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Milwaukee Bucks Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up

How has Milwaukee’s defense looked without Brook on the floor?

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Spanking the defending champs sent this week off on a beautiful note, as the Milwaukee Bucks just keep on rolling to keep pace with Boston atop the standings. There may not have been a Donte DiVincenzo tribute video last night, but Jevon Carter stripping him at midcourt and leading a fastbreak on the other end was tribute enough. Let’s wrap-up.

The Week that Was

What started out as such a promising week with a triumphant win over the surging Kings and stealing the lunch money from Jason Kidd’s poor poor Mavericks got a bit hairier after fumbling down the stretch in Houston. A herky-jerky game against the Warriors was full of technicals, play stoppages, baffling decisions by Giannis...and the Bucks still dominated the defending champs. Weird!

Weekly Wondering

If I polled 50 fans to pinpoint the biggest storyline of this Milwaukee Bucks season so far, I think a majority would identify Brook Lopez’s sterling two-way play. His emergence as a better-than-reliable triple chucker, but more importantly his defense, keyed this team’s success through the quarter mark while they dealt with numerous absences and injuries. While I’m sure no one is excited to recall the days of yesteryear when the Bucks played defense without Brook, I was at least curious to see how they’re faring, partially due to this graphic:

It hit me right after this that there’s likely a significantly smaller difference in on/off for Brook given how Bud can keep Giannis on the floor as a rim protector. But also, Immanuel Quickly is third on this list, so yes, gulp some salt when you see this graphic. Anyway, there will be points this postseason when the Bucks have to play smaller, or Lopez needs a break, so the defense holding up in those instances is critical.

First, a note. There have only been 230 possessions without Giannis or Book on the floor, and those minutes have been abysmal. For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to ignore that reality given it hopefully won’t factor into game time during the playoffs.

In the aggregate, the Bucks have a +2.0 points/100poss. differential when Brook’s off the floor. The things that aren’t surprising:

  • Teams shoot more at the rim
  • Teams shoot a teensy bit better at the rim
  • Teams get more offensive rebounds (2.7% worse DREB%)

But have there been any trade-offs that have benefited Milwaukee when Brook’s left the floor? Eh, kinda. Teams are shooting just 30.6% of their shots from three when he’s off the floor, about a 3% difference from when he’s on, a product of Milwaukee supercharging their help defense without relying upon Lopez’s deeper drop which opens up pick-and-pops for opponents. That could be a beneficial trend if Milwaukee has to face smaller squads, as Dallas illustrated when Wood’s pick-and-pop game led Bud to try some smallball groups for the late third and early fourth last Friday.

One small problem: they’re trading off those threes for shots at the basket. Brook’s presence leads to 4.8% fewer shots at the rim than when he’s off. However, Milwaukee has mitigated those issues with stellar rim protection. Here’s the opponent percentage at the rim and short midrange (4-14 feet) with Brook on vs. off the court:

Opponent Shooting % by Area

Shot Area Brook On Brook Off
Shot Area Brook On Brook Off
Rim % 62.00% 63.90%
Short Midrange % 41.90% 41.90%

When he’s on, that mark would be the second best in the league. But even off, the Bucks are protecting the rim at a top-ten rate, more than good enough to cut the mustard come playoff time.

When I’m talking about Milwaukee’s defense without Brook though, the biggest question is really centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo. I went through and watched sequences against Dallas when Bud went with Giannis as the lone big on the floor, from about the 2:30 mark of the third to around 5:20 in the fourth.

Bud started with Giannis primarily matched up on Maxi Kleber, meaning he would be fulfilling his role as a weakside shot blocker despite the fact Khris Middleton was the second biggest man on the floor. From the outset, I thought that was a curious move. I would’ve thought Bud would want him upon the center, but he opted to let Middleton guard Christian Wood. In some ways, the strategy worked if what he wanted was for Wood to settle for post-ups. Here are a few early possessions in the fourth quarter:

  • 11:20 4th: Wood posts-up Hill and shoots from elbow, Giannis probably could’ve off-ball switched at one point with Hill, but didn’t.
  • 10:45: Connaughton guards Wood post-up and gets steal.
  • 10:20: Giannis doesn’t get back in a swift fashion and Dinwiddie gets easy dunk down the lane.
  • 9:30: Giannis is out of any action while Wood gets Hill switched onto him. Wood is doubled, finds Bullock beneath rim.
  • 8:50: Wood posts up Grayson for turnaround jumper.
  • 8:10: Bud changes tactics and and puts Giannis on Wood. Wood gets switch, Giannis switches onto perimeter guard. Wood finds Hill and takes him beneath bucket for shot. Giannis still on the perimeter.
  • 7:30: Giannis does drop coverage on Dinwiddie drive early in shot clock. Prevents the easy shot at rim and kinda contests Wood on the lob.

