Rematch. The Bucks surprised everyone when they marched into Boston and blew out the C's on opening night, but it hasn't proven the Celtic wake up call you might have expected. Boston's two wins this season both came in fairly narrow fashion against the Wizards, and they didn't impress anyone with a 106-100 home loss to the Andrew Bynum-less Sixers last night. We've seen this team rope-a-dope its way through long stretches of regular season play in previous years, but could it finally come back to haunt them this year?
Offensively, the Celtic attack has unsurprisingly revolved around Rajon Rondo (15.6 ppg, 14.0 apg!), Paul Pierce and (20.0 ppg) and the evergreen Kevin Garnett (15.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg), but their normally stout defense has struggled through five games, ranking just 19th in overall efficiency and 25th in eFG% allowed. It's interesting to see that they're still 1st overall in defensive rebound rate (79.1%) given their lack of big man depth, but Garnett and Pierce have been particularly excellent on that end. The fact that they've given up so many points while minimizing second-chance opportunities also speaks to how poorly they've defended the first shot.
Four factors. Speaking of rebounds, Alex has a great read over at Bucks.com on the importance of rebound rates, and it's been particularly relevant through four games: after ranking 25th on the defensive boards a year ago, the Bucks are 2nd in that category right now. They've also done a nice job forcing turnovers (9th), but they remain stuck in the lower half of the league in eFG% allowed and opponent free throw rate, hence their middling 13th ranking in defensive efficiency at the moment.
On the offensive side, the Bucks have made shots at a strong and perhaps unsustainable clip (7th in eFG%) despite converting at the second worst rate in the league at the rim (55%). They've made up for some of that on volume however (short shots are always good, even if you don't make as many as you should), and they've also shot well from deep (6th in three point fg%) as well as in the Beno range: they're third and second in fg% from 3-9 feet and 10-15 feet, respectively. However, they've struggled on the offensive boards, haven't gotten to the line and have done a poor job taking care of the ball, with the latter being the most surprising.
The Mike and Larry Show. All the talk about the Bucks coming into the season seemed to focus on Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but the reality is that the shooting duo of Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Dunleavy was more important to the Bucks' success in the last few months of the 11/12 season. They're not as exciting, but that's a separate question.
It's been a similar story through four games, though Larry Sanders has unseated Ilyasova as the team's underrated/over-producing big man. Though they couldn't be more different stylistically, both Sanders and Dunleavy are scoring at exceptionally efficient rates (true shooting percentages above 70%), rebounding like they never have before and generally helping the Bucks' reserves annihilate opponent benches. Their shooting percentages (and Dunleavy's rebounding) are destined to come down as our sample size grows, but if you're looking for the Bucks' current most valuable players, start with them.
And while Ellis has been underwhelming and Jennings has come back down to earth the past two games, it's Ilyasova who has been the Bucks' biggest disappointment to date. After re-signing for a guaranteed $32 million over the summer, Ilyasova has been the anti-Dunleavy in shooting a measly .314/.308/.333 and hauling in just 12.4% of available rebounds (down from 17.6% last year) through four games. Fellow starter Sam Dalembert has also struggled to pin down regular minutes, though he's looked better the past two games despite seeing 15 minutes or less in each of the Bucks' four games to date.
Thankfully, Ilyasova's numbers are also destined for some mean regression, but it'd be nice to see it happen sooner rather than later. Same goes for Dalembert, though his game shouldn't be subject to the same inconsistency that you'd expect from a shooter like Ersan.