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Milwaukee Bucks Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up

What’s up with all the opponent 3-point shooting?

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been life on the road for the travelin’ Milwaukee Bucks, who finally landed back in the Recombobulation Area (s/o Dan Shafer), Monday. Slowly but surely, the Bucks have started to unwrap their potential, gifting us a spat of wins (12 of their last 15) that have re-placed them firmly in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. These days, it doesn’t take many losses to tumble backwards, but the Bucks Big Three have lost precisely two games since July. Unfortunately, all the news since then has been a bit troubling. There was the Khris Middleton injury scare, plus Giannis Antetokounmpo AND Donte DiVincenzo entering health and safety protocols alongside practically the entire league. Expect that to be the dominant topic in the weeks ahead. Let’s wrap up.

The Week That Was

I posed this question on the Brew Hoop Podcast this week, but is there any team more annoying to lose to than Miami right now? It wasn’t just the fact PJ Tucker bottled up Giannis Antetokounmpo and played like a shrimpy Bam Adebayo, it was the whole Caleb Martin/Max Strus of it all. I’ve flushed that memory. A satisfying dub came afterwards in Houston, when Giannis and Khris Middleton fiddled around then played the Rockets like a fiddle in the fourth. The Knicks game on Sunday, a game worthy of a bloody mary if ever there was one, had all the fixings one could want. A hot Middleton start, Jrue Holiday methodically scoring to stem Knicks momentum in the third, and generous scorekeepers awarding Giannis a triple-double after the buzzer. Boston made Milwaukee look like a tuckered out squad, one that wasn’t helped by the Celtics starting 3-11 from deep, then proceeding to hit 17-36 over the final three periods. We’ll leave it at that.

Weekly Wondering

One of the core tenets of the Milwaukee Bucks defensive system the last few years has been the torrent of triples that opponents launch against them. Bud’s core principle has been to protect the rim at all costs. That’s opened them up to heavy amounts of threes and, despite boasting great defenses, we debated it to dizzying degrees last year. Regardless, I couldn’t help but conjure up images of the whole “outlier” discourse from early last season when the Miami Heat tied a franchise record 22 threes in a game. It brought back the warm, fuzzy feelings of this Bucks team allowing multiple franchise record three-point performances over the course of last December and January.

We’ve come a long way since then, in particular during the Playoffs, when the Bucks were middle of the pack in terms of opponent triples allowed. As a refresher, let’s lay down the percentage of opponent shots that come from deep — as well as by location — per Cleaning The Glass for this franchise.

Opponent 3-Point Frequency (Percentage of Total Shots)

Season % 3PA Rank % Corner 3PA Rank % Non-Corner 3PA Rank
Season % 3PA Rank % Corner 3PA Rank % Non-Corner 3PA Rank
18-19 36.40% 30 8.00% 16 28.30% 30
19-20 39.30% 28 8.60% 22 30.70% 30
20-21 38.90% 26 8.30% 12 30.60% 30
20-21 (Playoffs) 36.50% 9 5.90% 2 30.60% 18
21-22 43% 29 9.90% 21 33.10% 30

Stats per Cleaning The Glass

If it’s seemed like teams are shooting even more threes against this Bucks defense, well, they are. Some stats have remained consistent, just as in every year of Bud’s tenure, Milwaukee has allowed the highest percentage of non-corner threes in the league. That’s not all that surprising, but teams have grown more brazen with how many they attempt. Another wrinkle is that coaches have been able to target the corners at higher levels too — in direct opposition to their shutting down of the corners in last year’s Playoffs, a key to their short-circuiting of Phoenix’s layered offensive sets in the Finals.

So far, the corners haven’t crushed them, with the fifth-best opponent percentage from there, 35.2%, in the league. That’s usually more a product of luck than anything else, although the Bucks do have some long-winged defenders with the ability to shoot out to the corners and contest. Anecdotally, I feel like I’ve seen more players utilizing the patented Pat Connaughton fly-by defensive technique this year.

All in all, it’s an interesting development given that Milwaukee’s rim defense theoretically shouldn’t be at quite the same wrecking level it’s been in year’s past. Quietly the Bucks are nearly allowing as few shots at the rim this year (29.2%) as they did last year (27.8%). I think you could consider that a win given that they only have one premier interior defender currently logging meaningful minutes in Giannis. The problem is, those other shots aren’t turning into midrange jumpers, they’re turning into threes.

Indeed, it seems like teams are trying to take advantage with shots before Milwaukee’s defense can set, or capitalizing on the Bucks increased reliance on blitzing, where the big comes out aggressively to attack the ball handler until the primary defender can recover. Or, they’ve been “flat hedging” (H/t Oldresorter) where the big basically runs parallel to the ball handler for a step or two before sprinting back to his man in the paint. During those moments, with two on the ball, it simply takes a decent sequence of passing from the opponent to find a fairly solid shot. In most instances, I presume that would result in catch and shoot triples. That’s in contrast to the zone drop, where I figured teams had to pull up for triples more frequently with Brook sagging off. That’s generally a good thing, as pull-ups convert at a lower rate from deep (the league is shooting 32% on pull-up triples; 36% on catch-and-shoot this season). Strangely enough, the opposite has been true, albeit slightly.

