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Is the Bucks defense for real, or is a soft schedule the key?

Larry Sanders and the Milwaukee Bucks have shut down opposing offenses early this season, but is their defensive surge for real?

Andy Lyons

According to the numbers, the Milwaukee Bucks are a top-five defense in the NBA through eight games of the 2014-15 season. But is this early trend part of building an identity, or is it just a matter of circumstance? On the optimistic side of things, you can point to a healthy Larry Sanders to protect the paint, a stable of youngsters to pressure opponents with length and athleticism, and a deep roster of healthy players to ensure crisp rotations on the perimeter. On the pessimistic side of things, you can point to the awful offensive talent the Bucks have encountered at the outset of the year. The Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, and Oklahoma City Thunder all rank in the bottom-third of the league in offensive efficiency so maybe these squads just can't score on anybody.

The Chris Copelands and Tony Wrotens of the world may not be the best measuring bar for a defensive unit, but regardless of the competition, the Bucks have certainly done their job on that end of the floor. If a soft schedule has presented some nice opportunities, Milwaukee has seized them all. The Bucks boast top-five rankings in important sub-categories such as opponent field goal percentage inside five feet, effective field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage. While some of that may be a bit fluky  you can't count on opponents shooting just 70 percent from the free throw line (the second-worst rate for opponents in the league) all season  consistent effort and superior length may be enough of a foundation to build a defensive identity.

We discuss the defense in our latest podcast episode. Frank even throws Ersan Ilyasova a bone!

Download this episode (right click and save)

This is a small podcast chunk, but there's plenty more to come on the offense, Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Brandon Knight in the near future. Let us know what you think about the defense in the comments.