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Bucks offseason questions: Is the defense ready for the big time?

We reflect on what we've learned about Jason Kidd and the Bucks from a surprisingly fun 2014-15 NBA season. Did the six-game battle with the Bulls show the defensive scheme is ready to compete on the big stage?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA Draft and free agency on the horizon for the Milwaukee Bucks, it's time to reflect on a surprisingly successful season and ask: what did we really learn? A dramatic leap from 15 to 41 wins and a solid showing in the playoffs against a battle-tested Bulls team is enough to demonstrate real progress with this core, but a 120-66 drubbing in Game 6 and an anti-climatic first-round exit serve as good reminders that there's still plenty of work to be done.

In an effort to better understand who the Bucks are and where they are headed in the future, Frank and I sat down to record a massive chunk of offseason podcasts. The aggressive blitzing and hedging scheme deployed by Sean Sweeney becomes the focus of our first episode. An extended playoff series against a refreshed Derrick Rose the Bulls demonstrated that the scheme is more than a clever gimmick. This is good news for a Bucks team in search of a legitimate identity.

We take time in the podcast to discuss why the scheme succeeds. In short, we believe the aggressive style forces opponents into difficult positions by isolating individual players on the floor and challenging those players to identify and execute the correct read under intense time pressure. The Bucks are excellent at disrupting initial offensive actions and pushing opponents late into the shot clock; despite turning it over at a high rate offensively, the Bucks surrendered the fewest fast break points in the league while also forcing the highest share of opponent attempts in the last four seconds of the shot clock (15%). As the ball moves to lesser players on the floor, it becomes more difficult for these one- or two-dimensional talents to execute the proper reads because they lack the requisite passing, dribbling, or shooting skills. This dynamic helps the Bucks dominate opposing bench units (often stocked with single-skill players), but it does raise questions about how the scheme can operate in advanced stages of the playoffs, where more of the opposing players are multi-talented killers capable of exploiting weaknesses in the the corners of the defense.

Are you a believer in the defense going forward? Take a listen to our podcast and let us know what you think.

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