We’re not all that far removed from this team being undefeated, but still, is there anything more souring for a night than watching the Milwaukee Bucks lose to the Chicago Bulls? The Bucks had reached mid-aughts Badger’s Paul Bunyan’s Axe-owning levels in this rivalry, but they just couldn’t get it done against a Bulls team that waxes and wanes between frisky and flameout. Our saving grace was the thumping of Jason Kidd on Sunday evening, that’s one tasty way to close out a week. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 113, Chicago 118 (Bull-Ogna)
- Milwaukee 117, Cleveland 102 (Third Coasting)
- Milwaukee 124, Dallas 115 (Bucks Slide Past the Mavericks)
On a full week, the Thanksgiving before-and-after duo gave us a proper plate of anxiety but a comforting end. Starting with Chicago and through the first half against Cleveland, the Bucks probably played perhaps their worst six-quarter stretch of the season given Giannis was in the lineup. Even with a narrow finish against the Bulls, it looked like they were headed for another disappointment through 24 minutes against the Cavs. Plot twist! A 35-10 third Q send Cleveland into a tailspin behind suffocating defense and the Bucks carried that energy to two straight wins. Admirable defense on Luka Doncic coupled with a fiery hot Grayson Allen got the Bucks streaking again vs. Dallas.
Just past the quarter mark of the season, Milwaukee boasts the second best record in the league. Nestled a smidge behind Boston in the standings, they’re more than living up to their contender status in the W-L columns. But one bugaboo is burgeoning between them and the Celts they’re chasing: offense.
Best offensive rating ever:— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 29, 2022
121.5 — Celtics this season
118.3 — Nets in 2021
That 3.2 gap is bigger than the Nets and the 26th team all time. pic.twitter.com/sdeQ2AHmJn
I get as sick as anyone staring at that putrid green and smiling faces, but the reality is that Boston’s chief issue in the Playoffs last year was their offense crumbling to dust. They’ve more than made up ground in that department by blasting everyone to smithereens. Part of it is shooting luck, they take the second-highest volume of threes in the league and are converting them at a league-best 40.9%. Miami led the league at 38-odd percent last year. They will eventually cool off.
Still, the point remains that while Milwaukee’s defense might actually be reaching the platonic ideal of modern schemes, their offense remains in a rut. No, I’m not worried, but the team will certainly need to address a few key issues that have plagued them so far. Here are my some areas of concerns and my personal worry level.
Lots of alarm bells are going up about Milwaukee’s putrid halfcourt offense, and while yes, they’re scoring at a bottom-ten rate in those instances versus sixth last year (per CTG), I can’t say I’m all that surprised. Khris Middleton is their best “get us out of this!” player AND their best pick-and-roll player, both vital elements of a constructive halfcourt scheme. We saw them crater in the Playoffs last year without him, and they’ve unsurprisingly done the same here. Based purely on my subjective eye test, I actually think there is more motion and flow to the offense (their assist rate is 59.2%, two points better than last season) than I can ever remember under Bud. Granted, offensive fluidity is a low bar, but I’ll be very curious if I still feel that way when Midd is back. They’re papering over those issues a tad with a top-five OREB rate.
One note that I know Zach Lowe brought up on his podcast with Eric Nehm a few weeks back was Milwaukee’s transition effectiveness. At that point I believe he said they were last in terms of transition efficiency, and they’re currently 24th in terms of points/play on transition opportunities, per Cleaning The Glass.
At first blush, that probably seems completely incongruous with how they’re built around the most terrifying transition player of the Milennium in Giannis Antetokounmpo. But here’s the dirty secret about Bud’s transition teams: they’ve never been that efficient!
Bucks Transition Points Per Play
Now, is that a hell of a lot more efficient than what happens when they dribble up in the halfcourt? Oh ya. But relative to league average efficiency in transition, outside of Bud’s first year, they’ve been in the bottom half of the league. They have been in transition on fewer possessions than ever in Bud’s tenure, down to 15.9% (12th), so that’s really the more worrying trend at this point than any sort of issues with their effectiveness since they’ve always been high in terms of points added per transition play by virtue of how frequently they get out and run.
Worry level: 3/10
This is a tough one, because it’s almost impossible to count on Milwaukee’s 3-ball falling at any decent rate once the postseason starts. It’s almost better to bake in this level of struggling from beyond the arc into the team’s trajectory to prepare ourselves for the inevitable downfall. That being said, Milwaukee isn’t down all that bad from deep at the moment, ranked 17th at 35.8%. They only shot 37% from behind the arc last year as a team.
