“How the Bucks got their groove back.” I like to imagine that’s how most of us onlookers will get to title this past week or so. Few things were more awful than the doom and gloom that came with the aftermath of the Brooklyn Nets collapse just 10 or so days ago. We all needed a pick-me-up after that sucker, and Milwaukee’s roll has carried over from that mammoth Miami comeback into five straight on the proper side of the ledger. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 118, Chicago 112 (Bucks Thwart Bullish Revenge Attempt)
- Milwaukee 132, Phoenix 122 (Bucks Block Out Suns)
- Milwaukee 142, Oklahoma City 115 (Bucks Bury Thunder Behind Season-High Scoring Night)
Nothing like two straight victories over primo competition to get the blood pumping. While Chicago may turn more heifer than bull when it comes to facing the upper echelon of the East, I am still glad to see a bit of life return to that rivalry. Sure, it’s probably based on misplaced faith from the Bulls fans, but they’re competent, have a fringe MVP candidate, and now the Bucks have a proper villain for them. As Mike Dunleavy is to us, Grayson Allen is to them. All is well. And while the Suns victory isn’t all that inspiring given the top-level talent missing for Phoenix, wins are wins right now, and it continued the trend of firming up in the fourth to take down a foe. It is incredible OKC has won as many games as it has.
Serge Ibaka’s play against Phoenix gave us the first glimpse since his arrival to Cream City of a player who may be functionally useful against other NBA teams. Against Oklahoma City, he even showed a more willing/confident stroke from outside en route to his second straight 14-point game. As such, it seemed appropriate to evaluate his time thus far. Dominating the offensive glass against a Phoenix team that boasts more than enough size in the middle was a surprise to me. Coming into that game I was prepared to write about a few instances where I’ve seen him in solid positioning for an OREB, only for sizable Serge to remain groundbound as a chicken while his defender easily corraled the ball over him. Many of the additional possessions he gathered against Phoenix seemed of the “right place, right time, right ricochet off the rim” variety, but in fairness, there’s an art to finding the angles and proper positioning when it comes to rebounding.
I’ve generally been on board with Jon Horst looking to ride with just a few big men on roster this season, and I’m still dubious Serge will find many minutes come the Playoffs, but one thing his arrival has allowed is for Bud to lean into playing big more often. That was one of the core tenets of Milwaukee’s run last year. Should a shot miss (and whoo boy did they like to miss!) there was PJ Tucker crashing in from the corner, Giannis ready to stick a paw in, Brook ducking in, Bobby gamely volleyballing it off the backboard, Jrue bruising his way down low. It was a conscious decision by Bud last year to allow for more offensive rebounding, and they doubled down on it in the Playoffs all the way to a title.
That being said, Ibaka isn’t the poster child when it comes to aggressiveness on the glass. In general, the Bucks have been horrid attacking the glass (they offensively rebound 6.3% worse when he’s on the floor) when he’s been playing for them, so maybe Sunday is a sea change. More realistically it was, as I said before, some right place right time stuff though. The good news is, he has benefited their defensive rebounding significantly, as opponents have collected 4.2% fewer OREB when he’s been on the court. In the aggregate, that’s more important in my view since any Serge minutes are meant as a facsimile of DREB king Brook Lopez.
(Note: All stats are from Cleaning the Glass and don’t include the Thunder game.)
Now, the other obvious rationale for Serge is that he would allow the Bucks to play a more conventional drop scheme coverage. All year long about the only big they’ve played drop with has been Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even DeMarcus Cousins got tasked with blitzing (I’m now wondering if that was more a Bud punishment than anything else)...regardless, Ibaka is supposed to allow this team to protect the interior a bit more while weaponizing Giannis in his most effective role as a weakside roamer/shot blocker.
Weaponize him would be much too strong a phrase for what Serge has done. “Allow” is about as far as I’d go. Their minutes together haven’t produced strong defensive results. We’ve only got 150 possessions worth of evidence, so far too few for a proper sample size, but they’ve allowed 133 points per 100 possessions, and are scoring just 106. Yikes.
There’s not enough minutes for any big picture stuff to paint a proper picture, so let’s look at how they’ve affected opponent shot distribution as another data point. Opponents are taking just 25.3% of shots at the rim against those lineups, a painfully low number that would easily lead the league, and just 37% of shots from three, which is well below the Bucks season average of 41.7%. That shot profile also tracks when Serge is on the floor with Bobby Portis, which make up the majority of his other possessions on the floor.
