It’s still a bet though…
The NBA free agency clock had barely struck 5 Central and already, the dust had practically settled on the Milwaukee Bucks offseason. Make Bobby Portis whole, Re-sign Jevon Carter to keep him in the system and bring back fan favorite Wesley Matthews. We knew Milwaukee would have limited assets at their disposal to dip into free agency waters, and Jon Horst promptly loaded up his taxpayer mid-level exception and blew it all in one fell swoop on Aussie Joe Ingles, who is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered on January 30. Mission accomplished. Let’s all enjoy our weekends.
Stasis may be bland, but it was a prudent course of action in my view. We’ve seen Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday lead this team to a title once. With a longer offseason and another bite at the apple, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think they can do it again alongside a similar supporting cast. Yes, there is no PJ Tucker this time around, whose shoe closet just got an expansion after inking a hefty deal in Philly. But the longer the Playoffs went on, and as the chaos of this summer season hits full swing, I feel more and more confident the Bucks have a very realistic chance of finding their way back to the NBA Finals.
In our postseason pod, I felt confident there wasn’t all that much tweaking needed to this Bucks roster; a healthy Middleton may mean they were hopping into the Finals for a chance at another trophy this year, completely flipping our outlook. Even if they hadn’t used the TPMLE, I genuinely would’ve felt content heading into the season. Instead, they bet it all on an aging, relatively unathletic (but crafty!) 34-year-old coming off his worst shooting season and on the mend from a difficult injury. On paper, you may say, “huh?”
Thankfully, we have the gift of context around these parts, and the reality is that not all off-court resources are the same. Training facilities can differ, the amount of money available to pad one’s bench with assistants fluctuates, and strength and conditioning staffs have different, er, strengths. Milwaukee just so happens to have one of the leading groups in the league, with Troy Flanagan at the head and Suki Hobson, voted 2019 best strength coach and noted ACL wizard, alongside him.
Their expertise has to make this gamble (and it is a gamble, there’s a real possibility Ingles suffers a setback and never plays) up the potential odds of success in Milwaukee’s view as compared to other teams across the league. When I look at Brook Lopez, a massive 7-footer who injured, of all things, his back, return after a full season of rest and look as nimble as ever, I can’t help but feel somewhat confident they have the horses to pull this off. Sure they don’t have Ingles complete medical history in their own building like they do Brook, but snagging him now gets Ingles in the door and puts him in the hands of their training staff sooner.
On the court, Ingles seems like precisely the sort of crafty, cagey veteran that could benefit this team. He strikes me as the sort of “Horst trades three seconds for this guy”-level trade deadline acquisition that flies under the radar but has significant potential. It’s helpful probably to look at him that way too, at least in terms of on-court production. I doubt he’ll see the floor until near the All-Star Break.
While we saw Jon Horst double down on defense when selecting MarJon Beauchamp, we all saw the anemic offensive output that doomed the Bucks chances without Khris Middleton against Boston. Ingles is a potential salve on the sunburn that was watching Giannis and Jrue hopelessly drive into defenders. I would love to point to Ingles career 40% 3-point percentage on good volume as a boon, but I am conditioned as a Bucks fan to assume that will hit sub-30% come Playoff time.
Here’s the good news with Ingles though: in best case scenarios, he doesn’t just shoot! Yes, we might have someone else who can potentially drive, run pick-and-roll, and pass people. He’s an excellent finisher at the rim, at least above 64% per Cleaning The Glass for his entire career, but he finds ways to get others involved too. His assist to usage rate (how often a player gets an assist based on how much they touch the ball) ranked in the 90th percentile or above among forwards every season. Last year, the only role player to sniff that was Jevon Carter in the 89th percentile, but in very few games.
Pass, dribble, shoot? Where have I heard that before…Defensively there will be real questions, particularly given his age and athleticism. I hear the words “great team defender” tossed around a lot for him. That’s polite coded language, but it may actually be more useful on a Milwaukee team that boasts not just elite interior defense (like he had in Utah) but doggedness on the perimeter too. The Bucks defense is a safer place for him, and his size alone at 6’8” opens up some interesting lineup combinations if Bud wants to get big. I could see him in smallball lineups or as a more versatile formation of the BigBall lineups with Jrue-Ingles-Khris-Giannis-Brook.
All of the above is, admittedly, hypothetical. As I said, there are many scenarios where this goes awry and Ingles flat out isn’t the same player. But, I really felt comfortable with this Milwaukee team even if they ran it back and maybe made a marginal in-season move. And glancing around the league at other players around Ingles price range, I’m curious who else might’ve been a better option:
- Ricky Rubio, Cavaliers agree to deal, per Woj. It’s three years, $18 million, per Haynes.
- Bruce Brown, Nuggets agree to two year, $13 million + deal, per Andrews.
- Lonnie Walker IV, Lakers agrees to one-year, $6.5 deal, per Shams
- Patty Mills, Nets agree to two-year, $14.5 million deal, per Woj
- Thad Young, Raptors agree to two-year, $16 million deal, per Haynes
- Dewayne Dedmon, Heat agree to two-year, $9 million, per Shams
- Danuel House, 76ers agree to two-year, $8.5 million deal, per Woj
- Isaiah Hartenstein, New York Knicks agree to two-year, $16 million deal, per Shams
- JaVale McGee, Mavericks agree to three-year, $20 million deal, per Haynes
Some of the above would’ve been out of Milwaukee’s price range, but given fit and potential upside, I’m not sure many or any of these would outclass what the Bucks bet on with Ingles. There’s risk, but there’s always risk in free agency, and after Horst bet on two HOF level minimum flame-outs last year, I’m fine rolling the dice and seeing if they come up 0.