It’s nearly the regular season folks, which means it’s time to start contrived “countdown to tipoff” pieces. Our series will be called the Calculated Countdown, where we take a particular statistic from last season that corresponds to the number of days left till tipoff and analyze it in the context of this upcoming year. Today we’re peering into the putrid net rating Milwaukee posted in clutch situations last year.
14 days to tipoff: -14.6 net rating in the clutch
The trials and tribulations of Milwaukee’s late game performances were oft-discussed at the start of last year. Despite spending a period of the season with both a top-ten defensive and offensive rating, the Bucks continually buckled under pressure. Their horrific performances as the clock whittled down undermined what could’ve been a pretty stellar start to the season in terms of wins. Their overall net rating in clutch performances ended at -14.6 last year, a mark that would rank 26th in the league. For the Bucks though, that rating is really a tale of two periods.
From the season’s start through February, Milwaukee was the second-worst clutch team in the league. Their -25.7 net rating barely eked out over the loony, happy-to-lose Lakers. Not to mention their 85.8 offensive rating, a mark even the bumbling Brooklyn Nets had to peer over a ledge to see. The sheer gulf between that offensive figure and their overall 107.6 rating over that same period didn’t line up. One could mark it up to youth, inexperience, or potentially a lack of individual creation when the game slows to a slog.
For all his stupendous gifts as a basketball player, Giannis is still finding himself as a one-on-one offensive catalyst and it showed in his clutch numbers with a 55.4% true shooting percentage compared to his season-long 59.9%. Milwaukee shied away from their secret clutch weapon these last two years, Greg Monroe, who sported just a 17.9% usage, but had a not horrendous 98.3 offensive rating and at least passable 53.3% eFG percentage. It didn’t help that Matthew Dellavedova played almost as many clutch minutes as Giannis but couldn’t hit the broad side of the backboard (17.7 eFG%). All of these factors conspired against Milwaukee, spiraling them to a 22-30 record in mid-February despite a passable net rating.
Things flipped come March, when Milwaukee went 8-1 for the rest of the season as opposed to their 13-17 mark before in clutch games. Their net rating leaped to a 7th-ranked 18.9 and that was mostly on the back of an outrageously stingy 84.9 defensive rating. Small sample size alerts abound here, but that reversion to the mean and superb record seemed to make up for their bad luck earlier in the season. In their limited track record though, little of their improved offensive success stemmed from Khris Middleton, who shot a ghastly 29.2% eFG percentage. As I covered late last season, there’s some validity to the fact Milwaukee effectively axed Delly from their clutch offense. His 8.7% usage is absurdly low for a guard, and Brogdon got more opportunities with the late-game crew.
There is some inherent luck in analyzing the minuscule clutch figures, but that -14.6 net rating mark Milwaukee posted was the product of a bifurcated worst- and best-case scenario. Long story short, they weren’t as bad as they seemed in the first half and they’re probably not as good as they were in the second bit. They’ll also likely be working in a new variable with Thon Maker in the mix, but he should split time with Monroe. Whether they’ll be able to have their performances meet in the middle all-year long is an open question, but it’s a given 50 wins won’t come unless they carry over some of their late-season clutch success.