Milwaukee Bucks: Sterling Brown’s defense could be key to versatile lineups

MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 10: Sterling Brown
MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 10: Sterling Brown /

Heading into his second year in the NBA, Sterling Brown‘s defense could prove to be the key to unlocking some interesting Milwaukee Bucks lineups.

Following a more than solid run of performances as part of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Summer League squad in Las Vegas in recent weeks, the focus of second year wing Sterling Brown will now turn to making his mark, and earning minutes, in the upcoming NBA season.

Brown showed plenty of potential as a versatile and impactful bench contributor during his rookie season, but during both Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty’s tenures as head coach, it’s fair to say opportunity was at times inconsistent for the 23-year-old.

There’s every reason to believe that won’t be the case in 2018-19, though, as the departure of Jabari Parker looks set to open up significant minutes on the wing, on top of some of the minutes soaked up by the unlikely to return duo of Jason Terry and Shabazz Muhammad at shooting guard and small forward, respectively.

More from Bucks News

Add into the mix the benefit of a year’s professional experience under his belt, a full offseason to fine-tune his game, and the arrival of a coaching staff that has specialized in developing swingmen, and the chances of Brown taking major strides in his second year seem extremely positive.

While Brown is most often described as a 3-and-D specialist, and is certainly on the right track to becoming a positive contributor in that capacity, the defensive element of that description adds a variety of intriguing elements to what the Illinois native can offer the Bucks.

As the small-ball era of the NBA continues to evolve and progress, switching has become the prevalent defensive trait of the league’s best teams. A switch-heavy defense is obviously restrictive for larger, less mobile big men, but what often goes under-discussed is how poorly suited smaller guards can be too.

Essentially, the lineups best suited to thriving with a switching approach are made up almost exclusively of wings. Not only does that kind of mix ensure a group at least in line with the median size of NBA players, it also will generally boast a lineup of players with the most well-rounded set of skills.

Switching with traditional, slow footed centers, or diminutive point guards opens up major mismatch potential, while a lineup packed with wings and forwards should leave more manageable individual battles.

The Bucks are particularly well suited to that approach, and the addition of Brown in 2017, and the signs of promise he’s shown so far are some of the biggest reasons why.

Brown’s standout attribute in the NBA so far has been his defense. The former SMU Mustang has the combination of size, length and quickness to switch across positions 1-to-4 even in more traditional lineups, while most importantly of all, he also brings an intelligence, discipline and intensity to his efforts on the defensive end.

On top of his ability to match up and compete in a man-to-man context, Brown’s defensive rebounding is also a major positive, and one that would only be further accentuated in smaller, switch-heavy lineups.

Only Marshall Plumlee, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a defensive rebounding percentage better than Brown’s 17 percent mark among Bucks players last season, a stat that shows Brown quite literally punching above his weight (and height) in the rebounding stakes.

Expanding upon that further, according to stats from Ben Falk’s Cleaning the Glass, Brown ranked among the very best rebounding wings in the NBA last season. Brown rebounded 14.8 percent of opposing team’s missed field goals (93rd percentile among wings), 3.4 percent of Milwaukee’s own misses on the offensive end (82nd percentile among wings) and 2.9 percent of the Bucks’ own missed free throws (89th percentile among wings).

The Bucks could opt for a lineup of Malcolm Brogdon, Brown, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton and Antetokounmpo, where height would range between 6’5″ and 6’11” and wingspan between 6’10” and 7’3″. Physically, lineups don’t get much better suited to switching than that.

Equally interesting, from a skills perspective it would make for an intriguing mix too as Antetokounmpo could be tasked with ball-handling duties on the offensive end, leaving him with the optimal spacing provided by four shooters around him. Thon Maker and Ersan Ilyasova could also be placed in some variation of those lineups without necessarily making major sacrifices on both ends.

Without Brown, his defensive instincts, and his rebounding, though, Milwaukee wouldn’t have the luxury of trotting out a seamless switching lineup made up entirely of wing type players.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: 5 goals for Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2018-19 season

With Mike Budenholzer and his staff preparing for their first season in charge with the Bucks, it remains to be seen exactly how Milwaukee will line up next year. At the very least, he should be grateful for the different options that Brown presents him with, though.