As the season winds down, we’re inching that much closer to the answers we’ve all grasped at this year for the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s possible the Playoffs validate anyone whose approached this regular season with a level of nonchalance encapsulated best by that Squidward meme. It’s also possible the Bucks issues (3rd quarters, a lack of a “true” PJ Tucker replacement, iffier defensive performances) validate anyone whose seen this regular season and felt the Bucks just may not have it this season.
Either way, for me, the title has bought enough goodwill that I can’t see myself getting all that worked up regardless of the result, barring some kind of embarrassing 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Heat. Before then though, I’m thankful we still have multiple games well worth our attention to close out the season against some of the East’s best. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 135, Sacramento 126 (Bucks Manufacture Win Over Kings)
- Milwaukee 119, Minnesota 138 (Wolves Work Over Bucks in Saturday Matinee)
- Milwaukee 126, Chicago 98 (Bucks Stampede Bulls)
Finally the Bucks touched back on Wisconsin soil after getting their melons Gallaghered by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday. They had already banked a Sacramento win a few days earlier, but even with no Giannis Antetokounmpo, nothing gives Bucks fans the heebie-jeebies more than an opponent posting an *gasp* outlier performance from deep. Either way, at least they got to finish it all off with a thorough dehorning of the Bulls, complete with a near-return of the game one starting lineup.
It’s starting to get a little ridiculous with these third quarters, isn’t it?
Bucks are 7-2 in March. They’re +84 pts total in 1st, 2nd and 4th quarters and somehow -48 pts in 3rd quarters (103 ORTG, 123 DRTG). After months of talking about the issue it seems they’re just like…psychologically incapable of not being terrible right after halftime?— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) March 20, 2022
Frank is always spot-on, and his amateur psychologist’s diagnosis is probably right, but it still beggars belief just how horrific they’ve been in this particular period across the whole year. As a reminder, here is the top-ten teams in the league in terms of net rating, and their net rating by quarter.
NetRtg by Quarter for Top Ten Teams
|Golden State Warriors
Stats via NBA.com (current as of 3/21/22)
That’s about as WTF as WTF stats get for a team of the caliber of Milwaukee. Even among the upstarts in this group who clearly wilt a bit in the fourth quarter, their net ratings aren’t nearly as atrocious as -7, as the Bucks are. So, what exactly is contributing to this third quarter malaise that’s seeped into the very essence of this team. I thought we could break down a few key issues that continue to plague them.
Here’s the first point, which has probably been obvious, it’s not the offense that’s most at fault. Their offensive rating in 3rd quarters is 111.4, so worse than their overall mark of 114.1, but not awful. The league average offense this year is 111.4 actually, so scoring league average for a full quarter can’t really qualify as the problem.
The biggest issues has quite clearly been the defense, which is the worst in the league in third quarters (118.3). For comparison sake, the Bucks overall defensive rating is 110.2, and 118.3 would rank a full two points behind the Houston Rocket’s league-worst 116.3 season-long defensive rating mark. Maybe the strangest part of their third quarter problems has been that it’s nothing all that specific. Here’s a chart of their season-long numbers in terms of four factors, versus what’s happening in third quarters:
Four Factors for Full Season vs. 3rd Quarters
|OPP FTA RATE
|OPP FTA RATE
They’re turning the ball over less actually in third quarter. They allow a teensy bit more offensive rebounds to their opponent, but that’s not enough to crush their net rating. Effective field goal percentage is the figure that sticks out most, with opponents shooting eFG of 56.9% in the third alone. Once more, that mark would join the company of the Houston Rockets, who are allowing opponents to shoot a league-worst eFG% of 55.5 across the whole season in all quarters.
With that in mind, the first assumption I would make is that opponents are just having crazy outlier performances from deep. The math doesn’t really bear that out though. Opponents are shooting 37.9% from deep on 10.2 attempts in the third quarter. Milwaukee allows the most three-point attempts in the league per game (40.6), so the attempt number isn’t out of whack. The league average 3PT% allowed is 35.9, with the worst mark Portland’s at 36.9%, so I wouldn’t really classify 37.9% as that much of an outlier. PLUS, teams are only shooting 36.4% on wide open threes in third quarters, so they’re not even getting bad luck in that regard.
