The Young Milwaukee Bucks Are Making Rookie Mistakes


Although the young core of the Milwaukee Bucks is undoubtedly the best part about the team, the Bucks youth continues to lead to costly mistakes.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a lot of obvious problems this season. The point guard rotation remains uncertain going forward and Milwaukee’s defense and rebounding are sorely lacking, as is the Bucks win total.

All of these things have been well-documented. There’s yet another problem that hasn’t been scrutinized too much as of yet, possibly because it’s more subtle and less avoidable. The Young Bucks are the most foul-happy team in the NBA.

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Milwaukee commits 23.2 personal fouls per game, more than any other team. The extra bad part about this for the Bucks is that two of their absolute best players are the ones doing the majority of the fouling.

Giannis Antetokounmpo ranks first in the NBA with 81 personal fouls, and Khris Middleton comes in at fifth with 71 fouls. As great as some of Giannis’ statistics have been thus far in his young career, that’s one stat the Greek Freak would rather avoid entirely.

But he hasn’t. Nor has Khris Middleton. And their lack of concentration has cost the Bucks significantly already this season.

When Middleton or Antetokounmpo find themselves in deep foul trouble (five or six personal fouls drawn), the Bucks have a record of 3-8. In games when both players are in foul trouble, the Bucks are 0-2. In the 12 games Milwaukee has played where neither player has racked up five or more fouls, the team is 6-6.

Dec 7, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center

Mason Plumlee

tries to pass the ball around Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during the first quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

That’s right–over half of the Bucks losses this season have come in games when either Middleton or Antetokounmpo was in foul trouble.

A 6-6 record still isn’t spectacular, but winning half of the time is obviously better than winning just 39 percent of the time, which is where the Bucks currently sit.

Committing that many fouls is twice as bad for the Bucks. On one hand, it makes it harder to win because Milwaukee is essentially giving free points to the opposition when those fouls send an opposing player to the line, which happens often. The Bucks are second in the NBA in free throws allowed per game.

Free throws are right up there with three-pointers in efficiency, and you don’t need to care about analytics to see how effective it is to shoot a lot of free throws. Some players like DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond may have trouble shooting them, but the average NBA player makes over 75 percent of his shots from the charity stripe.

Fouling also makes it easier for the opponent to win in another way. Aside from handing the average opposing foul shooter 1.5 points for every two free throw attempts, it becomes easier for the opposing team to score when Milwaukee’s best two defenders are forced to sit out due to foul trouble.

Nov 25, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Sacramento Kings guard

Ben McLemore

(23) drives for the basket as Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton (22) defends during the first quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

That takes a massive toll on Milwaukee’s defense, and may be largely responsible for the massive defensive drop-off the Bucks have experienced this season. When either Middleton or Antetokounmpo get into foul trouble, the Bucks give up 106 points per game. That’s bad enough for fifth-worst in the NBA.

In games where neither player gets into foul trouble, Milwaukee gives up just 98 points per game. That’d make them the ninth-best defense (in terms of points allowed) in the Association.

The difference between having Middleton and Antetokounmpo in foul trouble as opposed to the pair not racking up many fouls is massive. The Bucks suddenly leap from a .273 team in foul trouble games to a .500 team otherwise, and jump from being the fifth-worst defense in the NBA in foul trouble games to being the ninth-best otherwise.

So what’s the solution here? The easy answer is to simply stop fouling, but it’s really not that simple. The title of this piece references the youth of the Bucks for a specific reason–young teams tend to foul more.

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The six youngest teams in the NBA–the 76ers (9th), Bucks (1st), Trail Blazers (4th), Jazz (3rd), Celtics (10th) and Magic (7th), respectively–all rank in the top ten in terms of fouls committed per game. Even outstanding coaches like Terry Stotts and Brad Stevens can’t get their young squads to stop fouling opposing players.

This may just be something Bucks fans have to endure as their young players mature and learn to play smarter basketball. Milwaukee should surely be able to cut down on foul attempts as the season goes on, but it might take a while for the Bucks to learn some real defensive discipline.

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Fouling is simply a part of life for a team as young as the Milwaukee Bucks are. Dealing with these problems sooner rather than later will result in much happier times down the road, and a whole lot more winning too.