Sometimes in basketball you need numbers. They aren't always necessary, but often they provide a better understanding of something than the naked eye.
In this case of the Milwaukee Bucks, they can help explain why the team has struggled to a disappointing 22-32 record at the All-Star break -- and what we might reasonably expect over the remainder of the season. Here are 20 intriguing numbers from the Bucks' first half of basketball:
Last season the Bucks had a defensive rating of 99.3 at the All-Star break, which was third in the league behind the Warriors and Spurs. That number this year is 106.0, with the Bucks having spent the entire season near the league's bottom. There have been glimpses of improvement, but those glimpses are usually closed the following game.
The Bucks were fifth in the NBA last season in defended field goal percentage at 43.6, only trailing the Warriors, Wizards, Pacers and Bulls. That number has jumped to 45 percent so far this season and has pulled them down to 18th in the league.
While the Bucks rank 29th in both three pointers made (5.5 per game) and attempted (15.9), Milwaukee's defense allows 9.3 makes from deep per game and 25.8 attempts. Both of those marks are bottom six in the NBA.
The Bucks have hit a total of 296 3-pointers so far this season, which ranks 29th among teams in the NBA. Milwaukee is also 29th in threes attempted and made per game, only trailing the Minnesota Timberwolves. Fun fact: Golden State's Stephen Curry has made 245 3-pointers this season by himself.
The Bucks have failed to keep pace (pun intended) with the rest of the NBA when it comes to pushing the ball. At 96.3, Milwaukee's pace ranks 23rd in the league this season. In 2014-15, they finished the season at a comparable 96.5, good for 13th. But now, five teams have pushed it over 100 (compared to just one last season), and the Bucks' mark last season would be 22nd today.
While the Bucks do have the athletes to get out in transition, a slow pace figure isn't necessarily surprising: they're worst in the league at ending possessions via a defensive rebound, and their lack of shooters means it generally takes them longer to work for a shot in halfcourt. However, the more problematic issue has been their regression in terms of transition scoring differential. After ranking second in transition defense last year (10.8 points per game allowed), the Bucks are 20th this season (13.1), and their own transition scoring has fallen from 14.9 to 12.7 points per game.
Turnovers are nothing new for the Bucks. They currently rank 25th in the NBA in turnovers at a pace-adjusted 15.6 per game, which actually stands as a notable improvement on the 16.7 mark they registered a year ago. This season, they've committed 20 or more turnovers in a game four times, (including a season-high 27 against the Wizards on Jan. 13) losing all four of those games.
Inconsistency has been another story of the Bucks' disappointing first half. The Bucks have won more than two games in a row just twice this season -- a pair of three game winning streaks in November and January. Unfortunately, they've only been consistent on the losing end, stringing together three-plus game losing streaks on six different occasio.
Bucks coach Jason Kidd has benched Michael Carter-Williams twice this season. In the 12 games he's come off the bench, he's averaging 11 points per game on 46 percent shooting with 5.8 assists and 2.4 turnovers. Those numbers are not that much different than when he is starting (11.6 points on 45 percent shooting with 5.4 assists and 3.0 turnovers), though his assist-to-turnover rate is markedly better off the bench and the Bucks' are +2.7 points per 100 possessions with MCW on the court as a reserve and -4.9 when he's on the court as a starter. Perhaps not surprising given the opposition is always going to be slightly softer off the bench, but still notable. Despite, he's 0-for-7 from three point range as a sub but 12-for-38 (34 percent) as a starter.
The Bucks entered the all-star break having faced the league's most difficult schedule to date, which provides at least some explanation for their disappointing 22-32 record. The Bucks have played two more road games (31) than any other team in the NBA, which is made even more problematic given the disparity between their home and road performance. While their 15-8 home record is actually better than three current Eastern playoff teams (Boston, Chicago and Miami), their 7-24 road record is among the worst in the league. Because of their struggles battling through a road-heavy schedule, the Bucks have 16 more losses on the road than at home, by far the most in basketball (New Orleans has nine).
