Breaking Down the Bucks’ Defense

The Bucks’ length isn’t the only reason they’ve been so good on defense. Plus: recaps, previews, stats, clips and more.

The Bucks are one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, and have been especially stingy in the last month. Part of their defensive success in 2015 is due to a new starting lineup consisting of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jared Dudley, John Henson, Brandon Knight, and Khris Middleton.

On Saturday night, the starting lineup played the entire first quarter and held the Portland Trail Blazers to just 15 points in 12 minutes. Most statistics rate the Blazers one of the league’s ten best offenses. So how did the Bucks shut them down in the first quarter? Let’s take a closer look.

Much has been made of this lineup’s length, but that seriously undersells the complexity of the Bucks defensive strategy. After just a few months in Jason Kidd and assistant coach Sean Sweeney’s defensive system, this group continues to increasingly grasp the importance of communication. While many NBA teams may have just one player “quarterback” of their defense, the Bucks’ five are talking constantly while making their rotations.

And those rotations! In the video, you see multiple possessions in which the Bucks not only rotate correctly, but often over-rotate and aggressively pick up a man different than their own. Once a player has over-rotated, the entire defense shifts as one, causing fits for offenses.

These impressive rotations show the defense reacting to plays unfolding in front of them, but even more impressive is the work they put in before action even begins. Throughout the video, you will see examples of the Bucks getting into the right position before the offense even makes a move. Just watch the work Henson puts in on the possession starting at 1:54. Incredible stuff.

Though it may be simple to say the Bucks play great defense because of their length – as that is certainly a factor – it takes a lot more to craft a truly great defense. Commitment to their scheme and maximum effort has transformed the Bucks from a group of long-limbed defenders into one of the league’s scariest defensive units.

What to Read

Bucks aiming high and succeeding with defense, depth – James Herbert of CBS Sports had a chance to talk with the Bucks while they were in Toronto and talked to multiple Bucks about the keys to their success midway through this season.

Hardwood Paroxysm writes about Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice) – Antetokounmpo has been so much fun this season that two HP writers decided to write about him this week. Brian Schroeder dissected whether or not Giannis is actually a good player, while Jack Maloney drooled over his potential.

Here today, gone tomorrow? Gutierrez lives life of uncertainty – Fox Sports Wisconsin’s Andrew Gruman took some time to talk with Jorge Gutierrez about his journey to the NBA, time in the D-League, and life as an NBA player signed to a 10-day contract.

Clip of the Week

This week’s clip focuses on a tweak John Henson has made on the offensive end. Obviously, these are both examples of Henson going to his oft-favored left hand, but they do show a subtle change Henson has made lately as he’s gotten more and more comfortable with the pick and roll. Instead of going with the pass and trying to beat the chasing defender to the basket, Henson is catching and attacking the chasing defender, which makes him much more difficult to cover.

Week in Review

Thursday – After a win in Miami, the Bucks picked up a second straight win in Florida with a 115-100 victory over the Orlando Magic.  John Henson put up a double-double (12 pts, 11 rebs) and Brandon Knight stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and four steals.

Saturday – In front of a sellout crowd in Milwaukee, the Bucks beat one of the Western Conference’s best teams, besting the Portland Trail Blazers 95-88 with six Bucks in double figures on the night.

Monday – Milwaukee was forced to play with just eight players for a majority of the night following an O.J. Mayo ejection in the second quarter, but still pulled out a 82-75 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Khris Middleton led the way for the Bucks with 25 points and 9 rebounds.

Wednesday – The Bucks played horribly for the first 48 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers, but luckily the Lakers are terrible and allowed the Bucks to force overtime, and win. The Bucks almost scored more in five minutes of overtime (19) than they did in the second and fourth quarters.

Next Week’s Preview

Friday – The Bucks will have to play much better than they did on Wednesday to take down MVP candidate James Harden and the Houston Rockets and keep their five-game winning streak alive.

Saturday – Things should get a little easier in Milwaukee as the Bucks welcome the Boston Celtics to the BMOHBC in the first matchup between the two this season.

Monday – Like the Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets have been putrid all season long, but better as of late winning their last two games against the Clippers and Raptors. The Bucks won 122-118 in overtime the first time the teams met on November 19th.

Wednesday – The Ty Corbin-led Sacramento Kings come to Milwaukee the night after a game after a game against the Bulls in Chicago. Hopefully, DeMarcus Cousins continues to prep for the All-Star Game.

Stats of the Week

61.3 – A “Net Rating” is the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive rating, both of which are measured per 100 possessions. The Bucks five-man lineup of Antetokounmpo/Bayless/Dudley/Henson/Mayo had the league’s best Net Rating in the month of January at 61.3. (via NBA Stats)

570 – Though the Bucks have been quite good on the defensive end this season, their aggressive scheme does surrender some offensive rebounds. Opponents have grabbed 570 offensive rebounds against the Bucks this season, the league’s sixth highest total. (via Basketball Reference)

41.1 – In the month of January, the Bucks held their opponents to just 41.1 percent field goal shooting, only the Charlotte Hornets held opponents to a lower percentage. (via NBA Stats)

Quick Bucks is Milwaukee Magazine‘s weekly roundup of all things Milwaukee Bucks written by Eric Nehm. You can yell at Eric or calmly tell him a better nickname for this team than the Milwaukee Grinders on Twitter @eric_nehm.