Posts Tagged ‘Larry Drew’

Tale of the tape: Two Brandons

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t won much this season, but they did win this: Their summertime swap of Brandons.

The July 31 deal was bigger than just that, with Khris Middleton adding to the Bucks’ haul (Viacheslav Kravtsov was just ballast) . But at its core, the sign-and-trade was about a swap of and preference in combo guards Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings. Jennings had exploded on the scene in Milwaukee in 2009-10, scoring 55 points in his seventh NBA game. That immediately triggered second-guessing in New York, where the Knicks had drafted Jordan Hill two spots ahead of Jennings, and kick-started Milwaukee’s “Fear The Deer” season in which they finished 46-36, reached the playoffs and might have made some real noise if not for center Andrew Bogut‘s arm and wrist injuries from an ugly spill late in the regular season.

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings
(Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Jennings’ quick start as a scorer, however, hurt his game, in the opinion of some NBA scouts. His shoot-first inclinations calcified, despite unimpressive accuracy numbers (39.4 percent shooting, 35.4 on 3-pointers, in four seasons with the Bucks). He also had difficulty finishing at the rim.

Yet Jennings stayed bold with his shot, showing less interest in setting up teammates. That led to some locker-room frustration, even squabbles, especially when Jennings could respond to an All-Star snub by averaging 14.5 assists for a week but was down at 5.7 for four Bucks seasons.

He hit restricted free agency ready for a change. Milwaukee was ready too, agreeing to a swap for Knight while Jennings landed a three-year, $24 million deal in Detroit.

Knight had heard many of the same criticisms in two seasons in Detroit: Not a true point guard, a ‘tweener, and so on. But the Bucks liked his size, his skills, his age and his salary, and despite the presence of other guards (Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, O.J. Mayo, Nate Wolters, later Ramon Sessions), flipped the keys of their offense to the south Florida native.

Knight showed a lot of Jennings’ tendencies for the Bucks without generating hard feelings. He has shot the ball 200 times more than any teammate, despite his 41.7 percent success rate, and he leads the team in 3-point attempts (306) if not accuracy (32.7). He’s their leader in assists, too, but with an average (4.9) lower than Jennings averaged in his four Bucks seasons. Ditto for Knight’s turnovers (2.6), higher than what Jennings coughed up while there.

But he’s two years younger than Jennings, two years away from unrestricted free agency and a lot more affordable. Coincidentally, Knight is only the second player in Bucks history to lead the team in both points and assists in his first season with the club. The first? Jennings.

Bucks coach Larry Drew talked up Knight before a game against Miami last weekend.

“There was always the big question, could he play point? I still think that Brandon is a very young developing player,” Drew said. “Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Did I know that Brandon was actually younger than Michael Carter-Williams?’ … You think about that. We think of Michael Carter-Williams as a really young terrific NBA player. He has a chance to be Rookie of the Year. It seems like Brandon has been around for a few more years.

“Brandon wants to get better, he wants to learn. We challenge him at that point guard position – that’s such a vital position in our league. He’s still making mistakes, and that’s something we have to continue to work with him on. But after all that’s been said about him from the very beginning, particularly when he was in Detroit, I thought he came into this thing very positive. And I know he was in the mindset of wanting to prove something.”

With their seasons nearly complete and their teams’ series ending earlier this week. it seemed like a good time to tell the tale of two Brandons with a tale of the tape:

Essentials:
Jennings: 6-foot-1, 169 pounds. Born Sept. 23, 1989 (24). No. 10 pick in 2009.
Knight: 6-foot-3, 189 pounds. Born Dec. 2, 1991 (22). No. 8 pick in 2011.
Comment: It’s hard to beat Jennings’ elusiveness and quickness, but Knight is fast, too. And the Bucks feel his size is better suited to playing the defense that, in time, they think he’s capable of providing.
Advantage: Knight.

Team W-L record
Jennings: 27-48, fourth in the Central Division.
Knight: 14-61, last in the Central.
Comment: With nearly double the victories, this might be classified as a blowout for Jennings. Then again, winning 27 gets you a lottery spot same as winning 14, except that Milwaukee might land a guarantee of no pick worse than No. 4. The Pistons will need to get lucky to leap ahead of the Bucks.
Advantage: Jennings (c’mon, winning games still matters).

Basic individual stats
Jennings: 15.7 ppg, 7.8 apg, 3.0 rpg, 34.3 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.3 steals. 37.7 FG%, 34.5 3FG%.
Knight: 17.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.5 rpg, 32.9 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.0 steals, 41.7 FG%, 32.7 3FG%.
Comment: Jennings’ assists numbers are a personal high, reflective of the scoring talent around him – Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Rodney Stuckey – and Detroit’s presumed desire to win and play right at least early in the season. Knight has self-nominated as the “someone has to score on a bad team” guy.
Advantage: Even.

Advanced individual stats:
Jennings: 107 offensive rating, 112 defensive rating, 35.1 assists %, 44.6 eFG%, 16.3 PER.
Knight: 104 offensive rating, 113 defensive rating, 27.1 assists %, 46.8 eFG%, 16.4 PER.
Comment: A little credit here, a little debit there, it’s awfully close. But then you notice that Jennings’ PER, effective field-goal percentage and offensive/defensive ratings all have gotten worse from two seasons ago (18.4, 47.6%, 106/107) and, two years further along than Knight, he’s headed the wrong way.
Advantage: Knight.

Head-to-head
Jennings: 20.5 ppg, 10.3 apg, 2.8 rpg, 40.9 FG%, 50.0 3FG%, plus-13.4 ppg in four games against Milwaukee.
Knight: 15.3 ppg, 5.8 apg4.3 rpg, 32.1 FG%, 21.4 3FG%, minus-14.6 ppg in the four meetings.
Comment: Jennings left Milwaukee with a fair amount of baggage, even bitterness. It figures he would have more to prove, more of a statement to make, than Knight when facing his former team. And sure enough, Jennings did. The Pistons went 3-1 against the Bucks this season.
Advantage: Jennings.

Contract
Jennings: $7.7 million this season, another $16.3 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Knight: $2.8 million salary this season, $8.3 million the next two years.
Comment: On a per-points, per-assists, per-anything basis, Knight already is a better buy than Jennings and figures to stay that way for another two seasons.
Advantage: Knight.