They are allowing 68% shooting at the rim (their season-long mark is 65.9%) Teams are hitting 43% on corner threes and 51.2% on 2.9 midrange attempts in the third quarter. That midrange mark is horrific, albeit on very few attempts, but even still, the Spurs are worst in the league allowing 44.9% to opponents from midrange for the season. The only mark worse than the Bucks 51.2% in the third for an individual quarter for a team the last two seasons is the Clippers 1st quarters in 2020-21, when they allowed 51.6% from the midrange.
In conclusion, the clear culprit is the defense. Where exactly the fault lies still seems a little fuzzy to me within the larger picture of this team though. And maybe that’s as good a place to leave this discussion as any given the team hasn’t seemed to put their finger on the solution yet either?
Plays of the Week
We’ve got a couple doozy ATO sets in this one, plus some of our trademark favorite ball movement.
Deja Vu Cuts
Man, this one is just a pretty ATO set by Bud, with Middleton and Holiday each taking turns running the same route. First Khris runs around a Bobby down screen to come get the ball atop the arc from Lopez. Then, Bobby goes deja vu with another screen as Holiday slithers over from the dunker on the opposite side of the paint. As he collects the ball from Khris, Lopez sets a dummy screen on the other side of the arc, which gets Domas to glance away just long enough that he can’t impede Holiday at all as he gets to the tin for an easy lay-in.
Serge Flash Dance
I liked this one because it showed some Serge Ibaka fitting into this offense in a more dynamic way than we often see from most Bucks players who rigidly stick to Bud’s blue squares. It starts with some dirty work from Jevon Carter, setting a down screen for Holiday to come up and get the ball from Giannis. Carter immediately does double duty though, setting a screen on Trey Lyles to free Antetokounmpo as he cuts to the basket and is fronted briefly by DiVincenczo before his man recovers.
While this is going on, both Matthews and Ibaka are in the corner. You can see Wes point to the middle of the floor, maybe indicating to Ibaka a potential cut, but then he also flicks his wrist as if to tell him to get out of his square, and head to the dunker. A few seconds later, as Carter gets the ball above the arc and Giannis is on the block preparing for an entry pass as Lyles fronts him, Richaun Holmes helps over to double Antetokounmpo. Ibaka immediately recognizes his man left him, and flashes to the free throw line to give Carter another option. The once-midrange sharpshooter nails it easy.
No Giannis sometimes makes it tough to pick out all that many beautiful plays from a game, but this was another in the season’s “sharing is caring” entries. Bobby Portis goes to set an empty-side screen for Middleton, who rejects it and crosses over his man to start penetrating into the paint. Jevon Carter’s man is sagging off him to meet Khris before the rim, so Carter gets to scooting baseline and receives the pass from Middleton. The Wolves defense is all kind of discombobulated now, as Jordan Nwora’s man tries to double, as Nwora gets the pass from Carter under the bucket. Now Allen’s man is sprinting to Nwora, who shuffles it to Grayson as he’s run off the line.
After some brief paint penetration, Carter is now in the right corner for a kickout from Allen. Jevon rightly dishes it back to Middleton along the right arc, precisely where the play started, for the triple. Beautiful.
Weird Angle Brook
I highly doubt anyone’s going to vote for this one, but I do think it stands out as one of the most important plays of the week. While I’m never one to love when Wes Matthews starts freelancing with the ball, he controls himself enough to back down his defender here. The key to the play is Brook returning to do Brook things. As his man Vucevic comes over to help guard the rim and assist Caruso with Giannis, Lopez recognizes it and lumbers in to give Matthews an outlet. In one motion he captures the ball high and flips it in from an odd angle. You can regularly see him practice that kind of stuff in warm-up and practice videos, and it’s another key part of his scoring arsenal. Seeing it back in action bodes well.
That’ll do it for this week’s wrap-up. Vote in the poll below for your play of the week!
March 23: My play of the week is...
This poll is closed
Deja Vu Cuts
Serge Flash Dance
Weird Angle Brook