Jason Kidd Is Holding Back the Bucks

— November 10th 2017

Should the Bucks’ head coach be fired?

By Noah Schulte

Jason Kidd’s tenure in Milwaukee has been characterized largely by a sense of uniqueness and bold, inventive schemes and principles which have worked out to varying degrees of success.

While his decision to allow Giannis Antetokounmpo essentially be a point guard has worked out sensationally, his defensive schemes have underperformed at best and his stubbornness is troubling. Is Kidd the right fit for this team?

Defensive Scheme

Defensive aggression is one of the more tricky balances to manage in the modern NBA, and given how long and athletic Milwaukee is, they haven’t managed that balance quite well enough in recent years. Kidd has committed to a scheme where instead of emphasizing the three-point line or protecting the paint, he wants his players to use their length and quickness to shut down everything on the court. Turn on any Milwaukee game for more than 10 minutes and you will frequently see possessions where Milwaukee’s long-armed defenders fly around the court trying to deny every shot attempt.

The underlying problem with the defensive scheme Milwaukee tries to run by denying everything is that the system is not built on anticipation and IQ, rather an instinctive, reactionary mentality. Milwaukee players are frequently late to react to off-ball screens or off-ball movement, and that’s largely due to systems Kidd has put in place. Kidd wants Milwaukee to cut off the threat of the drive by collapsing the defense and abandoning shooters to protect the rim. However, that kind of scheme can be easily exploited by simple ball movement. Milwaukee allows the fifth highest rate in the league of defensive possessions that end in a spot-up attempt for the offense, and even more troublingly, ranks 20th in contested shots per game.

Milwaukee has been rather bold in its attempt to buck the trend of small ball in the NBA and build around long, athletic players who can contribute at both ends. And while it is true that no team will never beat this current iteration of the Warriors playing their style of basketball, teams will need to be able to at least frustrate them defensively. Kidd has installed a system which can be exploited by ball movement and spot-up 3s, and that system will never be able to impede the Warriors.

Spacing

One of the biggest reasons for the rise of the three ball in today’s NBA is the spacing it creates for other players. If a player on the perimeter can’t be left alone, it puts a strain on his defender and forces the defender to make a decision between helping on a drive or staying home on a shooter. That kind of spacing is easily the most prevalent and easiest form of spacing to create but there is definitely something to be said for the space that Giannis creates, by regularly being a threat to do stuff like this.

By forcing a defender to choose between collapsing to help on Giannis or allow one of Milwaukee’s other impossibly long players into the lane, the Bucks can create their own brand of spacing. They just haven’t really done that yet. One of the most interesting, yet underutilized aspects of Giannis’ game is his effectiveness as an off-ball weapon. Giannis has the rare ability to go up and get the ball from almost anywhere on the floor and can’t be contained when going full steam towards the rim.

While Kidd was behind Giannis’ move to his current role as the primary playmaker, he hasn’t exercised much offensive creativity since then. The Bucks rank fifth in the NBA in post-up frequency, yet only rate in the 51.7 percentile in efficiency. Only 10% of their offensive possessions despite their ability to force turnovers and their efficiency in those situations (1.17 PPP). The collection of talent offensively the Bucks have assembled is one of the most unique units in the league, and if Kidd cannot figure out how to maximize it, his job should be in serious jeopardy.

Personality and Character

Jason Kidd is notoriously not the easiest person in the world to work with. Mike Mazzeo pointed this out in his 2014 piece detailing Kidd’s past run-ins,which includes a multitude of power clashes with everyone from college coaches to his own players. While it is true that people evolve and change over time, he has proven to be insubordinate and hot-headed since his days at Cal.

Especially with Milwaukee entering a new, post-John Hammond era, Kidd’s potential noncompliance with authority could be a toxic issue. Milwaukee does not need a coach who once forced a player to hit him in order to buy time to draw up an inbounds play. This is not to say that Jason Kidd is unfit to be a head coach because of his stubbornness or borderline illegal competitive spirit; rather, he may be unfit to coach this team. The Bucks are a young, up-and-coming team, and the potential baggage Kidd brings, especially in this new era, could be problematic down the road.

Look, every coach has their faults, but when you’re building a team around a generational talent, having the right coach can be the difference between becoming a team like the Raptors and becoming a team like the Warriors. The Bucks are building a team to win now and Jason Kidd might not cut it. As I’ve outlined, his defensive coaching acumen is lacking and he still hasn’t quite figured out how to really unlock the Bucks’ offense. Is Kidd the coach that Milwaukee really needs? The Bucks’ future depends on the answer.

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