Milwaukee's Block

How often do you notice when a shot is not blocked?

One season after ranking 15th overall, the Bucks lead the NBA in blocks per game. And Larry Sanders leads all players in blocks per game. You may have heard.

Something you may not have noticed? The Bucks are rarely blocked, themselves. In fact, only the Heat and Thunder have their own shots blocked less frequently.

Now, if games were won and lost based strictly on shots blocked, the Bucks would have the best record in the East (16-3-1, for the record). Alas, points remain the name of the game. Milwaukee's block story is nevertheless fascinating: both to think about and watch.    

Block Busters

When the Bucks brought in Samuel Dalembert and John Henson to team with Larry Sanders and a full season of Ekpe Udoh, it was easy to see that the Bucks would block a lot of shots this season.

But I am not sure anyone predicted quite this many.

The Bucks are averaging 7.6 blocks per game through 20 games. Not only does that lead the NBA, it is the fourth most blocks per game of any team since 1990-91 – which means 23 seasons. More than any of those Twin Towers teams. More than Ben Wallace's Pistons championship team. More than any team Shawn Bradley ever played on.

Any way you slice it, the Bucks are a dominant shot-blocking team right now. Their team block percentage – meaning the percentage of shots that they block – pulls them even further away (9.4 %) from the second place Thunder (8.9 %).

History

So, what does it all mean? Hard to say. The most prolific shot-blocking teams since 1990-91 are an eclectic bunch.

The top team of the group – the 1993-94 Nuggets – is famous for having stormed the playoffs as a number eight seed and defeating the top ranked SuperSonics in the first round. Dikembe Mutombo blocked 4.1 shots per game in the regular season that year. After going down 2-0 to the SuperSonics in the first round (keep in mind this was back during a five-game series format), the Nuggets won three straight. Mutombo averaged a mind-blowing 8.0 blocks in those three wins.

Next on the list is last season's (2011-12) version of the Thunder, led by Serge Ibaka. They of course went to the Finals before falling to the Heat, and Ibaka remains central to the team's identity this season. The Thunder currently rank second this season in blocks and are the main threat to overtake the Bucks for first this season. 

The final team in the eight blocks per game club is a curious one – the 1997-98 Raptors. A 23 year-old Marcus Camby led the team with 3.7 blocks per game, while John Wallace, Oliver Miller, and Tracy McGrady also all averaged at least one per game.

Larry Sanders Show

Each of those teams had a few shot-blockers but were led by one standout, one player that comes immediately to mind when you think of the team. That player for the Bucks is quite obviously Larry Sanders. 

Think of it this way: Larry Sanders averages more blocks per game than the Cleveland Cavaliers as a team – and he doesn't even play half of the game (Sanders is averaging 23.7 minutes).

And the minutes are worth looking at, because Sanders has nearly doubled his minutes from last season, thanks in part to limiting the number of fouls he is committing. Last season, he averaged 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes. He has that down to 6.0 per 36 this season, and the number is trending downward over the past week.

An elite shot-blocker ever since he stepped on an NBA court – he blocked eight shots in a game a few weeks into his career – Sanders is blocking more shots than ever now. That has coincided with an overall transformation that features much improved shooting numbers from the field (51.6 %), at the line (61.3 %), a big jump in defensive rebound percentage (26.2 %), fewer turnovers (2.1 per 36 minutes), and as mentioned, fewer fouls.

After setting a career-high and tying a franchise record when he blocked 10 shots against the Timberwolves earlier on Nov. 30, Sanders followed up the game with five and seven blocks in his next two.

Second Swats

Sanders is not doing this block thing alone though. Samuel Dalembert (1.3) and Ekpe Udoh (1.2) remain steady shot-blockers while John Henson's per-minute numbers are pretty good as well. Even Monta Ellis (0.6) and Mike Dunleavy (0.4) are threatening to set career highs in blocks per game.

The blocked shots are more than just style too. Opponents are shooting 53.8 % on two-pointers against the Bucks when their shots are not blocked – a number that ranks the team among the worst in the league. Thankfully, the blocks bring opponents down to a much more respectable 47.5 % on twos overall.

Not Blocked

Blocks usually only go one way during Bucks games. The team actually ranks in the top half of the league in shots attempted at the rim and the lower half of the league in three-pointers attempted, so it is not as though they are simply taking shots that would prevent them from being blocked.

Yet here they are, getting blocked just 4.1 times per game so far, tied for the third lowest total in the NBA. A couple of the main reasons? Ellis is getting blocked at the lowest rate of his career – and so is Brandon Jennings.

In the team's home opening win over the Cavaliers, Sanders set the tone for the season with four blocks off the bench. Meanwhile, the Bucks were not even blocked once – whether or not anyone noticed.

 

 

Alex Boeder

My passions? Writing and the Bucks, to start. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009-10 – almost all of that time writing for BrewHoop. I have also written for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at adboeder@gmail.com.