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Do the Milwaukee Bucks Need to Win The Same Way Next Postseason?

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What other pathways could this team follow to a championship?

NBA: Finals-Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As the dust settles on an offseason where the Milwaukee Bucks (and fans) are still living on Cloud 50-piece, we have a far clearer picture of how Jon Horst, Mike Budenholzer and company plan to try and defend their title next season. All in all, their retooling was a decent effort given the limited resources at their disposal. Of course, the turd in our PBR keg was PJ Tucker leaving for the Miami Heat. It’s not so much the departure, but the destination. Did it have to be Miami, dog? Either way, I’ve enjoyed the coolness of praise heaped upon Pat Riley’s retirement home roster reshaping. And yet, as we parse out the minute allocation heading into next season, I can’t shrug off the antler prodding my neck...how are we replacing PJ Tucker again?

I’ve squinted at Semi Ojeleye, and while I see the blurry outlines of a Tucker-type, there’s a reason one garnered a minimum and the other a midlevel. The hope is Ojeleye’s defensive tenacity and semi-respectable 3-point percentage can provide a facsimile, but one of the calling cards of Tucker’s arrival was not just his defensive consistency, but his communication. Did the title run give the remaining players enough reps that they’ll be able to navigate switching with same level of success? Hopefully. We really won’t know until the Playoffs, where the Brooklyn Nets loom as the presumptive favorite.

(A quick digression, while I fully admit that with all three Brooklyn stars, they likely would’ve toppled Milwaukee—heck, I picked Nets in 7)—I do think media types ignore the fact that putting the ball almost entirely in Kevin Durant’s hands is the scariest outcome for every possession. If you want to offload some fourth quarter shots to Harden or Irving next year, be my guest!)

While his importance against Atlanta and Phoenix helped us forget, Bobby was unplayable in the climactic final three Nets games. This year, the staff will need to find a way to keep him on the court. Milwaukee found ways to keep Brook on the court against Brooklyn, which should provide a nice buttress if Semi is merely semi-adequate as a Tucker replacement in smallball groups. Milwaukee won with defense, offensive rebounding and transition last season. The Bucks will miss the defensive flexibility PJ Tucker allotted them last season, but it’s possible they’re better prepared to win in other ways.


A team’s postseason approach is always going to be more reliant upon their star players than the role pieces, but I was curious how title teams have performed in the year following their success. Not necessarily in terms of result, but whether some of the four factors (offensive/defensive rating, Offensive rebounding and turnover rate) they rode to a ‘chip followed suit the next year. Here’s a rundown of title teams since 2010 and how they rated out in the following postseason (stats per Cleaning The Glass):

Title Teams Follow-Up Offensive Performance

Team Result W L Diff Diff Rank Pts/Poss Pts/Poss Rank eFG% eFG% Rank TOV% TOV% Rank ORB% ORB% Rank FT Rate FT Rate Rank
Team Result W L Diff Diff Rank Pts/Poss Pts/Poss Rank eFG% eFG% Rank TOV% TOV% Rank ORB% ORB% Rank FT Rate FT Rate Rank
Milwaukee 2021 Title 16 7 5.7 3 114.5 10 53.20% 10 12.90% 13 29.90% 2 16.3 17
_
Lakers 2020 Title 16 5 9.2 1 117.8 3 56.70% 2 15.60% 14 29.80% 3 22.8 6
Lakers 2021 1st Round Exit 3 4 -5.8 13 104.5 16 47.70% 16 14.60% 19 27.90% 7 23.2 6
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Raptors 2019 Title 16 8 5.7 3 111.2 7 52.10% 5 12.40% 5 22.90% 14 23.1 6
Raptors 2020 2nd Round Exit 7 4 2.1 5 108.3 11 52.10% 12 13.00% 5 20.60% 13 18.7 15
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Warriors 2018 Title 16 5 10.5 1 113.9 1 54.80% 2 13.30% 4 24.00% 9 19.4 11
Warriors 2019 Finals Loss 14 8 3.6 4 115.9 1 55.50% 1 15.20% 12 28.70% 5 23.3 5
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Warriors 2017 Title 16 1 16 1 121.3 2 58.20% 1 13.70% 7 26.10% 10 24.4 4
Warriors 2018 Title 16 5 10.5 1 113.9 1 54.80% 2 13.30% 4 24.00% 9 19.4 11
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Cavaliers 2016 Title 16 5 10.7 2 117.8 1 55.00% 1 13.30% 7 30.10% 4 19.5 12
Cavaliers 2017 Finals Loss 13 5 9.9 2 121.6 1 58.10% 2 13.50% 6 26.30% 9 24.9 2
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Warriors 2015 Title 16 5 8.2 1 108.3 3 52.40% 1 15.20% 15 27.30% 7 18.6 13
Warriors 2016 Finals Loss 15 9 4.8 4 111.5 4 53.40% 3 14.30% 8 26.50% 7 20 10
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Spurs 2014 Title 16 7 10.2 1 114.7 1 55.10% 2 13.50% 4 25.40% 12 22 12
Spurs 2015 1st Round Exit 3 4 0.2 6 108.1 4 50.50% 4 12.60% 3 26.90% 8 20.3 10
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Heat 2013 Title 16 7 7.9 1 110.2 1 51.90% 2 14.50% 6 27.50% 9 23.4 8
Heat 2014 Finals Loss 13 7 2.7 2 113.1 4 55.70% 1 14.10% 5 20.70% 16 23.8 8
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Heat 2012 Title 16 7 7.8 1 109.3 3 50.50% 3 14.80% 7 28.50% 8 27.1 3
Heat 2013 Title 16 7 7.9 1 110.2 1 51.90% 2 14.50% 6 27.50% 9 23.4 8
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Mavericks 2011 Title 16 5 7.9 1 112.9 1 52.20% 1 14.60% 7 28.20% 10 27.6 6
Mavericks 2012 1st Round Exit 0 4 -8.7 13 102 8 45.20% 11 15.80% 9 27.80% 9 29.4 2

