Here are five observations from the Milwaukee Bucks’ 3-1 road trip last week:
1. Sloppiness After Time-Outs
One of the biggest revelations in Year One under Mike Budenholzer was just how good the Bucks were in ATOs. An ATO stands for After Time-Outs, but basically any time a coach is able to huddle his team and draw up a play, such as the beginning of quarters, halves or games, falls into this category as well.
Last year, the Bucks were the best team when it came to scoring in this situation, averaging a league-leading 53.38 effective field goal percentage after time-outs. Although this stat doesn’t encompass every single ATO situation, it does give us a pretty close idea about how they fared in these spots.
This season has been a different story. Even with a veteran-laden team, the Bucks have struggled to execute following time-outs. Far too often they’re out of sync, confused or downright bad in these situations. They hit the trifecta here:
Following a timeout Budenholzer called, George Hill brings the ball up the left side of the court, as three of his teammates run a typical Bucks’ down screen on the right side. Hill passes to Pat Connaughton who flips it back and cuts through the lane. This leaves Hill with the rock on the right wing, pounding it into oblivion and waiting for someone to do something. Anything.
Robin Lopez is on the right block looking as if he’s supposed to set a screen. Ersan Illyasova does the finger-pointing thing before running into a two-man game with Hill. It only gets uglier from there.
Milwaukee has gotten better in the past week and their effective field goal percentage is still pretty good when the plays are drawn up. However, instances like this are far too common. These are precious possessions that can set the tone for the rest of the game, and Milwaukee is failing to take advantage.
2. Wesley Matthews’ Three-Point Struggles
It’s early in the season yet, but Wesley Matthews’ outside struggles are beginning to pique interest.
A big part of his value to the Bucks is his ability to take and make a lot of threes. So far, he hasn’t done either. His 7.8 three-point attempts and 2.6 makes per 100 possessions are some of the lowest in his career. Unfortunately, that’s what will happen when a lifetime 38.2 percent outside shooter is only making 33.3 percent of his shots.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where he’s struggling. His catch-and-shoot and pull-up numbers are a few percentage points lower than last year, but nothing crazy. His lowly 29.6 percent success rate on wide open threes (league-average was 38 percent last year) is certainly a factor. Perhaps, his slow start is a cumulative effective of everything being a tad bit down.
Thankfully, over a decade of NBA play tells us this is likely an early-season fluke. It’s reasonable to assume he’ll regress to the mean as the season continues, but he’s got young guys chomping at the bit for more playing time. If he doesn’t find his shooting stroke soon, he could find himself on the bench far more often.
There’s no data to support this, but the Bucks are running horns far more often this season than last. Horns is an offensive set loosely defined when two players set ball-screens on either side of the ball-handler:
From there, Eric Bledsoe can either choose to run his man off Brook Lopez or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Once that happens, the player whose screen he dribbled off will dive toward the hoop, as the other big pops to the three-point line. This forces defenses to communicate and often results in one of the three offensive players involved getting open.
There are many alterations of Horns and it’s not always so simple as one big diving while the other pops. Here’s a unique combo Milwaukee tried running against the Jazz:
It’s the inverse to the typical Horns set with a big-man in Antetokounmpo handling the ball, and two wings/guards, Kyle Korver and Hill, setting the screens. Antetokounmpo dribbles off Korver’s side who then receives a back-pick from Hill. Korver is open for a moment, but Antetokounmpo doesn’t appear to be looking. Instead, he’s staring down his man and eventually tries to force a pass into traffic. More sloppy execution from the Bucks.
I have a feeling Budenholzer is just getting started with this set. Many teams run it across the NBA landscape and for good reason. It presents many options and often puts defenses in a conundrum about who to guard. Look for it in the next Bucks’ game and as the season wears on.
4. Eric Bledsoe Dimes
Eric Bledsoe. Professional Dime-Dropper.
Although he’s never been known for his passing, Bledsoe had a tremendous week when it came to dishing the rock. The three clips above are all from Sunday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but there were a handful of others that were sharing-worthy (see the pass to Lopez in “Horns”).
His assist numbers don’t jump off the page-his 27.9 percent assist rate is average for point guards-but the opportunities are there in this Bucks’ offense. They’re in need of one of their Big Three to step up and provide a little extra oummpf in the halfcourt. Given the amount of time the ball spends in Bledsoe’s hands, he’ll have every opportunity to continue this passing momentum.
5. George Hill’s Offensive Rebounding
Hill has always been a good offensive rebounder, but he’s been in a different stratosphere to begin the season. When on the floor, he’s grabbing six percent of his team’s missed shots-the highest among all combo guards according to Cleaning the Glass. It’s also better than bigs like Nikola Jokic, John Collins, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marc Gasol.
It’s likely the result of a small sample size, but plays like this have been happening on the regular:
Hill often finds himself in the dunker spot (the short corner just outside the lane), as he does on the clip above. When Antetokounmpo goes into his shooting motion, Hill bodies Dennis Schroder just far enough away from the hoop. From there, he uses his long arms to gather the rebound and lay the ball in the hoop for two points.
His offensive rebounding rate is almost similar to the amount of defensive boards he pulls in. And, although it’s been fun to watch, it’s almost assuredly unsustainable (his previous career-high is 3.3 percent). Enjoy it while it lasts!