Milwaukee Bucks: Maintaining control of transition play

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 29: (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 29: (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks were one of the league’s very best transition teams on both ends last season, and keeping that up should be a focus this year.

The Milwaukee Bucks have never really managed to adopt the kind of uptempo approach that many feel would suit their roster in recent seasons, but that’s not to say there isn’t one area of the game where the Bucks have managed to leverage advantages they have in speed and athleticism.

The Bucks have consistently ranked among the league’s best transition teams over the past three years or so, and in the 2017-18 season they pushed that even further to join the NBA’s elite in that department.

Although there’s plenty about the way Milwaukee played last season that Mike Budenholzer and his staff may opt to leave behind, the way the Bucks controlled the fastbreak on both ends may well be something they work to maintain.

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Averaging 14.6 fastbreak points per game, the Bucks ranked sixth in transition scoring last season, while in only giving up 10.1 fastbreak points per game to their opponents, Milwaukee ranked third in terms of transition defense.

What makes this particular element of the team’s play most interesting in light of a coaching change is that it was probably less tied to coaching and system to begin with than most other elements, good and bad, of the Bucks’ play over the past few seasons.

To put it simply, the Bucks have a major advantage over most of their rivals when it comes to transition, and it’s a gap that can’t be bridged easily as it’s very much personnel driven.

Giannis Antetokounmpo stands out as the most obvious factor in the Bucks’ positive play in transition, as his highlights are often exclamation point plays in those scenarios on both ends of the floor.

Beyond Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe certainly has the skill-set and physical makeup to thrive on the break, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon have shown a frequent willingness to get out and run and push off of rebounds in spite of lacking obvious physical advantages in that department, while mobile big men like John Henson and Thon Maker are also well-suited to running the floor in either direction when the situation arises.

Of course, there’s room for variance within individual performances this season, and large adjustments the new coaching staff make elsewhere may have a knock-on effect on how the Bucks are set in transition, but there’s also potential for further improvement too.

Particularly on the offensive end, the Bucks have a very obvious route to becoming even more productive in transition.

The Bucks ranking sixth in fastbreak points while being the NBA’s third worst defensive rebounding team is truly impressive. The additions of Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova are expected to aid the Bucks in a team rebounding sense at the very least, and if that plays out, Milwaukee’s transition scoring should only receive a further boon.

Lopez’s ability to box out is particularly interesting, if it results in Antetokounmpo being freed up for even more rebounds and afforded the chance to attack opponents or toss passes ahead quickly.

Of course, forcing turnovers is another important element in this conversation. As I touched on recently, it remains to be seen whether the Bucks create less steals as a more conservative defense, but there’s also a case to be made for better organization and positioning forcing opponents into more mistakes, or at the very least, more inefficient and difficult shots.

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The Bucks are lucky to have a natural advantage in terms of transition, but it would certainly serve them well if any adjustments that could improve their overall game continue to fuel their fastbreak success too.