Much like every other team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks have plenty of decisions to make during the offseason as they decide the direction in which they'd like the franchise to proceed. From the sound of things, the future will include either Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings, but not both starting backcourt members from the 2012-13 season.
The high-scoring duo led the red-and-green-clad squad into the postseason during their first full year together, but the Bucks became nothing more than sacrificial offerings to the Miami Heat, quickly bowing out of the postseason experience.
Now, it's time to make some changes as Milwaukee desperately seeks a way to avoid the NBA's version of purgatory: constantly finding oneself stuck either at the lower portion of the lottery or at the bottom end of the postseason totem pole.
Monta Ellis has a player option worth $11 million for the 2013-14, and he's given no indication as to whether he'll exercise or decline it. Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, so no matter how much he falls in love with a different organization, the Bucks still ultimately control his fate.
J.J. Redick, Mike Dunleavy, Samuel Dalembert, Marquis Daniels and Joel Przybilla are all unrestricted free agents, but they're secondary concerns at this point. Figuring out what to do with the starting backcourt is the first priority.
The decision actually isn't that difficult, although John Hammond and the rest of the Milwaukee brass are showing a curious inability to make the proper choice. ESPN's Marc Stein is reporting that the Bucks are more interested in retaining the inefficient shooting guard than the younger, more effective point guard in possession of a significantly higher ceiling:
And a free-agent rumble: There's a rising belief in exec circles that Bucks prefer to re-sign Monta Ellis over Brandon Jennings this summer— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 29, 2013
Bucks still have coaching choice to make: Larry Drew or Kelvin Sampson. But in backcourt there is sense they prefer Monta/Redick next season— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 29, 2013
Ellis is a talented player. There's no doubt about that. But he's the wrong choice in this situation, especially because he's better suited to serve as a sixth man than a leading offensive option in the starting lineup.
That's not to say that Ellis is a backup-caliber guard, though. I would have said the same thing about James Harden during his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Some players are just better suited to serve as spark plugs off the pine.
The problem with Ellis lies in his shot selection. Despite the constant sound of the ball clanging off the back of the iron, the prep-to-pro 2-guard is convinced that he's the second coming of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.
Take a look at this shot chart, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com:
There's a whole lot of red hovering around the perimeter. In fact, Ellis shot only 28 percent from behind the arc during the 2012-13 campaign. But he didn't let that deter him from lofting it up 347 times.
By doing so, he became one of just 14 players in NBA history to shoot over 300 triples while making them at a 30 percent clip or worse. That's not a good look.
Until Ellis can corral his shooting instincts—and learn to play defense without gambling incessantly to artificially boost his steal totals—he's not a player worth building around. Jennings, on the other hand, is.
The lefty point guard is nearly four years younger than his backcourt mate, and he's already playing at a higher level. While a similarly inadequate defender and a player who produces highlights slightly more infrequently, Jennings plays a much more efficient brand of basketball that should inevitably lead to a greater winning percentage.
During the 2012-13 campaign, his fourth in the NBA, Jennings made noticeable strides both as a long-range shooter and a distributor. He's clearly still improving.
As opposed to Ellis' 28 percent shooting from downtown, the southpaw drilled 37.5 percent of his 461 attempts. He managed to combine efficiency with volume better than ever, shooting 4.3 percent better from the outside while only firing away 0.1 times fewer per contest.
Meanwhile, his passing was much better than it had been in the past. Jennings accepted a lessened role in the offense—one necessitated by the presence of the former Golden State Warrior—and made the most of every possession.
His assists per game jumped by a single dime, but this was no 10-cent difference. For the third year in a row, his assist percentage jumped, this time from 26.7 to 29.1, and there were spurts during the year when he looked like he was capable of leading the league in assists.
If the Bucks do indeed let Jennings go, he'll end up making them regret it. He's shown enough while laboring away alongside another ball-dominant player that he could absolutely emerge into a superstar when he's converted into the true leading option.
There just aren't many rational explanations for preferring to retain Ellis' services. Of course, there is one:
Other than hoping for Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 NBA draft, Milwaukee must have some sort of motivation for wanting to keep Ellis over Jennings. It's just impossible to figure out what that is.
The Bucks must already regret shipping out Tobias Harris to the Orlando Magic for a half season of J.J. Redick's services, and now they're poised to watch Jennings play from afar as well. Before too long, Milwaukee might be watching every other team with envy as its former players light up different scoreboards. We're certainly off to a nice start in that regard.
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