On top of that, they’re actually generating a higher percentage of wide open 3-pointers (closest defender 6+ feet) per NBA.com: 23.9% vs. 22.5% in 2021. So, slightly more quality shots from three, that’s really the big takeaway. My biggest lingering question is whether Bobby Portis can regain his form, but we have enough of a sample size that I expect he’ll go on a run soon.
Worry level: 2/10
Giannis (39.1) has quietly overtaken Luka (37.6) for the usage rate leader this season.— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 29, 2022
He’s currently having the 3rd highest usage rate in the 3pt era, trailing only Westbrook (2017) and Harden (2019) pic.twitter.com/nQsC8I1Iyr
I hear your pitchfork-laden calls now: “Duh, Khris is out!” Chill; Giannis isn’t overtaxing his minute load (32.6 per) so there’s not all that much concern about overloading him even with his absences due to apparent knee issues. Still, it’s impossible to deny the dip in efficiency for him this year. He’s at his lowest total points per shot attempt (Defined as: how many points this player scored per attempted shot (with a 2 or 3 shot trip to the foul line also counting as 1 shot attempt) per Cleaning The Glass. At 115.7, he’s still in the 63rd percentile among bigs, but it’s his lowest mark since the 17-18 year.
He’s shooting 22.9% from deep and has been abysmal (23%) in the short midrange from 4-14 feet on the floor. It’s his lowest eFG% since 17-18. Will that all recover when Khris is back and there’s less of a creative burden on him? One would hope so, but the small threat of a midrange helped him become a more diverse scoring threat in the postseason last year. It bears monitoring.
Worry Level: 4/10
I expected to go in emerging a bit more worried about these trends, but individually, when Giannis’ shooting is your biggest worry, I’d say you’re in a pretty good place. Additionally, it still seems unfair to properly judge their performance on that end without Khris. At this point, the biggest issue is really that philosophically they do still lean on the “do stuff, superstar” as one of their chief strategies. If that type of stagnancy persists even at full strength, count me worried about their ability to finally break through in the Playoffs with an above average offensive performance.
Plays of the Week
Another solid collection of standouts, including Giannis’ rolling power, Grayson flashing moves near the rim and Jrue working his tail off to keep up with Luka.
Grayson the Closeout Artist
A small-small PnR gives Grayson a potential wide open look from three; instead he pumpfakes to leave Cedi Osman wrong-footed defensively. With Cleveland in scramble mode, he senses the paint is lear and takes advantage to drive inside. His athleticism flashes here too, taking off from basically the dotted line, staying mid-air long enough to contort his body around the leaping Jarrett Allen and somehow dropping in a banker as Sandro prevents Dean Wade from getting extra resistance at the end.
The official “Giannis, WTF” entry in this week’s preferred plays. Insane touch on this pass too from Jevon.
Giannis Rolls; Jrue Passes
Grayson gets the ball on the move and flips it back to Holiday in quick succession while impeding Luka’s ability to keep up with Jrue. Grayson’s man gets caught up in the muck of Giannis also setting a screen, leaving Allen open atop the arc if Holiday wants him. Instead, Antetokounmpo rolling distracts literally everyone on the floor. Hardaway keeps tagging him, Finney-Smith rolls with him, Dinwiddie (I think) digs in from the strong side and Dwight Powell roams into the paint from the weakside. When Holiday rifles it to Bobby in the corner, almost all five Mavs defenders are in the paint.
Pretty Pocket Pass
Marques Johnson commented on the broadcast this was something they’ve been working on in practice, so it was refreshing to see it look so smooth here. Brook and Giannis run a little quasi PnR action, but really it’s just to get the switch and move Vucevic onto Giannis. Once Lopez slips into the lane, Giannis and Jrue act quickly. Holiday rushes up from the corner to collect the bounce pass from Antetokounmpo, sho prepares to set a screen on Dosunmu. Instead, Holiday quickly reverses his momentum with a ripthrough, drives hard baseline and while Dosunmu is stuck in mud, Vucevic has to cover for him and block Holiday’s drive. Everyone on the backside is still distracted, Giannis sprints into the lane and a picture perfect pass results in a wide open dunk.
Jrue Locks up Luka
Pardon the crappy picture here, but NBA.com doesn’t allow screen recording of full games anymore so I had to resort to my phone. Regardless, that doesn’t take away from the tenacity of Holiday fighting over basically four re-screens and Bertans feet on this one possession to force Luka into a difficult stepback. Not pictured is the corner three he hits on the other end after this play. He looked locked in against Luka.
Nov. 30: The play of the week is...
This poll is closed
Grayson the Closeout Artist
Giannis Rolls; Jrue Passes
Pretty Pocket Pass
Jrue Locks up Luka
That’ll do it for another wrap-up!