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Monday, Feb. 25, 2013

GOING 3 ON 3: J.J. Redick, Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings

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After two agonizing losses coming out of the all-star break, the Bucks swung a trade that made a major change to their backcourt. The immediate result: another agonizing loss. Artie's phone rang the next day...

 

Frank: So J.J. Redick is a Buck. How do you...

Artie: Sorry, buddy, I can't talk. My nephew Bart—named for Bart Starr, of course—is here to watch college hoops, NBA hoops and the Daytona 500. And right now I'm preparing a nice ring baloney...

F: An area of expertise, I imagine.

A: But hey, while I'm doing that you can talk with Bart, the ultimate Bucks fan. Here he is...

F: Hey, young man. Before we discuss Redick, how do you feel about the Bucks coming close but failing to land Atlanta's Josh Smith?

Bart: I'm glad. It's not that I hate Smith as a player, but he wouldn't have improved things. In his first eight seasons he played with all-stars like Joe Johnson and Al Horford but Atlanta never got past the second playoff round. If he'd joined the Bucks, who have zero all-stars—although Brandon Jennings thinks he's one—I don't think they'd have gotten past the first round anyway.

F: Smith had 15 points and 13 rebounds in Atlanta's one-point win here, and hit a key three-pointer down the stretch.

B: But he shot 6 for 19, mainly because he's fooled himself into believing he's got a reliable jumper. Over the previous two seasons and this one he's launched 387 treys and made 121. That's 31%, no reason for a 6-foot-9 guy to stay outside so much. He's big and strong, but he's only taking about four free throws a game because teams can afford to let him bomb away.

F: In Milwaukee Smith likely would have been a “rental” because he's an unrestricted free agent this summer.

B: And looking for a “max contract” the Bucks probably couldn't afford.

F: Redick also will be unrestricted. How about him?

B: He's a nice player, but really he's a 6-4, 190-pound version of Mike Dunleavy.

F: Like Dunleavy, Redick shoots better, especially on threes, than the Bucks' starting guards. But will Jennings and Monta Ellis want to give up many of the 17 shots per game that each of them averages?

B: Good question, and it points to what I think is the Bucks' main problem—Jennings. His decision-making is terrible. You'd think in his fourth season he'd develop some real point-guard skills instead of being just an imitation Allen Iverson.

F: He posted big numbers in the two losses to Brooklyn—65 points and 18 assists.

B: But it seems like he's only motivated against teams that get a lot of ESPN coverage, and then he'll disappear against teams he should be killing.

F: He sure seems to take more shots than a true point guard should be taking.

B: Last season after the Bucks traded for Ellis and they had a stretch of games with 30-plus assists, they were really moving the ball around. Ersan Ilyasova was playing great and everyone was getting shots in the right places.

F: The same thing happened in the spring of 2010, the last time they made the playoffs. And Jennings was a part of that.

B: But it doesn't last. Way too often he brings it down, doesn't look to pass and takes a well-defended or just plain terrible shot. When your point guard doesn't distribute the ball enough, what motivation do the other guys have to keep playing hard?

F: After the Atlanta game Jennings indicated he's not too happy about the Redick deal. He played 30 minutes, about 7 below his average, while Ellis played 44 and Redick 35. On the post-game TV show Jennings said, “I'm 23 years old... I can play 40 minutes a night and be fine. But if it's going to be like this then I guess we've just got to deal with it.”

B: That says everything about him. If he really cares about whether somebody played five more minutes than he did, that's a guy you wouldn't want to play with.

F: They didn't get Redick to play 18 minutes a game, what Beno Udrih was averaging as Jennings' backup.

B: It's not that the Bucks don't have enough shooters. But they don't run anything resembling an offense that really moves the ball and gets good shots. If they were, Scott Skiles would still have his job and they'd be fighting for a fourth or fifth seed instead of stuck at No. 8. It just seems like Skiles and now Jim Boylan either have no control over Jennings and Ellis, or don't want to control them. You never see any repercussions for all the bad shooting they do.

F: Maybe with Redick around, there will be.

 

LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD

F: One problem with this three-guard situation is that the Bucks could lose all three this summer. Jennings is a restricted free agent, so the Bucks presumably would have to match some big-money offer sheet from another team. Ellis has an $11 million option on his contract and Redick is unrestricted, so he'll be seeking a long-term deal. So which of the three guys would you want to stay in a Bucks uniform next season?

B: That's a tough question, especially considering that Boylan's coaching job will be up for review, too. They might bring in someone with a real offensive system.

F: And of course they have to see how the three-man thing works out over the final 28 games and, presumably, at least one playoff series.

B: But I can say definitely that I wouldn't re-sign Jennings. I can't imagine anybody on the team enjoys playing with him. I sure don't think Ellis is worth $11 million, but that's what he can lock in. And I hear Redick will be going for 9 or 10 million a year, and that's just too much, although he's a good scorer and reportedly a good teammate.

F: How about for the rest of this season?

B: I'd start Ellis over Jennings any day. There's no chance Ellis would be any worse at running the point. And Ellis seems like he cares every night, not just when he's having a good game or playing a major team.