Six coaches who did not step up

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mike Woodson explains why the Knicks are playing better lately

From the end of last season through the start of training camp there were a record 13 changes in front of NBA benches. While that large turnover practically preludes a similar number of axes falling this season, the world is becoming an increasingly impatient place and there are more than a handful of head coaches that could — or maybe should — be in their last month on the job and heading toward the door. Here are a half-dozen veterans who did not take charge this season:

Rick Adelman, Timberwolves — Nobody should question the ‘X-and-O’ credentials of the the veteran coach with 1,027 wins and an offensive mind who’s been able to make wine out of water with virtually every team he’s coached. But not in Minnesota. There have been legitimate extenuating circumstances with Adelman’s wife, Mary Kay, battling an illness, causing his focus and attention to be split. For whatever reason, the Timberwolves have not sunk their teeth into his teaching and become the playoff team that the league has expected for the past several years. With All-Star power forward Kevin Love heading toward free agency in 2015 — and the needy, glamor puss likes of the Lakers and Knicks salivating over him — the Timberwolves can’t afford another season of misfiring. There’s a need for a new voice, new direction and new promise if there’s any hope of keeping Love around for the long term.

Tyrone Corbin, Jazz — It made sense at the time when veteran Jerry Sloan abruptly stepped down after more than two decades of running the show in Utah that ownership would want to try to keep the position in the family. Loyal soldier Corbin was the most logical choice for the job. There was a period of transition when the franchise was supposedly shifting from bottom rung playoff contender to laying the foundation of a youth movement. This was the season when that young lineup of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Trey Burke was supposed to begin sprouting. That hasn’t happened and it doesn’t seem that Corbin has a solid plan of what he wants to or a firm hand on the tiller. The Jazz rank in the bottom third of the league in offensive rating and 29th of 30 teams on defense. That could have the likes of Hayward looking to bolt as a free agent this summer, putting a dent in the building process. While general manager Dennis Lindsey can continue collecting Draft picks and adding talent, it’s now equally important to have a new leader to guide them.

Mike D’Antoni, Lakers — It is not realistic to think that Phil Jackson or the reincarnation of Red Auerbach could have made anything out of a Lakers roster that has been, for all intents and purposes, without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash from start to finish. Yet even when Bryant was healthy a year ago, D’Antoni couldn’t find a way to make the Lakers offense a comfortable place where Dwight Howard might have wanted to stay and this season he’s been a nettle in the side of veteran All-Star and tireless professional Pau Gasol. Will a new coach be able to guarantee that a 35-year-old Bryant can recapture the magic next season or that Nash can squeeze even one more ounce out of his 40-year-old body? Hardly. But if only to send the message that to perhaps the most spoiled fan base in NBA history, it’s time for the Lakers to write off the D’Antoni era as a mistake and turn the page.

Larry Drew, Bucks – The real question should be what were the Bucks thinking by hiring Drew in the first place? It’s not like a track record of crash and burns in the first and second round of the playoffs in Atlanta made him a shooting star in the coaching fraternity. It’s not as if he’d carved out a reputation as a guy who had a distinctive, proven system for success or made a mark as a turnaround artist. Many of the Bucks’ problems run up through a front office that can’t seem to make up its mind about where it’s going and perhaps to club owner Herb Kohl‘s desire to sell the franchise that furthers a sense of instability. Larry Sanders seems to have gone off the rails and the raw talent of Giannis Antetokounmpo could be at risk if somebody doesn’t take control soon. And on top of all that, the Bucks are the worst defensive team in the NBA.

Monty Williams, Pelicans – Everybody from the New Orleans front office to his former mentor in San Antonio Gregg Popovich will swear that Williams has impeccable credentials and all the know-how to be as fine a young coach as there is in the NBA. Trouble is, he’s now finished up three seasons in the Big Easy and over the last two, there hasn’t been consistent or significant signs of progress. A team that was supposed to be at least a rising contender for one of the final playoff berths in the West has never been competitive. Sure, Anthony Davis is a fledgling superstar, but that’s based overwhelmingly on his own talent, confidence and experience. Yes, there have been a litany of injuries this season, but Williams has not been able to get the Pelicans to embrace or play with the defensive passion that he says is the foundation of his philosophy. They again rank near the bottom (27th) in the league. While GM Dell Demps has not exactly dealt him a full house, there’s a growing sense that Williams isn’t playing his cards right.

Mike Woodson, Knicks — Let’s face it. Phil Jackson didn’t take his new job as Knicks savior to come in and just make a couple of cosmetic changes. As soon as the horn ends on this dismal, underachieving season, the Zen Master pulls the lever, the trapdoor swings open and Woodson and any trace of 2013-14 vanishes. The truth is Woodson lost any real hold on his team and the locker room a long time ago and is only finishing out the season while owner James Dolan was negotiating to bring Jackson in as “The Fixer.” Are the rumors true about Steve Kerr? Could Jackson roll the dice and give wannabes Patrick Ewing or Scottie Pippen a chance? Jeff Van Gundy? Stan Van Gundy? Who knows? But if Jackson is going to have any chance of convincing Carmelo Anthony to stick around in New York because a new day is coming, he can’t try to sell him on the past.

Suspension just adds to Mayo’s disappointing Bucks season


VIDEO: O.J. Mayo suspended for hitting Greg Stiemsma.

The NBA doesn’t give out a Most Disappointing Player Award, but if it did, one of the prime candidates this season would have to be Milwaukee’s O.J. Mayo.

Mayo’s debut season with the Bucks already included a vexing conditioning issue and a blooper moment when he chose to tie his shoelace on a defensive possession. Now he’s added a one-game suspension, his penalty from the NBA on Saturday for striking Pelicans big man Greg Stiemsma in the throat Friday in New Orleans.

Mayo had taken contact on a Stiemsma screen and reacted angrily, earning a flagrant-2 foul and automatic ejection with 1:32 left in the first quarter of what became Milwaukee’s 112-104 loss at the Smoothie King Center. Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova already was sitting out a one-game suspension for slugging Sacramento’s Reggie Evans in the stomach earlier in the week. Mayo will sit out the Bucks’ home game against Washington on Saturday.

The sixth-year guard apologized to teammates after the game and also in an interview for his loss of temper. “I reacted the wrong way and handled it for sure the wrong way,” Mayo said. I just want to apologize to the Bucks fan base, the city of Milwaukee and obviously New Orleans and the [fans] who came out and watched the game. It’s definitely the wrong way to conduct yourself. I’ve got to do better and I will be better.”

The Bucks have been waiting all season for Mayo to be better for them. His production is at or near a career low: 11.8 ppg, 2.2 assists, 40.2 percent from the field, 37.0 percent on 3-pointers. His plus/minus data is the team’s worst: minus-12.5 per 48 minutes, minus-339 overall. Milwaukee, of course, has the league’s worst record (12-49) and Mayo mostly has played off the bench (the Bucks are 5-18 when he starts).

He has missed 11 games, including six in January for illness and four more in February for illness and conditioning. At one point in the season’s first half, Mayo was so out of shape he looked as if he was wearing a flak jacket under his jersey. There’s no doubt Milwaukee had grown frustrated with Monta Ellis, whose spot Mayo plugged, but it expected much more after signing him to a three-year, $24 million contract.

The No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft was traded that night from Minnesota to Memphis for No. 5 Kevin Love and it mostly has been downhill since then. In games he has played, Mayo’s teams have gone 192-240. He appeared in 20 playoff games for the Grizzlies in 2011 and 2012, not exactly rising to the occasion (10.5 ppg, 35.2 FG%).

A week ago, Bucks coach Larry Drew said he finally was seeing “flashes” of the player Mayo can be. “O.J., he’s kind of a gunslinger,” Drew told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I can’t recall a guy whose shots are contested as much as his are, but he knocks them down.”

Drew was dealing with a small sample size: Mayo played four games in February and shot 47.7 percent, including 46.4 from the arc (13 of 28). But in four games in March, he was back down to 36.4 percent and 16.7. And with a forced absence Saturday, the sample size of Mayo’s worthwhile contributions in 2013-14 will remain rather puny.

Ilyasova Stays Put In League Of Change

Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

MILWAUKEE – Some players are the socks. Ersan Ilyasova is the feet. But the end result is the same: Change, constantly.

If you’re Nate Robinson, Mike James, Chucky Brown, Joe Smith and dozens of others who leave forwarding addresses as often as most of us leave gratuities, you know the drill: Signed here, traded there, employed, waived, paid, packaged and dumped time and again back into the hamper.

If you’re Ilyasova, you don’t go anywhere, yet everything around you changes. Argyle, tube, crew, silk, solid, patterned, support – the Milwaukee Bucks’ 6-foot-10 forward from Eskisehir, Turkey, has gone through a veritable sock drawer in his NBA career.

Consider: Of the 60 players taken in the 2005 NBA Draft, Ilyasova (No. 36 in the second round) is the only one still with his original team. All the big names that night – former Buck Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton and so on – have moved at least once, as have the sleepers (David Lee, Monta Ellis, Marcin Gortat). Indiana’s Danny Granger was the last of the “originals,” besides Ilyasova, until he got dealt to Philadelphia on Thursday at the league’s trade deadline. Many have dropped off the NBA map entirely.

And because there is no one from the 2004 Draft still with the team that selected him and, from 2006, only Portland’s Joel Freeland remains with the team – he’s an asterisk case who came over from Great Britain prior to last season – Ilyasova’s specialness spans three drafts and 179 others whose names got read by David Stern or former second-round maestro Russ Granik.

Had Ilyasova, 18 when he was picked, played for the Bucks immediately (he spent 2005-06 in the D League with Tulsa), he would have been a teammate of Ervin Johnson and Toni Kukoc, who were 20 and 19 years older than him that season. He stayed overseas for a year, dipped his toe into the NBA in 2006-07 at 19, then went back to play in Spain for two years.

By the time Ilyasova returned for 2009-10, only four players remained from his first NBA roster (Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, Michael Redd and Bogut). After Bogut was traded to Golden State during the 2011-12 season, all four of them were gone, too.

Now it’s two years later, the Bucks are on their fifth head coach since Ilyasova was drafted – he missed the Larry Krystkowiak era entirely – and he’s one of just four players left from last year’s roster. He has been supplanted as the team’s resident Euro phenom by 19-year-old “Greek freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, the youngest player in the NBA.

He has had 67 Milwaukee teammates, by the team’s count, from the start of 2006-07 till now.

The irony in all this is that Ilyasova, that rare individual who has been spared the endless uncertainty of role players and journeymen everywhere, actually might be better off had he been forced to relocate a time or two.

Staying with the Bucks has been easy on the wardrobe and his friends’ contacts lists. He met his wife Julia in Milwaukee. And his early Bird rights with the Bucks made him eligible for the five-year, $40 million contract he signed in July 2012.

But he has sniffed the air of a winning season just once, in 2009-10, and is a cumulative 72 games under .500 while general manager Larry Harris first and John Hammond second have re-painted, laid new carpeting and moved the furniture around him.

Worse, Ilyasova has regressed as a player. Mostly starting yet struggling – first from an ankle injury in camp, then in coach Larry Drew’s new system – he is putting up the shakiest numbers of his career: 10.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a game, 38.5 percent shooting, 29.6 percent on 3-pointers. Per 36 minutes, he’s about where he was as a nervous teenager. Better paid but more frustrated.

Ilyasova, who watched as NBA vets Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal were freed at the deadline from the NBA’s losingest team (via their trade to Charlotte), talked recently with Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times about his Groundhog Day permanence in Milwaukee:

Ilyasova downplayed talk about him wanting out of Milwaukee and declined to comment on whether he or his agent, Andy Miller, had requested a trade.

Ilyasova made it clear, though, the Bucks’ revolving door policy with players has irritated him.

“The thing I’m upset about is each year, each season, we go through the same thing,” Ilyasova said. “Last year, we make the playoffs and now we start all over again. That’s really frustrating.

“Hopefully, we’ll find right pieces for the team. Hopefully, we’ll turn it around.”

Then the deadline passed, Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien came aboard as possible (though minor) pieces and Ilyasova stayed put. Ilyasova reportedly is a favorite of owner Herb Kohl, who remains enticed by Ilyasova’s potential.

Ilyasova is a complementary player who constantly has had to adapt to another new crew and new vision. The things he does best – 13.0 points a game, 5.6 rebounds, 45.5 percent 3FG the year before he got his contract – have slipped.

Still, he is the last man standing in the same spot from that June night nine years ago. Too often, though, you’d have a hard time proving it by his impact. He and the Bucks are due for a change.

