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Synergy Insight: What advanced play-by-play data says about the Milwaukee Bucks

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball bloggers everywhere mourned when Synergy Sports Technology discontinued its public data service last summer, but thankfully Synergy's pro service is alive and well -- and now SB Nation has access to it. As a sampler of all that Synergy has to provide, we took a cruise through the endless well of Milwaukee Bucks data and picked out some highlights below.

As always, we remind you that no individual stat is a be-all, end-all, and in Synergy's case the data is limited to situations where a player finishes a "play" with a shot, turnover or foul drawn. That tells us plenty about what a player is doing well and not so well, but it's also important to remember sample size and data limitations. Moreover, it's not uncommon to see numbers jump around a fair bit from season to season, so drawing forward-looking conclusions isn't always as easy as it might seem. Enjoy!


Brandon Knight has been terrific as an off-ball scorer.

Knight has put up 1.16 points per play overall in spot-up situations, ranking in the league's 84th percentile, and he's even better when he shoots without a dribble, pouring in 1.31 PPP (87%). That's up dramatically from a year ago, when his spot up numbers were rather pedestrian (0.92).

His P&R numbers are less impressive: Knight is slightly above average as a P&R scorer (55th percentile) but below average in terms of secondary offense, i.e. how effective his teammates are when his passes lead to a shot, turnover or foul (30th percentile). Interestingly, Knight's actually been marginally worse as both a P&R scorer and iso scorer this season compared to last, but his perimeter shooting has more than compensated overall. The reversal in those numbers from last year (improved off the ball numbers, declining "on ball" numbers) provides support to the notion of playing Knight with another ballhandler who can at a minimum share initiating duties. Digging into the P&R data, he's well above average on high P&R plays but well below average on side P&R actions from either the left or right.

Defensively Knight's numbers are good (68th percentile), including 73rd percentile rankings against P&R (41% of plays) and 76th percentile against spot ups (31%).

Jerryd Bayless is OK offensively, but has earned his stripes on the defensive end.

Bayless has never had a rep as a strong defender, but he's in the 85th percentile overall (35.4% allowed) and especially good against the P&R (89th percentile).

OJ Mayo is solid, but not a standout compared to the other Bucks' guards

Mayo is exactly average in overall offense (50th percentile), as his above-average spot up shooting compensates for poorer numbers off screens and as a P&R handler. Defensively it's a slightly better story, though he has plenty of company in the Bucks' highly effective system.

You want Kendall Marshall handling it in transition...or in the post.

Marshall has a rep as P&R guy, and he's certainly good in that department. His P&R derived offense ranked in the 62nd percentile, with his roll men finishing in the 74th percentile. But relatively speaking Marshall's numbers are even more impressive in the post and on the break. In transition, Marshall's possession + assists led to an even 2.0 PPP -- the very best in the league. And there was a good reason Jason Kidd loved giving Marshall looks in the post, as he ranked in the 96th percentile with nearly 1.3 PPP.

Defensively the story is less flattering, as Marshall, Ersan Ilyasova and Jabari Parker are the only Bucks' regular to rank below average overall.

Wings and Forwards

Giannis Antetokounmpo is tough on the left block, but his Synergy numbers are otherwise pretty mediocre.

Antetokounmpo has made 12/22 post shots from the left box, reflecting how dangerous his baby hook shot has become (note: practice makes perfect). But he doesn't stand out in any particular Synergy category -- even in transition he's only 52nd percentile. Defensively it's a similar story, as Giannis has been excellent as a help defender in P&R and middle of the road by virtually every other metric.

Jabari Parker was really transition-dependent

We always think of Parker as a more polished half-court scorer than Giannis, but Synergy's numbers suggest the exact opposite. While Giannis is middle of the road in both departments, Parker was phenomenal in transition (85th percentile) and surprisingly mediocre in halfcourt sets (32nd percentile). Those problems can be tracked to struggles in two categories: he made just 7/26 shots in isolation (4th percentile) and only 23/67 in spot-up situations (34.3%, 12th percentile). The iso numbers seem especially surprising to me, since I don't recall Jabari being that bad in isolation. But keep in mind it's a small sample and some of his iso possessions may be getting lumped in with his good post numbers (50% shooting, 66th percentile).

Defensively, Parker not surprisingly rates below average, mostly driven by what Synergy categorizes as spot-up scenarios (18th percentile, 36% of all defensive plays) and post defense (26th percentile). On the plus side, Parker actually rates extremely well against P&R ball handlers and fared well in isolation, which makes some sense given his lack of size but good mobility.

Khris Middleton is quietly having a terrific season.

Middleton's defensive RPM numbers have done a 180 since last season, as he's gone from one of the league's worst defending wings (-3.50) to the top-rated shooting guard in basketball (+3.25). And his Synergy numbers corroborate it. He rates as good to excellent in every play type other than off screens, and overall opponents are credited as shooting a paltry 37.1% against him.

Offensively it's a similarly strong story. Middleton's been solid to good in most categories and really excelled as a spot-up guy, averaging 1.22 PPP (89th percentile).

Jared Dudley is a Synergy valedictorian.

The more you look into Dudley's numbers, the more mind-boggling last summer's deal with the Clippers becomes. Dudley ranks just behind Middleton in defensive RPM (+3.11, 2nd among players ESPN categorizes as a SG) and not far behind in overall RPM (+3.61, 7th), and his Synergy report card is riddled with the word "Excellent." He's in the 95th percentile in overall offense, including 93rd percentile in transition and 91st percentile in the half court. Interestingly he's well behind both Knight and Middleton as a spot-up guy (1.09 PPP, 76th percentile), but in general there's a lot to love here.

The Bigs

John Henson's post offense is history, but his defense is for real.

Henson ranks in the 97th percentile in overall defense (30.1% allowed), thanks mostly to his excellent ratings as a P&R defender. Interestingly his post defense has not been anything to write home about, as he's only in the 38th percentile there. His RPM data doesn't tell quite such a rosy story (+0.14 defensively, 48th out of 76 centers), but it's a major improvement from a year ago when he ranked dead last among bigs (-2.35).

Offensively he's doing everything off cuts (36% of plays, 78th percentile) and P&R (16%, 90th percentile), while doing very little in the post -- he's made just 5/16 shots out of post situations all year. This is what Zach Lowe was describing in his profile of Henson a few weeks ago, noting that Kidd and the Bucks coaching staff have basically sought to turn him into a Tyson Chandler-style rim roller.

Larry Sanders is still a plus defender.

Remember Larry Sanders? Wile his defensive P&R numbers were surprisingly middling before he went MIA right before Christmas, Sanders' overall numbers are still quite strong (88th percentile). Just don't look at his offensive numbers, in particular his post stats (6th percentile!). Yes, he's as bad on the block as you thought he was.

Synergy's data doesn't seem to capture what Zaza Pachulia brings to an offense, but his defense is solid.

Pachulia's a good example of the limitations of Synergy-style data. Offensively he looks like a disaster (21st percentile), part of which is fair (he can't finish and has a jumper-heavy shot distribution) and part of which isn't (his screening and ability to move the ball aren't fully captured). Defensively the data looks much better: he's in the 75th percentile overall and OK to good in most categories, which meshes with his strong +2.77 DRPM (8th among all centers).

Ersan Ilyasova's defensive numbers don't paint a pretty picture.

Much of Ilyasova's defensive value is in his ability to play scrappy team defense, so his Synergy numbers probably don't reflect his full value. Still, his RPM numbers also paint a well-below-average picture (-1.52 DRPM, 92th out of 101 PFs), which is particularly interesting given he put up decent numbers (-0.07) under Larry Drew's trainwreck system. It's interesting to note that while Ilyasova has been very good as a help defender in P&R (86th percentile), he's terrible against spot-up shooters (4th percentile) and struggled when roll men have gotten it in P&R (also 4th percentile, though on just 13 possessions).

Offensively, Ilyasova has been terrible in P&R (8/34 shooting, 0 percentile), but very good otherwise. He's been very good spotting up (54.1% eFG, 71st percentile) and  phenomenal coming off screens (66% eFG and 97th percentile, albeit on just 22 possessions). And while no one thinks of Ersan as a great transition guy, he's barely missed on the break -- 78% eFG, 1.52 PPP, 96th percentile on 25 possessions.