We're five hundred! We're five hundred! Everybody now!
Things are looking brighter in Milwaukee since we last checked. Milwaukee is now riding a three-game winning streak, including victories over improved Golden State and New York squads and an absolute drubbing of playoff-nemesis Atlanta on their court. And while .500 isn't where we might have liked to be at this time, there's no denying the Bucks have vastly improved from just a week ago. It's obvious in the stats, in the energy during games, and even in the faces and the words of vanquished foes. After last night's game, Monta Ellis had this to say about the winning team:
They made the plays at the end, made baskets, got the rebounds and won the game. That's a playoff team. We knew what to expect when we came here, how they were going to play.
Forcing Turnovers: The Bucks have handcuffed three excellent offenses in a row, thanks at least partly to their ability to create turnovers via steals and tight defense. In their past three games, Milwaukee's opponents have an average turnover rate of 19.4, which has raised the Bucks' defensive turnover rate to 16.2, fourth best in the NBA. They're getting out on the break with pressure on the perimeter (Synergy has Milwaukee ranked number one in transition offensive efficiency) and locking down opposing bigs in the paint (15.7 TO% when defending post-ups). And to confirm your suspicion, yes, Milwaukee does lead the NBA in charges drawn per game with 3.2. Utah is the next at 2.7. Any guesses who, among players averaging at least 10 minutes a game, leads the league in charges taken per 40 minutes? That would be Jon Brockman (2.76), one of only two players averaging more than 2 per 40 minutes (the other is Dallas's Jose Juan Barea with 2.18).
Offensive Rebounding: Although Milwaukee still ranks 21st in the NBA in offensive rebound rate at 25.13, they've been above 30 in each of their past three games, winning the overall battle of the boards each time as well. While they're not scoring very effectively off those rebounds (ranked 22nd by Synergy), just pulling down their own misses is important to disrupting the opponents offense. I was particularly impressed by what I saw out of Drew Gooden and Andrew Bogut during last night's contest versus Golden State. The Drews combined for 11 offensive rebounds and seemed to always be in position for the putback when the other put up a shot. If those two players are developing good chemistry under the hoop, it's a huge boost for Milwaukee's offense.
Post-Up Offense: Sorry guys, as great as you've been defending the post, the offense isn't quite clicking there yet. Part of the issue is just that Milwaukee isn't going to the post as much yet. Bogut is averaging almost four fewer shots per 40 minutes so far this year as compared to last year. Of course, he's still working his way back from the injury, but it doesn't seem to be hurting him too much (he's shooting a career-high 69.2% at the rim). Yet Milwaukee seems reluctant to dump the ball in to him on a regular basis. When Bogut catches the ball deep on the right block, he seems to score every time. The Bucks would be well served to get him the ball there more often.
Assisting: Last week I lamented Milwaukee's lack of ball movement, and while the Bucks' assist rate has been raised to 16.45, they're still not finding each other for open shots with the same regularity as last year. The Bucks are averaging almost 4 fewer assists per game this season, and in the past three games they've only assisted on 21 shots within 10 feet of the rim. If players are able to create their own high-percentage shots, that's great, but without a veritable offensive star, Milwaukee needs to play a different kind of basketball. Synergy currently ranks the Bucks 29th on "cut" plays with a 1.0 ppp. With the Bucks' shooters starting to find their rhythm, the floor spacing should improve, at which point driving lanes should open up for slashers like Maggette, Salmons, and CDR when he returns.