Zaza Defends, Jabari Builds

Zaza Pachulia isn’t much of a rim protector, but he’s anchoring a great defense. What does this mean for the Bucks’ D? Plus: Jabari Parker’s new Gatorade commercial.

The Bucks have not been the same team since their trade deadline deal, but most of that has been because of their offense. In fact, they have actually been a better defensive team since the All-Star Break, improving their Defensive Rating (points per 100 possessions) from 99.3 points to 97.7.

The Bucks have been great defensively all season long and much of the credit has gone to the scheme drawn up by Jason Kidd and Sean Sweeney. Last time, we checked in on the Bucks defense we were focused on the rotations and length they could employ with John Henson newly inserted into the starting lineup.

Since then, John Henson has been taken out of the starting lineup and replaced with Zaza Pachulia. And yet, the Bucks’ defense has not struggled.

In fact, the Bucks’ defense hasn’t struggled with Pachulia in the game this entire season. Despite being known better for his offensive game, Pachulia has played 1,217 minutes and the Bucks have maintained a Defensive Rating of 96.2 with him on the floor, which would be even better than the Warriors’ league-best defense.

Pachulia blocks very few shots and his measurable effect on opponent’s shooting at the rim seems to be middling, but the Bucks seems to be doing great defensively with him on the floor. All of this evidence seems to point to an obvious, but seemingly stupid, question: Do the Bucks actually need a rim protector?

This idea flies in the face of everything we think we know about NBA defenses. With the increased usage of SportVU data along with Roy Hibbert’s “verticality” display in the 2013 playoffs, more people started to champion the need for an elite rim protector to play great NBA defense.

Teams — like the Milwaukee Bucks — started to hand out huge contracts to bigs that could offer this type of rim protection. Even today, rim protection is one of the major reasons NBA teams are currently split between taking Jahlil Okafor and Karl Anthony-Towns with the first overall pick.

Seemingly though, the Bucks have created a defensive system in which perimeter defense is more important than rim protection. Defense is still wildly difficult to quantify, but defensive metrics would suggest that the two most impactful defenders in Milwaukee are Khris Middleton and Jared Dudley.


Defensive Rating
On the Court Off the Court Difference
Middleton 95.8 103 7.2
Dudley 95.7 102 6.3
Pachulia 96.2 100.8 4.6
Henson 97.7 99.5 1.8
Bayless 98.1 99.7 1.6
Antetokounmpo 99.6 98 -1.6
Mayo 99.9 98.2 -1.7
Ilyasova 101.8 98 -3.8


Again, though, Pachulia is not far behind. He seems to be the third most impactful defender on the team despite being a below average rim protector, which should make us think twice about the construction of the Bucks elite defense. Maybe the Bucks’ defensive system doesn’t require a top-level rim protector. Maybe they just need a big willing to execute assignments and play within the system — like Pachulia has this season. Or maybe this season’s defense has all been a fluke. Maybe we need to see the D in action for another year before making any overarching conclusions.

Though we don’t yet know the truth, this will certainly weigh heavily on those in the front office as they try to construct a championship roster in the coming years.

What to Read

Khris Middleton looks like the complimentary player every elite teams needs – On the heels of Khris Middleton’s career-high scoring night against the Wizards, Brew Hoop’s Dan Sinclair wrote that Khris Middleton resembles the elite role player that can swing playoff series for championship teams.

Figuring out Giannis Antetokounmpo’s position…with computers! – Brew Hoop’s Dan Sinclair also decided to have a little fun with a statistical program designed to determine a player’s true position and found that there is 65 percent chance Antetokounmpo is a power forward based on his numbers this season.

Bucks’ Khris Middleton leads pack of underrated upcoming free agents – Ben Leibowitz of Sports Illustrated wrote what everyone in Milwaukee already knew about Middleton and this upcoming offseason: $$$$$$$$$

Clip of the Week

By Howie Magner

Yes, it’s just a commercial. But it’s a national commercial for a national product, rare ground for a Wisconsin-based pro athlete not named Favre, Rodgers or an occasional other Packer. And it’s not only built around a Bucks player, but it prominently features him with the Bucks. Even when Brandon Jennings was in his UnderArmour endorsement heyday, he was shown wearing UA gear rather than Bucks gear. Not so with Jabari Parker. There’s no mistake what team he’s playing for, and who, in turn, benefits from all those Gatorade products he can’t stop consuming. So yes, it’s just a commercial. But it nonetheless signals another notch on the changing perception and increased Q rating of the Bucks.

Week in Review

Saturday – The Bucks helped out their playoff seeding by taking a game from the Washington Wizards 91-85 behind a career-high 30 points from Khris Middleton.

Monday – Giannis Antetokounmpo (29 points) started a scoring duel that Anthony Davis (43 points) finished with eight points in the final three and a half minutes to give the New Orleans Pelicans a 114-103 victory.

Wednesday – Middleton tied his career-high again and the Bucks won another game at home over the Orlando Magic 97-91. The other four starters also got into double digits on the night.

Next Week’s Preview

Thursday – The Bucks will go on the road to take on the league’s best team since Feb. 1, the Indiana Pacers. With a Paul George return imminent, the Pacers are one of the Eastern Conference’s scariest potential first round matchups.

Saturday – Hopefully, the Bucks don’t spend too much time on Beale Street as they’ll need all of their energy to take on the Memphis Grizzlies, currently the Western Conference’s second best team.

Tuesday – Moving from Beale Street to Bourbon Street, the Bucks will spend St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans attempting to enact some revenge upon the Pelicans.

Wednesday – After their three-game road trip, Milwaukee will be greeted by the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, who are currently sitting in the Western Conference’s sixth position.

Stats of the Week

37.9 – While in Philadelphia, Michael Carter-Williams shot 4.4 pullup shots per game and made just 23.3 percent of those shots. In Milwaukee, Carter-Williams has been asked to take fewer pull-up jumpers and now hits 37.9 percent of his shots off the dribble. (via NBA Stats)

38.2 – The Bucks were averaging 43.1 points-in-the-paint per game before the trade deadline, but since then, that number is down to38.2 points per game. (via NBA Stats)

18.4 – The Bucks really struggled with turnovers before the trade deadline, averaging 16.5 turnovers per game. Somehow, the Bucks were able to increase their number of turnovers per game and now lead the league with 18.4 turnovers per game. (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 explain to him which Bucks player has/had the best post-made shot music (example: Middleton – “For the Love of Money”) on Twitter @eric_nehm.