Milwaukee Bucks: The Three-Point Problem

Jan 28, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes (22) shoots a three point shot in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee Bucks forward Chris Copeland (9) defends at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Milwaukee 103-83. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 28, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes (22) shoots a three point shot in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee Bucks forward Chris Copeland (9) defends at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Milwaukee 103-83. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

This Milwaukee Bucks season has not lived up to expectations and the team’s relationship with the three-point line plays a significant role in that.

Start listing off the factors that have contributed to the Milwaukee Bucks underwhelming season to date. You’ll probably come up with many of the following: the loss of important veteran players, Greg Monroe‘s impact on defense, Jabari Parker not being as dominant as expected, a desperately thin bench, point guard uncertainties and coaching disruptions.

If you haven’t already, return to the top of that list and write down three-point shooting. Then go back and underline it.

Milwaukee’s season is defined by their troubles involving the three-point line. On offense, they can struggle to build up any real rhythm due to their lack of deep shooting options, and as a result, spacing. On defense, it’s not unusual to see multiple quarters worth of good work become undone in record time due to the team’s inability to guard the perimeter.

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At times you’re left questioning if they even understand the three-pointer.

In Monday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee surrendered what was once a strong position to lose on the road. Late in the fourth quarter, facing a four point deficit, the Bucks allowed three straight three-pointers in 90 seconds, gifting the Kings a comfortable path to victory.

Earlier in the game on the offensive end, there was a rare sight too: a perfectly executed Bucks three-pointer. Michael Carter-Williams caught the ball in the paint and immediately swung around to find rookie Rashad Vaughn in the corner, who splashed the long ball home.

If you want a better sense of the Bucks relationship with the three-pointer, watch that play unfold, and then watch it again focusing in on Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s reactions.

Giannis is initially shocked, maybe even disappointed not to get the ball straight back from MCW for a simple dunk. Quite simply, the kick out never entered his mind. That’s not his fault either, as the Bucks don’t offer a whole lot of inside-out action. If it’s not an active part of their on court awareness, how will they get better at it though? How will they in turn learn to anticipate similar plays on defense?

The Milwaukee Bucks are 4-15 when they allow opposing teams to shoot better than 40 percent from deep, the sort of statistic that would lead you to believe this team would be better suited to life in 1979.

For those of you not in the know, 1979 is the year in which the NBA changed the league forever with their introduction of the three-point line.

It’s also the name of a song about growing up by The Smashing Pumpkins, and that might be the perfect prism to view this team through.

“Cool kids never have the time.”

You can’t prove to me that Billy Corgan didn’t write this line after having a troubling premonition of this young Milwaukee group’s lackluster perimeter defense.

It wasn’t just the Memphis game, nor the Sacramento game mentioned above either. Here’s how the team’s recent meeting with Orlando went.

These are not examples taken from across a span of 50 games, but three from separate games in the space of a week. Pick almost any game this season and you can find examples of this.

So what’s the answer, or perhaps a better question to pose first, what’s the cause?

Milwaukee allows over 36 percent to their opponents from three-point range, the seventh worst mark in the NBA, which is also how the team ranks in terms of three-point attempts allowed, with the number standing at 25.5 per game. Giving up a large volume and a high percentage is nobody’s recipe for success.

On average, NBA Stats has the three-point shooting percentage of the teams the Bucks have faced sitting at 35.2 percent, but when those teams have faced Milwaukee, they shoot 1.4 percent better at 36.6 percent.

After the Sacramento game, addressing the Kings late flurry of triples, Kidd told Charles Gardner of the Journal Sentinel:

"We’ve got to get better at switching, our smalls, and understanding who is shooting the ball."

That is certainly true, but questions about effort and concentration will also inevitably be asked, and are equally valid.

With the playoff hunt effectively over, the Bucks need to prioritize learning how to defend from deep. If they can’t do it with heavy switching, then it will be time for the scheme that was so successful for the team last year to be abandoned.

“They’re not sure just what we have in store”

Just like the rest of us, Billy couldn’t make heads nor tail of the young Bucks’ shooting potential either.

In spite of the insistence of many, Milwaukee don’t need to start gunning from three. We’ve been over that one before. What they do need is to add a fearlessness to proceedings when it comes to taking the opportunities that present themselves to them.

Nothing has exemplified that more than the way in which Rashad Vaughn has started making more of his shots of late. Back-to-back threes from Vaughn gave the Bucks a swell of positive momentum when they desperately needed it against the Miami Heat last Saturday, and they can have this sort of effect on morale.

Vaughn was drafted as a shooter, it’s what he’s supposed to do, yet of late he’s been taking more and more of the shots that come to him. By not forcing it, Vaughn has finally brought his overall shooting percentage over 30 percent, and is making a tidy 35.8 percent clip from deep too.

The rookie is not the only Buck to recently have embraced the notion of only taking the shots that are there for him from deep either. Michael Carter-Williams has shown signs of life from behind the arc, with his own season average now up at 32.5 percent as he attempts a career low 0.9 attempts per game.

The Bucks don’t need to shoot lights out, just to be serviceable.

“Hung down with the freaks and the ghouls

No apologies ever need be made,

I know you better than you fake it”

That brings us to Milwaukee’s major three-point shooting question marks. The ongoing saga that is the sentence starting with “if Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker can develop a shot…”

If that can happen, the Bucks quickly become one of the league’s best offenses. Getting them to pull the trigger may prove to be the biggest challenge of all though.

In spite of showing himself to be more than capable of making longer shots when he attempts them without hesitation, Antetokounmpo is still guilty of regularly turning down gilt edge three-point chances.

Then there’s Parker, who can knock down mid-range jumpers when the mood takes him, yet is only attempting 0.1 threes per game.

With the youngsters you have to ask whether the shackles have been placed on them from deep. If there’s a directive from the coaching staff for Giannis and Jabari not to chuck up triples, much like the team as a whole, it would be understandable. It’s simply not their strength.

On the flip side, it’s vitally important that when they have a chance in rhythm or wide open that they step up with confidence and take it.

In a recent Q&A, Parker was asked when he was going to start letting the threes fly, replying:

Jabari, that time is now! You’ve got to seize those open opportunities. Right, Billy?

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: Can They Fix Their Bench Problem?

“The street heats the urgency of now,
As you see there’s no one around”