In an impressive preseason opener, did the Milwaukee Bucks hint at a more concerted approach to rebounding as a unit for this season?
There were no end to positives and causes for excitement to emerge from the Milwaukee Bucks’ 116-82 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.
Of course, while that leaves many feeling optimistic about what lies ahead, it could also prove to be an example of fool’s gold over time.
In other words, with the smallest of sample sizes to judge from, the key focus for most Bucks fans at present may well be trying to get a handle on what’s real and sustainable, and what may just have been a result of a positive performance against a particularly inept Chicago squad.
At the forefront of that consideration is undoubtedly the team’s three-point shooting, following a standout 45 shots attempted from behind the arc on the night, but that wasn’t the only intriguing outlier to emerge from the contest.
Having been rooted firmly to the bottom of the NBA’s rebounding leaderboard for a number of years, it was a surprise to see the Bucks tally up 64 boards on Wednesday night, particularly considering new head coach Mike Budenholzer’s teams aren’t known for their strength in that area either.
Beyond that, throughout the franchise’s history, the Bucks have only surpassed 64 rebounds in a single game on 10 occasions. To narrow the focus further, Milwaukee has only hit that mark twice in the past 24 years, with both of those instances coming in additional periods (a double-overtime game against Budenholzer’s Hawks in 2016, and a triple-overtime epic with the Nets in 2015 that included Zaza Pachulia equalling the NBA’s single game record for offensive boards).
The only other NBA team to come close to that mark in the early stages of preseason is the Utah Jazz, whose tally of 60 came against the Perth Wildcats of the NBL.
As if all of that wasn’t striking enough, the way in which the Bucks compiled that significant rebound total bears further inspection too.
With just 11 offensive boards, the Bucks were actually bested by the Bulls in that department, which came as no surprise considering the general apathy of Budenholzer’s team when it comes to crashing the glass on that end of the floor. Instead, the Bucks racked up 53 defensive rebounds as part of a well-rounded team effort.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, unsurprisingly, led the way with 13 rebounds, while other frontcourt players such as Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, Thon Maker, John Henson, Christian Wood and Tyler Zeller combined for 14 more. Still, that left the majority of Milwaukee’s rebounds to be secured by the team’s guards and wings.
Perhaps that will prove to be little more than a fluke or a coincidence over time, but it could also prove to be a first glimpse at a team-first approach to rebounding that has become increasingly popular around the NBA.
One of the most obvious examples of such a method comes from Oklahoma City where Russell Westbrook frequently reaps the rewards from Steven Adams‘ ability to box out. Considering how Milwaukee’s bigs have struggled to corral rebounds when matched straight up in recent seasons, there could well be some logic in Budenholzer encouraging a similar style with his new team, though.
The acquisition of Lopez gives the Bucks a player who is perfectly suited to such an approach, as although he doesn’t generally post gaudy totals, his ability to box out has consistently helped his team’s overall rebounding output.
Looking even further into Budenholzer’s stated aims for his Bucks overhaul, his desire to play with a much greater pace would act as a nice complement for a team-first approach to defensive rebounding, as it would effectively bypass the big and allow his guards to run or initiate offense much earlier in the shot clock.
That approach was particularly evident as Bledsoe looked to push off of his defensive rebounds, but also as the Bucks inbounded rapidly following Bulls’ makes.
Having averaged just 39.8 rebounds per game last season, the worst mark in the NBA, a change in approach on the boards would certainly be welcome for Milwaukee, and on top of limiting second chances for the opposition, any change in line with Wednesday’s preseason opener could act as an ideal catalyst for the other key components of the Bucks’ reworked offense.
Only time will tell whether the rebounding from Wednesday’s game is representative of some greater plan for the Bucks, but as the team continues to prepare for the new season, it certainly stands out as an area worth monitoring closely.