It’s no secret that Milwaukee Bucks fans have soured on Kidd’s coaching prowess but so far there has been little indication that anyone in the organization is pondering coaching change. However if the Bucks perform below expectations this season, which you could argue they already are with a record that’s only a few games over .500, the blame will surely fall on the head coach and a change could be made in that department by seasons end. Many Bucks fans complain that Kidd is wasting an incredible season from Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose averaging a lovely 29/10/5 line with a field goal percentage of 55 and PER of 30 thus far. The rest of the roster is plush with talent like the underrated Khris Middleton, roster plug Eric Bledsoe, the effective Malcolm Brogdon and other solid rotation players like John Henson, Mirza Teletovic and of course the injured Jabari Parker who has potential star power. Therein lies the rub for Milwaukee, if you’ve got a talented roster why isn’t your record better? The logical answer would suggest it’s because of ineffective coaching.
While looked on more positively when it comes to player development, Kidd hasn’t shown himself to be a great in-game coach or willing to adapt schematically. Take this troubling example from a game a few weeks ago against the Detroit Pistons in which the Bucks inexplicably intentionally fouled Reggie Jackson with just under ten seconds to play with a four point lead. Kidd explained, via Matt Velasquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that “They’re trying to play the game of quick twos to save their timeouts so we’ll just play the free throw game with them.” This reasoning just doesn’t make sense…
Fouling a good free throw shooter in Jackson gifts the Pistons an even quicker two points than they would’ve had if they had been allowed to score in a standard possession. Luckily the Bucks came out with the win but if anything, this example foreshadows potential disastrous coaching from Kidd come playoff time where things like finishing games off like this can be the difference between a deep postseason run or an early exit.
Schematically, Kidd has remained faithful to his aggressive, trapping style of defense while the rest of the league has moved to a more switch heavy system employed by teams like Boston and Golden State. The Bucks pesty style can be incredible to behold when it works and it certainly helped the Bucks in Kidd’s first year with the team in 2014 when Milwaukee was a top five defense and first in the league in forcing turnovers. Yet the defense has suffered mightily since then, finishing with the 23rd ranked defense in 2015, 19th last season and currently sitting as the 24th ranked team in defensive efficiency this season.
To demonstrate just how different the Bucks play defense compared to the rest of the league, here is an example, per Cleaning The Glass, of how Milwaukee defends the Pick and Roll versus a more traditional approach employed by Utah. Notice how the Bucks defense swarms the ball handler and pulls the weak side defender over, taking away Jackson’s options and forcing him to swing it to the perimeter where the defense is able to recover quickly, forcing a bad shot and ideally a turnover like this. However this defense leaves little room for error and has proved to be especially vulnerable to giving up the most efficient shots in basketball: layups and three pointers. This video, again per Cleaning The Glass, reveals how fragile Kidd’s system really is, with a wrong step here or a spacing issue there leading to an easy bucket for the offense. There’s a reason more teams play like Utah than Milwaukee and it’s because aggressive defenses that rely on forcing turnovers are inherently more likely to give up better shots. As Ben Falk of Cleaning The Glass explains, “The more pressure you employ the more compromised you are if your opponent beats it–you’re going to give up something good.”
Jason Kidd was a Hall of Fame player who had a few successful seasons as a coach and helped build the Bucks up to a rising power in the Eastern Conference but his obvious shortcomings are holding Giannis and Milwaukee back from postseason success. This defensive system has and will continue to be exploited in the postseason when coaches have more time to figure out ways to counter Kidd’s stubborn tactics and the increased talent level leaves even less room for error than they’re already working with in the regular season. His tactics, in game management and rotations are simply not good enough. The Bucks need to find a coach who can maximize this teams potential or we’ll be left fantasizing about what the Milwaukee Bucks could’ve been.