The Milwaukee Bucks‘ first ten games haven’t gone as planned. They’ve won just six of them and sit in a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference.
There are plenty of reasons why their play isn’t matching expectations, beginning with the coaching staff. Adrian Griffin took over as a first-time head coach, replacing Mike Budenholzer after he was fired following the Bucks’ first-round playoff loss.
As often happens, the Bucks went with a coach who addressed the flaws of the previous one. Budenholzer primarily employed a drop coverage that maximized the talent of his players. This defense was one of the best in the NBA during his tenure but was consistently exposed during the postseason due to his inability or unwillingness to adjust. Griffin vowed to employ a multiple defense that constantly switched up coverages and kept offenses guessing.
With the Milwaukee Bucks finishing their first ten games with a 6-4 record, here are ten takeaways from the start of their season.
The only issue is his defense relies on ball pressure, athleticism, and flying all over the court. Those are traits better suited to a younger, longer, more athletic team and not one whose best players are on the wrong side of 30, like the Bucks. It’s similar the old adage in football: If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one. The Bucks have multiple defenses, but not one they excel in.
Griffin hasn’t done a good job adjusting his scheme to the roster he has. Instead, he’s asked the roster to adjust to the scheme and it’s had disastrous results to begin the season. According to Cleaning the Glass, after ranking fourth in defensive rating last year, the Bucks currently stand at 25th. We knew their defense would take a step backward after trading Jrue Holiday for Damian Lillard, but this is a leap nobody expected.
With Griffin and his coaching staff reeling to improve the defense, here are nine more takeaways from the Bucks’ first ten games of the season.
2. Wide Open 3-Point Shooters
Part of Milwaukee’s defensive woes is they’re too willing to go into scramble mode on defense. This strategy relies on multiple players flying around the floor in rotation to cover up for their teammates. And far too often, it’s resulted in a wide-open three-point shot for their opponent.
Milwaukee ranks 23rd in the NBA by giving up nearly 21 wide-open threes per game, a stat that’s determined if the torso of the closest defender is 6 feet or more away from the torso of the shooter. Like the play below, they’re often far too slow on their rotations, leaving open shooters everywhere.
3. Brook Lopez’s Slow Start
Brook Lopez has had one of the biggest adjustments on the roster. The Bucks started the season asking him to defend at the level of the screen, pulling him away from the hoop where he starred the last half-decade. They’ve since reverted back to the drop coverage that helped him earn two All-Defensive honors.
However, it’s the offensive end where he’s gotten off to the slowest start. His 9.6 points per game is the lowest of his career. He’s still shooting at an average rate from behind the arc, but it’s been the mid-range where he’s struggled the most, specifically the 4-to-14-foot range. He’s inexplicably missed several bunnies from that range.
4. Free Throw Merchants
With Antetokounmpo and Lillard, the Bucks spend a lot of time at the free throw line, ranking second in free throw rate, according to Cleaning the Glass. I may be biased, but it’s refreshing to see two players who get to the line authentically and genuinely instead of flopping their way into calls.
5. Horrible in Transition
Oddly, a team with Antetokounmpo is this bad in transition, but it’s been that way for a couple of years now. Milwaukee runs at about a league-average clip, but isn’t very effective at it–they rank 29th in points added per 100 transition possessions (a stat that measures how much more effective they are in transition compared to their halfcourt offense). It’s probably due to a team that is unathletic outside of their top player.
6. Andre Jackson Jr. is a Ball of Energy
Andre Jackson Jr. can do a little bit of everything (besides shoot) and has been a ball of energy for the Bucks. His tempo is contagious and has been refreshing for a team that sometimes looks stuck in the mud of the regular season. He’s in line for a more prominent role with Jae Crowder out for two months. We’ll see what he can do.
7. Pat Connaughton is Out of Sync
Speaking of in line for a more significant role, Connaughton is the next man up with Crowder out. He already saw his minutes jump up on Monday after trending down for several games. He’s been in a year-plus funk from the three-point line and could be in danger of falling out of favor with Griffin. Milwaukee needs him to regain his postseason form in the regular season.
8. Schedule Picks up in December
The Bucks better start racking up wins during the rest of November because their schedule picks up in December. They have 11 games (plus two more that will be added as a result of the in-season tournament). They will face the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks (twice), Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers. Those may not be the cream of the crop, but a lot of teams are near the top of their respective conferences and could give the Bucks trouble.
9. Damian Lillard Out of Sync
Lillard missed two games over the weekend but returned on Monday to shoot 3-for-17. On the season, he’s only knocking down 37 percent of his field goal attempts, including 26.9 percent of his threes. Those would be, by far, career lows for him. He talked about not getting his regular work in during the summer and that it would take some time for him to get back into the groove. I don’t think anyone expected it to take him this long and for him to struggle this much.
10. Giannis Antetokounmpo in Midseason Form
On the other end of the spectrum is Antetokounmpo. He’s looked great to start the season and has been carrying the Bucks on the offensive side. He’s relentless in attack mode, punishing defenses for giving him the slightest of openings. He’s still figuring out how to play without the ball alongside Lillard, but hopefully, that comes with more reps. For now, it’s fun to watch vintage Giannis.