If the Milwaukee Bucks deserve some praise for performing like a top-five defensive team in the early portion of the 2014-15 NBA season, then they probably also deserve some criticism for posting 76ers-esque efficiency on offense. Through eight games, the Bucks rank 2nd in defensive efficiency and 29th in offensive efficiency, according to the precise possession-based metrics at Nylon Calculus. The positive effect of their defensive performance is wholly counter-balanced by their struggles on offense — in fact, the 99.6 points per 100 possessions mark on each side of the ball puts their net efficiency at zero. We covered why things are going so well on defense in the previous podcast episode, so now it's time to examine the scoring struggles of Jason Kidd's squad.
If you had told me prior to the season that Jerryd Bayless (60.0% TS), Giannis Antetokounmpo (56.4% TS), John Henson (56.1% TS), Brandon Knight (55.1% TS), and O.J. Mayo (53.2% TS) would be scoring this efficiently, I'd have guessed the offense would be at least an average unit. Obviously, that's not the case. So what's going wrong?
First of all, the Bucks are repeating some of the basic systemic mistakes that plagued them last season. They aren't good at drawing fouls (28th-ranked in FT attempt rate), they aren't hitting enough shots as a group (25th in eFG%), they aren't attempting enough threes (23rd in 3PT attempt rate), and they have a tendency to get sloppy with the ball (25th in TOV%). Those are the things that stick out when you look at the team stats on Basketball-Reference.com. The saving grace of the unit is offensive rebounding (5th-ranked in offensive rebound rate), but that's not enough to keep the offense afloat.
From a shot allocation perspective, at least Jason Kidd has the Bucks taking more restricted-area and corner-three shots than they did under Larry Drew. But Kidd's squad is also more talented than the injury-riddled group Drew was asked to coach up the previous year, so there are ultimately more questions than answers.
Here are a few questions we explore in the podcast posted below:
Is a team with Larry Sanders doomed to be below average on offense? Our favorite stone-handed tube man is a valuable asset on defense, but ESPN's Real Plus-Minus metric has him pegged as one of the 20-most destructive offensive players in the NBA. He's been even worse than normal to start this season. His shot chart speaks for itself.
On the other end of the spectrum, what can we make of Brandon Knight's early offensive surge? He's posting excellent individual numbers (17.4 PPG on 55.1% TS and 27.4 USG%, 6.9 APG with a 38.1 AST%, and 6.1 RPG), but the team offense hasn't been stellar when he's on the floor (88.5 pts / 100 poss ON vs. 112.4 pts / 100 poss OFF). Here's Knight's shot chart, but keep in mind that he's drawing a ton of fouls that don't show up on these charts:
Our Knight-center discussion starts at roughly the 18-minute mark and takes up the remainder of the podcast. He presents a tricky case, because he's doing everything he can to boost the offense but maybe there just isn't enough talent in the starting unit to make it work. If you can't accept this production from Knight as inherently good, are you possibly misplacing your anger a bit? Maybe you should be mad at GM John Hammond for not bringing in enough offensive talent. Consider this: If Knight sat out for a few games, who on this team could get their own shot in his absence? Our Knight discussion circles back around to cover some confusing clutch scoring numbers from 2012-13 and 2013-14. Here are those clutch shot charts for your reference:
There aren't any easy answers when it comes to fixing Milwauke's offense, but hopefully our discussion gets you set in the right direction. Enjoy.