Welcome back to Last 10, Next 10, a feature we plan on posting over the course of the Milwaukee Bucks’ regular season and (hopefully) lengthy playoff run. With 82 games, this should run eight times before the postseason comes around, where we’ll review the team’s last 10 games and the next 10 games. The goal is that this approach helps us better digest the slog of the NBA calendar. In case you missed out, here are the previous entries:
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are from basketball-reference.com, as of Friday, February 7.
Bucks’ Season To-Date
Record: 44-7 (1st in Eastern Conference, 1st in NBA)
Offensive Rating: 113.8 (3rd in NBA)
Defensive Rating: 102.0 (1st in NBA)
Simple Rating System: 11.14 (1st in NBA)
Bucks’ Last 10
7 home games, 3 away games
8 Eastern Conference matchups, 1 divisional matchup
Net rating (last 10 games): +12.9 (leads second place by 1.3 points)
GIF of the Bucks’ Last 10:
Folks, I hate to break it to you. Milwaukee is boring. The Bucks are boring. They smash their opponents like a toddler smashes a beloved toy: over and over and over. They might give fans a scare for a quarter or two, but the end result is almost inevitable. It took Denver making 22 threes to win by single-digits on the last day of January. The last time the Bucks lost before that was January 6, when the San Antonio Spurs made 19 threes. And the time before that? Christmas Day, against the Sixers, where they made 21 threes.
This is not advanced statistics. This is not detailed analysis. The best way to beat these Bucks is to make 18 (or more) three point shots, and even then, you still might not win. The Bucks’ record in games where opponents make 18 or more threes: 4-3; If you relax a bit and knock that requirement down to 17 makes, Milwaukee is 8-4. I mean, look at this!
Giannis Antetokounmpo is an MVP. Khris Middleton is an All Star. Eric Bledsoe is a First Team All Defense guard. Brook Lopez is a DPOY candidate, and twin brother Robin is holding down the fort off the bench. George Hill (currently out with a hamstring injury) is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Donte DiVincenzo does things. Pat Connaughton is in the dunk contest.
The trade deadline came and went without much fanfare for Milwaukee, because GM Jon Horst recognized the value of keeping this league-leading band together. Why bother fixing what ain’t broken? This isn’t to say that Horst wasn’t actively seeking a deal, but the Bucks’ lack of activity and general low profile this deadline indicates that the front office places a higher value on maintaining what is on pace to be a historically-great team over the risk of moving players and assets to improve the rotation-level talent...with the potential downside of disrupting chemistry and momentum. Here’s how The Ringer summed it up in their 30-team report card following the trade deadline:
The Bucks have a plus-12.4 point differential this season, which would be the best in NBA history. Milwaukee is two deep at every position, has the top defense in the league, and has no observable weaknesses. A quarter of the roster is related to another player on the team. The hallway wrestling factions are established. You don’t mess with a team like this.
Bucks’ Next 10
February 8 – @ Orlando Magic (22-30)
February 10 – vs. Sacramento Kings (19-31)
February 12 – @ Indiana Pacers (31-20)
February 13-16 – All Star Weekend!
February 20 – @ Detroit Pistons (19-34)
February 22 – vs. Philadelphia 76ers (31-21)
February 24 – @ Washington Wizards (17-32)
February 25 – @ Toronto Raptors (37-14)
February 28 – vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (31-20)
March 1 – @ Charlotte Hornets (16-35)
March 2 – @ Miami Heat (34-16)
7 away games, 3 home games
8 Eastern Conference matchups, 2 divisional matchups
Combined opponent W/L: 257-253 (0.504 W/L percentage)
(5 opponents who are 10+ games over 0.500)
GIF of the Bucks’ Next 10:
There’s a lot of volatility on the upcoming schedule. The Bucks just waxed Philly and get to play two middling squads in the Magic and Kings...then they have to travel to Indiana right before the All Star break. Then, they get a leisurely visit to the depleted Pistons...right before taking on Philadelphia again. Oh, right after that we get to run a layup line with the Washington Wizards...and immediately travel to Toronto for a showdown with the defending champs. Then a quick visit from OKC, and here we go, a trip to Charlotte, that should be pretty calm...only to move right along to South Beach for the new-look Heat. On a SEGABABA!
Like I said, there’s lots of ups-and-downs approaching. We’re entering the part of the season where teams at the bottom are openly tanking and others with little to play for are more open to experimenting for the following year. The home stretch offers ample opportunity for the Bucks to lose their focus, and dull the edge that they have sharpened over the first 51 games of the year. It’s on Mike Budenholzer and the team’s veteran mainstays to ensure that everyone walks the walk...if they do that, they might stroll to 60 victories this year.
The nice thing about the Bucks is that they’re consistent. You know what to expect, particularly in their primary areas of focus. They get to the rim on offense, and prevent the same on defense. We talked about the idea of the Danger Zone! in our last installment, which focused on the team’s success when they control FG% differential and keep that metric tilted in their favor. At this point in the season, we have more data points to refer to, and we can confirm the trends we identified previously. Out of 51 games, only seven of them have seen opponents shoot better than the Bucks from the field. Milwaukee’s record in those games? 2-5. In fact, all seven of the Bucks’ losses come when the opponent is within 4.0% from the field of Milwaukee; their record is an even 7-7 when this is the case.
This scatter plot shows the field goal percentage for the Bucks and their opponent in every game this year. You can see the clear advantage Milwaukee holds in this area; most of their data points are above the 0.450 line, whereas most opponents fall below that line. This is the power of a fully-operational Giannis and a green-lit (from midrange) Khris Middleton, all surrounded by shooting. The Bucks are going to bludgeon their way through this stretch of games (likely without George Hill for some time, due to a hamstring injury), and into the playoffs, and likely through the playoffs, until someone can hold their own. And really, with the gear that this team is hitting, who in the league looks like they can hold their own four times out of seven?