F: Thanks a lot for your input, Bart. See if your uncle can take a few minutes to chat...

Artie: Yeah, I'm back. The baloney is boiling up real good. I threw in a nice yellow onion, but I guess maybe I should have chopped it up first. But I added half a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon to spice it up. It's a real work in progress!

F: Just like the Bucks. So do you share Bart's feelings about adding Redick and not adding Smith?

A: I totally agree with something Bill Simmons wrote about Smith on Grantland.com: “He's one of those guys who scares you when he's on the other team but scares you even more when he's on your own team.”

F: Plus Smith is on the record as having said there's “nothing to do” in Milwaukee. Doesn't sound like a guy who would have been inclined to stick around.

A: So in all likelihood all the Bucks would have been doing is “renting” Smith for two months and still getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. It was one thing for the Brewers to rent CC Sabathia to reach the playoffs for the first time in a generation, with only two rounds between them and the World Series. But even with Smith, what would the Bucks' playoff prospects really be?

F: So the Bucks went with Redick. But they didn't fulfill your wish of dealing Jennings at the deadline.

A: And besides Udrih, they gave up two young players, Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb, who could turn out to be darn good pros.

F: Harris couldn't grab a starting spot early this season, but they sure seemed to give up on him quickly.

A: Redick is a guy who shows that it can take time to develop. He was pretty much of a bust in his first two or three years with Orlando but he's become a good all-around player. I think the deal was made mostly to placate the fan base—“See, we're doing something here, so please show up for our games.” But I got the feeling that Hammond kind of got his pants pulled down. Essentially he gave up three players for Redick; the other two the Bucks got don't amount to anything.

F: Part of it is that in NBA, with its complex salary-cap rules, any trade has to match money as well as people.

A: It's all so byzantine and ridiculous. As for the future, having Ellis depart and keeping Jennings and Redick would be intriguing to me.

F: Redick is a better shooter than Ellis and takes fewer shots per game.

A: Then again, against Atlanta there were a couple of stretches where Jennings was sitting and Ellis played the point with Redick as the “2 guard.” And it looked fabulous! Monta was passing and the offense was really humming.

F: Ellis had 10 assists to go with his 14 points.

A: That's the kind of thing he did at Golden State; he was a sort-of point guard and Steph Curry was the 2.

F: But if Jennings is going to get upset over how the minutes are distributed...

A: With him at the point it doesn't matter who's the 2. We'll see if the Ellis/Redick combo is used much again, and if so, whether I was just dreaming about how well it worked.

 

DAYTONA AND DANICA

F: So Danica Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500, led three of the 200 laps and finished eighth. As the gearhead in our partnership, what's your reaction?

A: The pole thing really didn’t do anything for me or to me. Frankly, I got sick of all the “she's the first woman” ballyhoo that was all over TV and radio. To me it's kind of like Tim Tebow-mania—pretty meaningless, except that I guess people find it interesting.

F: Interest is what it's all about, right? Then again, some people also are interested in anyone named Kardashian. But it's not like Patrick is a fluke, is it? She spent seven years in the IndyCar series and had third- and fourth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500.

A: But only one win in 114 IndyCar races. And so far zero wins in three years of NASCAR racing. So far she's established that a woman can be just as mediocre as a man.

F: I guess she can drive; you don't hear her competitors saying she's a menace out there.

A: But she has gotten into some altercations with other drivers—including one after an IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile in '07 with the late Dan Wheldon.

F: But that's just what NASCAR wants, isn't it? A driver who don't take no guff from anyone? It's right out of the Dale Earnhardt playbook. Anyway, whatever the other drivers think of her, I'll bet NASCAR doesn't want them raining on her parade. Attention on her is attention for the sport.

A: The only bad publicity is no publicity, ain'a? Even something like the spectacular crash in the Nationwide Series race Saturday, with debris injuring some of the fans, probably had some people saying, “Hey, I better watch that race Sunday.”

F: Mayhem, on the track and between drivers, sells.

A: Several years ago when the TV ratings spiked NASCAR put on a “peace offensive,” trying to tone down the squabbling among drivers. But the last two or three years the ratings have really sunk.

F: The few times I've seen Patrick interviewed at length—once in particular on “Pardon the Interruption”—I found her quite articulate and professional. Which is somewhat at odds with the sexy girl” image conveyed by those juvenile, raunchy GoDaddy.com commercials she's been doing for years. I suspect she'd be happy to drop those now, but that GoDaddy was clever enough to lock her into a very long contract.

A: I don't know about that. I think she really likes the limelight in whatever way she can find it.

F: Well, I'd say she's well above the level of an Anna Kournikova, who did virtually nothing as a big-time tennis player but parleyed her looks into a career as a celebrity. But before the Daytona, actor James Franco had an unfortunate choice of words when he said, “Drivers and Danica, start your engines!”

A: Nice unintentional insult. Anyway, let me know when she accomplishes something really big in actual competition, not when she's all alone on the track.

 

POINTS OF CONTENTION

A: I have something I want to get off my chest about college basketball.

