Jason Kidd's departure from the Brooklyn Nets was painted with a variety of different words all rooted in the same tone. If Kidd wasn't outwardly called selfish for manufacturing his way out of Brooklyn and into Milwaukee, the idea was strongly suggested.
Kidd made a power play, plain and simple, by trying to overthrow his boss, Billy King. It was a ploy depicted as egomaniacal and maybe even a little crazy. Kidd had just finished his first year as a head coach, but he was still shameless enough to channel one of the great minds from another sport. Much like Bill Parcells, if Kidd was cooking the meal, he'd like to be able to buy the groceries, too.
Seven months later, it appears that Kidd wasn't self-absorbed as much as he was forward-thinking. While the Nets have traded away every future draft pick for an aging roster that wasn't good enough to get past the second round of the playoffs in the East, the Bucks have an appealing young foundation. After finishing 15-67 a year ago, Milwaukee now sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Kidd has quickly built the Bucks in his image.
It was a transition that continued on Thursday when Milwaukee shoehorned its way into a buzzer-beating deal to land the team a new point guard. Brandon Knight is out and Michael Carter-Williams is in.
Knight was having a fine season for the Bucks, but his impending restricted free agency meant he was about to see a hefty pay raise. Milwaukee saw an opportunity to make a move when Goran Dragic's trade demand set off an explosion of activity around the league and jumped at the chance to swap essentially swap Knight for the second-year point-guard from the Philadelphia 76ers, some frontcourt depth in Miles Plumlee and prospect Tyler Ennis.
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The acquisition of Carter-Williams is the continuation of a trend Milwaukee has been developing since Kidd's arrival. Carter-Williams is another long, rangy athlete capable of defending multiple positions. He'll fit right in with Kidd's Bucks.
The defensive evolution of the Bucks under Kidd has been nothing short of remarkable. This was a team that finished as the second-worst defense in the NBA last year. This season, they're second best. Carter-Williams arrives with the second-best defense regularized adjusted plus minus among point guards in the NBA (Knight was No. 39). Much like the rest of Milwaukee's roster, he has long arms and forces a ton of turnovers.
Just how long are the Bucks? Here's a look at length of the players Kidd can throw out:
The construction of this roster might remind you of the only team ahead of Milwaukee in defensive efficiency right now: the Golden State Warriors. Golden State made its own jump up the defensive rankings by placing an emphasis on wingspan and athleticism over pure height. David Lee was out, Draymond Green was in. At 6'7, Green is woefully undersized to defend NBA power forwards, but he has a 7'1 wingspan, bountiful athleticism and a fearlessness that belies his lack of height.
Golden State is the closest a team has come to achieving the fever dream of the modern NBA: a squad that can switch every assignment defensively and smother the opposition with long arms reaching from every part of the court. Milwaukee is just taking that one step further.
Of course, there's one major difference between Golden State and Milwaukee. The Warriors have the Splash Brothers, the Bucks have Middleton and a lot of unproven shooters around him. Carter-Williams fits right in there, too. For all of his gifts as a playmaker and defender, he's the type of point guard other teams will bait into taking deep jump shots.
Something about that must be endearing to Kidd. For the first few years of his career, Kidd picked up an unflattering nickname: Ason Kidd, because he had no J. By the end of his playing days, Kidd was a knockdown shooter and is now No. 5 on the NBA's all-time list of three-pointers made. That's the type of transformation Carter-Williams needs to make. The master has found his apprentice.
NBA Trade Deadline
When do the 76ers start building something?
The 76ers flipped two members of their young core for more draft picks. At what point will they settle on making the best of the talent they have?
NBA Trade Deadline
Philadelphia was seven points per 100 possessions better defensively with Carter-Williams on the floor, though it gave some of that back on the other end. With his help, the Sixers climbed into the top half of the league in defensive efficiency, ahead of even a normal juggernaut like the Chicago Bulls. The arrival of Carter-Williams is only going to make the Bucks better on that end. With a thoroughbred athlete like Antetokounmpo in the mix, it's easy to see the Bucks turning defense to offense in a hurry.
As a player, that was Kidd's M.O. as well. He has the second most steals of any player in NBA history. He spent years as an unreliable shooter, but no one was better at probing a defense for holes with the ball in his hands or pressing ball handlers defensively. Carter-Williams admittedly has a long way to go as a player, but under Kidd's tutelage and within the Bucks' forest of length, there's a better chance for development in Milwaukee than inside of Philadelphia's wretched ecosystem.
If Kidd can do this much this fast with the Bucks defense, it's scary to think how the future could unfold. Imagine Parker as the prodigious scorer, Antetokounmpo as the swiss army knife and Middleton as the prototypical three-and-D guy with Carter-Williams running the show and everyone causing havoc defensively.
Wingspan might not be a market inefficiency for long, but the Bucks just laid a foundation based on length and youth that could be a problem in the East for years to come.