The Milwaukee Bucks' 3-4 record has caught more than a few eyes, particularly after the team handed the Memphis Grizzlies their first loss, a one-point defeat in Milwaukee on Saturday night. With seven games in the books, lets take a look at seven different numbers that tell the tale of the mildly surprising start to Milwaukee's season.
.455 and .231. Those are the three-point percentages of Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton, respectively. Knight has been the Bucks' most accurate long-ranger shooter so far this season, dramatically boosting his efficiency, while Middleton has struggled to find his range thus far. Last year was seen as a down year for Knight's shooting after a pair of solid seasons in Detroit, while Middleton emerged as the Bucks' most reliable threat behind the arc. These early season trends both seem obvious candidates for serious mean reversion, albeit in opposite directions, but Middleton's poor shooting to date is a bit troubling. Whether his struggles are a cause or effect of his somewhat reduced role remains an open question.
19.2. It isn't all rosy for Knight though. His turnover rate has spiked, committing eleven turnovers in the last two games alone despite seeing his usage rate drop. High turnover numbers were arguably the biggest knock on Knight after his first two seasons with the Pistons, and even then he topped out with a 17.3 TOR. Coughing up the ball on nearly a fifth of your possessions is simply unacceptable for a lead guard, and if Knight's improved assist numbers are predicated on a corresponding bump in giveaways, his value as a playmaker will be severely reduced.
13.1. Minutes per game for John Henson. Yeah, that's barely more than a quarter per game. He's eleventh on the team in total minutes played. Zaza Pachulia has appeared in one fewer game but has played seven more total minutes. It's hard to know what to make of Henson, who hasn't played badly by any means--he has a 21.0 PER and the team's best block percentage in his limited time and is once again providing elite offensive rebounding. But Jason Kidd just can't seem to find time for him on the court, despite Larry Sanders playing less than 24 minutes per game himself.
.465. Milwaukee's defensive effective field goal percentage, which ranks 6th in the NBA. If the Bucks are "getting it done" anywhere, it's defensively, and in particular field-goal defense. There's a lot of luck in play with just a seven-game sample, which surely contributes some to the Bucks top-ten mark in opponent three-point percentage. That's generally a more variable number than opposing three-point attempts, where the Bucks rank a less-impressive 19th in the league. But the Bucks also rank in the top ten defending opponents inside the arc, and in general they've been much better about contesting shots under Kidd than they were last year in Larry Drew's dilapidated defensive "scheme."
11.7. The net efficiency differential of Milwaukee's second-most used lineup: Brandon Knight - Jared Dudley - Jabari Parker - Ersan Ilyasova - Larry Sanders. That group has a 108.3 offensive rating and a 96.7 defensive rating in 32 total minutes according to NBA.com Advanced Stats. Those numbers are fueled primarily by unreasonably good three-point shooting (53.8%) and forcing tons of opponent turnovers. The 3P% will fall, but that's a lineup that could continue to force turnovers at a decent rate--Knight, Parker, and Sanders are each averaging at least a steal per game. And on nights when both Ilyasova and Parker are hitting jumpers, it's a lineup that should really be able to score.
-4.07. Milwaukee's Simple Rating System value according to Basketball-Reference.com, which is 22nd overall. The Bucks' 3-4 record has them right in the middle of the pack, but SRS says they're decidedly below average when taking their schedule into account--Basketball-Reference says they've played the 4th-easiest schedule in the NBA so far. Only two of their opponents (Chicago and Memphis) currently rank above league average in SRS. On the bright side, the Bucks have an average margin of defeat of less than a point so far. Last season they lost by an average of 8 points a game. Progress!
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