Wood left the game shortly after, leaving this possession as my last takeaway before Brook returned to the court.

  • 5:21: Giannis ignored Kleber as he moves around the court and is completely wide open in Doncic’s eyesight for three. Doncic bowls over Grayson and Giannis stays home for contest/foul.

I tried to not include the results of those possessions above. If I look strictly at the outcome of those possessions, even without the film or knowing how the possession ends, I think Bud and his staff would generally be more happy than not.

While they didn’t exactly take advantage of Giannis’s defensive potential as a rim protector in Lopez’s absence, it was an intriguing view into smallball permutation potential when Bud wants Giannis to retain his usual role as weakside deterrent. Lopez is absolutely essential to Milwaukee’s defense, but there will be series that force Bud into smallball lineups. Series where the Giannis-Portis frontline may not make sense. Regular season reps are instructive in that regard, and you have to always feel comfortable when Giannis is on the court, even when he’s not at the center of the defensive actions.

Plays of the Week

Bud and company diagrammed some gorgeous offensive actions this week’s slate of games, giving me an abundance of choices for the plays that stood out to me this week.

Giannis & Grayson Working It Out

People are probably sick of me highlighting Giannis and Grayson on that high corner of the arc, but it repeatedly produces some of my favorite actions every game. Here they’re just dancing with one another, Giannis going with an early fake DHO before pushing himself deeper to the elbow against Barnes. Huerter commits to helping Barnes once Giannis is in the lane, effectively cutting off a stepthrough move but still able to recover to Allen once he gets in Giannis’ eye line.

But almost immediately Giannis prepares to set the screen for Allen, using just enough of a push off Huerter’s back to give himself momentum. He’s barely started slipping when Grayson preternaturally knows he’s gonna be rolling. With Barnes still too committed to Allen’s potential penetration, Giannis uses one quick dribble to get himself in for a layup. Really fun chemistry between those two.

The Real Dallas BLOB Star

Everyone knows about the Lopez game-winner out of bounds, and it was pretty, but it lost style points for me with the Hill toss getting wrapped up in the net. This was the real apple of my eye from that night. It’s so simple but it unfurls with such a casual pace that the conclusion becomes all that more delicious. Middleton gets the ball over Kleber to Giannis at the nail, before starting his trot through the lane. From there, Carter gets a bump on his man, Bullock, chasing. Khris keeps running. Giannis sees his teammate pop-up and tosses the ball his way, getting directly in Bullock’s way as he screams hair on fire style to catch up to Khris. Kleber sticks to Giannis, Bullock’s blocked by Giannis’s badonkadonk, Middleton buries the three.

Jrue Dodges, Ducks, Dips, Dives and Dishes

Jrue’s creation doesn’t get nearly enough love in this section each week, and that’s on me. I saw this pretty sequence and just had to toss some admiration his way. He rejects Brook’s screen, then uses a left-hand dribble to make it look like he’s committed that way, baiting Lopez’s man into going for the steal. With a Giannis-esque spin and gather, Holiday leaps into the air, through the lane and delivers a delicate dumpoff to Portis for the jam. That’s essentially all Holiday beating Rockets defenders for an easy bucket.

You take it. No, you take it!

A fitting highlight given the role players really took the cake against the Golden State Warriors. This one starts with Grayson’s drive, before he draws defenders and whirls a pass to Pat in the corner. Pat takes advantage of the opportunity, driving directly in on Steph while Portis adroitly slips out to take the space Connaughton just vacated. It’s a don’t mind if I do three from Bobby then as Green can’t recover in time.


Dec. 14: The play of the week is...

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Giannis & Grayson Working It Out
    (22 votes)
  • 15%
    The Real Dallas BLOB Star
    (12 votes)
  • 40%
    Jrue Dodges, Ducks, Dips, Dives and Dishes
    (32 votes)
  • 16%
    You take it. No, you take it!
    (13 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now

That’ll do it for this week’s wrap-up!