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Pat Connaughton: The Milwaukee Bucks’ Secret Weapon?

Connaughton has proved quite the spark plug coming off the bench this season

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

After coming over from the Portland Trail Blazers last summer, shooting guard Pat Connaughton has played an integral role off the bench this season for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Standing at 6’4” with a 6’9 wingspan, Pat isn’t the biggest or bulkiest player in the league, but he’s an outstanding athlete with great explosiveness dating back to his NBA combine days. Connaughton seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought in the preseason, often taking a back seat to Donte DiVincenzo, however he has made quite the impression thus far in his tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Before the Milwaukee Bucks tipped off against the Los Angeles Clippers, I had the opportunity to ask Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer about what Pat Connaughton has brought the Bucks this season off the bench. Coach Bud said,

“His energy...his movement and his athleticism off the ball just really fits well with us and how we want to play. I think defensively, it’s the same thing...he’s got a...little athleticism to guard...[Pat] just brings a great energy and personality to our team...really, really happy with [Pat].”

Connaughton really hustles defensively and is always attached to the hip of the opposing player he is guarding. Not only is he a pest to go around, but his ability to maneuver through screens and contest jump shots cleanly is stellar and quite necessary in Milwaukee’s scheme. His defensive performance against the Denver Nuggets was superb, even blocking three shots in the win. His most impressive block, however, was when he rose up and used every inch of his 44-inch wingspan to block Garry Harris’ jump shot.

Offensively, he’s always moving. We never see Pat Connaughton camping in the corner and he’s always actively looking for holes in opposing teams defenses. Even though he’s only playing 15.5 minutes per game, Connaughton is cutting to the basket at a frequency of 21.9% which is quite a lot in the limited playing time, particularly for a guard. Furthermore, he’s averaging an even better 1.14 points per possessions on those cuts.

Connaughton picks his spots offensively very effectively and has gotten a lot of easy looks from deep and in the paint. These are two areas where Pat excels at, scoring in the paint and knocking down threes. He’s shooting 45.6% from the field and a respectable 36.7% from deep this season. Let’s take a look at Pat Connaughton’s heat map from last season with the Blazers.

As we can see, not only did he shoot 60.4% on shots close to the basket, but he also shot 37.5% on three-pointers above the break. These two areas of the floor have been emphasized this season by Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer when we look at Pat Connaughton’s shot chart so far this season.

A fair amount of attempts from deep above the break and a ton of shots have been manufactured close to the rim. It seems like the #BudEffect has really helped elevate Pat Connaughton’s game, and the Milwaukee Bucks are reaping the benefits. Analytically, the numbers show that the Bucks are a better team with Pat Connaughton on the floor, illustrated by his 11.2 NETRTG and 11.6 PIE (player impact estimate).

The impact that Pat Connaughton has made off the bench this season for the Bucks should not be understated. He’s provided the Milwaukee Bucks with consistent defense, terrific off-ball movement, and reliable shooting offensively. Welcome to “Planet Pat,” folks.