Enjoy these five observations about the Milwaukee Bucks and their past week of basketball:
Scrappy Second Unit
The Bucks’ bench received some love this week from SB Nation’s own Michael Pina when he wrote about how they might have the best second unit in the NBA. And although Milwaukee’s #benchmob isn’t always aesthetically pleasing, they certainly get the job done on a regular basis.
There were two moments in particular that stood out against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. The first came at the end of the first quarter when head coach Mike Budenholzer trotted out George Hill, Donte DiVincenzo, Kyle Korver, Ersan Ilyasova and Dragan Bender.
The possession started with DiVincenzo and Hill doing a tremendous job managing screens at the top of the key. This set the tone for the offensive chance and immediately threw the Hornets off-script.
DiVincenzo then jumped the passing lane and barely missed another steal, instead, causing his defense to go into scramble mode. Hill seamlessly transitioned onto the uncovered ball-handler with DiVincenzo and Ilyasova recovering to the vacated man at the top of the key. As the ball went deep into the paint, so did four Bucks converging on the overmatched Bismack Biyombo. In the end, it was too much to handle as Milwaukee stripped the shot attempt and recovered the ball before the Hornets could ever even get it above the rim.
This scrappy unit was at it again late in the third quarter. Hill quickly pushed the ball up the court to catch the defense off-guard, and scoop-passed to Korver who slid to the corner and fired a three.
The shot caromed off the side of the iron and into the waiting arms of DiVincenzo who quickly passed it to Hill. The veteran once again attacked the paint and once again found an open shooter in the left corner, this time it was Brook Lopez.
Lopez’ shot attempts rimmed out and right into the waiting hands of Pat Connaughton. Connaughton whipped it out to Hill on the perimeter who sent it to Korver who whipped it to DiVincenzo in the opposite corner. After a brief bobble, DiVincenzo found a cutting Connaughton who wrapped the ball around a defender and found Lopez down low to finally finish the job with a made basket. If you’re exhausted reading that, imagine how the defense feels!
Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved in just about every way imaginable this season. He’s averaging a career-high in points, rebounds and assists per 36 minutes while also posting the highest PER in NBA history. Oh yeah, and he’s also taking and making more threes. However, there’s one glaring area he hasn’t improved in: free throw shooting.
While all his other numbers are trending up, his free throw percentage is down for the third straight year. After hanging out in the 72-77 percentage for most of his career, it’s plummeted to 60.6 percent this season. And it doesn’t look to be getting any better.
His low percentage has caused some people to wonder aloud whether opposing team’s will begin to implement Hack-A-Freak (a strategy made famous when teams would intentionally foul Shaquille O’Neal at various points, not counting late-game situations, to lower the other team’s scoring). Fortunately, we probably aren’t there quite yet.
Entering this week of play, Antetokounmpo is scoring 1.196 points per shot attempt, including 0.96 points per three-point attempt and 1.275 points per two-point attempt. His 60.6 percent conversion rate on free throws (assuming he’d get two attempts if the opponents foul him on the floor) means he scores 1.212 points per free throw trip.
That’s slightly ahead of his overall points per shot attempt and right on par with his shots per two-point attempt. Antetokounmpo is toeing the line, but right now it’s basically a wash to Hack-A-Freak, meaning teams will likely preserve their fouls and stay away from it unless it’s late in the game.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in Eric Bledsoe’s “What the heck?” moments that we take his awesome stretches for granted. And, make no mistake about it, he has plenty of awesome moments.
Such was the case in the middle of the second quarter against the Hornets. With Milwaukee somewhat struggling to stay with Charlotte, the Bucks’ point guard briefly took control of the game and ensured his team wasn’t going to fall even farther behind.
In the span of five offensive possessions, Bledsoe scored two buckets and drew two other shooting fouls. The constant pressure he puts on the rim sets him apart from every other Buck not named Antetokounmpo and is what makes him so important to this team. The NBA is short on guys who can consistently get to the rim and finish—and Bledsoe fits squarely in both of those categories.
Kyle Korver Heating Up
There’s no secret why Kyle Korver was brought to the Bucks—to provide spacing and shoot the lights out. However, the season didn’t quite start out that way for one of the NBA’s all-time great shooters, as he was only making 38.5 percent of his threes after November.
For most players, that’s an incredibly good percentage, but not for Korver who only shot below that mark one time in his 15-year career.
It’s a long season and things have quickly turned around for the Bucks’ sharpshooter. He made 43.1 percent of his threes in December and is making an insane 51.5 percent so far in January. His percentage is now all the way up to 42.9 percent—his exact career average—and he ranks ninth in three-point percentage among players who have attempted at least 150 this season.
Korver provides Milwaukee with an elite spacing option—something they didn’t have in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. There’s no saying whether he’ll be playable in the postseason, but it never hurts to have choices as a head coach.
Day Game Sloppiness
It’s not very often the Bucks play day games, but when they do, they appear to be extra sloppy. As creatures of habit, people thrive with routines (we all know about Antetokounmpo’s nap). The day games appear to throw them off their schedule and make games, especially the first halves, particularly challenging.
For the purpose of clarity and measurability, let’s define day games as having a tip-off before 6pm central. In that case, they’ve played five day games this season and have a 3-2 record in those contests. That’s a surprising win-loss margin considering Milwaukee only has six total losses on the season.
It just so happens the Bucks played three of these day games in the past nine days so now’s a good time to take a look at how they’ve fared in these contests. The numbers in the chart below are taken from Cleaning the Glass so it’s important to note it does not contain garbage-time minutes.
Despite shooting above their average effective field goal percentage in three of the five games, Milwaukee has yet to hit their average offensive rating (points per 100 possessions). That’s mostly due to their turnover percentage which has been incredibly bad in all but one of those contests.
The Bucks feasted on the lowly Hornets, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets over their last three day games which adds the only “Ws” to their record. Of course, they got blown out by the Philadelphia 76ers on Christmas Day and blew a 21-point third quarter lead against the Miami Heat.
It’s a very small sample size, but it’ll be interesting to see if this continues. Milwaukee will certainly play a couple of day games throughout the postseason, and they’ll have to figure out a way to overcome their potentially trending sloppy play.