in free agency: Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic, each with a predetermined and similar role to fill.
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After three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dellavedova established himself as a knock-down long-range shooter and pesky perimeter defender, shooting 41 percent from behind the arc as the backup to Kyrie Irving.
With the Bucks, he seemed like a natural fit for the point guard slot as someone who excelled without the ball, spaced the floor, and brought order to a leaky defense. These qualities are definitely still present, but it can’t be ignored that Delly has been at least a bit underwhelming so far.
Jason Kidd recently replaced him in the starting lineup with Malcolm Brogdon, a decision that likely would have come much sooner if not for the chemistry and connection between the latter and reserve center Greg Monroe.
Looking at the counting stats, it’s easy to see that Delly is having a remarkably similar season compared to his last campaign in Cleveland, the only difference being his lower shooting percentages.
Unfortunately, long-range shooting was one of the most attractive assets that resulted in Delly’s contract with the Bucks in the first place. If he can’t hit at a near-40 percent clip from behind the arc, Milwaukee is missing a key spacing element to their offense.
Skeptics of his signing often pointed to LeBron James as the catalyst behind Dellavedova’s production, the logic being that without a superstar of his magnitude on the court to draw the attention of the defense, Delly would fail to see the wide-open looks he was accustomed to in Cleveland.
To a certain degree, this looks to be true. While he’s still taking 1.4 “wide open” three-pointers per game (down from 1.6 a year earlier), he’s hitting on just 36.8 percent of them, a far cry from a 44.9 percent clip a season ago.
In addition, his catch-and-shoot three-point percentage has tanked, from 46.3 percent in 2015-2016 (placing him among the league leaders) to just 34.6 percent this year.
Giannis doesn’t touch LeBron in terms of facilitating for teammates, but a larger issue is what Dellavedova is being asked to do in Milwaukee. The Cavaliers rostered so many skilled players between LeBron, Irving, Kevin Love, and others that they didn’t need any output from Delly that wasn’t his specialty.
Put simply, the Bucks do not have this luxury. It’s true that Giannis functions as a point forward, but he isn’t quite as involved with the initiation of the offense as he was last year. Although he still leads the team in the category, his assist numbers are down slightly from their post-All-Star break peak last year.
It’s possible that serving as a true point guard was never the plan for Giannis, just something forced into existence by a string of injuries. Either way, a large swath of duties never previously assigned to Delly were now part of his tasks with the Bucks.
His assists are up slightly both per game and per minute, but the real story lies in where – and how – his shots are coming. For the first time in his career, less than 40 percent of his total field goal attempts are coming from outside the arc, with an uptick in shots at the rim as well.
Last season, in about equal minutes, Dellavedova averaged 2.5 drives per game. This year, according to stats.nba.com, he’s up to 5.9 such instances each contest. The problem is, Delly shoots just 42 percent within three feet of the basket.
He doesn’t have the athleticism or quickness to finish over or around defenders, which often results in out-of-control hoists around the rim.
He’s also played almost exclusively at the point – in Cleveland, Delly would at times spot up as the two-guard alongside Kyrie Irving, forgoing traditional point guard duties to the now four-time All-Star.
So, what can the Bucks do to “fix” their point guard? It stands to reason that with time, Delly will improve the aspects of the game he’s only now being asked to implement at an NBA level. Perhaps an offseason of tutelage under Jason Kidd will allow the future Hall of Famer to teach some tricks of the trade to Dellavedova.
The return of Khris Middleton should also provide some relief for Delly, as he thrives with the ball in his hands, navigating the pick-and-roll and posting up smaller defenders to find shots for himself and teammates.
This should allow Dellavedova to resume his off-ball duties, knocking down threes and creating his own shot in a more selective and efficient manner.
Early returns on this theory are good. In the Bucks’ last three games, all of which Khris has played over 30 minutes in, Delly has put up a combined 36 points and 15 assists, shooting 15-29 from the field.
As for Mirza Teletovic, he was brought in to do one thing and one thing only — shoot the basketball. The Bucks ranked dead last in the league in three-pointers both made and attempted last season, so plugging in the league leader in three-point makes off the bench seemed an obvious fit.
However, just like Delly, Teletovic’s shooting percentages have dropped, from 39 percent last year to 35 percent this season. This places him eighth on the team, behind the likes of Jabari Parker and Michael Beasley, not known as elite shooters in their own right.
Telly has never been anything but a three-point bomber; he’s only putting up just over 1.5 two-point field goal attempts per game, doesn’t make much of a difference on the glass, and has the lowest defensive box plus-minus on the team.
Improving his shot is the best (and likely only) way to winning back trust from Jason Kidd. It could be nothing more than an extended slump, but it looks like there are some other factors at play.
The Bucks’ offense is very rudimentary and slow paced at times, relying on elbow entries and pick-and-rolls with little off-ball movement. For Teletovic, this means many of his shot attempts are rushed and with a hand in his face.
As his shot has slumped, he’s gone to the bench. Since scoring 19 points against the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 11, Telly has not seen over 11 minutes of action in any one game, scoring just six points over that time period.
Part of this can be attributed to Michael Beasley, who has been a revelation of a pickup. Beas is actually out-shooting Teletovic from deep with his own mark of 42 percent, and as he is much more adept at handling the ball and creating shots for himself, it’s hard to justify playing Telly over him.
For the time being, Beasley is out with a knee sprain, which could provide more court time to Teletovic. Unfortunately for him, the Bucks also made the surprising recent move to sign Terrence Jones, who figures to take at least some minutes at power forward.
As good of a shooter as Teletovic has been, it’s hard to imagine him not regaining form at some point, and when he does, it will be a big boost to a Bucks’ offense that still ranks 25th in three-pointers made.
Both Teletovic and Dellavedova were brought in for very specific qualities, and to some degree, both have fallen short in these important areas.
It’s tempting to argue based on their cases that targeting players based on fit is a suboptimal strategy, especially when considering how well emergency acquisitions Tony Snell and Michael Beasley have played.
However, as we’ve been over, the Bucks didn’t present as perfect an environment for their new pieces as many may have thought. Luckily they’ll have time to rectify what ails their free agent crop for the rest of this season and through the offseason.
If anything, the issues plaguing Dellavedova and Teletovic should underscore an ever present truth to sports — it’s never as simple as you may think.