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Bucks Dictionary: “Strong” Series

The “strong” series is a staple of the Milwaukee Bucks offense and a set you can easily recognize.

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Two Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bucks’ Dictionary is a means to help you understand the Milwaukee Bucks on a deeper level. We’ll explore different terms, schemes and sets the Bucks run and define them in the simplest terms possible.

Finally, the good stuff. After weeks of sandbagging this series (not really, it just felt like that), we finally get to the really good stuff, as we begin to take a deeper look at the Milwaukee Bucks’ offense. We defined their basic “five-out” scheme last week, and we’ll begin to take a look at how they use that to their advantage in this article with their “strong” series.

“Strong” Series

Definition: A set of actions triggered by two swing passes followed by a pass back to the the original side of the court. It’s unclear if “strong” is the name Mike Budenholzer has given this set in Milwaukee, however, it’s the common way to refer to it across basketball settings.

The easiest way to recognize when Milwaukee is running their “strong” series is by looking for the two swing passes at the beginning of the possession. This indicates the play call that came from the sidelines and might give you a hint as to what lies ahead. In the video example, the Bucks are in their five-out offense like we previously discussed (Malcolm Brogdon will eventually figure it out and head to the right corner to correctly space the floor). Khris Middleton brings the ball up the court and tosses it to the trailing Sterling Brown at the top of the key. Brown keeps it moving and passes it to Thon Maker on the left angle.

After Brown swings it to Maker, he continues by setting a down screen for Middleton. Maker’s read is simple. If the defender gets caught on the pick (like he does), he hits Middleton for an easy three. However, if the defender adequately fights through the screen, Middleton would curl and head toward the bucket. There are also other options built in depending on how the defense as a whole reacts.

The two swing passes from Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo at the beginning of the play indicate this is the “strong” series. This time, Brook Lopez has the rock at the left angle and is in charge of deciding what to do with it. Antetokounmpo expertly reads the defense, providing Lopez with an easy decision.

The Charlotte Hornets are familiar with this set, and have prioritized guarding Middleton on the three-point line. Unfortunately, the two defenders at the top of the key fail to communicate, as they both jump out in anticipation of the pass. Antetokounmpo feels this happening and immediately cuts to the basket, as Lopez finds him on time and on target. This defensive breach forces Kemba Walker to leave his man in the corner where Antetokounmpo finds Eric Bledsoe all alone for a three. Yak Yak!

So far, we’ve seen the Bucks set single screens for the ball-handler who initiated the play. Another wrinkle they can add is to set double screens for their teammate in the corner.

Brogdon brings the ball up the court to begin this series and initially passes it to Ersan Ilyasova who continues to swing it to Antetokounmpo. Brogdon and Ilyasova continue by setting a double screen for Pat Connaughton who was in the right corner. Connaughton runs around the arc to catch the pass at the top of the key and hits a difficult three on the move.

Budenholzer initiates this whole series on the sideline by yelling out the play call as his team is bringing the ball up the floor. It sets into motion a sequence of actions that is half pre-meditated and half reactionary. The players are given the freedom to read defenses and react accordingly based on how they’re being played.

As last year went on, Budenholzer continued to add new wrinkles to his sets. Given his offense has a whole season’s worth of tape available to opposing head coaches, expect him to come to camp with some new additions as well. However, the basic signs of the “strong” series should still be there so keep your eyes peeled for the swing-swing beginning.