Pistons Can’t Hit From Outside

The List

Lowest effective field goal percentage from outside the paint

Team FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Detroit 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
Charlotte 757 2,139 35.4% 52.7% 41.9%
Chicago 722 2,044 35.3% 52.7% 42.2%
Minnesota 728 2,144 34.0% 50.6% 42.5%
Philadelphia 633 1,866 33.9% 43.2% 42.9%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

Who would have thought that the worst jump-shooting team in the league would be the one starting Josh Smith at small forward?

The Pistons rank 29th in mid-range field goal percentage (34.8 percent) and dead last in 3-point percentage (30.6 percent). They’re the third worst 3-point shooting team of the last 10 years, ahead of only last season’s Timberwolves (30.5 percent) and the 2011-12 Bobcats (29.5 percent).

It doesn’t help that the Pistons start the erratic Brandon Jennings and the inexperienced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt. In fact, all 10 Pistons who have attempted at least 45 shots from outside the paint have shot them at a level below the league average.

But Smith is the main culprit, having taken 350 shots from outside the paint, with a brutal effective field goal percentage of 34.4 percent.

Pistons shooting from outside the paint

Player FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Brandon Jennings 139 420 33.1% 60.5% 42.9%
Josh Smith 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%
Rodney Stuckey 84 215 39.1% 48.2% 42.6%
K. Caldwell-Pope 67 211 31.8% 65.5% 41.7%
Kyle Singler 49 153 32.0% 49.8% 45.1%
Will Bynum 34 91 37.4% 44.4% 43.4%
Greg Monroe 25 84 29.8% 15.9% 29.8%
Gigi Datome 19 66 28.8% 82.5% 33.3%
Chauncey Billups 21 62 33.9% 82.7% 45.2%
Charlie Villanueva 12 45 26.7% 69.2% 36.7%
Others 34 94 36.2% 15.7% 47.9%
Total 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
League Avg. 793 2,111 37.6% 52.8% 46.2%

The issues of playing Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond together have been addressed in this space before. Of late, the defense hasn’t been as bad as it was earlier in the season, and coach Mo Cheeks isn’t playing the three bigs together as much, but the Pistons still struggle to score with them all on the floor together.

Pistons efficiency with Smith, Monroe and Drummond on the floor

Months GP MIN MIN/G OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Oct.-November 16 300 18.8 100.2 106.7 -6.5 -29
December 17 331 19.5 102.0 111.7 -9.7 -50
Jan.- February 14 203 14.5 101.3 105.3 -4.0 -21
Total 47 834 17.7 101.2 108.3 -7.1 -100

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

So it seems clear that, with the trade deadline now only 15 days away, the Pistons should think hard about shaking things up. Reportedly, they’d prefer to move Smith, who’s in the first year of a four-year, $54 million deal. Obviously, they’d have an easier time finding a taker for Monroe, who’s in the last year of his rookie contract.

Any team trading for Smith would obviously do so with the intent of playing him (primarily) at power forward. But moving Smith to the four on a permanent basis (with the Pistons or some other team) isn’t necessarily going to keep him from shooting jumpers.

Smith has played 834 minutes with Monroe and Drummond. He’s played 97 minutes with *other combinations where you could say he’s the small forward. And he’s played 717 minutes at the four.

* Combinations of Monroe, Drummond, Josh Harrellson, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva.

And in those 717 minutes, Smith has attempted about the same percentage of his shots from outside the paint as he has when he’s played the three.

Josh Smith shooting from outside the paint

Position FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
At SF 48 193 24.9% 49.5% 30.8%
At PF 53 157 33.8% 48.9% 38.9%
Total 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%

In fact, in two of his last three seasons in Atlanta, Smith attempted more than half of his shots from outside the paint. When Smith was with the Hawks, a coaching change seemed to make the difference. In six seasons under Mike Woodson, Smith took only 37 percent of his shots from outside the paint. In three seasons under Larry Drew, he took 49 percent of his shots from outside the paint.

That’s the same rate as this season. The problem is that Smith’s shooting — both inside the paint and outside it — has been much worse than it was in his last few seasons in Atlanta. His defense has also regressed.

That all goes beyond what position he’s playing. The Pistons can improve their perimeter shooting by acquiring a small forward who can actually shoot, but (unless they somehow find a taker for that contract) they still need Smith to play better.

The Video

Here are Smith’s 20 shots in Miami on Monday, when he shot 4-for-4 in the restricted area and 1-for-16 outside it.

On the other hand, Smith had one of his best shooting games of the season a couple of weeks ago against the Clippers. He shot 6-for-8 from mid-range. Here are those eight shots, which aren’t exactly more pleasing to watch (he banked the first one in).

The bottom of the list

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Golden State Warriors are the best jump-shooting team in the league, with an effective field goal percentage of 49.5 percent from outside the paint. What is a surprise is that Andre Iguodala has been nearly as good a jump-shooter (55.1 percent) as Stephen Curry (55.6 percent).

Next best are the Heat (49.4 percent), followed by the Hawks (49.4 percent), Spurs (49.2 percent) and Mavericks (49.2 percent).

Trivia question

Of the 166 players who have attempted at least 100 shots both in the paint and outside the paint, only one has shot better (we’re talking standard field goal percentage, here) from outside than inside. Who is he?

More jump-shooting notes

  • Smith isn’t the worst jump-shooter in the league. Of 223 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from outside the paint, Tyreke Evans has the lowest outside-the-paint effective field goal percentage at 25.2 percent. If you’ve ever watched Evans take one of his lazy-looking jumpers, you shouldn’t be surprised.
  • It should also be no surprise that Kyle Korver is at the top of the list, with an effective field goal percentage of 64.2 percent from outside the paint. No. 2 is Anthony Tolliver (62.9 percent).
  • Smith ranks 216th on the list, and no one below him has taken anything near 350 shots from outside the paint.
  • East teams have an effective field goal percentage of 45.4 percent from outside the paint. West teams: 47.1 percent.
  • Eight of the 10 teams with an effective field goal percentage of less than 45 percent from outside the paint also rank 20th or worse in offensive efficiency. The exceptions are Memphis (18th in offensive efficiency) and Minnesota (ninth). While they don’t shoot very well, the Wolves rank in the top 10 in offensive rebounding rate, turnover rate, and free throw rate.

