What's Working, What's Not - Nov. 7 2010

Well, this sucks.

7 games in, Milwaukee probably didn't expect to be three games under .500 and sitting near the bottom of the standings in their division and conference. They probably didn't expect to be clocking in as one of the worst teams in the NBA by a host of offensive measures. And they definitely didn't expect to be responsible for the lonely "1" in the Minnesota Timberwolves' win column.

So what's going on in Milwaukee? The organization made it a point to soup-up the offense last summer, and yet the Bucks' offense has been pretty horrendous. Is that the only reason for the mess in Mil-town? To get some perspective on the team as it stands, let's take a look at what the Bucks and doing well and what's holding them back. JUMP!

What's Working?

Defense, in General: Believe it or not, Milwaukee is still playing solid defense. The ultimate at-a-glance defensive statistic, Defensive Rating, has the Bucks ranked #6 in the NBA with a 98.8 DRtg, well below the league average 102.9 (lower is better). Milwaukee also ranks second in Defensive Rebound Rate, sixth in defending the three-point line, and tenth in opponent True Shooting Percentage. The Bucks, for what it's worth, are not losing games under their own basket.

Getting to the Line: Arguably the worst team in the NBA when it came to earning and making free-throws last year, the Bucks have shown visibly improvement through 7 games. Milwaukee ranks 8th in Free-Throw Rate so far and is attempting over 26 foul shots per game, compared to only 20 per game last season. The shots have been coming from a lot of different places, too: Brandon Jennings is making two more trips to the stripe per game than he did last year, while Andrew Bogut is currently eclipsing his career-high in free-throws per game. Granted, missed free throws have really hurt the Bucks already this year, but drawing fouls is never a bad thing.

What's Not?

Shooting, Shooting, Shooting: Milwaukee's shooting has, to be honest, left me speechless. Currently the third-worst shooting team in the league, the Bucks' inability to put the ball in the hoop has been simply maddening at times. According to Hoopdata.com, Milwaukee should have an eFG% of 50% given their shot distribution, if they shot just average from each spot on the floor. Instead, the Bucks have an atrocious eFG% of 44.1. This isn't a team made up of bad shooters, and yet Andrew Bogut, Earl Boykins, and Jon Brockman are the only players shooting .500 or better. A whopping eight players are missing over 60% of their shots right now, including three of the starting five. Poor shooting absolutely murders any offense; no matter how well the plays are run or what kind of mismatches are created, if the shots aren't falling, nothing matters.

Ball Movement: The Bucks' lack of go-to scorers and guys who could create their own shot has been taken to the opposite extreme so far this year. Milwaukee's assist rate has plummeted to 15.53, almost 4 points below the league average. Perhaps out of frustration; perhaps because they've already faced some staunch defenses, the Bucks are reverting to isolation plays, reckless drives to the basket, and contested long jumpers far more often than they should be. Again, when players are struggling to make shots, the whole offensive rhythm is thrown out of whack, but that's no excuse for settling for bad shots.

To be sure, this is a team built on defense, and that defense is already establishing itself as one of the best in the league. Still, if the offense can't take advantage of the opportunities it creates, the Bucks are flat-out not going to win basketball games. Milwaukee's coaching staff needs to figure out a way to snap the players out of this offensive funk, and they need to do it soon. Whether this means a different approach in practice or a change in offensive strategy, something absolutely needs to change. It's a long season, certainly, but for a team that finally earned high pre-season expectations this year, the current state of things just isn't going to cut it.

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