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Calculated Countdown: 11 Days to Tipoff

Last year, Milwaukee suddenly seemed to solve their turnover woes. Can that trend continue again?

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season is rapidly approaching. That means it’s time for the now-annual tradition of our Calculated Countdown series examining a particular stat that corresponds to the number of days until tipoff. Today, that figure focuses on whether the Bucks can continue protecting the ball as they did last year.

11 Days to Tipoff

Milwaukee ranked “11th” last year in terms of turnover percentage

The timeless troubles of youth. A classic one is carelessness, a trait that often spilled onto the court for the burgeoning Milwaukee Bucks squad. Said carelessness often led to silly turnovers and easy chances for the opponent to dribble freely for cheap buckets on the other end. Finally, last year, that trend seemed to turn. After ranking 29th, 24th and 19th the three seasons prior, Milwaukee ranked 11th in turnover percentage last year at 14.2%, per Cleaning the Glass. Let’s explore what could’ve aided that swift turnaround and whether it could continue into this season.

First, let’s just chalk the mini-leap from 15-16 to 16-17 up to jettisoning Michael Carter-Williams team-leading 17.8% turnover percentage to the Chicago Bulls (suck it Bulls) before that season. His abhorrent ball handling, coupled with an equally unprotective Uncle Juice season, made for a backcourt with less security than a wooden shack. Shifting forward to last season, there were a number of incremental improvements by players as usage rates shifted even further to Milwaukee’s star players.

The 16-17 season featured several secondary players who saw their primary purpose as putting up points. Greg Monroe and Michael Beasley namely. Their 14.9% and 14.1% turnover rates aren’t ugly on their face, but combined with their usage rates which ticked above 23%, it gets a tad harder to stomach. Last year, meanwhile, the only folks who got above that usage rate were the marquee three. Here are their usage rates coupled with their individual turnover rates, per Cleaning the Glass.

Turnover vs. Usage Rate (2017-18)

Player Turnover Rate Usage Rate
Player Turnover Rate Usage Rate
Giannis Antetokounmpo 11.60% 31.50%
Eric Bledsoe 15.00% 27.50%
Khris Middleton 11.90% 24.40%

Much has been made of Giannis’ ability to score more efficiently, while improving his usage rate and decreasing his turnover rate. That propulsive trajectory has him on track for yet another highly effective scoring season, but Khris Middleton also managed that feat from one year to the next. Even with his extensive dipsy-do dribbling in the midrange, he managed to hold onto the ball while shouldering an increased offensive load. Additionally, even though Eric Bledsoe’s turnover percentage isn’t markedly different from Matthew Dellavedova’s 15.9% mark in 16-17, Bledsoe’s usage rate was nearly 10 percentage points higher. In fact, keeping the ball out of Delly’s hands as much as possible, sans when he operates as an off-ball shooter, is tantamount to continuing this upward trend for the Bucks.

One hopes that Bud recognizes Delly has little to no use as a primary ball handling threat barring emergency situations. The fact he could post an 18.9% usage rate and a turnover rate nearly matching that at 15.9% is alarming. Bud talks a lot about his motion offense allowing all his players to work in every facet of the game, passing, shooting, dribbling, etc., but let’s hope he goes all Dad on Delly and implores that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The fear is that Budenholzer’s flowing system takes some time to gel in Milwaukee, creating turnovers borne out of miscommunication. His Hawks team weren’t exactly stellar at holding onto the ball, ranking 21st (twice), 17th, 28th and then 29th last year in terms of turnover percentage. One would hope Milwaukee’s distinct talent can outperform whatever deficiencies Atlanta’s players had at holding onto the ball.

Indeed, the fringe players’s adeptness at holding onto the ball point to that possibility when coupled with the consolidation of usage rates across Milwaukee’s star players. Whereas guys like Beasley and Monroe used to sap possessions, the presence of three bona fide All-Star candidates gives Bud the luxury of staggering his starters. In turn, Tony Snell, Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo can work to their spots rather than having to deliver instant offense. The stats bare that out too, just look at the difference the usage/turnover rates between Milwaukee’s key role players over the years.

Turnover vs. Usage Rate (Role Players)

Player (Season) Turnover Rate Usage Rate
Player (Season) Turnover Rate Usage Rate
Greg Monroe (16-17) 14.90% 23.70%
Michael Beasley (16-17) 14.10% 23.20%
Tony Snell (17-18) 10.00% 8.10%
Sterling Brown (17-18) 10.50% 12.40%
Malcolm Brogdon (17-18) 10.80% 19.70%

However Bud opts to slice up the possessions, you can bet this trend of conglomeration offensively will likely continue as he works out how Milwaukee’s three best players fit together. As long as the role guys around them play within their lanes, the Bucks should continue to give themselves more chances at positive plays.