Savor the return of Milwaukee Bucks’ basketball and five observations:
Throw It Up
I’ve always thought the Bucks have underutilized Giannis Antetokounmpo’s size and athletic abilities when it comes to throwing lobs. Despite the odd alley-oop from Khris Middleton or Eric Bledsoe, Antetokounmpo doesn’t get as many opportunities in this department as you’d think.
However, the two games following the All-Star break have been a bit of a different story, as both Middleton and Bledsoe have found Antetokounmpo on multiple occasions. Although Middleton didn’t find him on an alley-oop he did throw it ahead to him in transition twice against the 76ers—drawing a foul each time.
Bledsoe also got in on the action by throwing two lobs to the big fella—one just off the mark and another that hit home. Other than the obvious height and leaping advantages one needs to take advantage of said lobs, hands are important as well and, to nobody’s surprise, Antetokounmpo thrives here as well. He’s able to secure passes in traffic, while contorting his body, with guys draping all over him; you name it.
It’d be nice if Milwaukee could work in more alley-oops for Antetokounmpo especially off the pick-and-roll—and not just in an aesthetically pleasing type of way. There appear to be multiple opportunities for easy buckets per game that aren’t capitalized on. Just don’t hold your breath.
Pushing The Pace
Everyone and their mom knows the Bucks love to get out and run in transition. They do so more than any other team this season and more than 26 other teams in 2018-19 according to Cleaning the Glass. They’re also an equal opportunity pacer; ranking first in fewest seconds per possession on missed shots and fifth after made buckets.
Almost everything Milwaukee does is to set themselves up for as many fast break opportunities as possible—right down to their defensive principles. One of Mike Budenholzer’s commandments, “thou shalt not foul” is deeply tied to their ability to stretch their legs in the open court.
Don’t get me wrong, Milwaukee isn’t a bad half court offense by any means—in fact, they’re elite. Cleaning the Glass has them down as leading the league in half court points per 100 possessions at 100.8. Regardless, Budenholzer wants his guys to take advantage of any easy opportunities and test the transition waters anytime they can.
Milwaukee isn’t as good in transition this year as last—averaging 0.7 fewer points per 100 possessions, however, they’re running more than ever before, as they lead the league by using 19.7 percent of their possessions on the fast break. They took that to a whole nother level against the Detroit Pistons and 76ers by using 22.9 and 26.4 percent of their plays, respectively, pushing the ball quickly up court.
This undoubtedly kept their opponents on their heels and allowed the Bucks to get easy buckets whenever possible. Even if it’s not quite at this same degree, they’ll continue to pressure-test the defense in the open floor.
The best way to deny an entry pass to a post player is by applying heavy on-ball pressure. By harassing the ball-handler, a defender can minimize any passing lanes or angles to the big man and make life a living hell. That’s exactly what Donte DiVincenzo did in the clip below:
With the 76ers running their primary offense through Joel Embiid in the post, the Bucks’ big men were more than happy to stay between Embiid and the basket and force him to catch the pass as far away from the block as possible. As the seven-footers tussled down low, Divincenzo got into Alec Burk’s personal bubble.
Definitely not a point guard, Burks struggles to even get into a position to feed Embiid down low, nonetheless, make a successful pass. DiVincenzo is all over it and kicks the attempted entry pass out of bounds.
Marvin Williams vs Ersan Ilyasova
The addition of Marvin Williams from the buyout market makes for intriguing observation down the stretch. Ersan Ilyasova has played pretty well for most of the season and has been a Budenholzer favorite over the past season and a half. Unfortunately, he’s struggled mightily over the past few weeks and is in danger of being passed in the rotation by Williams.
Ilyasova got the first crack against the Pistons and didn’t record a point or a shot in a little under 14 minutes of play. Most notably—he once again looked slow and out of place on defense. Williams didn’t enter that game until it was already out of hand in the fourth quarter, but Budenholzer played him alongside Antetokounmpo whom he had two nice passes to.
When it came to the marquee matchup against the 76ers, it was all Williams, as Ilyasova registered a DNP. Although he wasn’t terrific by any means, he did offer a smorgasbord of goodies to the Bucks (four rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block and one three). Visibly quicker than Ilysaova, Williams was constantly engaged on defense and able to stay in front of quicker offensive players.
It will be intriguing to see what happens between these two as the season plays out. Milwaukee has tough games this week at the Toronto Raptors and vs the Oklahoma City Thunder sandwiched by two cake walks against the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets. It will be of particular interest to see who gets the nod against the Raptors—a likely playoff challenger should Milwaukee want to advance to the NBA Finals.
For as much run as Embiid got as being a Giannis-stopper after the Greek Freak’s no good 8-for-27 Christmas Day performance, the 76ers’ big man should be under the microscope against Milwaukee.
The good news for Embiid; he’s averaged 28.5 points against the Bucks in six games over the past two seasons. The bad; he’s needed 25.2 shots per game to reach that mark. The ugly; he’s shot just 38.4 percent from the field.
Without a doubt, Milwaukee has made life as difficult as possible for the self-dubbed “best player in the world.” Made easier by the lack of shooters on the roster, the Bucks swarm Embiid in the paint like great defenses in football do to the ball-carrier. They make him go through, over or around some of the best athletes in the world:
As Embiid catches the pass on the right elbow, Brook Lopez sets up shop just inside the paint and raises his long-ass arm overhead to deter any mid-range shot attempt. When Embiid attacks off the bounce, Lopez stays in front of him and Antetokounmpo provides added support at the left block; forcing a turnover on too many steps.
Lopez has seen more one-on-one matchups with Embiid than any other Buck over the past six games and has more than held his own. According to NBA.com’s imperfect matchup stats, Embiid is 29-85 (34.2 percent) with Lopez as his primary defender over that span. Robin Lopez has also forced Embiid into 8-20 (40 percent) shooting with the help of the Bucks’ reinforcements this season.
These two teams meet once more in the regular season on April 7th, but it’s highly unlikely Milwaukee will have anything to play for at that point. If they do meet in the postseason the Bucks will need the Embiid stoppers to bring this same type of energy.