When Jason Kidd was hired in Brooklyn last summer, he talked about how he wanted his team to push the ball offensively and play up-tempo. That modus operandi became unrealistic once the Nets acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from Boston. Playing with two bigs doesn’t restrict a team from playing fast, but those bigs being Garnett and Brook Lopez does.
Now with the Bucks, Kidd has a team that’s much more adept to play his style of basketball. In the midst of the Kidd saga unfolding a few weeks back, it was revealed that he wanted to trade Brook Lopez to the Bucks in a deal that would bring back Larry Sanders and Ersan Illyasova. In his estimation, Lopez didn’t fit in his system. He’s correct.
Brooklyn’s early season struggles were well documented and they didn’t start playing well until after Lopez went down with injury and they moved to small-ball. Offensively, they were never able to make the Garnett-Lopez pairing work. Brooklyn scored just 102.6 points per 100 possessions with them on the court together. Their most used five-man lineup of Williams, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Lopez was outscored by 4.9 points per 100 possessions, mainly because they struggled to score. That group’s offensive output of 96.5 points per 100 possessions was less effective than Philadelphia’s league worst mark of 96.8.
The Nets were 9-17 when Lopez went down for the season on December 20th. They went 35-22 the rest of the way.
In the 35-22 stretch, here were Brooklyn’s ten most used lineups:
Their four most used lineups were all small with Paul Pierce at the four and were dominant. Of those ten lineups, two featured two bigs with Kidd deploying Mirza Teletovic alongside Andray Blatche. Teletovic, a 39% three point shooter last season, is a classic stretch-four that brought the same floor spacing capabilities that Pierce did.
Post Lopez-injury, the Nets didn’t play any faster in terms of pace, but their small-ball style was much of the reason they recovered from their slow start and made the playoffs. It was over this stretch that Kidd’s true coaching identity was revealed. Defensively, they were able to play a more disruptive scheme in athleticism to hedge harder on pick-and-rolls. Offensively, they spaced the floor and shot more threes.
Brook Lopez is a very good basketball player, but he doesn’t fit with what Kidd wants to do. He’s a plodder who is most comfortable operating in the low-post. Theold adage reads that a good coachshould be able to tweak his style to fit hispersonnel. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but it’s also up to management to build a team that fits stylistically with what a coach wants to do. That didn’t happen in Brooklyn. Milwaukee’s roster, though not as talented, is better suited to play Kidd’s style than the Nets ever were.
The Bucks are a young team that’s tailor made to run and play a wide-open offense. Veterans Sanders and Ilyasova, the two Bucks Kidd tried to add for Lopez, are nice fits a pick-and-roll centric spread attack. Backups Khris Middleton – a 41% three point shooter last season – and John Henson are also good fits in the scheme. The most exciting aspect of a Bucks-Kidd marriage is what the coach’s style can do for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker.
Kidd has spoken about letting Antetokounmpo play point guard and run the offense. At 6’11 with a strong handle and good athleticism, his talent is obvious. He’s not yet a good shooter, but is a strong driver to the rim. Last season, he was great at getting to the free throw line. His .483 Free Throw Rate was higher than that of LeBron James (.432) and Kevin Durant (.477). That doesn’t mean he’s better at drawing fouls, his usage was much lower than theirs, but he’s really good at it.
Playing in a spread offense will help him immensely. With more spacing comes open lanes to drive to the rim. Antetokounmpo’s height and length make it difficult to defend him with a guard because of the obvious size mismatch. His athleticism makes it difficult for wings of similar height to guard him far away from the basket. He’ll have to deal with teams sagging off and forcing him to shoot, but running the offense will still afford him ample opportunity to drive and get to the rim.
In Summer League, Antetokounmpo has been impressive. His dunk here against San Antonio serves as a possible foreshadowing of what’s to come with his new role in Kidd’s scheme.
Coming out of Duke, a popular pre-draft comparison for Jabari Parker was Carmelo Anthony. In New York, Anthony’s game has reached new heights as he’s logged significant minutes at power-forward where he becomes an even bigger offensive mismatch. As mentioned earlier, Kidd’s Nets were very good this past season with Paul Pierce at the four. Parker is that same type of player as Anthony and Pierce and all indications suggest he’ll start his Bucks career as a power-forward. It’s the right move and he has a chance to dominate as an NBA four man.
The challenge for Milwaukee, as is the case for all young teams, is whether they’ll be able to play consistently strong defense. The likely answer is no, but they have enough length and athleticism on that end to be able to play Kidd’s aggressive scheme. Sanders and Henson are adept to hedge aggressively on screens and both players are young enough to where they both could develop into above average defenders. Kidd is going to have the Bucks running a lot and so forcing turnovers will be important in them getting out in transition.
Late this week, reports surfaced that Milwaukee will claim Kendall Marshall off waivers from the Lakers. Marshall, a rotation caliber point guard, played well offensively in Mike D’Antoni’s spread offense last season. He fits nicely with what Kidd wants to do schematically. For years, the Bucks made questionable moves to compete for 8th seeds. It was a team striving for mediocrity that didn’t care about the future. With new ownership comes a commitment to long-term success and a palpable excitement now surrounds this group of talented young players. They now too have an exciting coach who will grow with the team and the organization. For the first time in a long time, the future is bright in dreary Milwaukee.