The Mystery of Jason Kidd’s Rotations


Not long after the Bucks dropped their third straight contest, a woeful performance all-round in Detroit, the pitchforks were out from Bucks fans everywhere calling for Jason Kidd’s head. It was the latest in a series of disappointing performances, in which the defense was typically disorganised and the offense stagnant. 

With all the early season hype, thanks almost entirely to Giannis, the Bucks now find themselves stuck in a deep rut, 4-5 on the season, 11th in the Eastern Conference. Publicly the Bucks preached continuity as the theme of the summer, coming in with a mostly intact roster from 16/17. So far they haven’t lived up to the talk.

Giannis has been simply amazing, MVP level performances single handedly lifting the Bucks to a more impressive record then they probably should have at this point. All Bucks fans knew, looking at the schedule, that the start of the season was going to be particularly brutal. Cleveland twice, Boston twice, OKC, and San Antonio, all in the season’s first 11 games. I personally hoped for us to get through that stretch at around .500 and i’d be thrilled. We are potentially on track for that if we can split the next two, Cleveland’s recent form and the Kawhi-less Spurs hopefully helping our cause.

But despite getting some early wins in the bank I can’t help but feel disappointed with where we stand. Outside of Giannis going absolutely crazy, do we as Bucks fans actually see anything different on the court?

Jason Kidd, now in his fourth season as Milwaukee head coach, sits with a record of 120 wins 135 losses and two playoff appearances, both 1st round exits in six games. With a season before hand in Brooklyn, he has totaled 337 games as a head coach. For reference, that leaves him sitting 108th on the list of games coached all-time in the NBA, ahead of 216 fellow head coaches. He’s not a young, inexperienced coach anymore. 

One of the great mysteries on a nightly basis for Bucks fans is wondering what kind of weird and whacky lineups we might see take the floor. Kidd has, since day one, adopted the method of going with the ‘hot man’ on any given night. For instance, last season it was anyone’s guess as to whether we would see Mirza Teletovic or Michael Beasley see minutes, this season the Buck’s struggling second unit, ranked second last with 25.2 ppg has been mixed and matched relentlessly. 

When trying to objectively look at whats happening with the rotations so far this season, it should be noted that Greg Monroe, a key player off the bench last season, has been out with a calf injury, and obviously Jabari Parker, also still out, won’t figure to factor into the equation until around the all-star break in February.

The center position is clearly a weakness for the Bucks right now, getting barely any offense coupled with terrible team rebounding, leaving us dead last in the league in that category grabbing a paltry 37.7 a game.

Through the first nine games John Henson has proved to be by far the most effective big man to be matched with Giannis, here are the figures:

  1. Giannis w/ Henson in 149 minutes: Ortg 115.9, Drtg 102.6, Net 13.3.
  2. Giannis w/ Thon in 124 minutes: Ortg 103.6, Drtg 109.6, Net -6.0.
  3. Giannis w/ Monroe in 48 minutes: Ortg 93.0, Drtg 108.2, Net -15.1.

There are two clear takeaways from those numbers for me. First of all, Monroe needs to continue to be separated from Giannis as much as possible when he returns. The offense has been horrific when Giannis and Moose are paired together which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Giannis has penetrated and scored at will so far this season, shooting a ridiculous 65-80 on shots at the rim. Monroe is an old school post player that clogs the lane, and prevents Giannis from getting where he wants to with all the added traffic in the paint.

The other number of note is Giannis and Henson’s numbers when paired together, the only Giannis/center duo to have a positive net rating and its a dominant one at that. I always thought that the most lethal five to play with Giannis was a rim protecting, rebounding, stretch big. It’s still the case, but unfortunately Thon hasn’t been able to take the next step early in the season. While Henson doesn’t provide a threat from deep, he stays out of the way and knows his role in the offense, gets good position in the paint for a quick catch and lefty hook, which, even if it doesn’t come, will get out of the way. I still have high hopes for Thon, but at this point promoting Henson to the starting lineup was the correct move from Kidd, as depressing as that is to say.

In the off-season Jason Kidd questioned the NBA’s decision to shorten training camp:

“We went extremely hard because of the shortened training camp,” Kidd said. “We tried to get guys in shape. That’s one of the big things with a shortened camp. There’s a chance of not being in basketball shape, and you see a lot of injuries, a lot of guys out.”

Source: Chris Mannix of The Vertical

One of my main gripes with Kidd is his lack of awareness of when to take players out, especially ironic given his public comments about injuries. A recent bout of foul trouble has knocked Giannis’ numbers down a touch but as it stands he and Khris Middleton are both logging 36+ minutes a night. Fine numbers on the surface, but it was the Atlanta game that was just unnecessary, and inexcusable. Giannis and Khris both played 38 minutes, in what was essentially 48 minutes of cruise control for the Bucks. The Hawks didn’t get within 10 points of Milwaukee after the 3:44 mark of the first quarter. Despite this, Kidd left Giannis and Khris in until the final minute before deciding he’d unshackle the rookie combo of Brown and Wilson for 37 important seconds of action. The 38 minutes isn’t the issue, it’s the complete inability to recognize that the game is in hand and you need to protect your stars. I get very uneasy watching Giannis go full tilt in a game that is over, and we know Khris is coming off major hamstring surgery. Kidd simply needs to do a better job of protecting his players in the rare opportunity he gets the chance.

Greg Monroe, DeAndre Liggins, Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, Rashad Vaughn, and Thon Maker have all had turns this season being the first man off the bench. Six players in nine games. Its become a fun game to try and guess who might get the nod on any given night, maybe Fox Sports Wisconsin could give the viewers a chance at winning a cooler for guessing this, rather then the first point scorer of the fourth quarter.

Guys like Liggins and Vaughn go from playing key rotation minutes to getting a DNP-CD the next night, the rookies look like they are banished to the bench, even Jason Terry, a surprising key member of the rotation last year sporadically has appeared in three games for what reason we’ll never know. Giannis might come out at the 6:00 minute mark of the first one night, 4:00 minute the next, 8:00 minute the night after. I’ve tried to find a trend, I can’t see one. It appears Kidd just makes it up as he goes, and it must be hard for the players to figure out.

The pressure is mounting on Kidd, and the fans are getting restless. Unlike Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr who the other night both took a stand for their team, I watched against Detroit as we were destroyed and Kidd sat in his chair, stone faced, the occasional forehead rub as things went from bad to worse. When you have a generational talent like Giannis, the expectations go up a level, and at the very least I hope to see more urgency from the head coach moving forward. It’s early in the season, certainly early enough to be still working out rotations but in his fourth season Kidd has given us no reason to assume thats what he is doing. Situational substitutions are certainly a valuable tactic, I just don’t see it with our rotation, we don’t run that deep. I don’t expect to figure out the rotations any time soon but i do know that if things don’t turn around, that seat he doesn’t like to get up from will quickly become very hot.

*A few notes as this article was completed pre Bledsoe trade. Everything on this team revolves around Giannis. When looking at how big of an addition Bledsoe will be, it mustn’t be forgotten how bad the Bucks were with Monroe and Giannis together in the early going.

Jason Terry was first man off the bench against Cleveland, the 7th different Buck to do so in ten games.

Now the question becomes, how much pressure is relieved on Jason Kidd with this trade?

Time will tell.

Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus 


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