Milwaukee Bucks: Can stellar rebounding improve even further?

BOSTON, MA - MAY 6: (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 6: (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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After taking major strides on the glass last season, can the Milwaukee Bucks become an even better rebounding team in 2019-20?

The Milwaukee Bucks becoming one of the league’s best rebounding teams would have been tough to imagine just a year ago, but that’s exactly what transpired in Mike Budenholzer’s first season in charge.

The Bucks had spent years getting beaten up on the glass by any and all comers, in spite of boasting size and athleticism, but a change of defensive scheme and the addition of the towering Brook Lopez quickly changed all of that.

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On the whole, the Bucks’ more conservative dropping defensive scheme simply ensured that Milwaukee’s defense was in position more often than not last year. That represented one key piece of progress following years of over-aggressive blitzing leading to costly defensive breakdowns on the perimeter and under the rim.

Lopez’s arrival was pivotal beyond even acting as a strong fit for the principles of that scheme, though, as he’s one of the league’s true specialists when it comes to boxing out. Using his size, intelligence and exemplary position, Lopez was able to focus on clearing out space for teammates, most frequently Giannis Antetokounmpo, to barrel through and secure the rebound.

That approach bred a team rebounding mentality that had been notably absent from Bucks teams for far too long. At the end of the season, its benefits bore out beyond the team’s outstanding record too.

The Bucks finished last season ranked first in the NBA in rebounds and defensive rebounds per game, second in defensive rebounding percentage, and fifth in total rebounding percentage. The only reason that last mark wasn’t even better was the Bucks’ apathy toward offensive rebounds.

A staple of Gregg Popovich’s teams in San Antonio over the years, and a strategy that Mike Budenholzer has carried with him, the Bucks willingly sacrificed offensive boards in order to prioritise getting back and getting set quickly on defense.

The resulting 26th rank in offensive rebounding percentage may not have been pretty, but it was more than made up for by Milwaukee’s league leading defensive rating.

So, how can the Bucks improve on the glass next season? The most obvious area for improvement is the offensive glass, but an increased emphasis in that area would seem both unlikely and unwise given the successful trade-off Milwaukee made in that department last year.

There is reason to be optimistic about further strides on the glass, though, and they’re tied closely to the Bucks’ personnel.

The signing of Robin Lopez has gifted the Bucks one of the very few NBA centers that may actually be even better at boxing out than his brother is. As a result, the Bucks are now better placed to win the battle on the boards, regardless of whether their starting or backup center is in the game.

Beyond that, with their other acquisitions this summer, the Bucks only further bolstered their reserves of size and energy. Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver and Thanasis Antetokounmpo all have the potential to be plus-rebounders at their position, while the added size of Dragan Bender in the front court should only provide further security too.

Of course, what shouldn’t be overlooked in all of this is the possibility that the Bucks’ best rebounder will make another leap forward next season too.

Topping out at a career-high mark of 12.5 rebounds per game last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved his rebounding totals year on year throughout the first six seasons of his NBA career. It’s an increasingly tall task to expect that trajectory to soar too far beyond its current point, but you’d still have to be brave to bet against Antetokounmpo at least having another couple of levels yet to be unlocked.

All in all, there’s no real reason to suggest the Bucks will take a step back on the glass. They’ve returned the personnel who were most central to that success, and they’re likely to employ the same core philosophies.

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There’s plenty of debate about whether the Bucks are better or worse heading into the new campaign, but there shouldn’t be quite as much ambiguity in terms of rebounding. Milwaukee’s new additions should make them an even more formidable force on the glass than they were last year.