Title Teams Follow-Up Defensive Performance

Team Result Opp. Pts/Poss Pts/Poss Rank Opp. eFG% eFG% Rank Opp. TOV% TOV% Rank Opp. ORB% ORB% Rank Opp. FT Rate FT Rate Rank
Team Result Opp. Pts/Poss Pts/Poss Rank Opp. eFG% eFG% Rank Opp. TOV% TOV% Rank Opp. ORB% ORB% Rank Opp. FT Rate FT Rate Rank
Milwaukee 2021 Title 108.8 3 52.90% 8 13.20% 6 21.30% 3 16.2 3
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Lakers 2020 Title 108.6 4 52.50% 4 15.00% 4 21.90% 5 25.7 15
Lakers 2021 1st Round Exit 110.3 6 53.80% 9 14.80% 3 21.90% 4 20.1 10
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Raptors 2019 Title 105.4 5 49.80% 4 16.10% 2 27.00% 9 23.4 10
Raptors 2020 2nd Round Exit 106.2 1 51.50% 3 15.30% 3 22.60% 8 20.2 4
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Warriors 2018 Title 103.5 1 48.20% 1 13.90% 9 25.60% 11 18.9 3
Warriors 2019 Finals Loss 112.2 10 53.00% 12 15.00% 5 27.10% 10 24.9 14
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Warriors 2017 Title 105.3 2 48.50% 1 14.20% 6 26.40% 9 20.9 4
Warriors 2018 Title 103.5 1 48.20% 1 13.90% 9 25.60% 11 18.9 3
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Cavaliers 2016 Title 107.1 8 51.70% 10 14.40% 8 24.30% 2 18.4 3
Cavaliers 2017 Finals Loss 111.7 7 52.10% 7 13.90% 8 28.30% 12 19 3
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Warriors 2015 Title 100.1 1 46.00% 2 15.00% 3 28.50% 12 22.8 10
Warriors 2016 Finals Loss 106.7 6 48.60% 6 15.30% 3 31.70% 14 22.6 11
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Spurs 2014 Title 104.5 4 49.50% 7 15.50% 5 26.50% 7 20.4 1
Spurs 2015 1st Round Exit 108 9 51.30% 12 13.40% 13 25.40% 2 23.6 11
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Heat 2013 Title 102.4 4 48.00% 6 18.30% 4 31.50% 13 24 9
Heat 2014 Finals Loss 110.3 9 54.20% 14 16.10% 4 26.90% 9 21.8 5
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Heat 2012 Title 101.5 6 47.00% 6 16.30% 4 29.60% 12 23.2 9
Heat 2013 Title 102.4 4 48.00% 6 18.30% 4 31.50% 13 24 9
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Mavericks 2011 Title 105 5 48.70% 11 15.50% 6 30.00% 7 24.5 6
Mavericks 2012 1st Round Exit 110.7 15 53.40% 16 13.50% 12 20.00% 1 27.4 15

In the last decade, it’s relatively unprecedented for a championship team like Milwaukee to rank so mediocre offensively in comparison to its Playoff compatriots. Scoring was up universally last year, so their points/possession mark on Cleaning The Glass still rates out as the 5th best among the past 10 title teams, but offensive stagnation was the cause of significant consternation throughout the Playoffs.

