The Bucks played far better in faster-paced games last season, despite being the sixth-slowest team in the NBA judging by pace factor. I wrote about this phenomenon extensively throughout last season when I started making the connection, because the numbers were so striking: In Milwaukee's 41 fastest-paced games, they went 23-18. In their slowest 41 games, they went 12-29.
Last year's Bucks were the slowest-paced team Scott Skiles has ever coached, and their inability to push the ball plagued them badly in transition, where they finished last in the NBA averaging 10.0 fastbreak points per game. On Media Day, I asked Skiles if becoming a more up-tempo team is a point of emphasis this upcoming season.
Skiles: "There has never been a moment where I have been a coach anywhere where that has not been a point of emphasis. We are looking to peel that thing off the board, push the ball up quickly, if a good shot presents itself early in the clock, we want to take it. But we want to make it. If you make your share of those, it's incredible what happens."
Hopefully this time Milwaukee will practice what they preach, because the team's many defensive stops can and should be converted to offense quickly and efficiently, if the Bucks are to take major steps forward.
While full of flaws, the dearly departed Keyon Dooling (led team shooting 65.3 % at rim), Corey Maggette (best And1 % on team), and Chris Douglas-Roberts (shot better than Brandon Jennings in transition) were not necessarily the chief culprits here.
So, what might prepare Milwaukee to thrive in transition? Well, we have heard a lot about how a number of the newcomers -- Stephen Jackson, Beno Udrih, Shaun Livingston, Tobias Harris, Mike Dunleavy, etc. -- are capable ballhandlers and passers for their size and positions. Logically, that should position the team well on the hypothetical fastbreak -- provided someone is there to finish.
Skiles: "That could happen. We had a pretty good year with Luke and Brandon playing together. And Beno is a bigger player than Luke even. And Shaun has tremendous length and size. One thing that Brandon has proven he is good at - not just one, but - in that type of lineup, is if he doesn't have the ball in his hand, Brandon's best shot is his spot-up three. It's not his dribble-three, or step-back three, some of those shots that he takes that frankly probably aren't as good of shots. But you have to have somebody then who has the ball in their hands able to get the ball to Brandon. So both of the guys for sure are penetrating type players that will kick the ball out. So in theory, yes, any of those guys can play with Brandon."
Jennings shot 36.9 % on on spot-up threes, much better than his 32.3 % mark overall from long range, according to Synergy Sports. But he also only shot 29.6 % on 100 three-pointers in transition, so he would be wise to cut down on those attempts, which are usually off the dribble and always feel wonderful when they splash in but in reality rarely do.
Skiles: "Jax and Mike are both more threes than twos, but they both have enough versatility, the way we structure things anyway, that they kind of are interchangeable and it doesn't really matter. Both can shoot and score, both guys can put the ball on the floor. Shaun, Beno, we have a lot of versatility there. The question will be how it all fits together."
Mike Dunleavy's best season as a pro was when the Pacers ranked third in pace in 2007-08. And after just two days in town with his new team, Dunleavy was already looking forward to playing an up-tempo style.
Dunleavy: "We can push the ball, play a lot of offense."
Drew Gooden also echoed the speed theme, quickly answering a question about how the team can improve offensively by saying the team plans to run more this season.
Gooden: "Our achilles heel was we didn't capitalize on turnovers. Turnovers lead to easy transition baskets, and I think we didn't take advantage of the turnovers that we forced. So I think that is something we are going to emphasize this year, is getting out on the break, and trying to get 4-6 points on layups, that could win a lot of games for us."
That transition basketball was on the tip of so many tongues was heartening to hear. Milwaukee lost 10 games by four points or fewer and 16 games by six points or fewer last season. They also averaged 10.0 fastbreak points per game last season. Averaging 14.0 fastbreak points per game would have tied them for 12th in the NBA, which theoretically could have provided 10 or 11 more wins. What would 11 additional wins have accomplished? A 46-36 record -- same as 2009-10. Obviously, it's not that simplistic of a situation... but it is simple to see that it is past time to pick up the pace.