The Milwaukee Bucks completed a busy week with a clean sweep so appreciate these five observations:
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s New Free Throw Success
Thanks to the Blog Father’s
unhealthy obsession with free throws and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s awful season from the line, we know exactly when the tide began to turn for the reigning MVP.
Entering the season, Antetokounmpo was a solid, but not spectacular, 74.2 percent free throw shooter for his career. Unfortunately, after peeking at 77 percent in 2016-17, his percentage dropped for two straight years, as his offensive burden increased. He reached rock bottom when he was only knocking down 60.6 percent on February 3rd; a fairly large shortcoming for the player who frequents the charity stripe the second-most in the NBA.
Notorious for taking way too long to shoot his freebies, Antetokounmpo would often take eight or more dribbles. While most players go with the same routine every time, the Bucks’ star was mostly worried about his breathing saying this to Eric Nehm of The Athletic, “For me, I just want to catch my breath,” Antetokounmpo said. “Sometimes, I dribble five or six times. I dribble, feel comfortable, feel comfortable in my wrist and then I shoot it.”
He’s also tried putting more arc on his shots, but that hasn’t always been the most helpful. Fortunately, he appears to have found something that works—shortening his free throw routine.
Since moving to his shorter FT routine on Feb 4, Giannis has hit 72.6% of his free throws (52/73). https://t.co/Ql2KnfjeFE— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) February 29, 2020
As Frank Madden noted, Antetokunmpo has enjoyed a higher success rate since moving to his shorter free throw routine on February 4th; he’s down to five dribbles. His percentage is now up to 73.8 percent in those games—raising his season average to 62.5. That’s a far cry from his earlier struggles so hopefully this means he’s turned the corner for the better.
Milwaukee leads the NBA with a whopping 12.1 net rating, five points higher than the second-place Los Angeles Lakers. It probably shouldn’t be surprising, then, when the Bucks also have a number of the best two-man lineup combinations in the league.
Of course, Antetokounmpo has his hand in the success—appearing in six of their top nine combinations. However, Khris Middleton and Donte DiVincenzo sit at the top of the list with a 20.1 net rating in 518 minutes (just barely eclipsing the Antetokounmpo-Eric Bledsoe pairing). Sometimes the Bucks’ success can be numbing, given that it has been going on for two years now. That’s when we need to take a moment and smell the roses.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer expects his team to take care of the basketball (I mean, what coach doesn’t?). And his team has been pretty good at it, turning it over on just 13.2 percent (the sixth-lowest) of their possessions last season according to Cleaning the Glass. That number has slipped a bit this season to 13.9 percent (11th) and they’re coming off a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in this department.
This isn’t just a last week problem either, as they’ve been struggling to take care of the ball for a while. Despite most of their turnovers last week being of the dead ball variety, the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder were more than happy to take advantage of the incompetence—scoring 21, 19 and 18 points off turnovers respectively.
The Bucks are a different kind of beast when it comes to defense. Despite posting the league’s best rating at 101.1 (and dropping), they’re somehow underrated on that end of the floor. Everywhere you look, the Bucks have good to elite defenders on the court. With the exception of Kyle Korver, everyone else in their normal rotation can hold their own.
Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo are both Defensive Player of the Year Candidates and should finish one-two in the voting. Among the 47 players who contest at least five shots a game within six feet of the basket, Lopez leads them all in defensive field goal percentage and is 5.7 points better than reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert.
Antetokounmpo continues to take on any matchup the Bucks need and is their wild card. On most nights, he patrols the court like a free safety; helping out where ever needed. Don’t confuse that with an inability to take a man one-on-one, as he can do that too.
Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Wesley Matthews round out the best defensive five-man lineup in the league to at least play 100 minutes together. Each player is a good defender in their own right and has a specific role they fill with glee.
Notably coming off the bench are Robin Lopez, Marvin Williams, Donte DiVincenzo and George Hill. Although not as adept as his brother, Lopez is still a good rim deterrent for the second unit and Williams gives them more athleticism than Ersan Ilyasova. DiVincenzo is a menace off-ball while Hill does his dirty work on it.
When you add it all together, the Bucks continue to throw waves and waves of solid defenders at opponents. As good as they are individually, they work even better as a unit. That was never more apparent than against the Raptors, Thunder and Hornets, as they held each of them under 100 points—the first time all season Milwaukee has done so in three straight games.
This is fun, isn’t it? After months of rare games against good opponents, Milwaukee had two in one week. That gauntlet continues throughout the rest of the season, specifically this week. The Bucks play at the Miami Heat on Monday (the second game of a back-to-back), host the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday and then travel out west on Friday for their second matchup of the season against the Los Angeles Lakers. They wrap up the week against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
This will be another good test for a team that’s rarely been pushed to its limits this season.