Donte Is Off To A Good Start At Starting

by Alex Boeder Writer

On the first possession of the game against the Pacers last Saturday night, Donte DiVincenzo jumped the passing lane, picked off a Domantas Sabonis pass, and went the other way for a layup. “He read it the whole time.” Quinn Buckner, announcing the game for the Pacers (and a former Bucks hooper by the way), said it well.

So far this season, DiVincenzo has demonstrated dearly improved anticipation and awareness on the defensive side of the ball, manifested most noticeably by a knack for getting in passing lanes.

Steals per 36 minutes
1. Kris Dunn— 3.7
2. Matisse Thybulle — 3.6
3. Elfrid Payton — 3.5
4. Donte DiVincenzo — 2.9
5. Jimmy Butler — 2.8

He will work for it, too. How does an NBA team beat another NBA team by 32 points? By having Giannis, yes, but also by getting after it. Khem Birch has like five inches and 30 pounds on Donte.

On a per minute basis, he is picking off more than twice as many passes as he did last season as a rookie. His three steals in eight minutes against the Thunder bumped up that number a bit. He might not guard primary ballhandlers enough to sustain the steal numbers. Since that Thunder game though, in his first three NBA starts, he has continued to cause havoc.

In Chicago on Monday night, he racked up three more steals in just 28 minutes. This one didn’t quite work out, but how about this anticipation.

And then, prowling again.

In Atlanta, he scooped up two more steals.

Beyond steals, he shows up on a number of the Hustle category leaderboards, including 13th in Deflections Per 36 Minutes and:

Loose balls recovered per 36 minutes
1. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — 3.7
2. Chris Silva — 2.9
3. Kris Dunn — 2.6
4. Ben Simmons — 2.6
5. Donte DiVincenzo — 2.5

Steal and hustle number don’t always translate to team defensive success though. The Pelicans get a lot of steals, but statistically they have one of the worst defenses in the league. Plenty of the top steal guys in recent history were not plus defenders.

The Bucks have hit their defensive stride after an uneven first four games though, rising all the way up to fourth-best in the league in defensive efficiency. The improvement coincides with DiVincenzo joining the rotation, and (disclaimer) that is not to say that he made it happen all by himself, only that he is making a positive impact. With DiVincenzo on the court, the Bucks have an outrageous 90.7 defensive rating, not only second-best on the team, but second-best in the entire league.

(Note: Fellow wing Sterling Brown, it has to be said, has the number one defensive rating in the NBA. More on Sterling and others in a future column, as they deserve their own stories…)

His defensive rating is just one number, and it is a lineup-dependent and team-dependent number. And it is early.

But on top of the other numbers and the eye test, Donte’s defense is encouraging, especially since it suggests (and this goes beyond defense) that he is adapting nicely to the pace and movement of the NBA. That is particularly important while Donte finds his offensive niches. He is shooting threes much better than last year (all the way up to 42.1 percent…), while still finding his spots inside the perimeter.

We are about five months from the start of the postseason. For now it is November and for now we have a frisky Donte on defense. Like how Connaughton blocks unsuspecting jump-shooters, DiVincenzo appears to be verging on a patented thing — getting into lanes for steals. That is not to say that he is only limited to having one thing, though.


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