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Milwaukee Bucks Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up

Investigating Milwaukee’s 3-point defense up to this point

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Detroit Pistons Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

A light week for this wrap-up, but the Milwaukee Bucks finally delivered on the promise of good health on Monday evening in a 150-point pummeling of the Detroit Pistons. (and promptly can’t deliver it on a few days later, sigh...). No, they didn’t win by 150, but they may as well have for how cathartic that first quarter offensive explosion felt. The Bucks have suddenly morphed into a bunch of 3-point shooting contest participants to try and win in Giannis’s absence, but I’ll never turn down a chance to finally see the big three together. Hopefully it’s a harbinger of positive things to come. Let’s wrap up.

The Week That Was

Cleveland was a frustrating contest insofar as we had the context of a team with three days off (Milwaukee) against a team on a back-to-back that had lost to Golden State’s C-team the night before. Well that, and the fact Evan Mobley set up a permanent residence in the paint and Darius Garland kept delivering housewarming gifts all evening long. The Pistons looked so disinterested defensively to start the game, I genuinely thought 200 could be within reach for the Bucks.

Weekly Wondering

With Milwaukee missing its most potent offensive weapons on the court together for much of this season, it’s been hard for me to extrapolate much out of long-term trends on that side of the ball. Obviously the results have been horrid compared to year’s past, when this was a pencil-it-in top-ten offense under Bud. I remain a staunch believer that this season isn’t really about defense at all — the long-term narrative of this iteration of the team will be written through its offensive stagnation, and whether it can evolve past the ceiling-bumping scoring output that’s plagued its last few postseasons.

That’s all a lead-in to my actual wondering for this point: how is that revamped defense doing? With little turnover and “switching on defense” no longer novel, my curiosity about Bud’s altered scheme is one of the few long-term plot points I’m monitoring. What got me thinking was watching several different plays against the Pistons where Khris helped liberally off a weakside corner shooter in the vein of a past scheme. I felt like I saw similar tendencies with Pat when he was still working his way back into shape. I’m curious how that bears out with more sample size. For now though, let’s take a peek at the Bucks opponents this season and their season-long frequency in terms of shots from three vs. that number against Milwaukee.

Bucks Opponents 3PT Frequency

The issue with some of these numbers is that there is of course a small sample size built in (i.e. one game), but they still paint an impressive picture. Of the 26 teams they’ve faced, 15 of them have been held under their typical percentage of shots coming from outside. That’s not counting the five other teams they’ve held within 2.5% of their usual percentage as well.

In the aggregate, Bud’s strategy has worked. They’re ranked ninth overall in terms of opponent shots from the outside. But I want to see how this chart looks against the teams that rely on the outside shot to a strong degree. Is Milwaukee’s deflated numbers only coming against competition that doesn’t want to sling from deep anyway?

Here are those opponents tiered into three groups based on opponent 3-point frequency and how much those average percentages change against the Bucks.

  • 1-10: +0.31%
  • 11-20: -2.79%
  • 21-30: +0.58%

Again, promising returns for Milwaukee thus far. I half expected that top ten group to be closer to +5% or so anecdotally, but up and down the league the Bucks have been able to do a decent job stopping opponents from getting off triples. Frequency is only part of the story — although a generally more important one in my opinion since I subscribe to the “3PT% is a decent amount of luck over time.” This year, the Bucks are also nearing the top-five in terms of opponent 3PT shooting percentage at 35.2%.

Despite my praying at the altar of shot luck, I think there’s a decent argument to be made that Milwaukee has improved that percentage at least a smidge due to fewer wide open threes from opponents (closest defender 6+feet away). Here’s the % of opponent three-pointers that have been wide open the past seasons under Bud.

Wide Open Opponent 3PT Frequency

Season Wide Open 3pt Freq Rank
Season Wide Open 3pt Freq Rank
2022-23 17.90% 14
2021-22 22.40% 30
2020-21 21.50% 29
2019-20 22.30% 29
2018-19 21.10% 29

For whatever qualms we may have about Bud’s offensive strategy, the man is almost maniacal in his commitment to defense. It paid off in spades en route to a championship, and his adjustments this year are bearing fruit so far.

Plays of the Week

Only two games made it hard to find all that many sequences worthy of the Louvre, but I tried to parcel out some Giannis-centric sets in the Pistons series that I enjoyed.

Shifting Blue Squares

This is borderline too basic for this section, but it came at the end of a driving/passing sequence and I wanted to highlight it for its simplicity. This is Bud’s blue squares in motion, but the gif form rather than a jpg. All it takes after Hill starts his drive is for Pat to vacate the blue square in the dunker spot and find a new one in the corner. More open, more free, and an easy way to get an easy shot.

All Grayson All the Time

Two things can be true: Grayson Allen can be a potential detriment against the Boston Celtics in a Playoff series, and he can also be a player who could reasonably help Milwaukee win a Playoff series against anyone else. See: Bobby Portis against the Nets. Allen’s assists are up this year, and while this is a play that probably doesn’t work against better defenses, it’s a credit to him he’s advanced this far. This is literally nothing but Allen’s ball handling getting Ivey wrong-footed enough and drawing the attention of Duren that he can float a pass over the top to a trailing Brook for the three. No picks, no off-ball action, literally just Grayson creating a shot for a teammate.

The Curl Cut

Another close-quarters combat set here, with Giannis having two paths to choose at his fork in the lane. Go around Brook, who’s working down the right side of the paint, or curl around the baseline past a pick Pat moseyed over to set. He chooses the 7-foot fork to go around as his man basically gets boxed in by two bucks. Duren takes too long to respond, Giannis’ man takes too long to respond, and once again Antetokounpo’s incredible change of direction leads to an easy lay-in at the bucket.

The Corner Cut

We’ve seen this play a few times this season, and I love it as a way to weaponize Giannis when he’s stuck in the corner and generally ineffective as a floor spacer. His defender can swag off into the lane, so when Brook sets the initial pick and barrels down the lane, the whole defense is looking entirely away from Milwaukee’s superstar (a rarity). Practically the second he starts his cut from the corner, Holiday already has the ball in the air. Giannis catches it parallel to the baseline, but he shifts directions so quickly that his Detroit defender can only offer token resistance. He misses the shot, but Brook cleans it up. And would you look at that, all of a sudden four defenders are around him, just like normal. More actions like these that can turn into push shots (if Giannis ever finds his touch this year) or passes out to teammates.

Khris-Giannis Back

Khris-Giannis pick-and-rolls are auto-entries here given their scarcity this season. I thoroughly enjoyed how cavalier Khris was even within the action, drawing the green Jalen Duren enough to open up an easy-as-pie slam for Giannis.


Jan. 24: The Play of the Week is...

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Shifting Blue Squares
    (2 votes)
  • 17%
    All Grayson All the Time
    (6 votes)
  • 8%
    The Curl Cut
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    The Corner Cut
    (0 votes)
  • 67%
    Khris-Giannis Back
    (23 votes)
34 votes total Vote Now

That’ll do it for another wrap-up!