Heading into the offseason, the Milwaukee Bucks were unsure of how their backcourt would look in 2013-14. Now, after numerous acquisitions, that picture is a little clearer. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings might be gone, but through higher efficiency, new coaching and a change in attitude, the Bucks can receive better backcourt play.
Becoming More Efficient Offensively
One thing Ellis and Jennings didn't provide last season was efficient production on the offensive end.
O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight haven't been the most efficient players throughout their brief careers either, but it won't take much for them to top the horrendous numbers the backcourt posted in 2012-13.
Why is that? Well, there are several reasons.
Mayo is coming off the best season of his career. Plenty of people will disagree with that, but Mayo's lone year with the Dallas Mavericks was impressive.
In addition to increasing his scoring numbers, Mayo posted career highs in several categories. His 4.4 assists per game, 40.7 three-point shooting percentage and true-shooting percentage of 55.6 were all bests.
As shown in the shot chart above (courtesy of NBA.com/Stats), Mayo was at or above league average at the rim and around the paint. When compared to his figures from 2011-12, this is a notable improvement.
Mayo's shot chart from the 2011-12 season is illustrated above, and the first thing that jumps out is an abundance of red around the hoop, indicating his field-goal percentage in those areas is below the league average.
If he can continue to pair this efficiency with a more aggressive-minded game plan, he'll grow as a player and make a big difference in Milwaukee's backcourt.
Meanwhile, Knight would substantially benefit from an increase in efficiency.
At 6'3", Knight already has good size for a point guard, he just needs to learn how to utilize it better.
Instead of settling for mid-range jump shots and threes, he needs to attack the rim and finish more efficiently from three to nine feet. If he were to work on his touch in the lane, this number would likely increase and make him more valuable offensively.
It's not encouraging that his percentages regressed in every normal shooting category from his rookie to sophomore season, but perhaps a change in scenery will help.
The additions of Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour should help things some, but as a whole, the Bucks backcourt will need to score more efficiently this season, and with the addition of new coach Larry Drew, they will.
The Presence of Head Coach Larry Drew
The Bucks were led by Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan last season, and neither coach has a reputation for a great offensive game plan.
Things will quickly change with the addition of new coach Larry Drew.
During his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks, Drew had a run of success not only from the standpoint of making the playoffs consistently, but from succeeding in getting his team's to score efficiently.
With Jennings and Ellis gone, Drew may move away from the guard-heavy isolation play and tailor it to Milwaukee's talented big men: Larry Sanders and John Henson.
Assuming Drew can help influence and improve the play of the Bucks' bigs, the backcourt will be all the better for it. With defenses keying and collapsing on the interior, more space will be created for Mayo and Knight.
And with their quickness, they could attack and experience major success.
Perhaps the departure of Jennings and Ellis will be of most importance—since it will likely lead to an inside-out approach—but Drew's ability to draw up an efficient offensive game plan will be crucial to Milwaukee's success.
Fresh Attitudes Will Make a Major Difference
Perhaps the simplest way the Bucks will improve in the backcourt is by the mere presence of new faces.
Last season there was no shortage of issues that were raised primarily by the team's two outspoken, starting guards.
Jennings infamously called out Boylan on Twitter (per the USA Today) and, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Ellis nearly got into a physical altercation with Sanders in the midst of the team's first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat.
With those two out of the picture, Knight and Mayo have the opportunity to step in and build great chemistry with their new teammates.
And according to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it seems as though they shouldn't have any trouble being accepted:
Sanders was asked his reaction to Tuesday's trade sending Brandon Jennings to Detroit and bringing 21-year-old point guard Brandon Knight to Milwaukee.
Well, Brandon Knight is a tough player, man, Sanders said. He plays extremely hard. Every time I've had a chance to play against him, he's been a tough competitor.
Sometimes he was out of position, jumping for blocks and stuff, but he don't have to do that no more. He can focus all of his energy up top. I just see me and him having a heck of a pick-and-roll game. Just hounding guys, he's a good defender, so he's going to add an element to our team as far as guard defense up top.
And he can shoot the ball well, too, push the ball. A lot of speed. I think he's a great addition to the team.
It's clear that Knight gets the Sanders seal of approval.
Neither Mayo nor Knight have ever been accused of being bad influences or trouble in the locker room.
Will the new-look backcourt have more success than Ellis and Jennings did?
The closest criticism comes from Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News, who believed Mayo owed teammates an apology for his subpar production and perceived lack of effort towards the end of 2012-13.
If that's the only negative, the Bucks shouldn't be too concerned.
It seems like a simple conclusion: be more efficient, listen to the new coach and have a positive attitude.
Truth be told, it is.
Whether or not the backcourt will be able to capitalize on the simple formula and make its way back to the postseason is a question yet to be answered.
But if everyone sticks to doing their job, there's no reason why the duo of Mayo and Knight can't succeed.