Giannis finally has a real pick-n-roll partner
This makes so much sense. And the more you dig into it, the more sense it only makes.
The Milwaukee Bucks acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Suns on Monday and mercifully released him from his disgruntled captivity in Phoenix. Weather aside, he should feel very happy about his new home.
It's obvious how it fits off the bat. Bledsoe, a bulldozer who specializes in ramming through defenses, moves Malcolm Brogdon - who is somewhat limited in his physical abilities to orchestrate an offense - off the lead guard role. He'll be pushed into more of an off-ball wing role, where he is, remarkably, a 41.2 percent shooter from three since entering the league.
Tony Snell then takes his modest 3-and-D skills into a more complementary place on the bench.
Bledsoe's drive-and-kick abilities will unlock better looks for Milwaukee's starters on the perimeter, where Brogdon and Khris Middleton (almost 40 percent from three for his career) will pose incredibly tricky closeout assignments with their own decent abilities to penetrate.
But nothing anymore matters in Milwaukee more than how it relates to Giannis Antetokounmpo. And this is where Bledsoe should be a real treat.
Right now the Bucks are already 10th in offensive rating in the NBA (105.6 points per 100), shooting 39.5 percent from three for third in the league and scoring inside five feet at 62.5 percent, 12th in the league. There's not a whole ton more to juice out of this team that they're not already doing (though Bledsoe's ability to get to the basket should help them improve their inside scoring at least some).
But it's not a very dynamic offense. They don't score much off cuts (21st), or screens (28th) or handoffs (18th) or pick-n-rolls, whether through the ball handler (24th) or the roll man (23rd). Basically, there's not a ton of movement in Milwaukee, rather a lot of three-point shooting and leaning on the Giannis dynamism crutch.
Bledsoe won't totally revolutionize the Bucks system, he's just not the kind of ballhandler who deconstructs the shape of a defense, unlocks cutting lanes and clear looks, nor is he the kind of shooting threat (33.4 percent from three for his career) that can warp a defense.
The 27-year-old really knows one speed, the kind of downhill driving that makes him a bit of a downmarket Russ Westbrook. But his mastery of that speed is what makes him such a potent partner for Antetokounmpo.
Of all the things lacking in the Milwaukee offense, it's the pick-n-roll stuff that is most egregious. With a roll man like Giannis, who is probably the best in the game at knifing his way to the rim, there's no reason the Bucks shouldn't be an unstoppable PnR scoring machine.
Enter Eric Bledsoe. He's among the game's best pick-n-roll ballhandlers, last season sixth in points per game (9.8) and in the 88th percentile in efficiency (0.99 points per possession). He was in the 92nd percentile the year before. He can hit pull-ups well enough (5.5 points per game last year and 7.1 the season before) so that a defense has to respect him coming around a screen, and a hellacious driver (11th in drive points per game last year) who will absolutely make defenders slow on their rotations pay. He can get his look at the rim and has the strength to finish through contact or hit push shots off body bumps and the like.
That ought to be a boon to Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak was good for 1.43 points per possession as the roll man last year, putting him in the 97th percentile. Which is fantastic, except he got less than a single roll attempt per game (0.7). That's only modestly improved this season (1.44 points per possession on 1.4 such attempts per game).
Bledsoe can unlock Giannis' pick-n-roll potential, with the more beating of defenses he does on his own opening up more and more free roll looks for Antetokounmpo, and offers the most obvious path to bringing a significant new threat to the Milwaukee attack.
Defensively he should be a help as well. The Bucks' real problem, as noted, isn't exactly offense. The reason they've been underwhelming at all can be traced to their 26th-ranked defense (107.9 points allowed per 100 possessions).
The Bucks are more or less fine inside, no shock given Antetokounmpo's ability to protect the rim (56.6 opponents' percentage inside five feet, good for sixth). According to NBA.com's "Defensive Impact" listings for at-the-rim defending, Milwaukee's 11th at 61.2 percent. That's a good foundation, so why do they stink so much overall?
Three-point shooting. Or defending it, rather. The Bucks are second-worst in basketball defending the perimeter, allowing 40.0 percent from deep. In their, uh, defense, some of that has to be bad luck. Teams aren't making it rain on them or anything, at a fairly league-average 27.2 attempts against per game. And guys like Khris Middleton and Tony Snell have the length to ostensibly be deterrents on the wings.
In practice though Snell isn't really a great defender, too slow to switch and too overeager to compensate with frequent overplays. Middleton can have similar issues.
It's been some time since Bledsoe's first couple seasons when he rated as an elite defender, but he still has the strength and quickness to smother guys outside, and to switch seamlessly with Brogdon, who might benefit from pairing with a stronger defender in the backcourt.
Losing Greg Monroe meanwhile probably won't be a huge issue, though he had carved out a nice role the last couple seasons as a source of stable offense off the bench. The post-hungry big man may be a species going extinct in the NBA, but Monroe has shown the kind of value the prototype can still have when teams have to turn to their more limited second units.
Monroe is also a a fun outlet passer who, thanks to his rebounding skills, can be a shocking force in pushing the pace for a bench group. Hopefully he moves on from Phoenix and lands in a spot where he can continue to make the most of his skills.
Ultimately though this was a no-brainer for Milwaukee. They have a shot as Giannis rises to crack into the East's top three, and Bledsoe is a really good player. You get there by bringing in really good players.
More than that Antetokounmpo has done so much individually for this team offensively, and developed into such a singular force, but that still can only be so much by itself. Bledsoe bringing a new pick-n-roll dimension to the team can hopefully let Giannis spread his awfully long wings even more.