One Team, One Stat: Milwaukee Bucks struggled to protect the rim
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Milwaukee Bucks, who struggled to protect the rim last season.
Bucks opponents took 37 percent of their shots from the restricted area.
That was the highest rate in the league by a pretty wide margin.
The league has seen an increase in the percentage of its shots that have come from 3-point range in each of the last seven seasons, with the rate rising from 22 percent to 34 percent over that stretch. But restricted area shots remain the most efficient on the floor, worth 1.26 points per attempt. So, while offenses stretch defenses out more than they ever have, protecting the basket remains a priority.
Preventing restricted-area shots doesn’t solve all your problems defensively. The Dallas Mavericks allowed just 27 percent of their opponents’ shots, the league’s lowest rate, to come from the restricted area and ranked 18th in defensive efficiency last season. Two teams in the bottom five in regard to preventing layups and dunks – Houston and Toronto – ranked in the top five defensively.
But preventing restricted-area shots is still an issue that needs to be cleaned up. And its been an issue in Milwaukee for a long time. Amazingly, last season was the seventh straight year in which the Bucks ranked in the bottom five in regard to preventing shots in the restricted area. They’ve had five different coaches over that streak, which began two years before they drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Last season, the percentage of their opponents’ shots that came from the restricted area vs. the league average was the second highest mark over that streak, just a hair below the mark in the 2012-13 season. And in allowing their opponents to shoot better than 63 percent on those shots, it was the Bucks’ worst season at protecting the rim over the seven years.
In Jason Kidd’s first season as head coach (2014-15), the Bucks allowed 9.6 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did the season before. In the last 40 years, only one team – the San Antonio Spurs from 1996-97 to ’97-98, when they drafted Tim Duncan and got David Robinson back from injury – has improved more defensively from one season to the next.
Those ’14-15 Bucks ranked in the top 10 in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint and opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint, while forcing a league-high 17.7 turnovers per 100 possessions. But as opponents adjusted to (and figured out how to take advantage of) their aggressive defense, they suffered slippage in opponent effective field goal percentage and opponent turnover rate. And they’ve never been particularly good at keeping their opponents off the free throw line or finishing defensive possessions with rebounds.
According to Synergy play-type tracking, only 12.3 percent of the Bucks’ opponent possessions, the lowest rate in the league, were in transition last season. And according to Second Spectrum tracking, they forced their opponents to take 20 percent of their shots, the highest rate in the league, in the last six seconds of the shot clock (when league-wide effective field goal percentage is lowest).
If you’re forcing your opponents to play in the half court and late into the clock, you should be doing a better job of preventing layups and dunks. But that wasn’t the case for the Bucks, who allowed a league high 38.9 points per game in the restricted area.
The Bucks prevented restricted-area shots better with John Henson at center than they did with Thon Maker at center. With Maker on the floor, opponents took 39 percent of their shots in the restricted area. That was the highest rate (by a pretty wide margin) among 255 players that were on the floor for at least 2,000 opponent field goal attempts last season. Henson had the third highest mark (36 percent – still would have ranked last on a team level) among big men.
Last season, opponents took 32 percent of their shots in the restricted area against the Los Angeles Lakers when new Bucks center Brook Lopez was on the floor. That mark was a little higher than the league average, but was significantly lower than the mark of Lakers opponents when Lopez was off the floor (35 percent).
More important than the personnel is the scheme, which is where new head coach Mike Budenholzer comes in. Budenholzer had the benefit of having Al Horford or Dwight Howard as his starting center in his first four seasons in Atlanta, but with neither last season, the Hawks still ranked in the top six in regard to preventing shots in the restricted area.
Though he’s probably best known for his egalitarian offense that turned heads and ranked sixth four years ago, its on defense where Budenholzer ranked in the top 10 in three of his five seasons in Atlanta and where he most needs to make an impact in Milwaukee.
Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).
BUCKS NOTES – GENERAL
- Have gone 17 seasons (since 2001) without winning a playoff series, the longest active streak in the league.
- Haven’t been a better-than-average team in both offensive and defensive efficiency since the 1990-91 season.
- Only team with a winning record and a negative point differential last season. Were the 7 seed in the East with the conference’s 10th best point differential.
- Had the biggest home-road NetRtg differential in the playoffs, 26.5 points per 100 possessions better at the Bradley Center (plus-17.3) than they were in Boston (minus-9.2), with the home team winning all seven games of the series.
- Have been outrebounded in each of the last eight seasons, ranking no better than 19th in rebounding percentage over that stretch.
BUCKS NOTES – OFFENSE
- Last season was the first time in 14 seasons that they ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
- 19.4 percent of offensive possessions, the second highest rate in the league, were in transition.