F: The court is yours.

A: Saturday afternoon, we had this final score: Georgetown 57, Syracuse 46. Then we had this halftime score: Marquette 22, Villanova 22. And I thought to myself, “If either of these scores belonged to the Badgers, all hell would break loose about how this is disgraceful, snail-like offense.”

F: But when it's Eastern teams involved it's just a tense, hard-fought defensive battle?

A: Something like that.

F: It's interesting you say that, because recently I saw Jay Bilas on ESPN...

A: A guy I really respect as a student of the game.

F: And he was saying that the entire college game has declined in recent years in terms of offensive flow. Bilas said that the average for scoring per game—total points, both teams— fell by something like 1.5 points per game last season. I assume he was talking about Division I. Now, that doesn't sound like much, but Bilas said it was a big drop.

A: I can certainly see that.

F: Bilas attributed a lot of the offensive decline to the way games are officiated. He said the college game has a lot more contact than the NBA in terms of people without the ball getting knocked around on their cuts. And he said the way teams are coached to try to take charges has resulted in more of those being called, hurting the flow of the game and reducing the opportunities to score.

A: I think there's something else, namely that guys just don't shoot as well as they used to. The NBA has a lot of bad shooting—we sure know that in Milwaukee—and I don't think guys come to the NBA from college and get worse. I think good shooting somehow isn't being taught enough at the high school and AAU levels and it just carries through.

F: Certainly the three-point shot has had a big effect. Many college teams, notably the Badgers, are shooting 20-plus times from beyond the arc in every game, and it's just a fact that from that distance even 40% is considered outstanding.

A: And as a result, fewer guys are good at the mid-range jumper that stands a better chance but only gets you two points.

F: As we've said before, Buzz Williams has a solution. If he doesn't have a good shooting team—like this season—he has 'em get to the hoop, get fouled, and get those wide-open looks from the free-throw line.

A: But when they play a team that really packs the lane on defense, like 'Nova did Saturday, Buzz's guys are in big trouble. Boy, could they use a guy like MU's own Steve Novak come tournament time!

 

HIS AIRNESS TURNS 50

F: One last topic that came up last week— the mania on TV over wishing Michael Jordan a happy 50th birthday.

A: Which completely overshadowed Charles Barkley's big 5-0 a few days later. The Jordan thing just seemed like it was something to give the gasbags on TV and radio something to fill the time. Big deal, so he's 50.

F: I guess it was an excuse to go through all the pontificating about who is the absolute, all-time best basketball player for all eternity.

A: All of that is so ridiculous, especially when they use the number of championship rings as a gauge. I find it to be a ridiculous discussion. By that standard, Bill Russell will never be topped. Hell, Robert Horry has something like six rings! And on the opposite side, guys like Barkley and Elgin Baylor never played on a title team, but should that put them any lower on the all-time totem pole?

F: Especially considering that basketball, even in the NBA, is a thoroughly team sport.

A: Right. I mean, who were the players around any of the “all-time greats,” and how much did they help them achieve things?

F: Michael and Kobe and LeBron—how could you go wrong declaring any of them the greatest?

A: It's a lot like the blather about the all-time greatest NFL quarterback. How can anyone really know unless you somehow could scramble all the candidates and put them on each other's teams? Just going by rings again, it makes guys like Dan Fouts and Warren Moon seem like chopped liver, which they definitely weren't!

F: Back to Jordan. The hoopla over his birthday bothered me for another reason: It seemed to imply that being such a great player also made him a great person, which I don't see at all. I agree with the Onion, which under the heading of “Greatest Moments of Michael Jordan's Personal Life” wrote this: “1990s: Uses worldwide fame to promote American values of hyper-competitiveness and egomania.”

A: That's a great one! I remember seeing his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, and it sure wasn't gracious. He trashed just about everyone who ever doubted him, all the way back to high school. It was jaw-dropping, not just for the people watching but for the attendees, I'll bet.

F: Of course being a great person isn't a requirement for being a great player. But I never got the feeling, when he was playing or since, that he was a very likeable guy.

A: He's a little bit like the Ty Cobb of basketball—not in the racist, violence-prone ways of Cobb, but in the ultra-competitive nature, the need to dominate, that alienated people.

F: So I think all the well-wishing on TV probably was misleading for the kids watching. As in, whatever he did on the court must mean he was a good guy off the court.

A: To me he IS the greatest, in the actual playing of the game. And it would be nice if he matched that as a person, but most of the time that doesn't happen and our greatest heroes aren't good role models.

F: Which brings us back to Barkley, who famously proclaimed that he was not a role model. I'm not a huge fan of his outspoken ways, but he does address issues of our society and says “this is right” or “this is wrong.” Jordan, on the other hand, once said he didn't address political issues because both Democrats and Republicans bought athletic shoes. That says something about his ultimate goals.

A: Hey, business is business. And anyway... Yikes! Something's gone wrong with my baloney. Remember the old Steve McQueen movie The Blob? It looks like it's back, and spreading over my stove. Gotta go!

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek cooks a mean ring baloney.