Milwaukee Bucks: Night and day improvement since last season

MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 04: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 04: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks are constantly improving, but since last season those improvements have been particularly notable and apparent.

What a great time to be a Milwaukee Bucks fan. The Bucks have started the 2018-19 season with a record of 11-4, are playing a brand of free-flowing and exciting offensive basketball, while also proving they can grind out wins with their defense.

Under Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee has improved in a wide range of major statistical categories through 15 games, and are on pace to have a record year in a number of departments. In what areas exactly are the Bucks showing improvement, though?

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Let’s start with the team’s three-point shooting, which certainly stands out as the most obvious of the bunch. Through 15 games, the Bucks are shooting three pointers at a 37.3 percent clip. Conversely, they shot 35 percent from deep last year.

With more shooters surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo, he is able to slash and drive his way to the rim, causing defenders to collapse into the paint. When more than one defender takes on Giannis, that opens up easy three-point shooting opportunities on the perimeter, causing the Bucks’ three-point percentage to sky rocket.

With more passing lanes comes more assists too. In the 2017-18 season, the Bucks averaged 23.2 assists per game. The 27.0 dime per game they are averaging this year may not be a staggering improvement, but it is an encouraging sign that takes them from a good team to an elite team in that category. As the season progresses, look for the Bucks to have even greater assist totals.

To make matters even better, when a shot misses the mark, the Bucks have been able to clean up on the glass. Last year, the Bucks averaged 39.8 rebounds per game. This year, that number has jumped to 51.3 boards per game. With the additional size and length the Bucks have brought on, comes more chances to clean the glass, but on top of that there’s a concerted effort and more of a team approach to cleaning up on the boards.

With the goal of the game being to score more points than your opponent, combined those various elements have helped Milwaukee to jump to the next level in terms of their scoring output. The Bucks averaged 106.5 points per game last year; resulting in an offense that performed respectively relative to the competition. However, that number has shot all the way up to 121.1 points per game so far this year.

This can all be attributed to the team’s new coaching philosophy, which relies heavily on shooting three-pointers and finding the open man. Ball movement is key; creating a brand of basketball that is reminiscent of Gregg Popovich’s best Spurs teams, on which Budenholzer acted as his right hand man.

The game for the Bucks just seems so effortless now. Gone are the days of pure iso-ball and missed shots. Every player on the court is expected to shoot, and if not, they find themselves relegated to the bench.

Even guys like John Henson are getting involved. Prior to the disappointing news of his recent injury, Henson was shooting 35.5 percent from three, and had already surpassed his career three-point totals for a single season.

On the whole, this year just feels different for the Bucks. Even with close to a handful of losses, the Bucks appear to be a dominant Eastern Conference team, with all the right tools to make it to the Conference Finals.

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The Bucks have improved in a wide range of key statistics ranging from offensive and defensive rating to pace and true shooting percentage. But to put it even more simply, they have become a much better shooting, passing, rebounding, and scoring team on the whole. Should that continue, who knows just how high the Bucks’ ceiling could be this year.