Milwaukee Bucks: The Second Unit Must Step Up


Things have been tough for the Milwaukee Bucks. They’re off to a 1-3 start, getting rolled in each of their first three games before finding their footing against the Brooklyn Nets last night.

There have been some bright spots in the team. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing like a man possessed, showing signs that he may be taking the big step that so many hoped he’d take this season.

Greg Monroe has also been solid, providing the Bucks with consistent rebounding on both ends of the floor, a scoring threat they sorely lacked last season, and respectable defense.

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Everything else, however, has been poor and much of the blame rests with the second unit.

Many players who were expected to be second unit guys, like Chris Copeland and Johnny O’Bryant III, have been thrust into the line-up out of necessity as the Bucks have faced a rash of early season injuries. The drop-off with these guys, particularly on the defensive end where the Bucks were among the league’s best last season, is certainly a cause for concern.

Much of this can contributed to the new guys learning the system. Too often, players are over-helping, unsure of when to double or stay in place. This is has left guys open, either coming to the basket or behind the three point line.

This was especially apparent on opening night against the New York Knicks. The team had no counter to Kristaps Porzingis, unable to deal with his size and range. To compensate, the team began to double and collapse into the paint. This left the team sorely exposed:

Part of this can be attributed to a lack of an interior defensive presence, especially when Monroe sits.

With John Henson injured, the team has lacked a counter to players driving inside. The defense is trying to compensate by collapsing into the paint, but it’s left the Bucks sorely exposed on the perimeter, with opponents hitting a league high 46.4 percent of their threes against them prior to last night.

If the team is going to sort out their issues on defense, they’ll need Henson back sooner rather than later. The team simply does not have enough size when Monroe sits to stop teams from hurting them inside.

It’s also apparent that the Bucks miss having a Jared Dudley in the second unit. Dudley helped provide the team floor spacing and enabled them to play small ball, often being featured as a power forward in the second unit.

He also provided the second unit with solid perimeter defense, making things difficult for whoever he was assigned to guard.

The Bucks, as currently constructed, lack a Dudley type player who provides them with a threat on both sides of the floor. The perimeter defense, with the likes of Copeland, is nowhere near as good as it was last season.

Some improvement will undoubtedly come as the new players learn the system. However, no perimeter rotation player the Bucks have at the moment is an above average defender, and this could be a persistent problem as this season progresses.

The second unit has also struggled on the offensive end. unable to get good looks or make any sort of run when the first unit is out.

Much of this can be attributed to the absence of O.J. Mayo. Mayo is capable of playing either guard position and is one of the few players capable of creating his own shot on the team.

Without him, the Bucks are without an obvious sixth man. The guy who was expected to fill the void, Greivis Vasquez, has been unable to hit any of his jumpers in the first four games, shooting just 30 percent from the field.

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Others, like Johnny O’Bryant III and Damien Inglis, simply aren’t talented enough at the moment to provide the Bucks with any kind of consistent threat on offense.

Jerryd Bayless could be the man to step up. He filled the void last night, putting up 26 points against the Brooklyn Nets.

Bayless, however, is too often an all-or-nothing player as evidenced by his four and two point performances against the Knicks and Raptors respectively. Thus, if the Bucks are going to improve their second unit offense, they’ll need the likes of Vasquez to step up.

The team, of course, has yet to find their new identity. Unlike last season, when the team lacked offense, the Bucks are showing signs of being above average, especially with the starting unit. Thus, Coach Jason Kidd may have to adjust the Bucks style this season, as they may not have the personnel capable of duplicating their defensive success from last year.

The team is also getting healthier, as evidenced by Jabari Parker returning this Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

There’s certainly no need to panic, but if the Bucks are going to turn it around in the short-term, they’ll need their second unit to step up.