Thursday, February 19, 2009

The John Hammond Progress Report

When I was in elementary school we had detailed report cards. I wouldn’t even call them report cards, they were never that harsh. Report cards have letter grades and little feedback. On these everything was all checks and pluses and if a teacher really wanted to send a message they’d put a minus next to the check. Another difference between these and the cruel A-F system of junior high and high school was the detail. Sure, you may get a comment about what is going well and what needs attention in high school, but in grade school there was a detailed breakdown of each part of each class. There was a spot reflecting my listening, a spot for teamwork, a spot for time management, all of the skills I practiced and did not practice were rated. That sort of in depth analyzation was appreciated. It felt like my very own baseball card, except that I didn’t have my picture on the front and I’d hide it under the couch so my parents didn’t see it. With that in mind, and the “first half” of the season done and gone I’m thinking it’s time to take a look at Bucks General Manager John Hammond. I’m not ready to anoint him executive of the year, Milwaukee basketball savior, or barer of doom, there just has not been enough time to really judge the job he’s done. This is merely an update on the moves he has made and the impact they have had in the time he has been here.

Hires Scott Skiles: Check Plus
Thus far this has been the bet move Hammond has made. Skiles has brought a defensive intensity that Milwaukee has been missing since....umm....Sidney Moncrief? To this day I have a hard time believing that a Don Nelson coached team really had much defensive intensity, but we’ll be safe and say since then. Lately Skiles has really looked great. Without three of the team’s best players the Bucks have not missed a beat and are playing with more passion and energy than they have had all year. This is such a far cry from the last few years when Terry Stotts and Larry Krystowiak were in charge and the team tanked and tanked further when the stars went down. Skiles is known for his quick rebuilds and fiery manner, which has come back to haunt him as the years with teams go on, so we’ll see where things go in the coming years. For now, Skiles was the perfect man for the job.

Drafts Joe Alexander and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: Check and Check Plus
One is a rousing success story and the other a mystery. First round picks are given a ton of leeway and a ton of criticism. No one ever wants to give up on a player with potential, but everyone wants to criticize them when they don’t live up to it right away. When Alexander was taken it was done with an eye to the future, especially once he was buried behind Jefferson on the depth chart. Alexander remains a tantalizing prospect for now, with a ceiling only he could jump to and a bottom dangerously low. Mbah a Moute has been an unbridled success. When a team gets any more than minimal production out of a second round pick it’s seen as a great find. When a team gets a reliable starter and it’s best defensive player out of a second round pick IN THEIR FIRST YEAR that is off the charts. Second round picks essentially have no risk involved, if they suck no one cares and they’re cut right away, so Mbah a Moute to me isn’t as great of a move as Skiles, but it’s pretty close.

Acquires Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons: Check
This move is very difficult to judge. Easy Yi probably won’t ever be a star, he’ll probably actually never be as good as Jefferson. On the surface it seems like a no brainer. I’ve been harping on Jefferson all year about not being the star he is paid like, but that is not his fault. He is a two or a three guy on a pretty good team, not the number one option on a playoff team. When Redd kept going down and then Bogut went down that really forced Jefferson to be miscast as The Man. He’s handled that very well lately, likely, and not surprisingly, since Ramon Sessions and Charlie V. have stepped to the forefront of the Bucks. When Sessions took the reigns it also sped the game up a bit on offense and led to more transition, the offense Jefferson thrives in. The success of this trade will ultimately depend on what happens at the deadline with RJ. If he’s swapped that will likely lead to the Bucks being able to hold onto Sessions and Charlie V. And I’d much rather have those two guys than Easy Yi and Bobby Simmons.

Acquires Luke Ridnour and Damon Jones for Mo Williams and Desmond Mason: Check
This is a double edged sword. On one hand I love everything about the way Damon Jones has carried himself on the bench since arriving in Milwaukee. He’s invested in the game, he clowns with the refs and his teammates, he wears ridiculous bow ties on occasion when not suited up, the players seem to love having him around, and when he gets in the game he reminds me of some of the old guys at the rec league I used to work at. He’s always clapping his hands in disgust after missing a shot, like the three he bricked is a lay up for him and he’s so surprised he missed it. And watching him attempt to guard anyone anymore is a sight to behold as well. Jones looks like a future coach to me and that future should be sooner rather than later. But Luke Ridnour brings something of a dilemma. He hadn’t really played poorly before getting injured, but he still stood in the way of the obvious point guard of the future. It may have been good for Ramon Sessions to sit on the bench for a while this year, focusing on bringing energy and scoring rather than running a team. He’s developed even further as a scorer and now is looking very comfortable running the team. Would he have been displaying these skills all along? I don’t know. In spurts he looked great, but I think he needed more fine tuning. I think around January he was ready to take over. When Ridnour returns what will happen though? This will be the first major player rotation test Skiles will have. The early injuries made him go down the bench some, but he made all the obvious moves then. This will put his coaching acumen to test.

Signs Tyronn Lue: Check
Lue is little more than “just another guy”, but he ended up being pretty useful once injuries hit. He allowed Sessions and Ridnour to share the court and gave serviceable minutes as the backup point guard. His acquisition also gave them flexibility to acquire a wing guy better than anyone they could have had at an affordable rate last summer in Keith Bogans.

Acquires Keith Bogans and cash for Tyronn Lue: Check Plus
It’s always funny to me when I see “cash considerations” in a deal. I get the image of Keith Bogans having to bring with him a big bag of money to give to John Hammond. The only problem I’ve had with Bogans thus far is that it took this many months to get him. He offers exactly what the Bucks as currently constructed need, three point shooting and defense. On the shrewd scale this deal ranks a seven. The cheap deals the Bucks used to get Toni Kukoc to sign were nines on the shrewd scale by comparison.

Signs Francisco Elson: Check
Elson and Gadzuric have been left to hold down the fort since the injury to Andrew Bogut...and they haven’t been great. Gadzuric has had three-four moments where he’s appeared at the least competent this season, and Elson has had probably four-five. Since Elson makes 1/300th of the money Gadz makes, it seems like a steal. Realistically he’s an average backup guy. You know what you’re going to get, not much, and you aren’t going to pay more than two million. He knows his limitations and shows up to play hard every game. No complaints.

An important thing to remember is that Hammond is dealing with a pretty hands on type owner. Kohl wants to know what is going on and put his stamp of approval on things. It seems like there is a lot of pressure on Hammond to get this team back to the playoffs quick, which is a band-aid type move by the organization. Regardless, there are some general managers who fall into the extreme categories. Isaiah Thomas was EXTREMELY bad, whereas Sam Presti in Sea...Oklahoma City has been EXTREMELY good. Hammond is not an extreme guy. None of his deals have been real bad or real good, they’ve just been sound moves. He doesn’t seem to have the “get the most talent regardless of fit” complexity that some guys have, which is a huge plus. The one complaint I’d register is that he’s yet to take a stance on where this team needs to go. Either trade the young guys before you lose them (bad idea) or trade the overpaid sort of kind of stars making too much (good idea). He seems to be closer to the latter than the former, a good sign

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