There comes a time in each and every franchise’s history–or most, anyway–where a team is left searching for answers. The Milwaukee Bucks have been playing that role for quite some time. They thought they had an answer in Brandon Jennings after a stellar rookie season in which he impressed viewers with his stellar 55 point game and his above average three point shooting ability.
Jennings, since that year, was never really able to improve. His shooting percentage stayed on a below average level, he improved in changing speeds as a point guard but was never able to shake of his knack for taking some of the worst shots in the league, and finally, he never really had the pieces around him to make him a more successful player.
So the Bucks finally cut ties with Jennings this offseason and traded him to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight in a sign-and-trade deal. The Bucks didn’t stop there–they eventually dealt for Caron Butler by trading Ishmael Smith and Viacheslav Kravstsov to the Phoenix Suns in return for the Wisconsin native.
Prior to that, the Bucks signed O.J. Mayo, Luke Ridnour, and Zaza Pachulia all in free agency. Their most notable move this offseason, and no doubt the best, was signing center Larry Sanders to a new contract extension that didn’t eat out all of their cap.
So now, the Bucks are on the path to starting over and making a new and, hopefully, competitive team. That’s where our question comes in. Through the new #AskSykes feature, Randon McCrea asked whether or not the Bucks trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler would work.
@Mikey_NBA How will the trio of OJ Mayo, Caron and Brandon Knight fair in Milwaukee?
— DeAndre of Cambridge (@DatManRan) September 6, 2013
Now, lets examine this. When looking at the moves that the Milwaukee Bucks made this offseason, they essentially took a step forward by taking two steps back and letting go of Jennings. Tanking in the NBA is a pretty common theme, at this point. I’m not here to complain, tear down, support, or boost the tank. I do believe that there is some merit to rebuilding a roster by starting from the ground up, but I also believe that it can be considered unethical in a sense that teams aren’t putting out the best that they can offer each night on the floor.
But this is besides the point. This is the roster that the Bucks are going with and these three are apart of it. To figure out how they will work together, we need to assess the role of each player and figure out what skills are essential to them being productive.
First, we’ll start with Brandon Knight. When discussing what Knight does well, there isn’t too much that we can say about him. Not that he is a bad player or that he doesn’t have a particular value, but that he was inserted into a role that he was simply not prepared for in Detroit. This is evident by the Pistons giving up on Knight after only two seasons as a Piston. That isn’t a particularly ringing endorsement.
But looking at Knight’s statistics, they suggest that he had room for improvement but could’ve developed into a decent player. He wasn’t a particularly good creator, but his three point percentage was above average. This is an indicator that his best quality is shooting the ball. This is why its best not to play Knight at the point guard position. His main strength is spot up shooting, according to Synergy Sports.
Knight scores .99 points per possession in spot up situations. Being involved in secondary action seems to help Knight flourish at this point. 191 of his 223 spot up attempts have been from beyond the three point line. He made 36.6% of these three point attempts. What’s more is that 20.2% of his offense came from these spot up attempts–the third most just behind the pick and roll opportunities and transition opportunities for Knight, according to Synergy.
Knight’s synergy numbers also suggest that he didn’t play well in the pick and roll, either. He shot a dreadful .69 points per possession in pick and roll situations. He’s really not too good of a passer or creator for his teammates, either. He has a 20.6% turnover percentage in the pick and roll. That wouldn’t be an issue if he was scoring more in these situations, but he’s not.
When playing off the ball in situations that Synergy qualifies as hand offs or off of cuts, Knight performs pretty well. In cutting situations, he scores 1.29 points per possession according to the data. It also says that in handoff situations, he scores 1.14 points per possession. Those two are both stellar totals, but the opportunities for Knight last year in those situations were very scarce. A total of 8.8% of his offense came from these situations–something that we should probably have seen more of.
Moving on to Mayo and Butler, they both played at wing positions on their team’s last year. Mayo was a 40% three point shooting threat last year and Butler wasn’t too far behind at 38%. However, the difference between Mayo and Butler is that Mayo was used far more as a creator than Butler was. Mayo’s offense came from the pick and roll, mostly–22.6% of it to be exact according to Synergy. But his numbers suggest that he wasn’t too proficient at it because he only scored .73 points per possession at it.
Mayo is a pretty good creator, though, and is a decent passer. He shouldn’t run the point guard position full time, but setting him up with side pick and rolls and having him attack a fluid defense from off of the bounce isn’t a terrible idea. Just about the opposite goes for Butler, who really needs a creator at this point to be productive.
I’m not sure how well this trio will work together. Brandon Knight will need to make significant improvement as a creator if it is going to work at all. This means that his pick and roll offense has to become more effective and he has to become a better passer. He only assisted on 21.3% of the Pistons field goals last season. For a player who is supposed to dominate the ball, that isn’t good enough.
What is lost in all of this is that Knight is a decent defender who knows how to make the proper rotations and has a pretty good idea of where to be defensively. That will keep him from losing his minutes completely, I’m sure. But if he wants to be a mainstay on this team, he’s going to have to improve his game offensively.
I’d like to see Luke Ridnour get a starting spot over Knight, and maybe the Bucks can shift Mayo and Knight throughout the game at the shooting guard position. Knight’s numbers and film suggest that he is a far better off-ball player than anything else. If he can maintain an average shooting percentage from three and become just a slightly better creator off of the bounce, having him play the point guard role won’t be as detrimental for him as it was in his first two seasons.
But, in either case, Knight is the key here if this trio is going to work out. If they Bucks want to win games, they better hope he improves.