Last time we looked, the Milwaukee Bucks were starting to turn things around. They were riding their first winning streak of the season and the offense looked invigorated with the sudden arrival of John Salmons, who had apparently forgotten that the regular season starts in late October. While an intimidating matchup with the defending champs loomed large, the near future was bright for the Bucks.
Now? The Bucks officially have the worst offensive rating in the NBA at 97.4, one of only 4 teams below 100. Saturday marked the sixth time they've failed to score more than 85 points in a game this year. Against OKC, two players scored in double figures, despite six Bucks averaging 10-plus points per game.
Granted, two of Milwaukee's latest losses came against teams predicted to battle for the top Western Conference playoff seeds, and the Lakers game wasn't really out of reach until late. But at some point Milwaukee is going to need to capitalize on those close games and make plays down the stretch. When Kevin Durant spends the entire game on the sideline wearing a suit, you've got to take advantage. This is all easy for me to say, I know, but even a casual Milwaukee fan will tell you the exact same things right now. Of course, the Bucks could easily rip off 3 wins this week and get back to .500 by next weekend, at which point I'll be in a much better mood. Until then, though, here's our (day late) weekly look at what's gotten the Bucks to where they are.
Blocks: Defense is not the problem right now, that's apparent. But for what it's worth, Milwaukee has 21 blocks in it's last 3 games. Synergy Sports ranks the Bucks 3rd in the league defending "cut" plays, thanks largely in part to Bogut's ability to stuff shots right under the basket. What's more, Bogut is getting his blocks while avoiding fouls. Among centers averaging 20+ minutes per game, Bogut's .91 blocks per foul is 3rd in the NBA. Andrew gives the Bucks an excellent safety net when defensive rotations aren't crisp or guys get beat on the perimeter.
Drew Gooden: Bad news first: it's tough enough for me to find two positives about the Bucks right now that I'm reverting to individual players who are performing well. Good news: Gooden has been playing extremely well. He's averaging 18 points and over 12 rebounds in his past 3 games, just about the only consistency Milwaukee has seen over that stretch. He's shooting well and playing just the type of game the Bucks were hoping to get out of him, hitting open jumpers when they're available and cleaning up Milwaukee's missed shots at the rim. He also made as many three-pointers last Tuesday as he had in the past 4 seasons combined. With Bogut struggling to get his offense going, Gooden has definitely looked like the Bucks' best offensive player down low of late.
Consistency: Big surprise, huh? I could go into detail about some particular problem plaguing Milwaukee's offense right now, but instead, I'll hit you with a little math. Milwaukee's average ORtg is currently 97.4, and the standard deviation of their ORtg is over 12 points. That might seem like an arbitrary number, and this early in the season, it kind of is. But what it says is that Milwaukee's offense is completely hit-or-miss right now. In the Bucks' 5 wins, their average ORtg is 104.1. In their 8 losses, it's just 93.3. This is all pretty weak data to go on considering the season is barely 15% complete, but it's a pretty good indication of the apparent randomness governing whether Milwaukee's shots find the net. As Dean Oliver explains in his book Basketball on Paper, inconsistency tends to drag teams toward a .500 record. That's great if you're a team that was supposed to struggle, but Milwaukee was a real threat to win 50 games this year. 41 would be a disappointment for everyone.
To Thine Own Self be True: Think back to the game against the Lakers. It was a ton of fun to watch, wasn't it? Trading punches with the defending champs, matching every blow with the absolute juggernaut that is LA's offense, that was something Milwaukee fans don't get to see very often. But was it the best strategy to employ if winning the game was the ultimate goal? Probably not. As Jeremy said over at Bucksketball and Alex echoed here after the game, this is not a team equipped to go toe-to-toe in a shootout. The only way Milwaukee was going to upend Pau and Co. (yes, I used Pau instead of Kobe on purpose) was to tear their offense down and grind out a victory. Didn't happen. It's tough to tell players to change what they're doing when everything they throw at the rim finds its way through, but the big takeaway from that contest was that Milwaukee lost its identity.