Point Guard Play is Hurting the Milwaukee Bucks


Are much of the Milwaukee Bucks problems early on down to their play from the point guard spot?

It’s safe to say the beginning of the season has been a bit of disappointment for the Milwaukee Bucks. As things stand, the Bucks currently sit at 6-9, 13th in the Eastern Conference.

Many aspects of the Bucks play has been poor. They’re dead last in rebounding and defensive efficiency, 21st in turnovers per game, and have the fourth worst point differential in the NBA.

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With the exception of a few players, many of the individual performances on the team have been poor. Even more importantly, the collective chemistry of the team is off, particularly on the defensive end.

One position in particular has been a consistent problem: point guard.

Much of the focus here on Behind the Buck Pass has been on whether trading Brandon Knight was the right call. Regardless of whether you think the trade was the right move or a misstep, things have not been going well for the Bucks point guards so far this season.

Much of the blame for the poor play of the Bucks rests on the shoulders of Michael Carter-Williams. Currently, Carter-Williams is 37th in the league amongst point guards in real plus minus.

His offensive real plus-minus is in positive territory at at 1.01, good for 29th best at his position. This isn’t great, but it’s certainly an improvement over last season, when he finished with -3.05 rating, 78th among 80 players to play at the position.

Much of this can be attributed to shooting improvement on his behalf. He’s shot 42.3% from the field and 33.3% from three so far this season, both career highs.

He’s also been taking fewer shots, seeing his shot per game totals drop from 14.9 last season to 9.7 this season. This suggests that Carter-Williams has begun to embrace his role as a periphery scoring option whose primary job is to facilitate the offense, something the Bucks were hoping they’d be getting when they traded for him a season ago.

For the improvements that Carter-Williams has made on offense, he still is severely limited in many respects. He continues to turn the ball over at a very high rate, averaging 3.5 turnovers per game so far this year.

He’s not completely to blame, as he’s often put in unfavorable positions by the offense. The off-ball player movement, especially when plays break down, has been non-existent at times and this forces him to make difficult passes with little prospects for success.

He also continues to struggle with his jump shot, something he worked on with Jason Kidd this off-season. He’s been slightly better, but too often he’s all or nothing with his shot.

The real struggle for Williams, however, has come on the defensive end. After posting the 11th best real plus-minus in the league among point guards last season, Carter-Williams has dropped to 56th this season. What was once his best asset has become his biggest liability.

His struggles were never as clearly on display as they were against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. Despite facing a guard in Rajon Rondo who poses little threat outside of 15 feet, Carter-Williams continued to play physical pressing defense every time he came up the floor. The result was an assembly line of lay-ups and assists, as Carter-Williams was completely unable to stay in front of Rondo.

What appeared to be a blip against John Wall a few games ago has become a major drop in form for Carter-Williams on defense. He’s been unable to stay in front of his opponents or defend pick-and-rolls at all. Every time a team sets a screen, he gets caught. This leaves the remainder of the team to pick up the pieces.

Of course, Carter-Williams isn’t the only one to blame for the horrific defensive performances. As a unit, the team has been totally out of sorts. Poor rotations, over-aggressive double-teams, and a lack of any sort of rim protection has left this team sorely exposed on a nightly basis.

However, his inability to defend has become a major liability, especially when much of his value is supposed to be coming on that end of the floor.

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In addition to Carter-Williams early season struggles, the Bucks have gotten little to no production out of their other point guards. Jerryd Bayless has been on fire so far this year, but much of his play has come at the two.

The team was also expecting big things out of Greivis Vasquez, but his horrid shooting slump and general struggle to acclimate to the team earl on has killed the Bucks on both ends of the floor. His shot has come back in recent games, shooting 41.8% from the field over his past 10 games. However, he’s still struggled to run the offense, turning the ball over 2 times per game despite playing just 23.2 minutes and is 73rd among point guards in offensive real plus-minus.

Vasquez’s biggest weakness, however, has been his defensive performances. Vazquez has the worst real plus-minus out of all point guards, posting a negative 2.91 rating so far this season.

Much of this can be explained by the unit around Vasquez. Unlike last season, when the Bucks bench was a major asset, they’ve been a major liability on both ends of the floor. Every time the starting unit departs with a lead, the second unit falls to shambles on both ends of the floor, unable to hit shots or stop teams from going on significant runs.

Vasquez’s individual defense, however, has been awful as well. Like many of the new guys, Vasquez has struggled with Kidd’s aggressive system,  unable to decide when to double or help. Some improvement will come as he acclimates, but his general lack of athleticism will see him fail to be anything more than an average defender.

Things will definitely get better as the season progresses. As much as Carter-Williams and Vasquez have struggled, they’re certainly not the only ones who deserve criticism for the poor start. With the talent they possess, they’ll undoubtedly be better than they’ve been so far.

However, if the Bucks are going to get things on track soon, they’ll need to see a lot better play out of their point guards than they’ve had so far.