The ball will be back in the air very soon, so let's take a look at what the Milwaukee Bucks are made of right now. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
As the NBA 2011-2012 season rapidly approaches and off-season activities like free agency and the trade season begin in earnest, I want to provide fans with a different type of Milwaukee Bucks team preview. The idea is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the roster through a visual representation of salient statistics and create a snapshot of how players performed relative to positional league averages last season.
The analysis flows from grappling with the complete picture of the team, continues with the identification of team needs for free agency, and culminates in recommendations on which players and what sets the offense should be centered around.
I have researched and indexed player stats relative to the relevant positional league average, meaning that a score of 100 is average for each player at his respective position. Anything less than 100 is lower than the average (in red), and anything greater than 100 is higher than the average (in green). Usage and %Ast do not have assigned colors since they are both more value-neutral, or perhaps more accurately, they require a case-by-case assessment.
Ex: Beno Udrih had a TS% of 58.8 in 2010-11, and the average TS % for all PGs for the season was 53.3... (58.8 / 53.3)*100 = an index score of 110. This means Udrih had a TS% 10% higher than an average PG in 2010-11. Easy enough, right? Let's take a look at the 2011-12 team preview...
|Advanced Stats Glossary (The unklchuk special)|
|True Shooting Percentage (TS%)- A player's shooting percentage weighted to account for free throws and 3-pointers. An accurate expression of shooting efficiency.||Usage Rate (USG) - the number of possessions a player uses during his time on the floor.|
|Percentage of FGs Assisted (% AST) - The percentage of a player's total made field goals that are assisted by a teammate.||Free Throw Attempts per Field Goal Attempts (FTA/FGA): Measures how well a player draws shooting fouls and gets to the free throw line relative to the shots they take.|
|Total Rebound Rate (TRR): The percentage of total available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor.||Assist Rate (AR): the percentage of a player's possessions that ends in an assist.|
|Offensive Rebound Rate (ORR): The percentage of total available offensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor.||Turnover Rate (TOR) - the percentage of a player's possessions that end in a turnover.|
|Defensive Rebound Rate (DRR): The percentage of total available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor.|
The Bucks failed to set the world on fire shooting the ball last season, so it shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise that the team doesn’t grade out well from this perspective. The three players added via trade in the offseason, Beno Udrih, Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston, are all among the most effective options on the Bucks roster when it comes to shooting numbers, so the injection of new blood should help lift the Bucks out from the cellar.
Beno Udrih and Jon Brockman posted above-average numbers in overall shooting efficiency (TS%), but that’s the end of the list for the Bucks, and if we are all being honest Brockman’s numbers won’t/don’t really matter just due to lack of volume. Fans shouldn’t expect any miracles on offense, but the best hope for improvement short of Brandon Jennings taking a massive jump in his game is for Udrih to transform into a focal point of the offense. Perhaps the two-PG option that worked so well with Luke Ridnour around will live on.
Looking at the index chart, Beno is above average at all five shooting ranges, with particularly amazing production at the rim and from 10-15ft. It blows my mind to see it, but he is the only Bucks player who shoots higher than his positional average finishing at the rim. The roster generates a positive impression for shooting from 10-15 ft and from 16-23 ft, yet the latter range is the longest two-point shot on the court and shouldn’t exactly be the bread and butter of an offense with aspirations of becoming passable. On the flip side, Brandon Jennings and Drew Gooden need to either limit their shot attempts or drastically improve (or in Gooden's case stay healthy), because they were both pretty terrible from everywhere on the court.
The Bucks do grade out well in terms of ball security, which is important if they aren’t going to light the nets on fire. This area of strength is stealthy because it might actually stem from a lack of good creators and isolation players, but the value of protecting the basketball cannot be denied and should be celebrated. Given the amount of time Brandon Jennings had the ball in his hands in 2010-11, it is both amazing and laudable to see such a strong indication of good ball protection from the young PG. There can be no doubt he should be trusted to initiate offense, and it might be a sign of untapped potential as a distributor. Likewise, Udrih also fits the profile of a careful ball handler that won’t get the offense into trouble, so everyone should want the ball in the hands of either player. A red flag pops up on Stephen Jackson, however, as he turns the ball over at a pretty high rate.
When it comes to creating one’s own shot (%Ast), Andrew Bogut’s post game is something that once again needs to be emphasized as an effective way to initiate offensive sets. It always feels like the team forgets to get touches to the big man early in possessions, but maybe last season’s offensive debacle has led to some important soul searching. Not only does Bogut create a large chunk of his looks on his own, he rates as above average from 3-9 ft and is a terrific passer who takes care of the ball extremely well (low TOR) while getting good looks for others (high AR).
Early entries to Bogut allow for pinch-post looks (which looks like a handoff / back cut option with a wing player cutting off the post player and releasing out to the weak side) where the Aussie can assess his passing options from the mid to low post and then turn and face the basket to attack with either hand. So if you want to scream at your television during a Bucks scoring drought, make sure you yell something like "initiate the offense with a pinch-post look to Bogut in the mid to low post or I’m going to throw something!"
Outside of general team defensive efficiency, this is the Bucks’ strength. Expect Milwaukee to control the boards, as nearly everyone on the roster does something on the glass better than an average NBA cohort (for the lone disappointing rebounder on the roster see: Sanders, Larry). This is particularly impressive when you consider that players compete for rebounds both against opponents as well as teammates--in other words, you would expect players to see their rebounding stats fall when their teammates are all above average. Two pleasant surprises in terms of rebounding prowess are offseason additions Shaun Livingston and Stephen Jackson, and both players should help to bolster the team advantage.
The Bucks will rarely be outperformed by an opponent on the defensive glass, and the contributions of Livingston, Ilyasova, LRMAM, Brockman, Bogut and Gooden will keep the team competitive on the offensive glass. When so much effort goes into quality defensive possessions, it should come as a comfort to Bucks fans to know that the team will capitalize on their hard work by snaring misses at a high rate.
Even though red marks are all over the offensive categories on this roster index chart, the first point of emphasis is to remind fans that this general collection of players will likely produce a team defense in the top tier of the NBA. Don’t underestimate this element, because point prevention is equally important as point creation.
When it comes to offense, I don’t care how they do it, but the Bucks clearly need to add more efficient options at SG and SF and also need to find someone who can score effectively at the rim and from 3-9 ft. If Hammond cannot find cheap additions or reasonable trade offers that would fit this mold, Skiles must shape the offense to run through Beno Udrih and flow to Andrew Bogut to generate points in the paint. The pinch-post looks with Bogut could emerge as doubly effective if the Bucks ever added a true three-point specialist, so that might be the most reasonable request when it comes to cheaper free agent options.
A pick-and-roll tandem of Udrih and Bogut seems like a perfect staple of the offense, with some combination of Stephen Jackson, Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and Carlos Delfino waiting on the wings for spot-up threes and/or long twos. If Jennings and Udrih are both on the floor, Jennings should lead the pick-and-roll with Bogut and free up Udrih for mid-range and three-point spot up opportunities. Meanwhile, LRMAM and Brockman are good candidates for short-corner looks as safety valves for offensive sets, because they both contribute their best offense from the 10-15 ft range and do extremely well crashing the offensive boards.