Five observations from the Milwaukee Bucks’ loaded week of basketball:
1. Brook Lopez’s Wide Open Threes
Part of what made the Bucks offense so potent last season was that they finally surrounded Giannis Antetokounmpo with four shooters at all times. In order to accomplish this, they brought in Brook Lopez-a transformative outside shooting big.
Despite averaging a career-low in points per game, Lopez’s outside shooting was a revelation, as he made 36.5 percent of his threes. His ability to stretch the floor from the center position and pull opposing team’s bigs away from the basket opened up the paint for his teammates and allowed the Bucks to dominate around the rim.
That success has not carried over to the first six games of the season, where Lopez is only shooting 30.6 percent on six threes per game:
The Bucks have done a nice job of scheming Lopez open, as over half of his three-point attempts come when he’s “wide open” or, in layman terms, there’s no defender within six feet. It’s too bad he can’t hit the broad side of a barn on these looks. His 23.8 percent success rate is well below the league average (about 38 percent). and a steep drop-off from the 37 percent he made last year.
The good news is it’s still early and that number should skyrocket as the season progresses. From 2016-17, the first year he started shooting threes, through 2018-19, he averaged 35.4 percent on wide open threes.
Opponents are helping on Antetokounmpo more than ever and the Bucks need their center to punish teams for doing so. The opportunities will continue to be there, now it’s time to regress to the mean.
2. Energy from DDV and Brown
At various points this season, mostly in the second halves of their blown leads, the Bucks have looked lackadaisical. They’re on the court deadpanning the motions and getting smoked as a result.
The intensity seemed to pick up against the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors, and it’s no coincidence Donte DiVincenzo and Sterling Brown also received their first significant playing time of the season. The duo injected a shot of energy straight into the Bucks’ veins:
Whether it be through Brown’s intense concentration or DiVincenzo flying around the court, the rest of the team felt the urgency as well. The spark they brought appeared to be contagious, as their teammates were suddenly working harder.
Milwaukee’s deep bench has had unintended consequences for the younger players on their roster-all of whom have found themselves planted firmly in their seats to begin the season. Only time will tell if head coach Mike Budenholzer will reward this passionate play with more court time.
3. Robin Lopez’s Handy-Dandy Footwork
Robin Lopez’s Bucks career has gotten off to an interesting start. On the one hand, his basic stats (10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes) are underwhelming. On the other, Milwaukee has been a better team with him on the court, outscoring their opponents by eight points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass.
What hasn’t been underwhelming, however, has been his slick footwork and nifty hook shots around the rim. This is one of my personal favorites:
He catches the pass from Eric Bledsoe at the free throw line, proceeds to take one dribble and spin toward the left side of the hoop. With stud defensive center Marc Gasol playing it perfectly, he’s forced to look elsewhere for his shot. This is where he shows off the handy-dandy footwork as he spins back toward the middle and unleashes a good, old-fashioned hook shot. You know it’s good when the other team is so stunned they’re calling for a travel.
If you’ve watched Lopez play before (which might be unlikely because who tunes in to watch an old-school seven footer?), you’ll know this is nothing new. However, it’s been interesting to see how he fits with the Bucks’ five-out approach. It hasn’t been perfect, and there’s still some kinks to work out, but it’s a hidden pleasure to watch him go to work in the paint.
4. Bucks’ Bench Scoring
Having a deep roster is nothing new for Milwaukee who also supported a good second unit last season as well. However, a year after ranking 26th in the NBA by only seeing 31.8 points per game from their bench, the Bucks have exploded to ninth place and 43.5 points per game to begin this year.
George Hill has led the charge, averaging 10 points per game, but it’s been a mostly balanced approach. All of their regular contributors, not named Robin Lopez, put up at least 7.4 points per contest. That’s a stark contrast from 2018-19 when Pat Connaughton was the unit’s leading scorer at 6.9 per game (not counting Nikola Mirotic).
With Malcolm Brogdon gone and some of the starters struggling to get buckets consistently, the bench scoring has been a welcome addition. Whether it be Hill attacking the hoop like he’s 26 again, Kyle Korver bombing threes, Ersan Ilyasova playing volleyball at the rim or Connaughton raining threes and cutting to the hoop, the bench has eased the scoring burden off the starters.
5. Giannis’ No-Look Passes
When Antetokounmpo has the ball, entire cities hold their breath waiting to see what he’ll do next. Defenses construct their entire game plan around walling off the paint and forcing the MVP to get rid of the ball and use his teammates. He toyed with it a bit last season, but he’s fully adopted the no-look pass into his tool belt this year as a way to counter the massive attention:
With the Raptors in scramble mode, the Bucks swing the ball around the perimeter until it finds Antetokounmpo at the top of the key. He takes one dribble, teasing a drive or a pass to one of the three Bucks on the left side of the court. However, he knew what he was doing all along, as he skips a no-look bounce pass of all things to the shooting-god Korver in the corner. The veteran does the rest and buries the triple to extend the lead.
The no-look pass is more of an art form than anything else. A player sometimes peeks to see where his teammate is, but other times has to feel his presence and trust his guys to be in the right spots. As with any craft, there will be some trial and error, but the artist must be afforded some creative liberties to enhance and perfect their profession.
Antetokounmpo seems more comfortable in Year 2 of Budenholzer’s system and we’re seeing more creativity as a result. His 40.7 percent assist rate is by far a career-high and ranks fourth in the NBA according to Cleaning The Glass. He had a number of stellar passes against the Raptors and is getting more comfortable in his playmaking every game.