After a month of lackadaisical defense and blowout losses, the Milwaukee Bucks have played two straight weeks of (dare I say it?) mostly good defense.
It's probably important that I say that before a tough weekend back-to-back against the Raptors and Warriors, but it's true: after ranking dead last for most of the season's first month, the Bucks' defense has ranked fourth in the NBA over the past seven games. That's not a big sample of course, but it's easily the longest stretch of effective defense we've seen from the Bucks all season, and it's the first time the Bucks have managed to corral defensive rebounds with any consistency (7th). As we note in our second podcast below, Alex Boeder at Bucks.com noted some really interesting stats earlier this week on the Bucks' rim protection, all of which look curiously similar to last season.
So what's changed? Well, it's probably not a coincidence that the Bucks' improved play began two weeks ago in Charlotte, the day that Jason Kidd threw up his hands and benched Michael Carter-Williams and Jabari Parker in favor of Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo. And while the Bucks are a modest 3-4 since Kidd's desperation move, it's difficult to argue with the results. Aside from a blowout loss in San Antonio, the Bucks have generally been competitive throughout the streak, improving their defensive effort while overcoming a slew of injuries to key members of their backcourt. Not that improvement has or will be easy, especially with teams adjusting to the Bucks overloading style. Zach Lowe writes:
It's the same strategy smart teams used to solve Miami's blitzing defense during the final LeBron season, and Kidd views the league's adjustment as part of Milwaukee's growth process. The Bucks aren't going to overhaul their scheme; they need to get better at it. "We knew the league would catch up," Kidd says. "We just have to use our speed, and our length."
Jabari is not surprisingly (and thankfully) now back in the starting five, though MCW has remained in a sixth man role despite injuries to every other point guard on the Bucks roster. Starting a shooting guard over MCW would have seemed unlikely a month ago, but for now it's making a fair bit of sense: Mayo provides spacing and enough defensive mettle to spark the Bucks' otherwise shooting-challenged frontcourt, while MCW's mercurial talents are appearing increasingly well suited to a reserve role. In our latest podcast, we dive into the MCW vs. Mayo topic, and in Part II (also below) we look deeper into the Bucks' defensive improvement and ponder how they might match up with the unbeatable Warriors on Saturday. Audio below or subscribe to us on iTunes here.