With 18 of their final 28 games at home, the Bucks should make up ground in the East after the all-star break, but with five teams to catch and 5.5 games to make up they still face very steep odds to make the postseason. Factoring in their play to date and remaining schedule, 538 estimates the Bucks' playoff chances at a meager 5%, with an expected record of 35-47.
Last season at the break, the Bucks had the second-best bench in the league behind Phoenix's with 42.3 points per game. A year later, minus the departure of Jared Dudley plus the injuries to O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless and Greivis Vasquez, the Bucks have fallen to 27th in the league in bench scoring with an output of just 27.1 points per game (a 15.2 difference). This has put a great deal of pressure on the starting unit, something Jason Kidd doesn't prefer at all. "We've got to find more minutes because our starters are going to die," Kidd said on Jan. 26. Not having a reliable second-unit has been one of the sizable reasons why the Bucks can't produce more wins.
Quietly, a fairly durable player in Mayo is going through one of the most injury-riddled seasons of his career. Mayo missed 23 games during the first half of the season due to hamstring problems, and if those problems persist in the second half, he'll probably miss the biggest chunk of games in his career. Back in 2013-14, Mayo missed 30 games the entire season with the Bucks. He's eight games away from topping that mark with 28 total games left. Worse yet, he's shooting a career-worst 28.7 percent from three and 36.9 percent overall.
In games Bayless has been healthy this season, he has been absolutely unreal on spot-up opportunities. Bayless is third-best in the league in those situations behind sharper-shooters Curry and J.J. Redick. More importantly: Bayless is shooting 47.2 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities, a 16.2 spike from last season. Granted, he has missed 18 games because of ankle issues, so his attempt rate is a tad lower, but the mark is still impressive -- and perhaps enough to entice a buyer near the trade deadline.
Even though the Bucks rank near the bottom in total spot-up points this season (952), cutting to the basket hasn't been one of their problems on the offensive end. The Bucks have 773 points on offensive cuts, which ranks second in the league behind the Warriors by just a single point. Milwaukee still lacks the pure shooters needed to create traditional spacing, but they manage to score by moving the ball, getting to the basket and finishing in transition.
The Bucks score 51.0 percent of their points from the paint area, tops in the NBA. Last season they ranked ninth in the category without Greg Monroe.
Monroe has tallied 27 double-doubles this season, which is tied for eighth in the NBA. He's been a beast for the Bucks offensively and his production on that end has never been questioned. In comparison, he had 35 the entire 2014-15 season.
Jabari Parker has attempted 9.7 field goals per game this season, fifth among Bucks players behind Khris Middleton, Monroe, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams. Primarily known as a scorer his entire basketball career, Parker still hasn't taken a comfortable amount of jumpers each contest. However, a good chunk of his attempts have come near the rim from dunks and layups, demonstrating the athletic ability many weren't sure he'd ever have.
Speaking of dunks, Parker ranks ninth in the NBA in dunks at 73 -- the only player under 6'10" in the top then.
Giannis is seventh on this list at 87 this season, which is first among small forwards.
Khris Middleton had arguably the best stretch of his NBA career during the month of January. Middleton averaged 20.7 points and 4.9 assists per game, including a scorching stretch of 20 points or more in 10 of 11 games (23.0 points per game). Interestingly those big numbers didn't come thanks to hot shooting from deep -- thanks in no small part due to the increased attention he received as a ballhandler, Middleton has hit just 32 percent of his threes in January and February.
While Middleton went through the best stretch of his career, Carter-Williams touched the ball and turned it over less. In the month of January, Carter-Williams posted numbers of 10.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals during Middleton's 11-game stretch. He finished the month with a turnover percentage of 23.9 and usage rate of 18.7. Both of those numbers were month-low marks for the season.
Chris Copeland has played in just 24 games this season, most of them coming because of garbage time minutes. A free agent signing the Bucks hoped would add 3-point shooting off the bench, Copeland's limited minutes have meant just 36 shots and 10 made threes from deep all season. It's not clear whether or not his current role as a veteran mentor for younger players was the plan all along, but he definitely hasn't produced an ounce of what most people expected when they initially signed him.