Trivia answer

Damian Lillard has shot 41.2 percent in the paint and 42.4 percent outside the paint. On the opposite side of the spectrum is teammate Nicolas Batum, who has the biggest discrepancy between paint field goal percentage (71.7 percent) and outside-the-paint field goal percentage (36.3 percent).

Bucks’ Antetokounmpo Keeps Eating Everything He’s Force-Fed


VIDEO: Giannis goes high to block Durant

As bad as it’s been, lugging around the albatross of the NBA’s most miserable W-L record, the Milwaukee Bucks can take solace in knowing that the 2013-14 schedule is nearly half over and they’ve only been caught using the word “tanking” in a few sentences, each time in close proximity to “not” or “no.”

Regardless of what might or might not be unfolding before our eyes, coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond have stirred enough new faces through the new system and into plucky moral victories to obfuscate the onerous. Staking out the higher ground of continued mid-level competitiveness, while tunneling toward the draft lottery, might earn somebody Exec of the Year consideration.

And so might this: Hammond and the Bucks, drafting from the first non-lottery spot (No. 15) last June, landed a player who has had a bigger impact than the No. 1 pick overall. A player, 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, who – if that draft were redone tomorrow – probably would be chosen before most of the 14 guys in front of him, certainly in the top five and definitely ahead of the pole-sitter, Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Antetokounmpo has been the Bucks’ great Greek hope, the biggest reason (besides elbow room) to drop by the BMO Harris Bradley Center. On the right nights, Antetokounmpo’s coltish potential and unbridled enthusiasm turn the town into a Kentucky horse farm; sunshine, bluegrass and thoroughbred greatness in the making.

He has arms that reach till next Tuesday, hands like jai-alai cestas. The Bucks produced a Giannis growth chart for a giveaway and it was obsolete almost immediately; the kid reportedly has grown 1 1/2 inches since he was drafted, his warm-up pants starting to look like Capris.

Antetokounmpo’s stats are solid – 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 45.6 percent shooting, 23.1 minutes – given his age, his experience, the players around him and the malaise, too. Which makes you nervous that someone so tender, so fragile, might get knocked off course through a lousy season for his team.

Is Antetokounmpo being force-fed too much too soon? Might all the losing and lack of foundation hurt him? Is there anyway to sequester him from Larry Sanders, Milwaukee’s spirited but stormy center who has been setting the don’t-do-this examples lately?

Antetokounmpo seems to be answering the questions affirmatively with his performances and a resilient personality.

As expected, he’s had some roller-coaster stats lines – double-doubles at Brooklyn and Oklahoma City the past couple of weeks, sandwiched around a 50-minute, three-game stretch against Phoenix, Golden State and Chicago in which he shot 1-for-10 with two points, eight rebounds and eight turnovers. He has broken plays on the Bucks, his halfcourt game way behind the havoc he can wreak in transition.

But Antetokounmpo has played 30 minutes or more in 11 games; Bennett, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller and Alex Len – four of the 2013 Class’ top five – have combined for zero such nights. The NBA’s youngest player has started 13 times, the Bucks have been about 10 points better when he’s on the floor and he has averaged more minutes in the fourth quarter (7.5) than in any of the first three.

“I think he’s earned it,” Drew said the other day. “When he’s on the floor, the thing that really intrigues me about him is, he does not have to score necessarily to impact the game. He’s rebounding, he can block shots, he gets in the open court, he makes plays. He’s energy – that’s something we need more than anything. I think besides Larry, he may be the most energetic guy on our team.”

Said the rookie: “I’m very happy that my coaches and my teammates are not forcing me to come in slowly, that I can come in and play. I’m very happy that the team trusts me to throw me in there. I love what I’m doing. Of course it’s my dream, and I’m just having fun. I try to learn from each game as much as possible.”

Drew and his staff are trying to fold Antetokounmpo more into the offense, drilling him in his “attack areas.”

“Right now, I can see he’s a lot more comfortable just spotting up at the [3-point line],” the coach said. “I don’t want him to fall into that type game, because he’s just too long and too athletic. … Anything on the perimeter, he’s a bounce away from the basket. Once he develops his mid-range game where he has consistency in his shot, it’s going to open up the other parts of the game.”

Antetokounmpo, the most tireless chaser in the game who doesn’t play for the Miami Heat, hasn’t wilted from all the losing or picked up bad habits from any unhappy souls in Milwaukee’s locker room. Good thing for Bucks fans: He’s still two years from accompanying anyone to nightclubs.

One area in which Antetokounmpo has been tested has been the traditional hazing that goes on by established opponents. He didn’t play well against the Suns earlier this month but handled the banging he got from P.J. Tucker. Against big names such as Carmelo Anthony and Vince Carter, Antetokounmpo has shrugged off physical and mental challenges.

“I enjoyed seeing that. If Giannis is going to take that next step, he’s going to have to learn how to balance,” Drew said. “He’s got to find ways how to play against them. I think he’s figured it out against the finesse guys. … but physical [small forwards], the strong ‘threes,’ he’s going to have to figure that out.”

Guard Gary Neal added: “I’ve seen guys bump him and he’ll bump ‘em back. The one I remember, him and Carmelo were going at it a little bit. And with Carmelo being an All-Star and challenging him, he didn’t back away from that. That’s big. … If you thought about it, there probably are some guys who folded it up and went home. We just don’t know ‘em because they’re not around anymore.”

Asked about intimidation by certain stars’ reputations, Antetokounmpo said: “Aw, no. Most of the players in this league, I don’t even know them.”

That’s not entirely true. Antetokounmpo recently lauded Kevin Durant, a player to whom he’s been compared in build, as his “idol” for his drive and focus more than his skills. By the time their meeting Saturday was over, with the kid logging 13 points and 11 rebounds, Durant was returning compliments.

“He’s just sneaky athletic; he’s quick,” the Oklahoma City star said. “He plays extremely hard. I can definitely roll with a player like that.”

Milwaukee can, too, if it is careful. The road to the draft lottery and a brighter future is bumpy, narrow and long, with nasty ditches on either side. But given Antetokounmpo’s reach and stride, he looks to be about a bounce away.

Bucks’ Neal And His Open Elevator Shaft

Gary Neal hasn't been getting the minutes he expected to get. (D. Williams/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gary Neal hasn’t been getting the minutes he’s used to or expected to get in Milwaukee. (NBAE via Getty Images)

MILWAUKEEAnd is better than or, the commercial tells us. That’s what the Milwaukee Bucks had in mind when they signed former San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal to a two-year, $6.5 million contract back in July.

