Bucks’ Defensive Weakness Is A Consequence Of Their Greatest Strength

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Bucks’ Defensive Weakness Is A Consequence Of Their Greatest Strength

Post by admin » Fri Dec 06, 2019 9:01 am

In an era where the three-point shot rules supreme, there are still no clear-cut rules to becoming an elite defensive team. Basic logic tells us the first step to becoming dominant defensively is to prevent the outside shot teams have fallen in love with. However, basketball isn’t a simple game.

Of the top five teams in defensive rating this season; one is elite at taking away threes (Philadelphia 76ers), two are mediocre (Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers) and two are awful (Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks).

For the second consecutive year, the Bucks “weakness” appears to be that they allow too many shots behind the arc. After giving up the most threes per 100 possessions in 2018-19, only the Raptors tolerate more this season. Perhaps, even more concerning is nearly half of those attempts come with the “wide open” label according to NBA.com’s flawed matchup data.

Adding to the list of problems is the opponents success rate on such shots. Teams make 40.5 percent of their wide-open threes against the Bucks, seventh-highest in the NBA. The six teams ahead of the Bucks who “allow” a higher percentage have only won a combined 27.1 percent of their games this season.

And, for the most part, teams have been happy to bomb away from the outside against the Bucks. They have no issue taking open three after open three.

How then, one year after posting the top defensive rating in the NBA, do the Bucks once again own the league’s best record and top defensive team 22 games in despite allowing so many threes?

The key is Budenholzer’s hierarchy of defense. It’s not that he’s willing to give up looks behind the arc, instead, it comes down to defending the paint. The Bucks’ number one rule is to protect the rim at all costs and force opponents to shoot farther away.

Sure, they prefer contested mid-range jumpers above all else, but threes are the lesser of two evils in a comparison with shots around the rim. And, boy, are the Bucks freakin’ good at defending their hoop.

For the second straight season, Milwaukee allows the lowest percentage of opponent’s shots to come within four feet of the rim. This is a huge part of their success and why they’re able to limit the quality look offenses get against them.

With the shot clock winding down, Trae Young is isolating against Eric Bledsoe at the top of the key. Young is surveying the court and weighing his options. A moment before he goes into his dribble-moves, the lane appears to be open for a drive.

Young is able to beat Bledsoe off the dribble and finds his initial assessment of the situation couldn’t be farther from the truth. As soon as he even sets foot in the paint, four Bucks converge around him, including the 6’7” Khris Middleton, 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo and 7’ Brook Lopez. Naturally, the shot clanks off the back of the rim and Milwaukee secures the glass.

Even if teams somehow get to the bucket against the Bucks, the outcomes aren’t favorable. They’re only converting 54.2 percent of all attempts within four feet of the rim, lowest in the NBA. That’s also three percentage points better than their league-leading mark in 2018-19.

Budenholzer’s forbidding of opponent’s shots around the rim is rooted in analytical basketball. Even with all the hype around threes, the most efficient shot in the game still comes within four feet of the hoop. From 2013-14 to 2017-18, Kirk Goldsberry found shots directly at the basket yield more than 1.20 points per possession. That’s significantly higher than the 1.05-1.10 points per possession threes above the break produce.

Milwaukee’s front office has also taken notice of this and constructed their roster around the same concept. It’s not a coincidence the Bucks brought in Robin Lopez this summer, a seven-foot rim-deterrent, to backup Brook Lopez. That gives the Bucks the ability to adequately defend the cylinder for 48 minutes a game if they so choose.

If one shot-blocker isn’t enough, the Bucks often sport two at the same time. Antetokounmpo, the Defensive Player of the Year candidate, plays free safety for this defense. The Greek Freak is usually matched up with the opposing team’s weakest offensive big. This gives him the freedom to roam the court and swat shots into the first row.

NBA players are faster, stronger and more skilled than ever before. They’re constantly stretching the limits of basketball, including regularly knocking down looks from 30 feet away. It’s impossible to take away every shot on the court.

Budenholzer has made the game simpler for his players. He’s created a clear hierarchy on defense, beginning with prohibiting shots near the basket. The front office has also acquired players to implement this scheme.

In a league where threes are the hype, the NBA’s best defensive team is the worst at defending them. However, their “weakness” is a consequence of their greatest strength. By keeping teams out of the most efficient scoring zone, they’re able to dictate the terms of engagement.

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