Four Factors Update

Warning: Sample sizes are small and may be dangerous if taken too seriously.

That said, it is time to start thinking about trends. The Bucks are on top of the Central Division at 6-2, and as much as I like typing that, I also like to know why they are in first place (hint: it has a lot to do with rebounding and winning the turnover battles) and threats that could prevent them from staying there.

After all, in the playoffs teams go no more than seven games per series – some things do start evening out, mattering, after this many games.

For a refresher on the Four Factors – and why they are so important – check out the introductory articles: eFG%, Turnover Percentage, Rebound Percentage, and Free Throw Ratio.

Some context: the Bucks rank 12th in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency. All stats are through Nov. 17. I will be re-visiting these numbers every two weeks throughout the season. 

eFG %

Summary: The Bucks rate an above-average 11th in offensive eFG% at .496. Last season, they finished 18th overall at .481. Yes, that 117-point burst against the Hornets helped – the team boasted a .535 eFG% in their most recent win. Meanwhile, they have indeed struggled defensively in this area, where they rank 26th, allowing opponents a .499 eFG%.

Positive: Samuel Dalembert (.694) and Larry Sanders (.608) are for the most part keeping things simple by keeping their shots close to the hoop. As a result, they boast percentages among the league leaders. Last season, Sanders finished at .457, so this is a massive improvement. Mike Dunleavy (.618) shoots more often than the guys in the post, so his fantastic percentage brings the team number up even more. Tobias Harris (.649) isn’t shooting a lot, but is making the ones he is taking – most notably, he is at .500 on threes.

Negative: The overall team defense earns high marks, but that owes itself to reasons other than preventing teams from shooting well – reasons that we will address below. The Bucks are allowing opponents to shoot well on twos as well as on threes. That must improve in both areas if they are to jump into truly elite overall defensive territory. Offensively, Ersan Ilyasova (.345) figures to soon snap out of a slow start.

Others: Indiana is the most striking team on this chart – the Pacers actually have the very best defensive eFG% in the NBA and the very worst offensive eFG% in the NBA. We saw a little bit of each when they visited recently Milwaukee in a game the Bucks won 99-85. The Clippers are excellent on both sides of the shooting ball, ranking in the top 10 offensively and defensively.

Turnover Percentage

Summary: The team ranks 10th overall in offensive Turnover Percentage (13.6) and fifth overall in defensive Turnover Percentage (16.0). Largely, the turnover game remains a true and impactful area of success that has carried over from last season.

Positive: Not only are the Bucks forcing tons of turnovers, they are turning those turnovers into points, currently ranking second in the NBA in fastbreak points per game (18.8). Brandon Jennings is leading the charge, currently topping the NBA in steals per game (3.3), more than doubling his 1.6 steals per game from last year. That number is bound to go down, but it is a very promising start.

Negative: Not much to gripe about here. Offensively, the Bucks remain pretty careful with the ball, and they might even be able to improve on that 10th-place ranking, particularly since Beno Udrih (22.4) is sporting a career-high Turnover Percentage.

Others: Jason Kidd has committed five turnovers… this season. In eight games! The Knicks are 7-1 in great part because they are absolutely dominant both at taking care of the ball offensively and at forcing turnovers defensively.

Rebound Percentage

Summary: The single largest transformation of the season thus far for the Bucks (and probably one of the largest transformations in the NBA) is their sudden rise to the top of the NBA in defensive rebounding. A sore spot for the team last season, the Bucks are now the best in the NBA. They are also slightly above average (11th) in offensive rebounding.

Positive: Samuel Dalembert (23.9) came in with a sterling defensive rebounding reputation, and he has lived up to it. Larry Sanders (28.0) entered the season as an iffy defensive rebounder and is so far one of the greatest in the world this young season. Mike Dunleavy (23.3) is also grabbing defensive boards like never before.

Negative: The team’s offensive rebounding (25.9) has taken a minor dip from last season (27.7) but remains quite acceptable.

Others: True, the Lakers are not firing on all Showtime offensive cylinders yet, but they are gathering offensive rebounds at a pretty shockingly great rate. Meanwhile, the Celtics continue to forgo offensive rebounds.

Free Throw Ratio

Summary: The team ranks the same in offensive free throw ratio and defensive ratio: 23rd. As a reminder, this measures the ratio between free throws made and field goals attempted. The idea is that you want to take free throws but not give up free throws, because they are easy points.

Positive: Per minute, Monta Ellis is getting to the line more often than last season – in fact, he is back at career-best levels for free throws attempts, and he is up among the top 15 guards in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (5.1).

Negative: The Bucks as a team are not getting to the line all that much, attempting relatively high numbers of field goals relative to free throws. Ellis is the only player averaging more than three free throw attempts per game. The team is shooting well from the line (.774), but they just don’t make enough appearances there. The team also still fouls a bit too much on the defensive end – Larry Sanders is fouling at an almost identical rate this season (9.9 per 48 minutes) as last season (9.8).

Others: Oklahoma City continues to make free throws like no other team. They are on the fast track to lead the NBA in free throws made ratio for the third straight season, far outdistancing every other team – even without James Harden, who is making more free throws than anyone in the NBA this season.