- One of five teams that ranked in the bottom 10 in both 3-point percentage (22nd) and the percentage of shots that came from 3-point range (25th).
- Led the postseason in effective field goal percentage at 56.1 percent.
- One of two teams – Golden State was the other – for which second chance points accounted for less than 10 percent of their overall scoring.
BUCKS NOTES – DEFENSE
- Have ranked in the top six in opponent turnover rate (turnovers per 100 possessions) in nine of the last 10 seasons.
- Have ranked in the bottom seven in defensive rebounding percentage in each of the last seven seasons.
- Allowed a league-high 13.1 points per game on cuts, according to Synergy tracking.
BUCKS NOTES – LINEUPS
- Ten most-used lineups outscored their opponents by 257 points in 1,483 minutes. All other lineups were outscored by 282 points in 2,480 minutes.
- Aggregate bench NetRtg of minus-3.9 ranked 22nd in the league (worst among teams that made the playoffs) and was down from plus-2.6 (eighth) in 2016-17. That was the league’s second biggest drop-off.
- Outscored their opponents by 243 points (scoring 114 points per 100 possessions) in 1,582 minutes with Eric Bledsoe on the floor without Malcolm Brogdon or Matthew Dellavedova. Were outscored by 51 points (scoring just 104 points per 100 possessions) in 655 minutes with Bledsoe on the floor with one or both of the other point guards.
- Before Jabari Parker’s season debut on Feb. 2, they were 14.2 points per 100 possessions better with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor (plus-4.8) than they were with him off the floor (minus-9.4). After Parker’s debut, they were only 2.0 points per 100 possessions better with Antetokounmpo on the floor (plus-1.4) than they were with him off the floor (minus-0.6).
- Lineup of Bledsoe, Brogdon, Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Henson allowed opponents to attempt 27.3 free throws per 100 shots from the field, the highest opponent free throw rate among 48 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together.
BUCKS NOTES – INDIVIDUAL
- Giannis Antetokounmpo was one of three players – Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were the others – that averaged at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, one steal and one block per game.
- Antetokounmpo averaged 13.3 points per game in the restricted area, most in the last 15 years (since Shaquille O’Neal averaged 14.6 in 2002-03). He was one of four players to shoot 70 percent or better on at least 500 restricted-area shots.
- Antetokounmpo had an effective field goal percentage of 37.2 percent from outside the paint, the third lowest mark among 207 players who attempted at least 200 total shots from the outside.
- Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe ranked third and sixth in clutch effective field goal percentage among 45 players who attempted at least 50 clutch shots.
- Bledsoe registered career highs in both effective field goal percentage (53.6 percent) and true shooting percentage (58.2 percent) last season.
- Bledsoe had an effective field goal percentage of 20.8 percent on shots in the last four seconds of the shot clock (5-for-51 on 3-pointers), the worst mark (by a wide margin) among 45 players who attempted at least 75. He shot 25 percent on pull-up 3-pointers, the third worst mark among players who attempted at least 100.
- Malcolm Brogdon recorded assists on 20 percent of his possessions, down from 28 percent in 2016-17. That was the third biggest drop in assist ratio among players who played at least 1,000 minutes in both seasons.
- Ersan Ilyasova drew 0.7 charges per 36 minutes, most among 275 players who played at least 1,000 minutes last season.
- Brook Lopez averaged 13.0 points per game with the Lakers last season, down from 20.5 with Brooklyn in 2016-17. That was the biggest drop among 260 players who played in at last 40 games each of the last two seasons.
- Lopez contested 19.3 shots per 36 minutes, third most among 275 players who played at least 1,000 minutes last season.
- 96 percent of Thon Maker‘s jump shots were catch-and-shoot jumpers, according to Second Spectrum tracking. That was the second highest rate among 230 players who attempted at least 200 jumpers.
- Khris Middleton ranked second in the league with 530 field goal attempts from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line) and ranked fourth in mid-range field goal percentage (49.3 percent) among 57 players with at least 200 attempts.
- Middleton was one of seven players to average at least 5 catch-and-shoot points per game and 5 pull-up points per game.
- In the playoffs, Middleton had an effective field goal percentage of 71.0 percent, the best mark among 92 players with at least 50 postseason field goal attempts.
- Tony Snell is one of nine players who have shot better than 40 percent on at least 250 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons. Last season, he took 39 percent of his 3-pointers from the corners, the fifth highest rate among 150 players with at least 200 total 3-point attempts.
- Snell allowed just 0.51 points per possession on isolations, by far the best mark among 55 players who defended at least 75 isolation possessions.
NBA TV’s Bucks preview premieres at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 1.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.