The Bucks Are Scoring Fast

The first six seconds of Blister In The Sun kept looping at Fiserv Forum. You know the beat. Once, twice, three times. It was weird how it was so weird that the Bucks still had the ball, still had not taken a shot.

They were holding for the final shot of the first half against the Magic on Monday night, so they were intentionally waiting it out, and it was the right thing to do, but it felt odd no matter what because unless there is a damn good reason to do so, the Bucks are about as unlikely to let the shot clock wind down as any team in recent NBA history.

Lowest percentage of shots attempted late (0–4) in shot clock since 2013–14
Thunder — 2018/19 — 5.3%
Bucks — 2019/20 — 5.8%
Warriors — 2014/15 — 6.0%
Warriors — 2017/18 — 6.0%
Rockets— 2019/20 — 6.4%
Warriors — 2018/19 — 6.4%
Pelicans — 2017/18 — 6.5%
Grizzlies— 2019/20 — 6.6%

Not that the Bucks struggle to execute late in the shot clock: They have the second-best field goal percentage (and eFG%) in the league this season in the final four seconds of the clock. But all teams shoot considerably worse in those desperation late shot clock situations, so minimizing them, like the Bucks do, is the move.

There is a balance to strike when it comes to waiting for a good shot and taking the first available good shot. As much as any team, the Bucks have found it.

When the Bucks get a defensive rebound (and they are second-best in the league at doing that), they are off and running. This type of play is an incredibly familiar sight.

Sure, that is the Hornets, but even the Clippers were in a two-hour scramble against the Bucks.

This season, the Bucks are playing at the fastest pace of any team this century, and the fastest since the 1990–91 Nuggets, who led the league in points and three-point attempts and in some ways were ahead of their time but didn’t have the personnel to match, and went 20–62.

Fastest pace teams since 1990
1. Nuggets — 1990–91 — 113.7
2. Bucks — 2019/20 — 105.1
3. Rockets — 2019/20 — 104.7
4. Wizards — 2019/20 — 104.6
5. Hawks — 2018/19 — 103.9

Pace does not correlate to success, but the Bucks are supremely suited to play in semi-transition. You want your superstar to be able to convert in the clutch, but you will hardly ever see Giannis attempting a shot late in the clock (about three percent of shots are taken late in the clock), because he gets right to it.

There is immediate inevitability to Giannis on offense. That play above is the Bucks ostensibly playing halfcourt offense, after a Wolves make on the other end. Catching the ball while on the move has put defenders on their heels (Josh Okogie is visibly on his literal heels there) all season.

Giannis is also finding his teammates cutting to the hoop for early baskets, and finding his teammates popping to the perimeter for early triples.

Against the Magic, five of his eight assists set up three-pointers. Like last year, Giannis is arguably the most important reason that the Bucks are one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in league history, and he sets up a lot of them quickly.

To play fast and smart, everyone on the team needs to buy in. Everyone needs to move off the ball, move the ball quickly, and be decisive. How often do you notice someone on the Bucks not doing those things? Four players on the Bucks currently rank in the top 25 in terms of percentage of shots taken very early (18–22) in the shot clock.

Percentage of shots attempted very early (18–22) in the shot clock
7. Eric Bledsoe — 26.3%
8. Donte DiVincenzo — 25.0%
15. Wesley Matthews — 23.0%
24. Giannis Antetokounmpo — 21.1%

As a team, the Bucks rank second in the league in share of attempts very early in the shot clock, only behind the Rockets, and they convert at a much better percentage. The Bucks are also among the leaders in shots attempted early (15–18) in the shot clock.

It takes a lot to be not only the fastest-paced team, but also to turn that into an elite offense, to make the speed sparkle.

They are a great defensive team and defensive rebounding team, which allows them to push the ball naturally off misses. They are opportunistic when it comes to getting in the lane for steals (DiVincenzo is top shelf in this regard) and they are devastating in transition (ranking second in the league in fastbreak points, with Giannis being the most unstoppable on the run in the world). They have a team full of eager and smart passers. They don’t dribble without purpose. And their superstar is magnetized to the right decision and the steel of the rim.