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.
The Milwaukee Bucks have a wide array (pun intended) of offensive sets evolving from one possession to the next. There are a a lot of similarities, but also a lot of built-in options in these plays. Unlike football, most basketball teams don’t hide their offensive play calls. If well-scouted, the defense knows exactly what’s coming. It’s then up to the offense to execute and run their sets thoroughly to put themselves in the best position to score. There are always counters based on how the defense is played, and these counters are why teams don’t cloak their calls. Let’s walk through the “wide” series the Bucks showed last year.
Definition: An action or series of actions that derives its name from the wide pin-down screen that is used at the beginning of the set.
In the above example, Khris Middleton brought the ball up the court on the left angle, and his teammates set up in their five-out offense by filling the other four perimeter spots on the floor. Middleton subtly directs Brook Lopez to set a screen for Nikola Mirotic near the top of the key.
This play is designed to take advantage of a defender who has sunk too far below the three-point line. Milwaukee was especially lucky to have a guy like Mirotic who can shoot from range and make defenses pay for falling asleep - even if it’s only for a second or two. As Lopez set the pick, he made sure he got parallel with the sideline and completely turned his back to the ball-handler. This ensured Mirotic’s defender had to go either all the way under or over the screen, taking up more of his valuable time.
The screen was the key to this play, as it quickly opened up Mirotic for a catch-and-shoot-3. Lopez’s man didn’t step up to help either, so it was far too late by the time Mirotic’s guy fought all the way over the pick. Yak Yak!
The primary difference between “wide” and “strong” is how the two series are set up. “Strong” is initiated by two swing passes where “wide” is simply triggered by either one swing pass and the pin-down screen or just the pin-down screen.
Here’s another example from earlier in the season. This time, Giannis Antetokounmpo brought the ball across halfcourt, as his teammates once again filled their five perimeter spots. Antetokounmpo heard the play call and helped his teammates out by pointing where he wanted the ball to go.
John Henson, who trailed the action at the top of the key, set a partially-useful screen for Donte DiVincenzo. Even though the screen wasn’t the same caliber as Lopez’s, it still got the job done, as DiVincenzo had enough room to rise and fire for three. Simple, yet effective.
This “wide” action is just the basic beginning to a much more complex series of plays Milwaukee runs. Obviously, this simple one-screen action is not always going to be available so the team must be prepared to have a more complex response. Here’s how the pin down screen evolves into something more. Something a lot more.
The reason basketball teams don’t disguise their play calls is due to the many alternatives they have on any given play. It’s like a run/pass option in football. The quarterback reads certain players on the defense and makes his decision depending on how they react. It’s the same thing in basketball. This play began the exact same way as above with Antetokounmpo setting a wide pin down screen at the top of the key. This time, DiVincenzo came off the pick and received the pass from Malcolm Brogdon.
Unlike above, the shot wasn’t there for DiVincenzo, as Derrick Rose effectively went under the screen and was ready to contest any potential shot. This triggered a dribble handoff back to Brogdon at the top of the key before DiVincenzo filled the left angle. After receiving the handoff, the series morphed into a two-man game with Brogdon and Antetokounmpo, the latter setting a ball-screen for the former at the top of the key. Antetokounmpo, one of the most lethal pick-and-roll roll men, rolled right down the middle of the lane and received the pocket pass from Brogdon. Minnesota’s only option was to foul the Greek Freak on his clear path to the bucket.
Their are other options built in all over the place as well. The play below details the same “wide dribble” as we saw above except for one small, but important, difference - Brogdon kept the ball instead of initiating the dribble handoff.
Eric Bledsoe dribbled up the right side of the court as Ersan Ilyasova and Brogdon filled in the top of the key and the left angle respectively. Ilyasova began the action by setting a down screen for Brogdon (he was really just going through the motions here, as he makes very little effort to actually make contact with Brogdon’s defender). Brogdon caught the pass from Bledsoe and prepared to toss it back on the handoff.
Fortunately, one of Brogdon’s greatest assets is his basketball I.Q. He did a tremendous job of not only reading his man, Danny Green, but also Bledsoe’s man, Kawhi Leonard. He realized there was a bit of a miscommunication, as both players gravitated toward Bledsoe in anticipation of the toss-back. This momentary lapse is all NBA players need, as Brogdon raced down the lane and kissed the glass with a one-handed layup.
This simplistic set gives Milwaukee an endless menu of options to run depending on how the defense chooses to defend it. On the above example, say Green chases Brogdon over the screen instead of going under. The new Indiana Pacer could simply curl off the pick and receive the pass deep into the lane. If Ilyasova’s man steps up to help, he could pop to the three-point line for an open trey. The opportunities are nearly endless.