The NBA free agency clock had barely struck 5 Central and already the dust had all but 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 dive into free agency waters, and Jon Horst quickly loaded up his mid-tier taxpayer 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 opinion. We’ve seen Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday lead this team to a title once. With a longer offseason and another bite to eat, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think they can do it again alongside a similar supporting cast. Yes, there’s no PJ Tucker this time around, whose shoe closet just got bigger after signing a big contract in Philadelphia. But the longer the Playoffs lasted, and as the chaos of this summer season kicks in, I feel increasingly confident that the Bucks have a very realistic chance of finding their way back to the NBA Finals.
In our post-season pod, I was convinced that there weren’t so many changes needed to this Bucks list; a healthy Middleton may mean they jump into the final for a chance at another trophy this year, completely reversing our prospects. Even if they hadn’t used the TPMLE, I would have felt really satisfied before the season. Instead, they’ve bet it all on an aging, relatively unathletic (but shrewd!) 34-year-old man coming off his worst shooting season and recovering from a tough injury. On paper, you can say, “huh?”
Luckily, we have the gift of context around these parts, and the reality is that not all out-of-court resources are the same. Workout facilities may differ, the amount of money available to fill one’s bench with assistants fluctuates, and strength and conditioning teams have different strengths. Milwaukee just happens to have one of the league’s leading groups, with Troy Flanagan leading the way and Suki Hobson, voted 2019 Top Strength Coach and ACL Wizard rated, at his side.
Their expertise must make this bet (and it is a bet there is a real possibility that Ingles will suffer a loss and never play) increases the potential chances of success in Milwaukee’s opinion compared to other teams in the league. When I watch Brook Lopez, a whopping 7-footer who injured his back, returns after a full season off and looks as nimble as ever, I can’t help but feel a little confident that they have the horses to pull this off. Sure, they don’t have Ingles’ full medical history in their own building like they do with Brook, but catching him now kicks Ingles out and puts him in the hands of their training staff sooner.
On the field, Ingles appears to be precisely the kind of shrewd and cautious veteran who could benefit this team. Seems to me like the kind of “Horst trades three seconds for this guy” level trade timeframe acquisition that flies under the radar but has significant potential. It’s probably worth looking at it that way too, at least in terms of field production. I doubt he’ll see the ground until the All-Star Break approaches.
While we’ve seen Jon Horst double down on his defense when picking MarJon Beauchamp, we’ve all seen the anemic offensive production that doomed the Bucks’ chances without Khris Middleton against Boston. Ingles is a potential balm on the sunburn that watched Giannis and Jrue desperately head towards defenders. I’d like to point out that Ingles career 40% 3-point percentage on good volume is a bargain, but I’m conditioned as a Bucks fan to assume it’ll hit less than 30% come playoff time.
Here’s the good news with Ingles: at best, he doesn’t just shoot! Yes, we could have someone else who can potentially drive, pick-and-roll and pass people. He’s a great finisher on the rim, at least above 64% by Cleaning The Glass for his entire career, but he also finds ways to involve others. His assist-to-use rate (how often a player gets an assist based on the amount of touches he touches on the ball) has ranked in the 90th percentile or higher among forwards every season. Last year, the only role player to sniff this 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 some real questions, especially given his age and athleticism. I hear the words ‘great team defender’ for him a lot. It’s polite coded language, but it may actually be more useful on a Milwaukee team that not only boasts an elite interior defense (like it had in Utah), but also stubbornness on the perimeter. The Bucks defense is a safer place for him, and his height alone at 6’8″ opens up some interesting combinations if Bud wants to get big. I could see him in smallball lineups or as a more versatile formation in BigBall lineups. with Jrue-Ingles-Khris-Giannis-Brook.
All of the above is, of course, hypothetical. Like I said, there are plenty of scenarios where this goes wrong and Ingles isn’t the same player. But, I felt really comfortable with that Milwaukee team even though they fired it and perhaps made a marginal move during the season. And looking around the league at other players around the Ingles price range, I’m curious who else might have been a better option:
- Ricky Rubio, Cavaliers agree to deal, by Woj. It’s three years, 18 million dollars, by Haynes.
- Bruce Brown, Nuggets agree to $13M+ two-year contract, by Andrews.
- Lonnie Walker IV, Lakers agree to one-year, $6.5 contract, by Shams
- Patty Mills and the Nets agree to a two-year, $14.5 million deal, by Woj
- Thad Young and the Raptors agree to a two-year, $16 million deal, by Haynes
- Dewayne Dedmon and Heat agree to $9 million over two years, by Shams
- Danuel House, 76ers agree to two-year, $8.5 million deal by Woj
- Isaiah Hartenstein and the New York Knicks agree to a two-year, $16 million deal by Shams
- JaVale McGee, Mavericks agree to over three years, $20 million OK, by Haynes
Some of the above would have been out of Milwaukee’s price range, but given the fit and upside potential, I’m not sure many or any of them would outperform what the Bucks are betting on with English. There is risk, but there is always risk in free agency, and after Horst bet on two HOF-level minimum extinctions last year, I’ll just roll the dice and see if they come up with 0.