Milwaukee Bucks Need To Embrace Who They Are Now


If the Milwaukee Bucks are to turn their slow start to the season around, they need to change their identity and move away from who they were a year ago.

It felt like no coincidence that Saturday’s first quarter against the Indiana Pacers was arguably the best that the Milwaukee Bucks offense had looked all season long.

The Bucks have been guilty of trying to fall in line with what has become almost like the universally accepted road to success in the NBA.

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One of the team’s top priorities during this past off-season was to add three-point shooting, and in many ways that made sense. They have a roster filled with strong players who like to attack the rim, and recent logic suggests that you are obliged to create space for them to operate within.

This is a shooting league now, right? Isn’t that how the Spurs knocked off Miami two years ago, and how last year Atlanta shocked everybody with 60 wins, before another exceptionally dominant jump shooting team won the title in the form of the Golden State Warriors?

The answer to that is no, not really.

Shooting has been a common feature of successful NBA teams in the past couple of seasons, but it shouldn’t be what defined those teams. Teams like those listed above became successful due to building their roster around a style that was conductive to their existing talent, and then by finding a system that meshed naturally with their style.

Last year for Milwaukee, the team was built to win with defense above all else, and that was as much a result of their lack of offensive options than anything else. This year they shouldn’t have that problem.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has shown great development, already logging a career high game of 33 points and against none other than LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers.

Greg Monroe is the dominant low-post presence that many had cried out for last season, and he has settled into Milwaukee very quickly. Part of the problem might actually be that some of his teammates and coaches haven’t adjusted quite as quickly to the big man’s inclusion.

Nov 21, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) shoots the ball over Indiana Pacers forward C.J. Miles (0) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: James Brosher-USA TODAY Sports

Then there’s Jabari Parker, who will obviously take more time before he really starts to assert himself following on from his injury and also considering that he has yet to cross the 40 game mark as an NBA player. Yet in his comeback so far, he has looked just as spectacular as everyone hoped he’d be when the Bucks drafted him.

That’s not to mention players like Khris Middleton, Michael Carter-Williams, John Henson, O.J. Mayo and the recently red-hot Jerryd Bayless. The Bucks should be able to play offense this season, but right now it’s not happening.

According to Basketball-Reference, Milwaukee has an offensive rating of 102.8 (21st in the NBA), but a bigger issue is the fact that the team ranks dead last in pace. Running 92 possessions per 48 minutes is far from ideal.

For 12 minutes against the Pacers, Milwaukee played with a different flow though. It wasn’t just a run of possessions where everything clicked and shots fell. There was a clear strategy in place, whether dictated by the coaching staff or recognized by the players.

The Bucks only shot two three-pointers in the first quarter, yet they went inside to score over and over and over again. Straight from the tip, penetration and inside passing was prevalent and Milwaukee reaped the rewards.

First it was Michael Carter-Williams, driving and dishing, then creating avenues to make easy looks for his center.

Giannis got in on the act too. First he combined with Monroe also, before also dropping a nice dime for Johnny O’Bryant.

This level of play dropped off with the bench coming in, and effectively never returned when the starters came back. Between the final minute of the first quarter and halftime, Mayo and Bayless took five three-pointers alone.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and in this case they made 2-5 which was respectable, but it signalled a shift in how the Bucks approached the game from then on. If it wasn’t necessarily all long balls, but it at least bled in to more settling for mid-range twos also.

The problem with this is that we all know that the Bucks aren’t an elite shooting team, I’m sure they even know that. To this point they have performed far above expectations from long-range, yet that can be credited to Bayless’ crazy and unsustainable deep shooting start as much as anything else.

What has been evident across the course of the season is that when the Bucks go inside good things happen. Milwaukee are shooting 55.1 percent on attempts from within five feet, and although they rank top five in the league in attempts in that range, with this roster they should really push that even further.

Greg Monroe is tailor-made to see the majority of the offense run through him down low in a way that can benefit the Bucks. That’s because not only does he offer the finishing ability, but as he’s demonstrated throughout the year so far, his interior passing is second to none too.

It’s not only Monroe too, the Bucks as a whole are more than capable of swinging the ball around until a high percentage shot presents itself inside.

The slow pace is puzzling in it’s own right though. Of course, if you’re looking to involve a big man like Monroe opportunities to push it will be reduced, but the Young Bucks are lethal in transition and simply haven’t been showing that often enough.

It could well be that with their defense nowhere up to last year’s standards as of yet that they’re wary of over-cheating in the passing lanes on D and getting exposed, but there does have to be a little bit more risk.

Jabari Parker showed that on two occasions during Saturday’s game too.

A lot of the intricacies of the Bucks defensive rotation from last year aren’t there right now, and if they ever return it will likely be much deeper in the season when all of the new players have got up to speed.

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In the meantime, applying pressure and trying to force turnovers can benefit this team on both ends of the floor.

With the defense not quite clicking, it’s time for the Bucks to shape a new identity for themselves. Sure, the NBA is in love with pace and space, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth the Bucks while pursuing that end.

The notion of catch-all, effective blanket philosophies is overrated, if not in fact a myth. There’s no plug and play magic solution, so instead the Bucks would be better focusing at playing to their strengths.

So, what about the “three Ps” moving forward?

Pace, power and passing.

If there’s a better way for the Bucks to challenge teams to stop them right now than by pulling out plays like this, I’m yet to have seen it.

You do you, Bucks, and the results should follow.