Whatever your mileage on this Milwaukee Bucks season so far, I think every fan can agree on one facet that’s ground our collective gears to a pulp: the turnovers. Time and again, this team’s generosity with gifting the other team empty possessions reflects well on its character, but not so much on their collective ball security. This hasn’t really been a major issue under Bud, the team has never ranked worse than 11th in terms of turnover percentage (that was 14.2% in 2019-20, per Cleaning The Glass). This year, they’re ranked 23rd at 15.1%.
So despite Bud’s “Play Random” preaching, I don’t think “random” is referring to Jrue Holiday getting stripped for the umpteenth time while driving into traffic. Couple these issues with the team’s offensive struggles (besides of late, of course), and I have to imagine each turnover causes Bud an unbearable level of stress. A level of stress that I can’t comprehend merely watching from my couch...until now.
I wanted to try and approximate how sick Bud must feel every time the Bucks turn it over.
So, I made 23 full-size cherry turnovers for the Charlotte Hornets game. For every Bucks turnover, I would eat one cherry turnover. If it was an average turnover night, I thought it would be manageable. If it was a slopfest, I thought my stomach may need to be pumped. I don’t think there’s any better way to try and get inside the feelings of our beloved Coach Bud.
Jr.NBA.com defines a turnover as:
There are many actions that can result in a turnover, including: ball stolen by opposing team, throwing a bad pass, throwing the ball out of bounds, stepping out of bounds, committing a double-dribble, palming or traveling violation, committing a backcourt violation, shot clock violation, three-second violation, five-second violation or an offensive foul (charge or illegal screen).
And with that, my ground rules were set. All that was left was to bear up and dig in.
Thanks to a happy accident (i.e. my bumbling baking skills), the turnovers fit neatly into two categories: “Look like turnovers” & “Look like shit”. The reason I say happy accident is that allowed me to also categorize Milwaukee’s own turnovers in the game. Some are understandable — defenders jumping passing lanes, dribbling into traffic, bad travel or offensive fouls calls. But others are scream-inducing — inbounds mistakes, throwing it to no one, getting the ball stolen in the backcourt.
For now, I’d be able to use the Bucks plays to determine which type of turnover I’d get to eat. Let’s roll.
- Brook Lopez 3-second violation (Q1 46.5): THANK GOD. This happened to be some of the cleanest basketball by the Bucks I could remember to kick off a game. My stomach was genuinely in pain from hunger, and there were so many close calls from Giannis throwing it off the backboard to nearly traveling on a jump stop. I was genuinely hoping for a turnover when this came; which is quite the opposite of how I’m sure Bud felt.
With just one turnover in the first quarter, the Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t have made Bud any happier. Somehow, I must’ve reverse-jinxed this team into playing level-headed basketball the whole way. They kinda needed those extra possessions too — shooting just 4-15 from deep in the first to maintain a 7-point lead over Charlotte.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo bad pass (Q2 11:00): Overpassing on this possession. There were lots of great kickouts across the board, but Giannis passed up the three and got stuck in the air amidst lane traffic.
- Giannis carry (Q2 9:15): Giannis had plenty of opportunity to barrel through young Hornets defenders, but he somehow got his hand too far underneath the ball. Given his hand size, that seems almost inevitable. Weird call.
- Grayson Allen bad pass (Q2 6:53): He just threw it into traffic for a rolling...Wesley Matthews? Not the best decision I’ve seen on a basketball court.
- Khris Middleton illegal screen (Q2 3:29): These calls are always kinda iffy, but this one did look about as blatant as I can remember. I’ve also reached the point where turnovers are no longer tasting all that great — the hunger is gone. The discomfort of these miscues is starting to hit. I can feel my connection with Bud growing.
- Middleton bad pass (Q2 1:37): This one wasn’t all that bad in the heat of an action on the floor.
With six turnovers at half, you had to be pretty pleased with that as a Bucks fan, and Bud obviously. My stomach was thankful...and a tad fearful of messier play to come. But true to this team’s tendencies this year, the Hornets had even fewer, four turnovers, which helped them maximize their possessions to play the Bucks to a draw.
With no turnover possible for at least 15 realtime minutes, I found a reprieve from the baked good barrage. With that extra time, I’d like to provide at least some level of substantive analysis for this piece. One of the reasons I’m extra curious about the turnover issues plaguing this team is whether they’ll translate over to the postseason. Milwaukee won its title in part by winning the math game over and over — forcing bad shots and getting extra chances on the margins through holding onto the ball, bullying on the boards and attacking in transition whenever possible.
