Milwaukee Bucks: Examining The Progress Under Joe Prunty

Jan 16, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Milwaukee Bucks interim head coach Joe Prunty looks on during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Bucks defeated the Hornets 105-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 16, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Milwaukee Bucks interim head coach Joe Prunty looks on during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Bucks defeated the Hornets 105-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

Without the team’s leader and head coach Jason Kidd, interim head coach Joe Prunty has done a commendable job of keeping the Milwaukee Bucks afloat through unusual circumstances.

It was only just a month ago where the collective thinking regarding the Milwaukee Bucks was that they were at rock bottom.

For those who can’t remember, the Bucks embarked on a four game road trip to the west coast, just right after ending the Golden State Warriors’ historic winning streak at 24 games. That trip started in degrading fashion as they were blown out by the Los Angeles Lakers, made headlines for an off-the court incident and questions of effort/drive started to rise for a few players shortly after that.

That trip rebounded after a whirlwind rematch against the Warriors and an impressive comeback win (after a mostly forgettable game) over the free-falling Phoenix Suns.

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Even though the trip ended on a brighter note, any glimmer of hope that the victory over the Suns could be a turning point for the team quickly diminished when it was announced that Bucks head coach Jason Kidd would miss considerable time to undergo hip surgery.

Kidd’s announcement obviously created questions of whether this young Bucks squad could salvage their season without their biggest leader and while no one questioned the integrity of interim head coach Joe Prunty, there were doubts concerning if he was capable of spearheading such a turnaround.

That leads to us to the present where the Bucks are now 7-7 under Prunty and more importantly, look like a team playing with a purpose.

Yes, the Bucks are still ranked at the same position in the Eastern Conference from when Prunty took over for Kidd, but the Bucks have weathered the storm and are still keeping pace with the teams ahead of them in the hopes of garnering a playoff berth.

Although the basic gameplan under Prunty has largely stayed the same, there have been a few key adjustments since Prunty took over that have been a big reason why the Bucks have steadied the ship in the last month or so.

For one, the Bucks have been a better rebounding team under Prunty.

In the time under Kidd, the Bucks were ranked 19th in offensive rebound percentage, 30th in the defensive rebound percentage and hauled in the lowest amount of total rebounds across the league with 40.1 rebounds per game.

In the time since Prunty took over, the Bucks are ranked fifth in offensive rebound percentage, 22nd in defensive rebound percentage and 15th in total rebounds across the league with 43.5 rebounds per game.

Obviously the biggest change regarding the Bucks with their approach to rebounding under Prunty has been the emphasis to rebound on the offensive end.

Like a lot of teams now in the league, Kidd preaches the team to get back on defense after an offensive possession, which obviously decreases the importance of going after an offensive board.

It’s not a criticism on Kidd’s approach (and many others) by any means because rebounds are clearly based on the effort from the players on the court, but it’s nevertheless a positive development to see from the team.

Secondly, the Bucks have been playing at a faster pace under Prunty.

In the time under Prunty, the Bucks have increased their pace from 95.9 possessions per game (good for 25th in the NBA) to 97.2 possessions per game, which currently ranks 15th around the league.

It’s certainly a more modest increase no doubt, but playing at a faster pace suits this Bucks team due to the offensive limitations of a number of key players on the team. Furthermore, you’d figure that the team has grown more accustomed to the addition of Greg Monroe, as well as being able to play with one another better as the time goes on.

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Lastly, and by far the biggest adjustment Prunty’s made since he’s taken has been the rise of the team’s offense.

The Bucks offensive rating has gone from 99.7 points per 100 possessions before the coaching change (good for 25th in the league) to a whopping 105.4 points per 100 possessions (good for 10th around the NBA) in the month under Prunty.

Much of that progression obviously has been due to the play of Khris Middleton, who’s been averaging 22.9 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 4.8 assists per game (on 52 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent from three-point range) in the 14 games under Prunty.

Yet, the deeper reason for Middleton’s emergence has been the fact that Prunty has given him the keys to the team’s offense as Middleton’s currently leading the team in usage percentage since Prunty’s taken over coaching duties for Kidd.

What’s made this development even more successful is that it hasn’t lessened the effectiveness of a more offensively limited player like Michael Carter-Williams or decreased the presence of Monroe within the team’s offensive scheme.

Of course, some things have mostly stayed the same since the coaching change, namely the team’s defense (for comparison, 105.5 points per 100 possessions before Prunty to 107.8 points per 100 possessions with Prunty) but that raises even more questions on how effective the team’s defensive scheme is in general.

The Bucks still have a lot to work to do in order for even to be considered serious contenders for a playoff berth, but Prunty has done an admirable job of trying to keep the ship afloat, especially under unorthodox circumstances.

While there’s no date for Kidd’s return to the bench just yet, it’s important to remember that the team’s in good hands in the mean time.