Can The Bucks Solve Their Growing Defensive Problem?


Although it was a strength last season, poor defense is costing the Milwaukee Bucks games right now.

It’s only been twelve games into this year’s season, but the Bucks have a growing identity crisis on their hands.

Yes, it’s a long season to start panicking at this moment. It is worrying, though, that the team’s former strength and what carried the Bucks all throughout last season to an unlikely playoff berth is currently their biggest weakness this early into the season. Milwaukee’s defense has been a weakness this season.

Before the season began, there was an expectation that the team would slide a bit on defense because of new additions as well as key pieces from last year’s team moving onto new teams, but it’s been worse than even most Bucks fans imagined.

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According to, the Bucks rank twenty-ninth in the league with a dRTG of 108.1 per 100 possessions, with only the New Orleans Pelicans having a higher dRTG than the Bucks as of this writing.  For a frame of reference, the Bucks ranked fourth in the league this time last year with a dRTG of 97.7 per 100 possessions.

That’s quite a significant drop off, especially for a team that prides itself on being successful through their defense.

So what’s been to blame for the early defensive struggles?

It’s pretty easy to look at what the team gained and lost as being a deciding factor in these early season struggles and while that certainly has had played a role, some of the blame has to fall on to the players that established themselves as being difference makers on both ends of the court as recently as last year.

Other factors like the team averaging 23.7 personal fouls per game in their first twelve games, which is the highest around the league as well as averaging the third-highest opposing free throw attempts around the league have certainly played a part in all of this as well.

Nov 14, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 108-105. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

But what might arguably be the biggest difference that doesn’t show up in box scores/stats regarding the Bucks’ defensive struggles this year compared to the unexpected success last year is the fact that teams have simply adjusted to it.

It’s certainly not a fluke to have the second highest rated defense for a complete season considering some of the key contributions they got from players like Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley, but a surprise factor was certainly involved for why the team did so well entering the season last year.

So moving forward, how long could it be until adjustments are made if the scheme just simply doesn’t click?

First and foremost, the players certainly have to give a better effort in trying to make opposing teams work for every possession, no doubt.  But if the defensive inconsistencies continue for the Bucks as well as more dispiriting losses like the one against Washington, those factors could force coach Jason Kidd and his staff to go back to the drawing board on the aggressive scheme if it doesn’t look be to working.

It’s important to remember that Kidd will make the necessary changes like he did in his first and only year in Brooklyn when he “reassigned” assistant coach Lawrence Frank.

Now, it’s highly unlikely any personnel moves as drastic as that could be made, but it does show that Kidd is willing to make changes if necessary and especially if the wins aren’t there.

All in all, the problems on defense don’t take away what has already been an exciting season for the Bucks as the young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo improve even further as well as Jabari Parker looking like himself more and more each game after missing the majority of last year.

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At the same time, however, it’s hard to not be a little worried about what the rest of the season has in store for this young team if things don’t turn around after this 5-7 start because it was ultimately designed for the team to build on what they achieved last year.

Ultimately, it’s still early in the season and there’s plenty of time to turn things around on defense as well as the win/loss columns, but a turning point must be made soon.

Otherwise, we may be heading into uncharted territory.