Milwaukee Bucks: Opponents doing damage well beyond 3-point line

The Milwaukee Bucks remain a fixture of consistency on the defensive end, but their trend of allowing opponents to let it fly from well beyond the arc still lingers in the 2019-20 season.

Through their first 20 games this 2019-20 season, the Milwaukee Bucks are clearly showing they haven’t lost much of a step after such a magical run last year.

Following their 41-point rout over the Charlotte Hornets Saturday night, the Bucks hold the longest winning streak standing in the NBA at 11 games, all of which has helped them to hold co-ownership of the best record in the league at 17-3, along with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Led by their ever-improving superstar and reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have only reinforced the overall identity that head coach Mike Budenholzer instituted when he and his coaching staff arrived from Atlanta more than 18 months ago on both sides of the ball.

Yet as the Bucks continue to resemble and even surpass their early season form from last year in a few marks, some troubling trends still persist. Case in point, the Bucks’ three-point defense.

Entering Monday night’s game versus the New York Knicks, the Bucks hold the third-best defensive rating at 102.7 points per 100 possessions, standing only behind the Toronto Raptors and the Denver Nuggets, per NBA.com/stats.

Milwaukee is defending the paint at a league-leading pace, thanks to the stalwart services of veteran rim protector Brook Lopez, Antetokounmpo and the overall defensive organization the Bucks show consistently on a nightly basis. That’s played a big part in them allowing the fifth-lowest opponent effective field goal percentage at 49.9 percent, which is slightly lower than the league-leading 50.3 opponent effective field goal percentage they allowed last season.

But their three-point defense remains the sore spot in their defensive acumen as their opponents are launching 38.6 three-point attempts per game, the most allowed by any NBA team. And Milwaukee’s opponents have been incredibly efficient on their three-point looks by collectively hitting 38 percent of their three-pointers, the third-highest mark behind the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors.

Allowing a league-leading mark of three-point attempts is nothing new for the Bucks as they did so during the 2018-19 season. What’s new is the Bucks’ opponents striking it rich as much as they have from long distance, and bettering their collective mark from last year, which came in at 36.1 percent.

The key to determining the reasons behind this jump centers around where the Bucks have allowed their opponents to bomb away from three. Milwaukee has allowed the most three-point looks from both above the break spots at 30.3 attempts per game and their opponents are hitting them at the second-highest clip of all teams around the league at 38 percent, which comes in behind the San Antonio Spurs.

Again, this remains consistent with the kind of shots the Bucks have surrendered to their opponents over Budenholzer’s reign. Over the 2018-19 season, the Bucks allowed a league-leading 28.4 three-point attempts from above the break and their opponents hit on such opportunities at a 35.1 percent mark.

This hasn’t been able to derail the Bucks’ overall defensive greatness as they look to reclaim their top spot over the course of the 2019-20 campaign after taking the top ranking last season.

However, it certainly does explain some of the fortune the Bucks’ opponents have had so far this season and why the Bucks have allowed some second half lapses when looking to close out lesser opponents, which was most recently seen in their win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last Friday night.

It’s hard to imagine the Bucks changing course from their long-standing defensive scheme, but we’ll just have to wait and see whether the Bucks’ opponents’ luck from downtown begins to change as we continue to move along through the season.