Six Reasons the Bucks Are on a Six-Game Win Streak
Rashad Vaughn – Rashad Vaughn – pumped his fists earthward and if you looked you could see a couple lightning bolts emanate from those fists as he stomped down the court after he helped the Bucks force a 24-second violation. It was a rare burst of on-court outward emotion from the typically-reserved reserve guard. The guard title was apt on this night: Vaughn, like all his teammates, did a whole lot of guarding in the win against the Timberwolves. The supposed 3-point specialist didn’t make a single long-range hoop, but earned 23 minutes and post-game plaudits for his defense from head coach Jason Kidd.
The Bucks kept a 74-73 lead after that 24-second violation, and they kept the lead the rest of the way. That made six straight wins for the Bucks, and the team-wide defensive turnaround is a foremost reason for the streak. The point is not to single out a play or moment from Vaughn in particular – the point is that lately you could easily single out a defensive play or moment from anyone on the team.
The defense – the Bucks have been very good on defense.
Before the six-game win streak, the Bucks ranked 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency. Not a mark to go home and hang on the refrigerator. During the six-game win streak, the Bucks have boasted the second-best defensive efficiency in the NBA behind only the Spurs. Even more impressive is the quality of opponent they have been holding down (offensive efficiency rank in parenthesis): Clippers (7th), Raptors (4th), 76ers (okay, 30th), Knicks (16th), Pacers (15th), Timberwolves (11th).
Offensively, the Bucks have been a little better (10th during the win streak compared to 11th prior). These good vibes are mostly because of defense.
The Bucks are holding down the defensive glass, too.
Before, they ranked 28th in defensive rebound percentage. During the win streak, they are up to 15th. And even when they do allow the stray offensive rebound, the Bucks have been much better at limiting second-chance points, giving up the fifth-fewest in the league during the streak.
The Bucks are limiting opponents from shooting so many threes, thank goodness.
Only a handful of teams gave up more 3-point attempts (29.3 per game) than the Bucks prior to the win streak. You (and the Bucks) may have noticed that threes are rather crucial in 2017. During the six-game win streak, no team in the NBA has allowed fewer 3-point attempts (20.2 per game) than the Bucks.
You might reason that fewer threes would mean more forays into the paint, and thus, to the free throw line. Ah, but the Bucks are also not sending opponents to the stripe as much (from 23.6 attempts per game down to 21.7 during the win streak).
Hurray for limiting the most efficient types of shots.
The Bucks are creating turnovers and not turning the ball over.
Even without Jabari Parker, the Bucks are at their best when they create transition opportunities. All season they have excelled pushing the ball and converting off turnovers, but they have stepped it up to another level during the win streak, ranking second in the league with 21.2 points off turnovers per game.
Meanwhile, they are allowing the fourth-fewest points off turnovers per game (11.8).
That is a rather significant margin.
The Bucks have a fellow named Khris Middleton and a new starting lineup or two.
To say that Khris Middleton makes everyone better is a bit of an oversimplification. But it is also true.
Giannis has gushed about Middleton opening driving lanes for him. Indeed, Middleton has yet to attempt 15 field goals in a game this season, but he is hitting the shots he does take (career highs in 2-point percentage and 3-point percentage), and he is creating more than ever, too (career high in assists per minute). And on the other side of the ball, his return has coincided with the improved team defense.
The Bucks are 7-0 with Middleton in the starting lineup, as Giannis, Tony Snell and Matthew Dellavedova in particular have looked as good as ever with Middleton alongside them.
Giannis is doing everything (including limiting his fouls), and he is so good at doing everything.
Warning: Giannis is getting to the line more, he is not attempting as many long twos or threes, and he is fouling less. On the latter, as noted a couple weeks ago, the Bucks have fared far better when Giannis stays out of foul trouble, and when he does not resort to hoisting a bunch of threes. Those trends have held strong during this hot streak.
Over the course of the six games, Giannis is averaging 23.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks. Insanely, these are quite close to his season averages.
He has been even better than usual recently though, asserting himself as both the most dominant offensive player and the most dominant defensive player on either team in most of each of the six games.