The Milwaukee Bucks continued their winning ways by going two for two last week. Here are five observations:
Brook Lopez Contesting Shots
Splash Mountain has gotten off to a dry start from behind the arc, connecting on only 28.6 percent of his three-point attempts so far. It has yet to affect the gravity teams give him, but it’s only a matter of time until his man begins to creep closer and closer to the rim. Fortunately, he’s still a beast when it comes to protecting the paint on defense.
Lopez contests 16.3 shots per game (seventh-most in the NBA), most of them coming near the lane. Of 32 players to challenge at least 80 attempts within 10 feet this season, he and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert allow the lowest field goal percentage (39.3 percent). When opponents get within six feet, Gobert’s shoots up, but Lopez keeps his steady at 40.7 percent.
The Bucks’ defensive strategy is focused on maximizing Lopez’ strengths and using his elite length to deter teams from shooting around the rim:
Myles Turner and Justin Holiday are running a nice little two-man game on the right elbow to begin this clip. Unbeknownst to them, Lopez is just outside the paint, lurking like a lion in the tall grass. Turner wraps a nifty pass around his man and hits Holiday in stride on his cut to the hoop. Lopez pounces on his prey, as he steps in front of the shot attempt and uses his long limps to thwart any potential basket. Another hearty meal.
Before the Bucks signed Lopez last season, there were plenty of questions about his defensive fit in the modern game. He was a slow bruiser who struggled to stay in front of quicker bigs. Mike Budenholzer has done a terrific job designing a scheme that sets Lopez up for success and makes the most of the skills he does have.
Sterling Brown’s Ferocious Rebounding
The Bucks love to get out and run in transition. It allows guys like Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo to thrive in the open court and maximize their athletic abilities. In order to push the ball, however, they must get stops and secure the rebound. That’s where someone like Sterling Brown has an underrated impact.
Brown snatches 22.7 percent of all defensive rebounds when he’s on the court, second-most among all wings according to Cleaning the Glass. Not only is he an elite rebounder for a wing, but only 14 players grab a higher percentage of their opponents missed shots-no matter the position.
Brown doesn’t have elite leaping ability so he makes up for it in other ways. He uses his budding strength to (legally) fight off the opposition and earn great rebounding position. From there, he does a great job attacking the ball and ripping it out of the air.
Eventually, this could lead to Brown getting more playing time at other positions-specifically power forward. He’s only spent eight percent of his time there this season, but the lineups have been wildly effective. His ferocious rebounding minimizes the risk of playing a wing out of position and continues to allow the Bucks to get stops.
George Hill Flipping Screens
The pick-and-roll game is much like an iceberg in the ocean. The casual viewer understands what’s happening on the surface: One player sets a ball screen for his teammate who then dribbles off said screen and either shoots or passes. However, there’s a lot more going on under the water.
The defense typically has rules telling them how to guard the pick-and-roll depending on where on the court the screen is being set. The offensive players also have guidelines that tell them how to exploit said defensive strategies. Players on both teams are constantly reading one another in order to gain the slightest possible advantage.
That’s what makes this little cat-and-mouse game with Antetokounmpo and George Hill so fun:
The Bucks love to call this inverted pick-and-roll with Antetokounmpo as the ball-handler and a guard or wing setting the pick. Here, Hill runs up from the right block to set a ball screen on that same side. Or at least that’s what the Pacers think. Aaron Holiday jumps the screen at the right elbow in order to prevent the ball-handler from attacking the hoop. Only, Hill audibles at the last second, feeling Holiday cheating on the screen, and sets the pick toward the middle of the floor. With the help defender out of position, Antetokounmpo gallops into an uncontested layup.
This technique, known as flipping the screen, is best implemented sparingly. If used too often it runs the risk of the defense anticipating the switch and shutting it down. Hill did a great job flaunting his veteran savviness and springing the Greek Freak for two points.
Donte DiVincenzo’s Anticipation
Donte DiVincenzo got the nod for the first two starts of his career last week. Although it was a mixed bag, he showed a propensity to forecast the opponents intentions and jump the passing lanes:
He does a great job balancing discipline in his defensive positioning while also profiting from poor offensive choices. He neither leaves his man too early, thus telegraphing his intentions, nor strays too far from a potential interception opportunity.
This is quickly becoming a trend for the second-year pro who averages 2.7 steals per 36 minutes in 2019-20. There’s no better way to create momentum than abducting an opponent’s possession and replacing it with an easy bucket of your own.
Bucks’ Catch-and-Shoot Woes
Despite a 9-3 start to the season and the fourth-best effective field goal percentage according to CtG, Milwaukee has left a lot to be desired from behind the arc. Their plan to surround Antetokounmpo with shooters like Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver to take advantage of teams walling off the paint has been temporarily stalled.
The Bucks only make one-third of all their three-point attempts, good enough for 22nd in the NBA. A lot of their issues come in the very element their offense is designed to exploit; catch-and-shoots. The good news is they get more of these opportunities than any team not named the Phoenix Suns. The bad news is only six teams knock down these shots at a lower rate.
It’s not as if these shots are being contested either. The Bucks create more “wide open” threes (no defender within six feet) than anyone else. And, you guessed it, they also miss more wide open threes than anyone else.
Part of the issue is the myriad of shooters marred in a slump. Guys like Matthews, Lopez, Bledsoe, Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova are all shooting well-below their career averages. This makes it tough when Antetokounmpo makes the correct play, kicking it out to a wide-open shooter only to see his teammates clank the shot time and time again.
With just 12 games completed, Milwaukee is hoping to see a regression toward the mean in the next 70 plus. The offense is working as designed, now it’s time to find the bottom of the net. Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot.