Milwaukee Bucks: Illustrating the importance of ball movement

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 18: Khris Middleton
OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 18: Khris Middleton /

The Milwaukee Bucks have a star who needs touches in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but moving the ball is still going to be crucial.

Every Milwaukee Bucks fan bristles at the thought of Giannis Antetokounmpo losing touches. It’s a ghastly thought — anybody not named Giannis taking shots when Giannis is on the floor seems like a waste.

To a certain extent, that’s true. Giannis needs to be getting his shots up, there’s no doubt about it. Still, there’s always room for ball movement. There has to be, for the Bucks to become a better team offensively.

Much like with the screens the Bucks don’t set enough of, looking at what the Golden State Warriors do is typically a good strategy to find out what teams should be doing. As anybody who watches the Dubs probably already knows, Golden State loves to move the ball.

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That’s a philosophy that comes straight from head coach Steve Kerr, and he’s gone out of his way to instill it into his team. The result? Three straight NBA Finals appearances and two titles in his three years as Warriors head coach.

Not every coach who preaches ball movement will be that successful, but it’s hard to imagine many teams getting worse by emulating Kerr and the Warriors. The Bucks, even with Giannis, could move the ball more.

Warriors players don’t tend to hold the ball for a long time before they shoot, with the occasional exception of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry just getting a bucket, because they can do that. Even with those two megastars, though, the Warriors shot the ball within two seconds of touching it 66 percent of the time last season.

The Bucks, who do not have Durant or Curry, took 59 percent of their shots within two seconds of touching the ball. Getting that number even higher should help Milwaukee — shots that early are likely either wide open jumpers or shots near the rim. Those are the shots any offense wants.

The way to get them, of course, is through ball movement. As players hold the ball longer, their efficiency goes down. Bucks who shot within two seconds had an effective field goal percentage (a number that weights three-pointers as counting for more than twos) of 58.7 percent.

If a Milwaukee player shot the ball in two-to-six seconds, that effective field goal percentage drops to 45.7 percent. At over six seconds the number falls again, to 43.5 percent. Those changes may seem small, but they add up quickly over thousands of shots in an 82 game season.

Milwaukee’s three-point percentage drops quickly as well, if the Bucks hold the ball. Milwaukee’s shooters made over 38 percent of their triples if they released a shot within two seconds. The percentage dropped to 31 percent if they took between two and six seconds, and plummeted down to 16.7 percent if a Buck held the ball for six seconds or longer.

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The Warriors get less effective the longer they touch the ball typically as well, they just have the shot-makers for the drops to not be as precipitous. Where Golden State goes from unbelievable to good when players hold the ball, the Bucks go from good to pretty bad when Milwaukee’s ball movement sputters.

Now, back to Giannis. The Greek Freak needs touches. Luckily, a solution to having both ball movement and Giannis has already presented itself — Point Giannis. If he starts possessions with the ball, Giannis can shoot if he gets a good look or pass the ball if he doesn’t.

Defenders tend to notice, and overreact to, Giannis. Even when he doesn’t have the ball, setting screens and rolling to the rim makes the opposing team account for Antetokounmpo, which can often leave somebody open somewhere.

Next: Five ways the Bucks can become a top-four seed

With all of the shooters Milwaukee has, there’s no reason the team can’t get the ball zipping around more without costing Giannis any touches. The Milwaukee Bucks can only get better by becoming more willing passers.