Milwaukee Bucks: Applying Spacing Rating to some of Milwaukee’s lineups

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 22: Giannis Antetokounmpo
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 22: Giannis Antetokounmpo /

A brand-new advanced metric helps to explain why some Milwaukee Bucks lineups have less success than others on offense.

There’s been a lot of talk about spacing as it relates to the Milwaukee Bucks, and every NBA team, and for good reason. The Golden State Warriors are so good, in part, because they space the floor exceptionally well.

Spacing is, essentially, how much space an offense can generate through the personnel on the floor. So a lineup with five shooters, like the Warriors’ Lineup of Death, takes up a ton of space, thus making the defense cover more ground.

An offense with less shooters allows defenders to worry less about the perimeter and pack the paint, making it much more difficult to get to the rim, which is a goal of any offense.

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Until now, there was no good way to rate spacing, aside from three-point stats and the eye test. Thanks to Nicholas Sciria over at Nylon Calculus (a FanSided hoops vertical focused on advanced statistics), now there’s an easier way to see how much space a lineup generates.

Nick invented a measure called Spacing Rating, which takes a lineup’s three-point percentage per 100 possessions and their three-point rate of attempts per 100 possessions. It’s truthfully more complicated than that — the numbers are acquired through finding the individual player’s stats per 100 then adding and dividing, and the Spacing Rating is a percentile of all the lineups used, not the outcome of that equation — and a more detailed explanation can be found here on Nick’s original post.

The long and the short of it is that this simple number — 100 is the best and 0 is the worst, with 50 being the middle — gives a pretty dang good idea of a lineup’s space generated on offense. As a starting point, Nick calculated out the Spacing Rating of the two most-used lineups of each team from last season.

The two Bucks lineups included in that are Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and John Henson; and Malcolm Brogdon, Snell, Giannis, Jabari, and Henson. Yes, John Henson was in both of them, somehow.

As many Bucks fans might predict, those two lineups did quite poorly in Spacing Rating. The Delly version came in at 37.2, while the Brogdon version was at 42.3. Both lineups with Henson ended up in the bottom half of the NBA.

That immediately gives some credibility to the statistic — it makes a lot of sense that lineups with Henson didn’t space the floor well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give Bucks fans much useful information, since Henson ended the season out of the rotation.

Luckily Nick is very generous with his time, and offered to run through a few more Bucks lineups and see how their spacing rating ended up. Be sure to follow him on Twitter if this stuff interests you, by the way.

Two of the lineups I had him run were in an attempt to understand why the Bucks prioritized re-signing Tony Snell. They also happened to be the worst two Bucks lineups Nick ran for me. Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis, Jabari, and Thon Maker had a spacing rating of 55.0, while Brogdon, Middleton, Giannis, Jabari, and Greg Monroe had a spacing rating of 33.0, which is putrid.

Obviously those lineups didn’t actually get a chance to play together, with Jabari getting hurt as soon as Middleton came back, but since Spacing Rating uses individual player stats and then adds it, that doesn’t impact how it works. Lineups with Jabari and without Snell take a huge hit in their spacing, as do lineups with Monroe instead of Thon.

Throwing Snell back in helps with Milwaukee’s spacing a lot. The lineup of Brogdon, Snell, Middleton, Giannis and Monroe had a Spacing Rating of 60.0, which isn’t bad at all.

The really good news is how the latest Bucks starting five rate, though. The lineup of Brogdon, Snell, Middleton, Giannis and Thon had a Spacing Rating of 90.0. That group of five, thus, provides Milwaukee’s offense with more space than 90 percent of lineups league-wide.

That group’s offensive rating bears that finding out. Out of Bucks lineups to play at least 100 minutes, Brogdon, Snell, Middleton, Giannis, and Thon had the best offensive rating. In fact, the offensive ratings of the three Bucks lineups to play over 100 minutes together that have a calculated Spacing Rating line up with the Spacing Rating of the group.

The Delly version of the Henson lineup had a Spacing Rating of 37.2 and an offensive rating of 105.2, the Brogdon version of that lineup had a Spacing Rating of 42.3 and an offensive rating of 107.6, while the new starting five had a Spacing Rating of 90 and an offensive rating of 111.7.

Getting past the numbers, for a moment at least, what does all of this mean for the Milwaukee Bucks going forward? The biggest takeaway has to be positive — even with Giannis, who is largely a non-shooter, the Bucks can have elite level spacing with personnel that is locked up for the next several seasons.

If Giannis improves, great. Even if he doesn’t, having Brogdon, Snell, Middleton and especially Thon around him more than makes up for his lack of range.

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Greg Monroe looks good as a result of this as well. Monroe is a non-shooter but again, lineups with him can survive in terms of spacing, even while Giannis is on the floor.

The worst outcome of the Spacing Rating lineups listed here is that the metric doesn’t seem to like lineups with Middleton, Giannis, and Jabari. Even with Brogdon and Thon around those three, that group has a Spacing Rating of just 55, worse than a Sacramento Kings lineup last season featuring Darren Collison, Garrett Temple, Arron Afflalo, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kosta Koufos.

That lineup did have a good offensive rating of 110.6 last season, but that number was certainly buoyed by Cousins, who operates down low, in a position that needs less spacing to be successful.

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We’ll have to see how that lineup works for Milwaukee once Jabari returns, but Spacing Rating seems to indicate that if those three do play together, Thon has to be the center to keep the offense running smoothly.