Jason Kidd: Basketball Savant

Let’s start with an understatement: Jason Kidd has a brilliant basketball mind.

Throughout his 19-year (future) Hall-of-Fame playing career, Kidd was never the tallest, quickest or most athletic.  But he was the sharpest.

Blessed with an outstanding understanding of the game and incredible basketball instincts, Kidd retired second all-time in the NBA in both assists and steals (behind John Stockton) and third all-time in career triple doubles (trailing only the Big O and some guy named Magic).

Today – coaching against the most highly-respected defensive mind in the game – Kidd’s genius shone through yet again, guiding the Milwaukee Bucks to a stunning 92-90 Game 4 victory over Chicago.

I’m sorry Bulls fans, put the brooms away.

Kidd has done a phenomenal job leading these young Bucks to the playoffs this season, after they finished a league-worst 15-67 in 2014 under previous head coach Larry Drew.   Rightly so, Kidd’s efforts earned him 3rd place in this year’s Coach of the Year voting behind Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer and Golden State’s Steve Kerr.

And with only seconds remaining in Game 4, Kidd displayed his genius once again; calling two heads-up timeouts and diagramming a terrific out-of-bounds play for the win.

It began with the timeout; a quick-reaction call after Khris Middleton picked Derrick Rose’s pocket with less than 2 seconds remaining.  There was no soda-spilling required today, Kidd had saved his timeouts for precisely this type of late-game situation.

“Just understanding the moment,” Kidd said postgame.  “We got the stop and, having timeouts late, were able to advance the ball.

Timeouts.  Plural.  Impressively, Kidd had an extra TO up his sleeve which he used to advance the ball into the frontcourt (given that Middleton had played-on prior to the original timeout being called).

Then came the play call.

Kidd knew what the Bulls were thinking: surely the Bucks would go to either Khris Middleton (who hit game winners this season vs. Miami and Phoenix) or OJ Mayo (who had scored 18 points including a pair of final quarter threes).

Nup.  ‘Let’s get ourselves a lay-up’, thought Kidd.

Knowing that Derrick Rose – an often over-anxious defender – would aggressively deny his man the ball, Kidd placed Jerryd Bayless on the weak-side block and had him cut hard towards the strong-side corner.  Occupying the weak-side defenders with Middleton/Mayo decoys, Kidd instructed Bayless to back-cut to the basket.

It was a play-call for the ages.

“We want to make everyone live,” Kidd explained postgame.  “Sometimes late you want to get it to your best guy so you have the other guys just stand around and watch.  Tonight we called something where everybody was moving and everybody was live.”

Sure.  Cool story, bro.  Everyone may have been moving but Kidd knew where the ball was going.  And so did veteran Jared Dudley who was given the job of throwing the inbounds.

“Everybody talks about the shot but it’s the guy who throws the ball in who has to have the nerve to throw that pass and Duds made a heck of a pass,” Kidd added. “Bayless did the important thing by putting it in and I thought he sold the cut very well on Rose.  I thought Rose relaxed for a second and Bayless made a shot.”

It was the perfect crime and Bayless was understandably pumped about pulling it off.

“There was only 1.3 seconds left on the clock so we were just trying to beat them back door,” he explained postgame.  “I was trying to act like I was trying to get to the corner and hopefully [Rose] was going to bite.  He bit on it and Duds made a spectacular pass.  Luckily I was able to finish it.”

Coming out of the timout, though, Bayless wasn’t sure it was going to work.  The guard stopped Dudley to ask a question before his teammate threw the inbounds pass from side court.

“Are you going to look for this?” Bayless asked Dudley. “I told him ‘if you look for it I’m gonna cut hard’.  He told me he would and he made a great pass.”

He sure did.  Dudley’s high-arcing pass was cash-money.  On time and on target.

Rose, who also turned the ball over on Chicago’s final possession, was understandably disappointed postgame.

“Devastating,” Rose said.  “I can’t believe it.”

Not one to pass the buck, Rose accepted personal responsibility for the loss.

“I put that all on me. I just wasn’t paying attention to the ball,” he said.  “It was a great call from JKidd.  If anything, this is a learning experience, knowing that we could’ve forced overtime.  I messed things up but I swear I’m built for it.”

“When you give up a layup for the game winner, it’s hard,” Rose added. “But I’m happy that I’ve got the teammates and coaching staff that I have and, like I said, I really believe that I’m built for this shit.”

Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was less gracious in defeat, refusing to give the Bucks credit for the win.

“We beat ourselves,” Thibs said. “It’s really that simple.”

As for Kidd’s genius final play, Thibodeau wasn’t really interested in discussing it.

“I’m not going to put it on that last play,” he said. “We botched the last play but we botched a lot of plays before that.  We’re going to have to straighten that out.”

Whether Thibs can accept it or not, Kidd coached his ass off in Game 4, just as he’s done each and every day since arriving in Milwaukee 10 months ago.

This series may not extend past Tuesday’s Game 5, and certainly a comeback series victory by Milwaukee is not realistically on the cards, but today was a big win for Kidd and the Bucks.  Unlike Boston and New Orleans, the other rebuilding teams gaining postseason experience this year, Milwaukee has a W in the books.

As rebuilding teams grow into championship-contenders, these types of postseason wins steel their resolve and fortify their confidence in the clutch.

Kidd appreciates its value.

“As a whole we have a long ways ago,” Kidd said. “But I thought with this being a character game, the group in that locker room showed a lot of character by finding a way to get a win.”

“This is a process. Everything from here on out is a bonus. Most of you in here didn’t think we’d make it here anyways.”


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2 Responses

  1. Barbara Ellena at |

    Great coaching. Reminds me of Dean Vickerman, Judd Flavell and Paul Henare in the buzzer beater play they hatched to seal the win in the 2015 ANBL Final Series

  2. […] a fantastic piece by Australian writer Liam Santamaria where I first saw Kidd alongside the word “savant.” Its perfectly sums him up. His […]

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