Jason Kidd’s greatness on the court has not translated to the sidelines, and he’s holding back the Milwaukee Bucks immeasurably.
Jason Kidd is one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. An NBA champion, six-time All-NBA selection and future Hall-of-Famer, Kidd’s resume is beyond reproach.
Physical talent surely played a role in Kidd’s dominance, but Kidd remained highly productive well after those physical gifts waned; Kidd’s greatness was largely a product of his mind.
Given that his ability to think the game was so central to his dominance as a player, Kidd’s inability to do so as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks is striking. Kidd’s flaws in managing the Bucks are numerous and pervasive, and undoubtedly, he’s holding back one of the most promising young teams in the league.
It’s no secret that Kidd is a lackluster coach, but his shortcomings were especially apparent in the Bucks’ Nov. 15 99-95 victory over the Detroit Pistons, prompting this reaction:
That tweet was actually not in reference to Kidd’s lineups—we’ll get to that later—but his lineups became hard to ignore:
As I’ve discussed previously, the key to maximizing Giannis Antetokounmpo is surrounding him with shooters, giving him the space to relentlessly attack the rim. Kidd’s solution? Surround Giannis with three non-threats, players who can be completely disregarded on the perimeter with impunity.
The result is possessions like this one:
Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson have no concerns about sagging off DeAndre Liggins and Eric Bledsoe. Andre Drummond, meanwhile, can camp out at the rim with John Henson. There’s absolutely no way Giannis is getting to the hoop, so he settles for a difficult turnaround fadeaway from 12 feet. The defense is pretty happy with that shot — Giannis, of course, makes it though, because he’s a mutant.
Using Nylon Calculus’ Nick Sciria’s spacing rating metric, which attempts to estimate how much spacing a given lineup has in comparison to all others, that Bucks lineup of Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Liggins, Giannis, and Henson is in the 13th percentile; it’s the exact opposite of the ideal supporting cast for the Bucks superstar.
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Unfortunately, Kidd´s struggles with lineup management extend well beyond that one inexplicable group.
Among all his teammates, Giannis has shared the court with Henson, a non-floor-spacing big, fourth-most. Henson has played nearly 87 percent of his minutes alongside Giannis. Meanwhile, Kidd has Thon Maker, a legitimate stretch-5, at his disposal, yet he’s spent just 76 percent of his minutes with Giannis.
Ideally, Henson would spend as close to zero percent of his minutes alongside Giannis as possible, while Maker is closer to 100 percent. Practically, that might not be viable, but at the very least Maker should be playing a higher proportion of his minutes with Giannis than Henson does.
Kidd’s incomprehensible rotation-management extends to the newest member of the Bucks as well. Following the Bledsoe trade, the Bucks now have two players capable of gaining penetration off the dribble and breaking down the defense single-handedly. Furthermore, those two players’ games don’t fit particularly well together, given that neither is a capable shooter and both are maximized by playing on-ball. Staggering their minutes is the beyond obvious solution.
Eric Bledsoe has played 117 minutes as a Buck. 100 of those have come alongside Giannis.
A great coach maximizes his players. He takes their skills, finds their best roles, and builds a rotation that makes the most of the collective group. Jason Kidd does the opposite.
I wish that Kidd’s struggles were limited to rotation management. I wish that he had an awesome and innovative offensive system, but just couldn’t plug the pieces in right. Regrettably, that’s not the case:
Look at Tony Snell, Liggins and Maker on the weak side. They’re just standing there doing absolutely nothing. They’re not involved in the primary action, so they’re not involved in anything. There’s no off-ball movement, no effort to generate any kind of open look. The lack of off-ball movement seems to be a core principle of Kidd’s offense:
Middleton and Giannis run a pick-and-roll, while their three teammates remain stationary on the weak side. Again, Giannis is a Monstar, so he scores, but this is terrible team offense.
You might contend that if you have a Monstar, team offense isn’t even necessary. You could even find numbers to support this position, like the Bucks’ 107.4 offensive rating with Giannis on-court, which would be good for seventh-best in the league for a team overall.
However, this gets back to a coach’s responsibility to maximize his players. Sure, Giannis’ greatness is enough to mask a team’s deficiencies, but if a coach is going to elevate his team, he needs to do more than just “enough.”
Bucks management needs to acknowledge that the Kidd experiment has been a failure, and they need to do so soon, because the clock is ticking.
Newly acquired Eric Bledsoe has just one year remaining under contract following this season. Less immediately, but far more importantly, Giannis has just three years remaining until he hits unrestricted free agency. Giannis has said all the right things, but as the Thunder, Pacers and Cavaliers will tell you, that can change quickly.
For the Bucks, time is not a luxury. The roster is relatively set going forward. The Bucks have the talent they have, and that’s not likely to change dramatically. Someone needs to step in and make the most of that talent now. Someone not named Jason Kidd.
Kidd is not the first great floor general to fall flat as a coach. There’s no shame in joining the likes of Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson (though his coaching career was short-lived) in that hall of infamy. However, it is time for the Milwaukee Bucks to stop hoping that what made Kidd so great on the court magically translates to the sidelines. Until they do, Kidd’s going to continue to clip the wings of one of the NBA’s most promising rosters.