Jason Kidd could see impossible passing angles as a player, but as a coach he couldn’t see what was obvious to everyone else: he was holding his own team back.
The Milwaukee Bucks fired Kidd on Monday, ending his three-plus year tenure at the helm of a squad that went from being on the rise in his first season, to plateauing and underachieving by the end.
This wasn’t supposed to be the Bucks’ timeline, especially not with Giannis Antetokounmpo turning into an MVP candidate this season.
But here we are with Milwaukee just barely above .500 at 24-22, sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference and looking nowhere near a contender.
With what their roster and collection of athletes is capable of, there’s no reason why Milwaukee shouldn’t be onto bigger and better things by now.
Yet Kidd’s approach and lack of vision – again, ironic considering his mind-bending vision on the court during his Hall of Fame playing career – was limiting their growth.
It’s not as if Kidd accomplished nothing during his time there. In his first year alone, he took a Bucks side that had won just 15 games the season prior and turned them into a playoff team, notching 41 wins in an impressive turnaround.
And his greatest accomplishment has undoubtedly been developing Giannis into one of the very best players in the league already by the age of 23. Maybe the ‘Greek Freak’ would have been on this individual trajectory anyways, regardless of coach, but Kidd certainly helped maximise his game by putting the ball in his hands more and giving him the reins as a point guard.
It’s no wonder then that Antetokounmpo reportedly offered to help save Kidd’s job when word came out of his firing on Monday.
Aside from Giannis’ rookie season with Larry Drew, Kidd is the only head coach he’s ever professionally played for. The two obviously had a connection – no insignificant feat for Kidd or anyone that has to coach a superstar.
Giannis, however, has yet to experience really good coaching and while he might miss Kidd right now, the Bucks could very well end up benefitting from a change in leadership.
What needs changing immediately is the area where the team suffered from Kidd’s biggest shortcoming: defence.
Since Milwaukee finished with the second-best defensive rating in Kidd’s first season (99.3 points allowed per 100 possessions), they’ve slipped to 22nd (105.7) in 2015-16, 19th (106.4) in 2016-17 and 24th (107.5) this season.
It’s not for lack of ability or personnel as the Bucks, even discounting Giannis, have plenty of length, athleticism and versatility that should translate into one of the better defensive units.
But Kidd’s over-aggressive scheme, which centred on blitzing ball-handlers with two defenders and then zealously jumping out to disrupt passes, tried to do too much.
The thought process behind implementing that defence makes sense: try to take away everything and make it as hard as possible for opposing offences to do the simplest things, eventually wearing them down.
In theory, that defensive approach maximises the attributes of a long, versatile team, and while it may have been an effective concept when Kidd arrived in Milwaukee, it quickly became stale as opponents figured out how to attack it.
The problem with Kidd, however, wasn’t that he ran that defence – it’s that he was hell-bent on sticking with it even though it was clear it was failing them.
And that stubbornness is tied into another factor in Kidd’s downfall: his outward belief that much of the team’s struggles were due to their young age and inexperience.
The average age of Milwaukee’s current roster is 25.8, but their three best players –Giannis (23), Khris Middleton (26) and Eric Bledsoe (28) – aren’t exactly out of their depth.
No, age isn’t the reason the Bucks are in a holding pattern and have yet to take the next step, like so many have expected over the past couple seasons.
The talent is there. A generational superstar is there. It’s an attractive job for any head coach eager to mould a malleable group full of potential.
It just wasn’t going to happen with Kidd.
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