In Neal, Milwaukee was getting a 6-foot-4 combo guard with 3-point range capable of starting or bringing firepower and energy off the bench. It also was adding a seasoned veteran who, at age 29, had been a key rotation guy for the San Antonio Spurs with 41 games of playoff experience, including his 24-points-in-25-minutes night in Game 3 of the 2013 Finals against Miami.

A contributor on the court and off it, with skills and intangibles?

“They didn’t hire me as a coach,” Neal said Friday night, effectively slamming the brakes on and.

How ’bout neither?

Right now, that’s what the Bucks are getting from Neal, who logged the 10th DNP-CD of the half-season in their 81-72 loss to the Chicago Bulls at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Eight of them have come in Milwaukee’s past 11 games, and a miserable season for the Bucks overall has been even worse for Neal. He is averaging 10.4 points per game while shooting 39.4 percent in 20.5 minutes, missed two games in December with left plantar fasciitis and otherwise has done a whole lot of sitting.

“I don’t know what their plan is or what Coach [Larry] Drew is doing. So it’s hard to show your experience getting DNPs,” Neal said, in a calm steady voice when asked about his switch of teams prior to Friday’s game. “You can’t say anything when you don’t get in the game. I’m gonna tell somebody to do something, and I ain’t playing?”

A qualifier is in order here: Neal was sought out Friday because of the plummet he has taken in the standings and in status, from his role with a pedigreed organization that came within seconds in Game 6 of an NBA championship to a mere spectator on many nights with the league’s worst (7-28) team.

Generally, he has been a solid citizen about the experience … with the exception of last weekend in Phoenix, when some frustrations within the Bucks boiled over in plain sight of reporters. Neal and center Larry Sanders got into a loud, heated postgame argument in the visitors’ dressing room and needed to be separated. At one point, Neal took a verbal shot at Sanders, yelling, “I earn my money. Why don’t you try it?”

Trouble is, Neal might feel on many nights as if he’s not earning his keep either. Not in the manner he had hoped when he traded NBA penthouse for current outhouse.

“I thought I’d be able to get a consistent 20, 25 minutes a night. But for whatever reason, that hasn’t panned out,” Neal said. “It’s a business. I could have stayed in San Antonio on the qualifying offer, but then you miss out on $6 million. Sometimes all the cards fall in your favor, sometimes they don’t. Right now, it’s hard with the record being [7-28] and my role basically being non-existent. It’s a tough spot. You’ve just got to fight through it.”

Drew, in his first season with a team whose October roster had 11 new faces and only four holdovers, still talks of Neal as the guy the Bucks signed. Or believed they were signing, anyway.

“Any time any player comes from a successful program, I think they have something to offer,” Drew said Friday. “Certainly he’s been in that Spurs system, so he has a great deal to offer. Also from his basketball ability. He’s a shot maker. He’s a guy who can get in a rhythm, he’s a guy who can get on a roll. So whenever he comes into a basketball game, I’m looking for A, B, C and D.”

Uh, Drew might have just misspelled DNP-CD.

Milwaukee does have a crowded backcourt and an array of potential gunners, from Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour to O.J. Mayo and Khris Middleton. One problem for Neal – for any of them at any given time – is that, other than injuries dictating the rotation, there is no real pecking order to the roster, too much evenness in skills and qualifications. So it’s about numbers and fit, with an overlap of strengths and weaknesses. That typically leads to odd men out, and right now Neal is that guy.

It hasn’t helped that, when he has gotten in games, his stints have been brief and at times he has tried to force results. Though his average minutes are down from his San Antonio days, the undrafted guard from Towson State is seeking his shot a little more – 16.3 FGAs per 36 minutes vs. 14.1 with the Spurs. His 3-point shooting (41.9 percent) has been better than on his 2-pointers (37.8).

“If you look at the stats, I’ve always been a scorer,” Neal said. “I mean, I’m not shooting the ball as good as I would like. But it’s always harder to get in a rhythm when you play those type of, y’know, six or seven spot minutes. The defense has a chance to focus in on you, the shots are harder.”

Again, Neal was talking about his well-compensated humbling because he was asked about it. He said several times he wasn’t trying to tell Drew or Bucks general manager John Hammond how to do their jobs. If that rumor out of the D-League Showcase in Reno proves true – that Neal is being shopped in advance of the February trade deadline, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported – the player knows he is just that, a player with a job to show up for every day.

“You don’t want to be a distraction. We have our share of distractions just by losing games,” Neal said. “When you look at [the limited opportunities] and you’re the only guy, coming from a situation where you’ve been on a winner the last three years and you were playing 30 minutes in The Finals, and the team is struggling and you haven’t been told a reason why you haven’t been given those extended minutes, y’know, it can be mind-boggling at times.

“But at the end of the day, you are a professional and you don’t want to be a distraction. So you just show up and hopefully the worm will turn and you’ll get minutes.”

Hawks’ Teague Ready For (All-)Star Turn?




VIDEO: Jeff Teague does it all for the Hawks in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

ATLANTA – It’s a good thing Jeff Teague doesn’t have to rely on … uh, Jeff Teague to crank up the hype machine on his All-Star campaign. Because the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard would rather discuss anything but his obvious candidacy for one of those coveted spots on the Eastern Conference reserves list.

Make no mistake, Teague wants on that prestigious list. He makes that clear night after night during his fifth and finest season in the league. He’s just not willing or able to commit himself to the sideshow that is lobbying on his own behalf, which is actually pretty refreshing.

In an era when some players are busier on Twitter and other social media sites than they are on the court on a given night, Teague is decidedly frills-free in his approach to the game and everything else that comes with along with his status as the healthy face of the Hawks. Al Hoford, who was headed for his third All-Star nod before suffering a season-ending right pectoral muscle tear on Dec. 26, is physically unable to perform that duty now. That leaves the work to a committee headed by Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver.

“I honestly don’t worry about that stuff,” Teague said before leading the Hawks past the Indiana Pacers to snap a three-game losing streak Wednesday night at Philips Arena. “I just play, do my job and let everything else take care of itself.”

That shouldn’t be hard in an Eastern Conference All-Star landscape where Teague is the head of the snake of one of just three teams with a winning record (the Pacers and Miami Heat are the others). And with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams either injured or suffering through injury-plagued seasons, there is an opening for some fresh blood in the All-Star point-guard mix.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel praised Teague’s work this season and said he’s absolutely on the short list of players that Eastern Conference coaches need to consider when filling out their All-Star reserves ballots.