But this year has been extra maddening for one particular issue: every giveaway is multiplied by the fact opponents are almost never turning it over. I went through and charted the difference between a team’s own turnover percentage, and their opponent’s turnover percentage, to calculate TOV% differential (Opp TOV% minus Team TOV%) for the past five seasons. Here are the 10 worst teams for that metric:
Worst TOV% Differential of Past Five Seasons
|Season||TEAM||TOV%||OPP TOV%||TOV% Diff.|
|Season||TEAM||TOV%||OPP TOV%||TOV% Diff.|
|2020-21||Oklahoma City Thunder||15.8||12.8||-3|
Stats per NBA.com; do not include the Charlotte Hornets game.
The teams above Milwaukee are all abhorrent, tanktastic teams bound for the bottom. Most intriguing were the Utah Jazz seasons nestled just beneath them, both of which were 50-win seasons but wound up as flameouts in the Playoffs. However, they also had some of the stingiest defensive marks in the league. But by virtue of Quin Snyder’s defense, they didn’t force any turnovers, which magnified the difference between their own miscues and the opponent’s. Sounds familiar.
I am not arguing for Bud to suddenly abandon the defensive principles that led this team to a championship and embrace more helter-skelter play. I would say there could be some validity to potentially trying to induce a few more turnovers given they boast the league’s pre-eminent transition terror. But my main argument is simply that Bud’s defense doesn’t promote that strategy, and it’s worked incredibly well in the grand scheme.
The only downfall is that it means every turnover Milwaukee commits hits that much harder. Speaking of, I’m starting to get a teensy bit hungry again. Here comes the second half.
- Grayson bad pass (Q3 9:49): Trying to get it over a fronting PJ Washington for Giannis at the rim. Admirable attempt and good idea, just poor execution on the pass.
- Giannis illegal screen (Q3 7:57): Meh, this one seemed way iffier than the earlier Khris screen. I also dramatically underfilled these turnovers, so I’m mostly gobbling down puff pastry every time. I’m certainly starting to feel like Bud must with this “meh” performance so far.
- Ingles bad pass (Q3 4:01): This one wasn’t telegraphed, but it was the style of extra pass we’ve seen Joe make in recent games. Unfortunately, it traveled at sloth speed and Terry Rozier easily snared it to take it the other way. I would now be content if the team didn’t turn it over for the duration of this game. I also wish I had something other than whole milk to drink with these.
- Brook Lopez offensive foul (Q3 1:02): Brook was trying to get some air off JT Thor for a lob attempt from Khris. It seemed like a decent idea at the time Middleton lobbed it; I can’t be mad at this if I’m Bud...even if it still is making me sick.
Two near turnovers from Giannis to start the fourth, including what easily could’ve been a travel and a baseline whip pass that the Hornets hit out of bounds. Thank you for sparing Bud and I any additional frustration.
- Giannis travel (Q4 8:07): Why?! Just no reason to give the superstar that kinda call as he navigates his pivot foot. I now know why Bud argues so frequently with the refs. I, like Bud assuredly too, am now praying for no more turnovers the remainder of this game.
- Middleton bad pass (Q4 2:06): We were doing so well controlling the pace, holding onto the ball...and then, this. I am screaming at Khris internally, not the least of which because it also led to an easy Hornets bucket on the other end. But more importantly, I’m screaming because I truly thought I was free and clear. I now need water to swallow these turnovers.
Mercifully, despite nearly five and a half minutes without a basket, missed free throws and plenty of other issues, Milwaukee only had two turnovers in the fourth. They finished with 12 turnovers, leaving me at a total I’ve now learned I should be more than satisfied with — I’m sure Bud would agree.
All-in-all, I’m not sure this method accomplished my mission. If this is how sick Bud feels after a night with merely 12 turnovers, I can’t imagine the parade of stomach ulcers he must face after games the team tallies 15+. On top of that, my desperation reached the point where I started to find any possession with a shot (yes, even Carter pull-up triples and Giannis threes) to seem more than palatable.
Watching a game hyper-keyed in on mistakes is a stressful way to watch this team. There must be easier ways to channel how Bud feels during a game. I’d welcome suggestions in the comments. But for now, I think my feelings must fall somewhat in line with Milwaukee’s coach. A win is a win, but my deathly sick stomach means I won’t rest all that satisfied after this one.