Milwaukee Bucks: Should we expect improved shooting from Mirza Teletovic?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 15: (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 15: (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) /

After a disappointing first season with the team, Milwaukee Bucks fans are looking for improvement from Mirza Teletovic next year. How realistic are those hopes?

Brought in as a hyper-complementary asset meant to bring the best out of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the shooting-starved Milwaukee Bucks, Mirza Teletovic’s 2016-17 season is hard to look back on as anything but lackluster.

The Bucks weren’t looking for anything more than for Teletovic to continue the voluminous sharpshooting he’d displayed in his previous stops with the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns, where he set an NBA record for three-pointers made off the bench in 2015-16.

Of course, we wouldn’t be here if this effect had continued as planned. Telly’s numbers declined across the board, but his three-point percentage had the most sway, dipping to 34.1 percent from a career-high of 39.3 percent the year before.

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When he’s shooting around league average from behind the arc, Teletovic becomes downright unplayable given his lack of skills in all other areas of the game. He has no game at all inside the three-point line, and his defense can only be described as a liability.

Curiously though, the Bucks were statistically better, if only by a little, with him on the floor last year. This speaks to the gravity that his reputation and willingness to shoot carries, as Ti Windisch outlined last week.

"“With Mirza, Milwaukee outscored the opposition by 3.4 points per 100 possessions. Without him the Bucks were 0.6 points per 100 possessions worse off… His spacing helped things, even if Teletovic wasn’t actually knocking down shots. His quick trigger from just about anywhere on the floor makes defenses scramble, even if a Teletovic shot isn’t statistically that deadly.”"

Imagine then, the implications of an in-form Teletovic on the Bucks’ offense, and particularly Giannis Antetokounmpo. The relationship between the Greek Freak and Telly is already mutually beneficial, with their on-court rating rising six points per 100 possessions together, but could be even better once the latter party can be trusted with a larger load.

At $10 million a year for the next two seasons, Teletovic’s contract sticks out in a bad way given the performance he had in 2016-17. To earn his money, he needs to shoot several percentage points higher from deep, especially as he ages past 31.

Contractually, the Bucks should be expecting better performances out of Telly, a lot of which can come through his own uptick in shooting. However, Milwaukee would be foolish not to do all they can to maximize these chances, which is where a couple of key items pop up.

First of all, it’s important to recognize where Teletovic is coming from in terms of his past employment.

Over his four years in the league prior to his joining the Bucks, his Brooklyn and Phoenix teams won an average of 38.5 games, although the Nets’ best years came with him playing a much smaller role.

With the Suns, one missed shot wouldn’t doom his playing time as the stakes weren’t that high, which allowed Telly to keep from looking over his shoulder after every miss or second-guessing an attempt.

The Bucks had many different options in place of Teletovic last year, and depending on the week, they were often fighting for playoff position, with little margin for error.

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More court time would in theory allow Teletovic to get into a greater rhythm, and the data bears that out. When he played over 15 minutes last year (he averaged 16.2 on the season), Telly shot 37.3 percent from behind the arc. Bump that up to 20 minutes, and that clip becomes a round 38 percent.

In a similar vein, Telly’s long-range shooting clip improves when he’s given more attempts. When he took five or more shots from deep, he shot 39.5 percent. On six or more, that number goes up to 48.1 percent.

There’s a bias to these numbers to be sure — if he’s hot, the coaching staff will be more likely to feed him shots — but the significance can’t be denied, especially with such a large jump in percentage.

Going back to his pairing with Giannis, Teletovic spent 8.5 minutes per game with Antetokounmpo, compared with 9.6 minutes without him on the court.

Given how well the two worked together on paper last year, it would behoove the Bucks to play them together more often, especially while Jabari Parker is out.

Micahel Beasley leaving the team for the New York Knicks will also free up some space for Teletovic to extend himself.

D.J. Wilson will likely be his main competition at the backup 4, and although the former showed some flashes at Summer League, rookies generally need more time to adjust to the NBA’s pace.

Above everything the Bucks can do for him, regression to the mean will be the main force behind Telly’s resurgence next year.

With his open looks increasing from 44 percent of his deep attempts with the Suns to 56 percent last year, him shooting the second-lowest three-point percentage of his career has to be viewed as at least somewhat of an anomaly.

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The Bucks should expect to see the Mirza Teletovic they thought they were getting in free agency next year. Either Telly regains his form from prior years and Milwaukee is able to use him as a valuable complementary piece, or he’ll be forgotten on the end of the bench.