Jordan Krueger dissects the Bucks bench struggles and how players are playing well below their career averages.
Remember the 2014-2015 Bucks? Yeah, I do too! 26 game swing from worst in the league to a playoff berth and a competitive playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. The Bucks last year did not have nearly the starting lineup they do now. However, the depth they had was crazy good compared to what it has been this season. Guys like Henson, Mayo, Dudley, Bayless were contributing at a very high level defensively and their offense was still solid and efficient. Dudley was shooting at a very high rate from three last year before the month of February where back problems seemed to cause a drop off. That bench was one of the best in the league and it has not been the same since the 2015 All Star Break.
This year it’s no secret that Jerryd Bayless has been crazy good off the bench while he has been healthy. Shooting in the top 10 in 3PT% in the league all year long. Hitting clutch threes when he is needed, and always seems to hit the open three. Currently shooting 42% from three matching his career high. Since joining the Bucks last year he has been at that 42% mark. Averaging 10.7 ppg this year which is .7 points below his career high. Bayless is a guy who has moved around a lot, been on 6 different teams and I think he has found his niche with the Bucks and has been by far the best bench player on the roster. For him to get better this year he needs to step up on the defensive end a lot. His offensive game is stellar but his defense is subpar. Getting him healthy for the stretch run will be important if the Bucks are looking to make the improbable playoff push.
The Bucks also have a lack of veteran presence this season compared to last season. Mayo is one of the guys on the team that needs to take some young guys under his wing and make them better. It is clear that he has been doing that with Rashad Vaughn which is great to see, two very similar players. However, what has not been great to see is OJ Mayo play basketball this season. He has dropped in most important stat categories this year. Points per game is under 10 for the first time in his career, shooting 29% from three, 37% overall which are both career lows by far. He is averaging less points on more minutes than last year. The only positive I can find is that he is averaging a career high in steals, and playing overall better defense. For OJ to get better this year, simply he needs to put the ball in the basket on a more consistent basis. If he can play at his career average or at least his average with his time on the Bucks which would be 11.5 ppg and 3 apg, on 42% from the floor and 37% from three. With the minutes he has been getting this season, on paper he would average more points than he has in Bucks tenure if he could reach his career shooting percentages. He is definitely a positive regression candidate as the Bucks close out the season.
“The Gadget” so he is called, is no doubt a fan favorite among the fans in Milwaukee out of the bench squad and no doubt with MCW, the biggest defensive spark on this team. He has one of the best lefty hooks in the game. How he can get that to fall consistently, we may never know. Another thing we may never know, is how he has such high foul numbers coming off the bench in such little minutes. Tuesday against Orlando he fouled out in 16 minutes, two games in December he has 11 and 12 minutes games, both with 5 fouls. This obviously hinders his minutes, which hinders his performance and input on the game. Henson is averaging a career high in field goal percentage at 59% and career high 2 blocks per game on 16.7 minutes per game (second lowest of career) and 6.7 point per game. I am completely fine with the offense he has been playing, but his numbers are a testament to how much him getting into foul trouble drops his production. If John limits the fouls, he can rack up more minutes and return to or exceed career averages by a lot. That would be huge coming off the bench with the cast who will be playing around him when Monroe is out of the game. If John Henson can get more minutes without being in foul trouble, his defense is something that Monroe certainly can not match.
I’m not here to talk much about how Greivis has been playing this season because it has been too small of a sample size(16 games). I can tell you I was very nervous about how he started off his campaign with the Bucks though. He could not buy a bucket and I remember growing very impatient with him until he hit that dagger three against Cleveland. After that he was back to what I expected him to be, until the injury which has kept him out for a long time. When he gets back he needs to be that guy he was in Toronto, a veteran guy who can come off the bench, make some threes, and be a solid overall backup point guard. The Bucks are pretty stacked at that position, but Kidd does like to run those small three guard lineups at times. Bottom line is that when he was healthy and playing, his 25% three point percentage was not cutting it and will not cut it when he gets back.
Being a rookie and all, it’s hard to explain how Vaughn is playing below his career averages like everyone else, but I think we will be seeing Vaughn get more minutes than he has been getting. Especially if we keep losing, he could be getting some more minutes to get him some more experience in the league. Rashad has shot pretty much only corner threes up to this point. Recently he has been driving and trying to score at the rim a little more than usual and that’s what you like to see. He forces it too much though, when he drives he takes some pretty contested and wild shots that he no doubt needs to pass out of. With time he will learn to make better decisions, that is not a concern of mine. If he can play anything like he did in college, he will be a very good player on this team in a few years. For the first time in his career Vaughn is grappling with not being “The Man”, you can see the adjustments being made on the fly to not hog the ball, like he did at UNLV. His growth will be key for the Bucks going forward as he seeks to carve out a clear role in an NBA rotation.
It’s no secret that the Bucks bench has not been healthy this year. Mayo has played in 29 of the 46 games this year, Bayless has sat out 17 games also with two sprained ankles. Greivis Vasquez has only played in 16 games this season also. Our three best players off the bench have not been healthy all year. Along with that, Tyler Ennis sat out for a long while recovering from shoulder surgery. Bottom line is that the Bucks bench will already be better if they just stay healthy. Even with Mayo and Vasquez out, the bench has shown recent upticks that could be signs for optimism.
To sum up this article, these solid veteran players NEED to get back to, or close to their career averages, and play a little bit better defense. The first step is getting healthy. I like what I’ve seen from Bayless, but everyone else on the bench needs to step it up before this team can think about the playoffs. Middleton has been putting up all-star numbers in the last month, that is obvious. The starting lineup in general has been better also, that is a big reason they are playing better basketball since about mid-December. Keeping all that in mind, and if the bench gets better/healthier this team could be a scary team coming into the final three months of the season.