The big knock on the Bucks the last two seasons: They were too stylistically inflexible to adjust through a deep playoff run.
Meanwhile, the Rockets stood out for their versatility. Though James Harden and Chris Paul/Russell Westbrook drew most attention, P.J. Tucker was absolutely critical to Houston’s small-ball identity.
Now, the Bucks hope Tucker will bring that element to Milwaukee.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
At his best, Tucker can defend every position and space the floor as a corner 3-point shooter. That player would be a big addition to the Bucks, who’ve experimented with more switching this season. Milwaukee would no longer have to rely solely on center Brook Lopez packing the paint (or worse, playing out of his comfort zone on the perimeter).
But Tucker hasn’t played anywhere near that level this season.
Always playing a limited role offensively, he has become a nonentity on that end. He’s barely involved, and when he is, he’s not connecting. Tucker has a usage rate of just 7.7% (lowest in the NBA among qualified players). Despite that extreme selectivity, he’s shooting just 31% on 3-pointers.
Tucker is averaging just 6.9 points per 100 team possessions. The only rotation regulars with scoring rates that low in the last decade: DeAndre Liggins (2017-18) and Ben Wallace (2011-12)… in their final NBA seasons.
Tucker’s defense also isn’t nearly as sharp. Just a couple years ago, Tucker belonged on an All-Defensive team. He got plenty of votes last season, too. Now, his defensive estimated plus-minus has dropped below league average.
Tucker was obviously miserable in Houston. A change of scenery could do him wonders.
But he’ll turn 36 before the playoffs and played big minutes the last few seasons. Milwaukee shouldn’t assume Tucker will suddenly return to form.
This trade wasn’t just about acquiring Tucker, though.
The Bucks – who told Giannis Antetokounmpo they were willing to pay the luxury tax then got him to sign his super-max extension – now fall below the tax line. The tax isn’t determined until the end of the season. Milwaukee filling its roster and Jrue Holiday achieving some of his incentives could push the Bucks back into the tax. But this was a payroll-reducing trade.
Milwaukee paid with two de facto pick exchanges:
The Bucks downgraded from their 2021 first-rounder (currently on pace to be No. 25) to Houston’s second-rounder (currently on pace to be No. 33).
The Bucks downgraded from their 2023 first-rounder to their 2022 first-rounder (which Houston owned). Milwaukee is good now and could remain good both years. But the further-out pick offers more variance.
Considering the upside Tucker offers and room below the hard cap to re-fill the roster, the Bucks’ cost is justified.
Milwaukee also unloads some jetsam in the deal. Backup point guard D.J. Augustin has underwhelmed this season. D.J. Wilson and Torrey Craig haven’t cracked the rotation.
With a $7 million salary next season and $333,333 guaranteed the year after that, Augustin, 33, seemingly carried negative value. Wilson and Craig are on expiring contracts.
Craig could provide perimeter defense for the Suns. However, Phoenix already has good forward depth with Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson.
Wilson, the No. 17 pick in the 2017 draft, could be a flier for Houston. He has had brief inspiring moments. But he’s fighting an uphill battle to get his qualifying offer next summer.
For the Rockets, this was primarily about improving draft position in exchange for an aging player.
Milwaukee might not be done yet. The Bucks could flip Houston’s second-rounder. They were previously inhibited from trading a pick that high after trading so many future first-rounders for Holiday.
With open roster spots, expect Milwaukee to target a backup point guard to replace Augustin. The available first-rounder allows the Bucks to aim higher than the buyout market.
The Bucks took an early victory lap by trading for Jrue Holiday (and, they thought, Bogdan Bogdanovic). But the 76ers fortified their team, and the Nets really escalated the Eastern Conference arms race by trading for James Harden.
Now, Milwaukee is clawing back.