“The history of the league has rewarded winning teams,” Vogel said. “He’s certainly and All-Star level, an All-Star caliber player. He’s having a terrific season and carrying the load now even more that Horford is out. And I know he is the focal point of our game plan every time we play these guys. They are spread out more and they have 3-point shooting bigs, and I think that just opens up the court for him to go to work and makes it more difficult to help. And he’s just growing, he’s developing and each year he’s gotten better. Like I said, he’s a terrific young guard.”

Seven months ago the restricted free agent wasn’t even sure he’d be wearing a Hawks uniform. Teague signed an offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks, where his former coach Larry Drew landed, and was prepared to start over in the Central Division. After spending his first four seasons here in Atlanta, with the team that drafted him with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Teague was mentally prepared to start over if the Hawks didn’t match the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer.

Once the Hawks made it clear that they planned to rebuild with Teague at the controls, he was able to make peace with his situation and dive into the point-guard friendly system of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Atlanta’s new boss learned a thing or two about tutoring young point guards after helping mold San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tony Parker‘s game over the years.

“I’m happy to be here, I love Atlanta, the city … it’s perfect for me,” Teague said. “I’ve been here my whole career, so I was glad to be back. We’ve got all good guys, nobody looking for extra. Just all good guys working hard and trying to get better and trying to win. So at the end of the day, it’s a perfect environment for me.”

A perfect environment with the perfect coach. Budenholzer’s meticulous approach intrigued Teague. His collaborative approach also struck a chord with the extremely laid back Teague, whose easygoing nature should not be confused for any lack of desire or effort to try to dominate the opposition on a nightly basis.

“He pulls me aside all the time just to talk basketball,” Teague said. “I’ve never had that happen before. It’s just the perfect system for me, the perfect blend. And we’re all still trying to figure it out. As the year goes on I think we’ll get better and better at doing what we do.”

They’ll have to do it without the security blanket that Horford provided. Horford’s steady face-up game allowed the Hawks to lean on their “system” in the fourth quarter of games, to let Teague and Horford’s chemistry to shine through.

“We’re running the same stuff but it’s definitely different without Al,” Teague said. “In the fourth quarter we usually go the high pick and roll with me and Al. And that was real effective for us. I honestly didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot with Pero (Antic) and Elton (Brand), so we’re all still getting adjusted, I’m still getting comfortable with those guys and learning where they want to be and where they like to get the ball in those situations. We’re still learning each other and still learning on the fly right now.”

Teague has already put in the necessary work to garner favorable All-Star consideration. He’s averaging career highs across the board, in points (16.9), assists (8.0), rebounds (2.8) and minutes (33.5).There is still plenty of work to be done, something Teague is the first to admit. His 3-point shooting remains streaky as ever, he made just 3-for-17 from deep in the five games prior to Wednesday night’s game.

Still, the overall strides made in his game from last season to this one are glaring and should not be overlooked when All-Star bids are discussed.

“I just know how valuable he’s been to us,” Budenholzer said. “He’s kind of that engine that gets us going. And any success we’ve had this year, he’s been a huge part of that, taking on the responsibility with the ball in his hands a lot and generating shots for others and for himself. I know there are a lot of good point guards, and I’m a little bit biased, but I think he deserves to be [on that list].”

At least someone is willing to lobby for Teague, even if he won’t.

Bucks’ Wolters Isn’t In South Dakota Anymore

VIDEO: The Prospect Profile on Nate Wolters

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MILWAUKEE – Caron Butler, a two-time NBA All-Star in his 12th professional season, did all he could to avoid looking into the stands at the BMO Bradley Center Saturday night in Milwaukee. Butler, even now, said he gets “too excited” at times and the Bucks’ home opener against Toronto was one of them, the guy from nearby Racine, Wis., playing in front of “mama, Grandma, aunts, uncles … children, all five of ‘em.”

So, imagine what it was like for Nate Wolters, Milwaukee’s unheralded rookie — the No. 38 pick in June out of South Dakota State — the guy commonly thought of as the fifth guard on Milwaukee’s roster.

Four nights into his NBA career, in this third game, Wolters was on the floor at the beginning and at the end. With Brandon Knight (hamstring) and Luke Ridnour (back) ailing — and with point guard fill-in O.J. Mayo showing up late for the team’s shootaround that day — Wolters was tabbed by coach Larry Drew for the starting role against the Raptors. He wound up on the floor longer than anyone else Saturday, playing 36 minutes that included the final 10 when Drew settled on his closing crew (at least for the night) and Milwaukee erased a 12-point lead to briefly tie.

What must have been going through Wolters’ head, running the Bucks’ offense from tipoff in front of 16,046 people after playing his college ball in a 6,500-seat gym?

“Everything,” Butler said. “He was [extremely raw] at times. I tried to continue to stay in his ear and motivate him and encourage him.

“It’s been tough. Luke’s been out and obviously Brandon. But I thought Nate did a great job filling in that role to the best of his ability. That’s a lot to ask for a first-year guy, but I thought he did a great job hands-down.”

The 6-foot-4 Wolters scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and passed for 10 assists with one turnover in his splashy home debut. He also played well enough off the bench in his first two games staged at virtual NBA shrines — at Madison Square Garden and on the parquet floor of the Boston Celtics. He might look like an extra from “Hoosiers” running around out there, but he is averaging 10 points and 6.7 assists, while giving Drew a little of the playmaking the coach craves.

“What I like about what he did [in Boston] was he came in and got us organized,” Drew said. “We’ve had problems with that … I’ve got to have organization at the very beginning. I can’t have guys just everybody looking for their shots. He’s been in this situation before. He knows the position. And he’s starting to get more and more comfortable at the position.”

“More comfortable” as in, equally nervous regardless of level or challenge.

“Even before every game — even high school and college — you get nervous,” Wolters said after the loss Saturday. “It’s just one of those things, once you get out there playing, it’s basketball. Get used to it. Once I get going, I’m fine.”

Wolters, a high school hotshot in St. Cloud, Minn., helped South Dakota State make the first two NCAA appearances in school history. As a senior, he averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists for the Jackrabbits and scored 53 points (with nine 3-pointers) — the top points total in Division I last season — in a game at Fort Wayne. Wolters was a third-team AP All-America selection and a finalist for the Wooden and Cousy awards.

