The Milwaukee Bucks are off to their first 2-0 start since the 2005-2006 season, and they've done it with a pair of thrilling performances. A start-to-finish domination of the Boston Celtics in the road opener made everybody sit up and take notice. A buzzer-beating 3 from Brandon Jennings in the home opener made everybody jump out of their seats.
Extrapolation this early in the season is a dangerous game. The victory in Boston was quite convincing, but a missed shot against the Cavs (or one less missed free throw by Cleveland) might have us singing a lamentation of inconsistency. But it only takes two points to form a line, so let's follow that path and see where we end up.
Playmaking. Maybe the best thing the Bucks have had going for them in the past half-season or so has been sensational ball movement. Between the Drew Gooden High-Post Boulevard of Destruction and the Mike Dunleavy Expressway to Success, not to mention the high-octane Jennings-Ellis Transition Thoroughfare, the Bucks have reached heights in team play rivaled only by my road-based punning. With 58 assists through their first two games, representing nearly 72% of their total field goals, that ball movement looks like it hasn't missed a beat.
The Bucks' offense looked best last season when everybody was making extra passes and moving without the ball. And through two games, the roster has continued to embrace that sharing mentality, with 6 different players averaging more than 2 assists per 36 minutes. But the playmaking has been dominated by one guy: Brandon Jennings.
I would warrant, and I expect many would agree, that nothing about Jennings' past two games than has been more impressive than the pass-first mentality he has displayed. He's matched his career high in assists twice in two games despite playing fewer minutes than is typical. He's looked to push the ball in transition at every possible opportunity and is threading passes between defenders like never before. That aggressiveness has brought with it a slight uptick in turnovers--his 15.7 TOR is almost 3 points higher than his career average--but it's a trade well worth making.
While the extra pass is sure to remain a vital tool in Milwaukee's repertoire, Jennings' presumptive breakthrough as a playmaker could open up a world of possibilities. If teams have to respect his passing (which has always been hamstrung more by will than ability), he should find himself open for better shots more often. That should in turn help loosen up half-court defenses, offering the Bucks a wider range of scoring chances.
There's still the question of instinct: as exciting as it has been to watch, I imagine few of us believe Jennings has suddenly become a distributor of Chris Paul's caliber. Even half of what we've seen so far would be a fantastic step. If Jennings has finally learned to exchange a few of those step-back jumpers for drives-and-dishes, this could be the start of something wonderful.
The Stripe. The Bucks' offense currently ranks 11th in points per 100 possessions largely on the back of their 4th-ranked eFG%. They've made 49% of their total attempts and 40% of their three-point attempts, which is great, but they're also 4th-worst at earning free throws and below-average when it comes to giving them up. Earning easy points at the line is key to maintaining an efficient offense, and the Bucks aren't likely to continue hitting from the field at this rate. They'll need to attack the basket more aggressively, and contest shots more effectively, to get their free-throw disparity back in the green.
Maximizing possessions. For as good as they're shooting, the Bucks are slacking when it comes to getting as many shot attempts as possible. Their turnover rate is 3rd-worst in the NBA and they're 4th-worst on the offensive glass. Against Cleveland, those turnovers were particularly killer, as the Cavs racked up 23 points off Milwaukee miscues. And even the less-damaging dead ball TOs have been frustrating, particularly when Samuel Dalembert fumbles away a dunk off a slick wrap-around pass from Monta Ellis. Ersan Ilyasova's 12.0 ORR is solid, but he's the only player over 6.0. When Milwaukee's shots aren't finding the bottom of the net, it'll become crucial to get a lot more of them.