There’s just one problem, teams have hit an unconscious number of shots against lineups with Serge and Giannis. That includes 76% at the rim, which frankly doesn’t seem sustainable, especially given lineups with Bobby and Serge are allowing just 58% shooting at the tin. SerGiannis lineups are holding opponents to just 43% from floater range though. The problems have been opponents have hit 50% of threes and long midrange jumpers. So the numbers on their face look awful, but I’d actually say a deeper dive shows some encouraging signs worth tracking as the minutes tick up with those two together.
Anecdotally, I can’t say I’ve been impressed with Ibaka’s footspeed or ability to play the drop with quite the same acumen as Brook. He seems content backpedaling without leaping forward to contest jumpers when the opponents opt to pull-up. As an offensive player, he’s been a zero. He hasn’t hit shots from deep or midrange, and while he’s been okay at the rim, he takes those in small samples. It’s more vital he gets that outside shot a slightly respectable place if he’s to have much value in postseason opportunities. The OKC game was a first step towards competency in that regard, and hopefully he won’t stop there.
Well. If Serge Ibaka is going to do this for the Bucks. pic.twitter.com/sHb8sWNkwD— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) March 9, 2022
Play of the Week
A typical solid sequence of ball movement, Jrue Holiday destroying Bulls defenders on the perimeter and Thunders down low, plus a little shine for the bench crew. These are what stuck out to me this past week.
Everyone’s favorite entry in the “Plays of the week,” this sucker once again features round the arc ball movement. It kicks in with a running DHO between Khris and Giannis, as Middleton probes the lane with Bridges in pursuit. Holiday starts his cut when Payne is caught ball-watching, allowing Khris to flip it to Jrue. Allen smartly vacates his sptot in the dunker to give Holiday more space as his man, Shamet, abandons him to help on Jrue. Bobby reads Allen shifting from his spot, moving to the closest blue square above the arc, and Allen finds him for the triple over the outstretched arm of Bridges.
Jrue Patrolling the Perimeter
This is just Holiday enforcing his will upon the entire Bulls backcourt. First he sticks with LaVine over a screen, recovering after Bobby flat hedges so Portis can retreat to his man. He plays stick’em defense that forces him to do a DHO with Ayo Dosunmu. Out of that, Holiday executes the switch and sticks on Dosunmu forcing him nearly back to the halfcourt logo. He rejects the screen and tries to get around Holiday so he can have a free path to the hoop, but Jrue anticipates his movement and beats him to a spot, causing Dosunmu to reverse and weave back into a screen from Tristan Thompson. Portis shows enough resistance to force Ayo to reverse the ball, and Holiday immediately finishes off the possession by shading a bit closer to DeRozan to help Grayson. That fear is enough to force an errant pass from DeRozan as the ball bounces out of bounds.
Great off ball movement from Jrue and find from Giannis pic.twitter.com/BJe3oNATKk— Jake Reetz (@jajareetz) March 9, 2022
This one is simple, and it’s against a defense with little to no regard for how to stop opposing teams. Still, far too often I feel like we see Giannis get the ball in isolation at his spots, and it’s entirely incumbent upon him to back down or beat his defender to get up a shot or find a kick-out for a three. Some of that is by design, his teammates give him space to work so he can make that magic happen. Sprinkling in a bit more of this though, where Jordan Nwora flies through the lane to distract them while Holiday weaves and bobs in the dunker until he gives Giannis a clear passing lane, is a worthwhile change of pace.
Nwora-Mamu Rainbow Connection
Bud doesn’t often design out of bounds plays for Jordan Nwora, but when he’s all ya got, you make the exception. I’m far too smitten with Mamu, but this was enjoyable to see Nwora inbound the ball to Wigginton from the left side of the court, then fly through two separate “screens” from his teammates as he flew to the right corner. With his defender in tow, he crossed him up, drew help and instead of shooting (gasp!) dished it to Mamu who gave him an outlet atop the key. Splash.
That’ll do it for another weekly wrap-up. Vote in the poll below for your favorite play of the week.
March 9: My play of the week is...
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Jrue Patrolling the Perimeter
Nwora-Mamu Rainbow Connection