There’s not always perfect continuity between teams from season-to-season, so you can see some instances of fall-off for obvious reasons. The 2021 Lakers were injured, 2020 Raptors lost Kawhi, etc. The one I keep coming back to is the 2012 Mavs. There are obvious parallels with the international superstars and sweetness of a homegrown victory, but that Dallas team also opted not to entirely “run it back.” The key player in that cog was a 28-year old-Tyson Chandler, who went to the Knicks, but they also didn’t retain J.J. Barea (the T-wolves paid up) or DeShawn Stevenson. Also, the 2012 Dallas team featured Yi Jianlian appearing in 30 games so...clearly they had deeper problems than this Bucks team plans to face.

But the central name there is Chandler, who proved a perfect frontcourt compliment to Dirk as a rim protector that could clean up any messes that got by players not named Shawn Marion. His contract was significantly more costly than Tucker’s, but when factoring in the luxury tax bill that would’ve accompanied retaining PJ, there’s some sort of loose parallel you could draw. Regardless, the more important connection is their importance in helping each team play a particular way: we saw Tucker help create a mighty switchy smallball crew that unlocked the full potential of Giannis as a perimeter and interior defender. We need to see if anyone can capably step into that role, or whether Portis’s flashes as a semi-competent switching defender mean he might create a bigball version of that lineup.

Still, there were real limitations with playing PJ Tucker nearly 30 minutes per game in the Playoffs offensively. To me, Milwaukee’s offseason looks like they were focused on all the scraps they left on the scoring table.


I still expect a midseason move for Horst and company given that’s been their MO these last three years, but it’s hard not to look at this roster and feel like there’s potential for the Bucks to win in ways beyond their grind-it-out 2021 run. Milwaukee’s 32.1% 3-point percentage in the Playoffs is the stand-out stat. It’s the worst mark for an NBA champion from deep since the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who shot 30.4% on just 13 attempts per game. Given the modern game’s reliance on the deepball, it’s a minor miracle Milwaukee overcame that brick barrage. We’ve said for years that eventually Milwaukee’s 3-point shot has to translate from the regular season to the Playoffs. Onto the next year I guess? In reality, there has to be at least a bit of bounce back next season, even with the departure of Bryn Forbes, whose shot fell off precipitously past the first round.

Improving that figure is the first bullet point on the list of offensive improvements, and I do believe nailing a few more can loosen the screws on their tight-as-nails halfcourt offense. Their leap to 35.1% from deep in the NBA Finals came at exactly the right time. Despite their abysmal longball percentage, you might be surprised to know they had the 9th best eFG% at 52.4%. That was thanks to boasting the 2nd best 2-point percentage in the Playoffs at 55%, on the fourth most attempts in the postseason. “Let it fly” became “Let us dunk, drive, drill midrangers and drop floaters.” Catchy. Most of that shooting performance seems fairly repeatable when looking at the comparison of shooting splits by location versus their regular season averages. Not much was out of whack, and Giannis driving to the rim ensures their percentage should be near the tops every postseason even with Jrue Holiday’s topsy-turvy trips down low (54% finishing at the rim postseason compared to 66% in the regular season).

One strength I’m not sure will follow them into next postseason is offensive rebounding. They catapulted to an elite level in the postseason to make up for their scattershot shooting. This is where swapping out Tucker may impact the team most on this offensive end. His 7.4 OREB% in the Playoffs was basically right in line with Brook Lopez and Giannis — Semi isn’t a replacement for that as a career 3.5 OREB%. Donte DiVincenzo is an elite offensive rebounder for a guard, but he’d need to make a leap to provide what Tucker did, and it hasn’t been a part of Grayson Allen’s game at all through three seasons (career 1.3% OREB).

The whole idea here is that one of Milwaukee’s core paths to the title was controlling the possession game through OREB. I’m not sure that will translate as well next postseason, but there’s still meat on the bone in one obvious spot.


