The Inbounds: Ellis and Jennings and the cliff of compromise

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Something’s gotta give in Milwaukee. (Check out our Bucks season preview here.)

The Bucks traded their often-injured-but-still-awesome-when-he-played center Andrew Bogut last season to Golden State and took on Monta Ellis. Ellis was a promising young star. Then he was the guy who got injured in the moped accident. Then he was a terrific player again. Then he was an inefficient, ball-dominant, high-usage player you couldn’t win with. So yeah, Monta’s been around. Thing is, there have been weeks, not months, certainly not years, but weeks, where the idea of Monta Ellis being an MVP candidate wasn’t completely insane over the past four years. It was kind of insane, but not really. And that’s a pretty good player.

But when the Bucks mixed Ellis with inefficient, ball-dominant, high-usage Brandon Jennings, the results were… not good. And usually you use that phrase to say things were bad. But they weren’t. They just weren’t good. The Bucks were 2.4 points worse than their opponent per 100 possessions with the two on the floor together. Overall, the Bucks were exactly even. The Bucks were exactly as good as their opponent last year, according to NBA.com. That in and of itself says something, but let’s get back to Jennings and Ellis.

The Bucks weren’t substantially worse with those two on the floor together, just a little bit. Maybe a more disturbing sign was that in their final 12 games of the season, they were significantly worse, over 6 points per 100 possessions worse than the opponent.

So what’s the answer? Is this something that can just work itself out with the team getting healthy and spending more time together? Will they improve with a deeper roster? Will this work itself out?

These things will help, but the Bucks also need to get one of them to make a compromise. Either Ellis is going to have to play off-ball, or Jennings is going to have to be more of a distributor and playmaker. The fact that neither seems likely or sustainable is a problem. Ellis feels more comfortable creating off the dribble, even if his numbers are better in the pick and roll and spot-up (he’s also a monster in the post, this has been the same over the last few years; Skiles needs to use him more there). And Jennings is much the same.

At some point, there has to be compromise by one of the players. We saw in Miami what happens when you try the “let’s take turns” offense. It results in a stagnant offense that always seems to be trying to figure it out every possession. There’s got to be an integration of both players. It’s not that a scoring point and a shooting guard can’t coexist, it just becomes difficult when they both feel they need the ball in their hands. This only gets trickier when you factor in, you know, the other three guys on the floor.

Ellis’ re-trade value may be the best thing the Bucks have going for them. A versatile scorer who can initiate the offense, he could be whipped at the trade deadline for a rebuilding package. But if they are in a position to need a replacement player to get them into the playoffs, are they going to be able to move for a better player than Bogut? That’s the trick.

So instead, the Bucks have to figure out how to negotiate the two. It’s not entirely different from what the Knicks have going on in New York with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. The two have been disastrous on the floor together, but they have too much invested in them to do anything about it. You have what you have, and they risk alienating one or both of the players by forcing adjustments they’re not comfortable with or that take away their numbers especially with Jennings in a contract year.

It’s not even so much that one player or the other refuses to make sacrifices. It’s that there’s no real clear answer as to how you would integrate these two. You can be successful with either player, but the combination of the two presents a conundrum that would really be best solved by the presence of a superior player down low. That would create a natural hierarchy. But without it, the two continue to be just kind of “there” with the talented and athletic frontcourt trying to pick up the slack.

This is where the Bucks’ season will be decided, and as a result, the future of the franchise.

Report: NBA’s minor league won’t allow potentially eligible college players

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USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy haven’t played this season due to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky before his freshmen season started to train for the NBA draft.

But they’re all potentially eligible to play college basketball again someday.

So, they can’t play in the NBA’s minor league.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

That ineligibility stems from a rule that prevents players who were enrolled in college during an academic calendar year from being offered a contract in the same season, unless they have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA with no opportunity of being reinstated (as was the case with P.J. Hairston in 2013).

“We’re not looking to compete with college basketball for their players,” a G League source said. “The NBA, specifically NBA lawyers, are concerned about the optics of NCAA players being disgruntled with minutes or coaching decisions and leaving college with the hopes of joining the G League. This is a blanket rule unfortunately that applies to all players. Like all of our rules, we are open to revisiting them if needed, but at the moment any player that was enrolled in a college this season is ineligible to play in our League.”

NBA executives and scouts are griping because they can’t evaluate these prospects in games. I don’t care about that.

This is an affront to capitalism. The basis of our economy should be competition, and the NBA is handing the NCAA – a cartel – a monopoly in this level of basketball. And it’s the workers (players) who lose.

So what if a freshman is disgruntled with his minutes and wants to turn pro during the season? He can’t join the NBA due to the age minimum. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to at least enter the NBA’s minor league, for which he’s old enough? We should trust him to manage his future, not protect the almighty college coach from facing consequences to his rotation.

I don’t know whether or not the NBA and NCAA colluded, but the NBA’s stance is the exact one it would take if it colluded. The NBA has worked to improve the quality of play in its minor league by increasing salary to compete against foreign leagues for players. It’s strange to just willingly take a backseat to college basketball when there’s a great opportunity to compete for top talent.

The players could legally challenge the policy, but they’ll be eligible for the NBA draft in June, and there’s risk in upsetting a potential future employer. And would anything be decided quickly enough in court to matter for the challenging player?

Players like Melton, Bowen, Wiley, Purifoy and Robinson aren’t allowed to let the market set their compensation as college basketball players, because NCAA schools have colluded to cap wages. Those players aren’t allowed to seek employment in the comparable American professional league, because that league doesn’t want to compete with the NBA.

It’s a travesty for capitalism and these workers.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safety

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.