Just a month into his Bucks experience, he’s got the “we” part down. He is developing a little on-court chemistry with Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. He knows he needs to shoot better (11-for-30 so far). And he said he feels no overload in his NBA orientation-slash-immersion.

“No, not at all,” Wolters said. “In college, I played every minute. So I’m used to these kinds of minutes. I didn’t expect to be playing anywhere near this many minutes, but it is what it is. I’m enjoying it and treating it like a learning experience. … I’ve got a good group of veterans who can help me out.”

Though the Bucks played a preseason game in Sioux Falls, within an hour of Wolters’ old campus, and Drew showcased him in the fourth quarter that night against Cleveland, he is quite aware he’s not in Brookings, S.D., anymore.

“It kind of helped that we played in the NCAA tournament, so I played in this type of atmosphere before,” Wolters said. “But obviously, the NBA’s a little different. It’s just been an amazing experience, especially going to New York and Boston, those type of places. It’s been fun.”

And fortunately for Milwaukee, he’s been up to it.

Sanders Frustrated By Short Minutes

VIDEO: Larry Sanders might need more quality minutes for more quality work

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MILWAUKEE – It is pro sports’ chicken-or-egg quandary, setting up an eternal conflict between coaches and athletes: Does a player play more when he plays better, or does the player play better when he plays more?

Milwaukee center Larry Sanders is solidly in the camp of the latter. Bucks coach Larry Drew? Leaning more toward the former right now.

Sanders – the 6-foot-11 defensive savant whose breakthrough 2012-13 season included strong support for the Defensive Player (seventh) and Most Improved (third) awards, as well as a four-year, $44 million extension over the summer – is one frustrated shot-swatter and rebounder at the moment.

Through Milwaukee’s first three games, his production is down significantly: 2.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 17.3 minutes, compared to last season’s 9.8, 9.5, 2.8 and 27.3. After taking an average of 8.5 shots and making about half (50.6) in 2012-13, he has shot 4-for-16 so far, in a mixed bag of jump hooks, short jumpers and layups.

Sanders has been the opposite of smooth, offensively, looking at times like he’s wrestling a lawn chair. And in his view, he hasn’t broken enough of a sweat to do much better. He played 21:37 in the Bucks’ 97-90 loss to Toronto Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, contributing four points, four boards and one block.

“I feel like I’m capable of being in the game at the end and helping my team win, coming up with blocks and rebounds,” Sanders told NBA.com before exiting the locker room swiftly. “I haven’t been able to get my rhythm out there. I understand foul trouble situations, but tonight I wasn’t in foul trouble.

“Last year I finished so many games. I feel like that’s when I lock in the most. But I haven’t been able to get in the game to finish. That carries over to the next game. When you sit the last three quarters of each game, I can’t have no carryover. And it’s hard for me. I’m still a young player. It’s only my eighth year playing basketball.”

Sanders, 24, has played only 15 of his 52 minutes so far in the second half. He logged 3:12 at New York Wednesday, 5:34 at Boston Friday and 6:18 against the Raptors after the break. But then, the Bucks outscored the Knicks 52-34 after halftime and the Celtics 58-35. They had a 39-34 edge on the Raptors through 18 minutes of the second half Saturday before slipping back to lose the game by seven (and the half, 46-44).

Drew’s lineup in the fourth quarter Saturday primarly was O.J. Mayo and rookie point Nate Wolters in the backcourt, Khris Middleton, John Henson and 18-year-old project Giannis Antetokounmpo up front. That group, over the first 6:07 of the quarter, erased Toronto’s 12-point lead, getting the Bucks even at 85-85.

Drew subbed in Caron Butler for Middleton, who had missed a pair of free throws and a couple layups, over the final 3:04. Milwaukee got no closer than three.

“Throughout the game,” Drew said, “I just didn’t feel like we put a burst together, where we were really moving and flying around. So I elected to go smaller in the fourth quarter, move Khris to the four and Giannis to the three, and it got us going. At that point, I was really going to ride that group.”

Said Sanders: “That makes sense. But it’s not that group – Caron goes in. It’s about trust. Who you trust down the stretch, that’s who you’re going to play.”

If this is a trust issue, it may well be a temporary, evolving one. Drew has on his hands a roster that’s not just new to him but new to each other. He’s searching for combinations, with even his starting lineup fluid for now. His top two point-guard options – Brandon Knight (right hamstring strain) and Luke Ridnour (back spasms) – have been out, which messes with everyone’s rhythm.

Also, Drew has Zaza Pachulia as an option at center, a familiar face from the coach’s three seasons in Atlanta. Pachulia has averaged 13.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 26.0 minutes – though it’s a small sample size and the burly veteran didn’t play in the fourth quarter Saturday, either.

Drew suggested some of Sanders’ struggle on offense and frustration overall stems from adjusting to his third coach (after Scott Skiles and interim Jim Boylan) in 10 months. “It’s him still trying to learn this system and trying to learn his teammates,” Drew said. “He had some point-blank shots right around the basket – he just couldn’t get ‘em to drop.

“I thought that Larry played with some energy though. That’s the thing that, in my conversations with him, I want him to bring on a nightly basis. The other stuff will fall into place.”

Henson – the second-year forward who has had to scrape for his own minutes amid the newness, despite his strong summer in Las Vegas – said he has tried to calm Sanders, whose emotions sometimes outstrip his maturity.

“I talk to Larry, because he’s one of my best friends on the team,” Henson said late Saturday. “I told him, ‘You’re going to close 90 percent of our games.’ He’s just frustrated right now.”

Henson thinks Sanders might be pressing to show the world he’s worth the fat contract extension he received in the offseason. Sanders doesn’t feel that way, though. And Drew said, even if he did, he shouldn’t.

“Yeah, I’ve had that conversation,” the coach said. “There’s no need to press now. He’s in a good position. I know a lot of guys who get in that position of not knowing what their future holds, they do have a tendency to press. But for him, nah, there’s no need to press. Just go out there and play.”

And there’s the rub. Sanders puts the emphasis in that sentence on “go out there.” Drew, at the moment, is focused on the “play.”

This isn’t so much Larry vs. Larry as it is one Larry seeing things differently from the other Larry while serving separate agendas. One man’s chicken to the other man’s egg, with 79 games to go.