Nine games after the NBA trade deadline, it would be easy to criticize the Bucks’ deal that sent leading scorer Brandon Knight to Phoenix in a three-team swap.
Since the transaction, which brought point guards Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis and forward Miles Plumlee to Milwaukee, the Bucks have gone 3-6 and lost several games they should have won. This streak includes going winless on a four-game road trip that held losses to the Lakers, Jazz and Nuggets, teams with a combined .342 winning percentage.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee has been abysmal on offense. The Bucks were already below average in offensive efficiency, and losing their top playmaker obviously hasn’t helped. They averaged a mediocre 99.2 points per game before the trade but just 88.5 points per game since, a figure that would rank dead last if it held up over a full season.
Knight was by far Milwaukee’s best offensive player, the only one capable of consistently creating his own shot. But Knight was a restricted free agent this summer, which meant the Bucks would have been forced to make a decision about him very soon.
In a very basic sense, restricted free agency works like this: Every team can sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet. His original team can then match that offer or let him walk for nothing in return.
All it would have taken was one stupid team to give Knight a massive offer, and the Bucks would have been forced to either overpay for him or let him leave. Then it becomes a matter of whether Knight is a player worth paying above market value.
He isn’t. Among qualified guards, Knight ranks in the middle of the pack or slightly above average in a variety of shooting statistics and his shot chart backs up those numbers. Meanwhile, Knight was also prone to some bizarre (and hilarious) turnovers as well as poor shot selection, and while he tried hard on defense, he definitely wasn’t a lockdown stopper.
Was Knight the right guy to help Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker develop into All Star-caliber players? Probably not. On an elite team, Knight would work best as a combo guard off the bench. Credit the Bucks’ front office for not settling on Knight. They saw his limitations and moved on.
In the short term, Milwaukee downgraded. That’s not up for debate. The Bucks should still make the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference, but they likely won’t even win a first-round series. That’s fine—they weren’t winning a title this season even with Knight. As Milwaukee’s marketing team points out, the Bucks are just out to #OwnTheFuture.
Knight is far more polished than MCW and Ennis are right now, which partially explains the steep drop-off in offensive production. MCW has a terrible shot and turns the ball over like crazy, and Ennis looks like he pounds multiple energy drinks before he steps on the court. But MCW was stuck playing for the perpetually tanking Sixers, one of the worst teams in recent memory. And Ennis, a rookie, only played eight games for Phoenix while buried on the depth chart.
But their coach is Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all-time, so MCW and Ennis are working with the perfect head coach. Kidd struggled mightily with his shot early in his career, but he developed into a solid perimeter threat and brilliant defender.
The Bucks are banking on a similar progression here, hoping to turn MCW into a matchup problem and defensive nightmare with his incredible wingspan while Ennis acts as his primary backup. Don’t expect either to turn into a Hall-of-Famer like Kidd, but Knight had a clearly defined ceiling on his future development, so the trade was a gamble worth taking.
Was this the right deal for the Bucks? Is a short-term sacrifice worth the potential long-term gain? Tweet Jim @TheDaytonFlyer and let him know.