Type of Opponent 3PA

Season Total Opp. 3PA C&S 3PA % of Total Pull-up 3PA % of Total
Season Total Opp. 3PA C&S 3PA % of Total Pull-up 3PA % of Total
18-19 36.30 25.79 71.14% 9.96 27.45%
19-20 39.30 27.56 71.05% 10.62 27.01%
20-21 38.60 26.90 69.73% 11.01 28.53%
21-22 41.90 28.72 68.62% 12.62 30.12%

(Per NBA.com; FYI, the C&S/Pull-up percentages are taken out of the “total” opponent 3-point shots this season, not divided by the per-game number in the first column. There are some slight discrepancies between the “per game” and “total” stats. It didn’t shift the percentages significantly)

Teams have taken a slightly higher percentage of their triples as pull-ups against the Bucks. That could be a partial reason why their opponent percentages are a bit better overall. Those shots are tougher than sequences like below for example:

It’s not an anomaly that it feels like catch-and-shoots have been more prevalent though, particularly in the last week. Cleveland shot 42 C&S threes out of their 46 total attempts. Miami was at 35/47 as C&S. Houston, 34/46. New York, 37/49. Boston, 40/47. It may not be as much a coincidence that the Bucks 3-point luck waned a bit this past week.

I doubt that this massive volume will be able to keep up throughout the season, but it’s also incumbent upon them to try and run teams off the line a bit more. Easier said than done I suppose when they’re running these types of aggressive schemes with any big not named Giannis Antetokounmpo. We’ve also seen more zone than I can recall in any past Bud season, at least this early on. Still, tamping down on opponent triples was one of the Bucks pillars of success last postseason. How they proceed from here is worth monitoring.

Play of the Week

Okay, the people have spoken and we’re going to try out a new segment here where we vote on the play of the week. Some of these are fairly obvious — the Jrue oop — and others are more obscure, random bits and bobs that I file away while watching. Some might be intricate offensive sets, others feature high-level effort, and others make me slack-jawed. There are invariably going to be plays I’ve missed, so just let me know in the comments. But, without further ado, I present this week’s nominees from the committee of one.

Miami - Passing Makes Perfect

This is just a beautiful sequence. It starts with Giannis getting the Heat defense on their heels (a rarity in that game) with Caleb Martin helping off Rodney Hood in the corner to try and cut off an easy transition driving lane for Giannis. Hood pumpfakes, draws Tucker in and reverses it to Giannis. He whips the ball to Holiday, who’s already got a running start, and proceeds to set a quick screen to disrupt Tyler Herro before he rolls hard to the rim.

Tucker cuts off the driving lane and tags Giannis, so Holiday whirls it to Allen who’s been spacing the floor in the weakside corner. His baseline drive gets past Kyle Lowry and Tucker has to cut off the easy path to the basket. Pat Connaughton vacates the dunker spot he’s held down all possession, giving Giannis a potential outlet for three if he needs it.

Spoiler: He didn’t. Allen makes a picture perfect bounce pass. Lay-up.

Houston - Bobby Block to Jrue Finish

This is sheer impressive effort from Milwaukee’s second big, hustling down the floor to swat away an easy transition finish — followed by Pat barely saving the ball inbounds before falling to his butt. Khris races down the floor and dances a pass through to Jrue (who flashes along the baseline right past an unsuspecting Erin Gordon) for the dipsy-doo layin. Some smash mouth followed by sophistication.

Houston - Giannis Does it All

It’s sort of a prerequisite that we have some type of ludicrous Giannis play in the running each week. This one stood out for the two-way dominance and the unreal touch. It started with a Rockets pick-and-roll, and as usual Bobby doubled the ball handler with Holiday, freeing up Sengun for a free path to the basket on his roll. Grayson Allen helps way off his man to tag Sengun and offer resistance at the rim (Middleton hops in the tussle for good measure), which buys enough hesitation for Giannis to recover and make the stellar block at the rim.

On the other end, it’s a typical Giannis running down the lane to establish early post position. After Jrue shifts the floor to Grayson for a deep three, it caroms off the front of the rim and GIannis is in prime position to make a split-second pinpoint pass by batting the ball to Portis beneath the bucket.

Houston - Jrue/Giannis Alley-Oop

Another play borne from sheer force of will. This one was the highlight of the week from a nostalgic and social media perspective, conjuring up images of Phoenix and laying the nail in the coffin of Houston’s heck of an effort.


There are our nominees, vote in the poll below for your top play of the week. As always, thanks for reading!

Poll

Dec. 15: The Play of the Week is...

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Miami - Passing Makes Perfect
    (10 votes)
  • 31%
    Houston - Bobby Block/Jrue Finish
    (9 votes)
  • 6%
    Houston - Giannis Does it All
    (2 votes)
  • 27%
    Houston - Jrue/Giannis Alley-oop
    (8 votes)
29 votes total Vote Now