Take a break from your New Year’s resolutions for five observations about the Milwaukee Bucks during their last week of basketball:
1st Play Vs Spurs
Mike Budenholzer draws up a fresh play to begin every game, and the design against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night was a beaut. During his brief tenure in Milwaukee, Budenholzer has flashed tons of creativity, allowing his team to thrive in these settings.
This set initially feigns the look of the Bucks’ traditional five-out offense before quickly targeting one defender in particular-Trey Lyles. Lyles is matched up with Brook Lopez and Budenholzer sends him through the ringer of help defense. Keep your eye on number 41 in black.
It begins when Lopez sets a down screen for Giannis Antetokounmpo (one the defense largely ignores), and continues when he sets a cross screen for Khris Middleton on the block. Again, Lyles is more interested in his man and neglects his help duties. If the Bucks were truly looking for their All-Star wing down low the pass was there.
Instead, they were more focused on the true intent of the play; a pick-and-roll between Eric Bledsoe and Lopez-once again targeting Lyles. By the time Antetokounmpo swings the ball up top Lopez is getting into place for the ball screen. Bledsoe dribbles off the screen, skirting past Lyles to the baseline and prolonging the action just long enough to find Lopez open at point blank range. Another successful set play.
Budenholzer does a great job constructing clean looks for his team at the beginning of games, quarters and after time outs. More of this please.
Brook’s Block Party
Lopez is having a horrid offensive season, but that hasn’t carried over to his defensive game where the seven-footer is better than ever.
It’s ill-advised, to say the least, to try to score around the basket when Lopez is in the game. He’s a major reason opposing teams shoot an NBA-worst 53.6 percent in the restricted area against the Bucks. He swats away 4.8 percent of the enemy’s shots when he’s on the court-the second highest percentage in the league according to Cleaning the Glass.
He went straight bananas last week, recording 15 total blocks in the three games Milwaukee played. His six and seven block games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Spurs, respectively, now gives him five or more blocks in seven games this season-tied with Hassan Whiteside for the must such contests in 2019-20.
The Bucks’ entire defensive strategy is built around protecting the rim. And no matter how poor Lopez plays offensively, he still brings a ton of value to the other end of the court. Enjoy the league’s elite rim-protector anchoring the NBA’s elite defense.
One trait all the best defensive players and teams share is their ability to communicate vociferously and efficiently. The unit needs to work as one-constantly calling out their positioning on the court, where screens are coming from, and everything in between.
It may be hard to pick up on the television, but the Bucks are constantly talking with one another. It allows them to stay a step ahead of the offense. There’s no volume on this clip, but pay special attention to the three to four second mark when Lopez looks behind him for a back pick that’s about to be set.
In a way, Lopez has eyes in the back of his head (and all over the court). Thanks to Middleton and his ability to convey the well-designed Spain pick-and-roll the big man doesn’t get caught up by the second pick when he’s supposed to be helping on the ball screen at the top of the key. The communication allows him to skirt the attempt and stay in between the basket and the ball-handler.
Milwaukee is a well-coached team full of veterans and high I.Q. basketball players who all understand what it takes to get the job done in the NBA. Their ability to effectively correspond with one another is an unseen attribute to their defensive success.
When shooting a basketball, most players are taught to place their feet shoulder-width apart with their shooting foot slightly ahead of their non-shooting foot. This results in good balance and strength on your shot, as well as the ability to square your shoulders with the basket.
Not Robin Lopez. He chooses to place his feet much closer together on his outside shots resulting in an awkward looking load and release:
This is the first season Lopez is shooting threes with regularity and he already has 58 attempts on the season-more than doubling his career total coming into this year. The success hasn’t been great, as he’s only connecting on 29.3 percent of his outside looks. It’s hard not to wonder what his percentage would look like if he established a wider and stronger base on his outside attempts.
The Bucks do a nice job sharing the basketball even if they don’t rack up assists at a high rate (their 59.3 percent assist percentage ranks just 18th in the NBA). They don’t roster an elite passer at any position, instead, they have a number of selfless players who are about average in their ability to set up and find open teammates.
Last Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls was a fun one to watch if you like good passing. It wasn’t necessarily the number of assists they generated, but the ways they found their teammates:
Whether it be an alley-oop, a no look bounce pass or a fall-away skip to the corner, Milwaukee was on one. And it wasn’t just one player either, as numerous Bucks got in on the action. It made for stirring basketball that had me pop up from the couch numerous times.