The clearest area for potential improvement was their halfcourt offense, which went p-u through the postseason. Their transition game more than made up for that (the Ragu infusion might even improve that aspect) but that limburger halfcourt game is why they got into those possessions at the third lowest rate in the Playoffs (78%) behind just the Sixers and Wizards.

For some perspective, here is the halfcourt points per 100 plays (per CTG) for the last 10 champions versus the Playoff average for points/100 plays in the halfcourt that year.

Postseason Halfcourt Points/100 Plays

Team Pts/100 Plays Playoff Avg. Diff
Team Pts/100 Plays Playoff Avg. Diff
20-21 Bucks 94.8 98.8 -4
2019-20 Lakers 101.3 98.3 3
2018-19 Raptors 95.8 93.9 1.9
2017-18 Warriors 101.3 94.2 7.1
2016-17 Warriors 106.2 96.1 10.1
2015-16 Cavaliers 97.6 90.7 6.9
2014-15 Warriors 90.5 87.8 2.7
2013-14 Spurs 98.1 91.6 6.5
2012-13 Heat 91.5 87.1 4.4
2011-12 Heat 89 85 4
2010-11 Mavs 95.1 87.1 8

No champion in the last decade has been worse than the postseason average in the halfcourt, let alone that much worse than average. It’s not necessarily a new phenomenon for this era, as Bud’s 2018-19 team was barely above the postseason average in the halfcourt, while the bubble team was right on the dot. It was still surprising though, particularly given Holiday was brought in to theoretically fix the spacing issues created by Eric Bledsoe’s body betraying him every April-May.

Likewise, it’s not new that Bud would push for his teams to live in transition, as his last few postseason teams were near the top in terms of transition frequency. To make up for it in 2021, the offensive rebounding improved as did their defense. It’s possible each of those take a slight step back next year, so, they may need another path: is there a chance to wring more juice out of the halfcourt from this team?

I’m not going to bet big on the 3-point percentage jumping all that significantly — we’ve heard that story before with this Bucks team. But, I’d expect a modest improvement, and even that would be enough to juice any halfcourt hideousness. Getting teams in defensive rotation may also be easier when one of your players, Tucker, doesn’t have to be nailed down to a particular spot on the floor. Donte or Allen give you a little more off-the-dribble and passing juice that makes it harder to hide weak links in a switch-heavy defensive scheme. George Hill also provides a possible outlet who can create in a pinch and hopefully provide a proper release valve either in the dunker or behind the arc.

The other hope has to be that Holiday may still have some offensive upside he can tap into next postseason. I wasn’t all that surprised that his 3-point percentage dipped from the regular season. He had been shooting a career-high compared to his career as a mid-30% shooter. Still, his postseason 30% mark from deep ranked in the 0th percentile among combo guards...there must be some room to grow. More importantly, his rim finishing is the lowest-hanging fruit. At just 54% in the playoffs (19th percentile among combo guards), it was a far cry from his 66% in the regular season; he’s been in the high 50’s-mid-60’s for the last five seasons or so too. He’s never really going to be a player that draws fouls either, he tends to finesse around contact, so making a few more of those bunnies that had us wracking our heads is another easy recipe for improving that figure. Those improvements remain a genuine question mark given the level of effort required of him in the postseason, but he has the clearest path to improvement on that end.

On top of that, Giannis showed continued growth as an individual scorer in halfcourt possessions as the Playoffs went on. Were that to accelerate next season, and he couples it with even a halfway decent free throw percentage, some of those ugly halfcourt woes could have cures.


Given the absence of Tucker, the Bucks are banking on a few different cast members shoring up their backcourt and potentially incremental improvement from Bobby Portis being enough to help push them back to another title. There are still myriad moves to come I’m sure, one only has to look at Milwaukee’s roster to start last season vs. who was holding the Larry O’Brien at the end. But, there are plenty of reasons to believe this team can repeat, with their core three at the very center of it. I’ve found myself generally pleased with the offeason approach and haul, but can’t shake the feeling I’m glossing over the difficulty of replacing the defensive skeleton key that Tucker was during last season’s unlikely championship run.

I used Dallas as my comparison point earlier, so I’ll go back to the well with Mark Cuban’s quote about the grass not always being greener in relation to Rick Carlisle’s job. Not long after that quote, Carlisle was gone for Indiana’s pastures. In Milwaukee, we’ve got Hill, Allen, Ojeleye and Hood in place of Teague, Forbes, Tucker and Merrill?

To me, the deer district is looking greener right now, but will it look gold by season’s end?