Milwaukee Bucks: Two-season stretch on defense is an all-timer

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 24 (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 24 (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Over the last two seasons, the Milwaukee Bucks have stood atop of the NBA by fashioning a top-ranked defense that only got more imposing throughout the 2019-20 season.

Throughout Mike Budenholzer’s watch, the Milwaukee Bucks have reigned supreme on the defensive end.

Upon his arrival nearly two years ago, Budenholzer identified that end of the floor as where he could really unlock the Bucks’ talent and promising potential in order to taste the lasting success that had been missing under the previous coaching regime. Given his pedigree and success with the Atlanta Hawks, it was easy to see his vision.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly led off as an incredible building block for Budenholzer and his staff to build around, but the same easily rang true for both Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton for the ways that they could provide some defensive resistance in their respective manners.

What very few Bucks fans saw coming at the time would be how the bargain bin addition of veteran center Brook Lopez through free agency would be the catalyst to how the team would construct its scheme that has catapulted them to the top of the league.

Through Lopez’s incredibly stout rim protection and Antetokounmpo’s extensive versatility, the Bucks’ interior defense has been the foundation to their success, as they have ranked first in defensive efficiency for both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, per

And just like they had been doing before this season was suspended due to the coronavirus, the Bucks’ defensive dominance was stronger this year, thanks to them being an even more devastating and punishing unit when defending higher percentage shots.

Having done so while surrendering the most opponent 3-point attempts in league history in successive years, the Bucks’ defensive formula rests solely on their elite defensive effort and playing the math advantages.’s John Schuhmann put it best in regard to just how superior the Bucks’ defense is compared to the rest of the league and other elite defensive teams:

"“Still, it’s rather amazing that a team can allow so many 3s and still have the league’s No. 1 defense by a wide margin. The 101.6 points the Bucks have allowed per 100 possessions are 3.3 fewer than any other team and 8.4 fewer than the league average. That latter differential is the second best in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, just a hair behind that of the 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs.”"

Considering the Bucks’ defensive rating has improved by 3.3 points per 100 possessions year over year, it all comes back to the way the Bucks have grown even more staggering in their handiwork shutting off the paint to opposing teams. Again, according to the aforementioned piece from Schuhmann:

"“The Bucks are the best in the league, by a wide margin, at protecting the rim. And they’re the best in the league, by a wide margin, at defending the rim. The 36.7 points in the paint they’ve allowed per 100 possessions represents the fewest anyone’s given up in the last 13 seasons.”"

Combine that with their dedication in cleaning up on the defensive glass, work that has resulted in the Bucks pulling the most rebounds per game in NBA history by raw numbers, Milwaukee has executed everything down to a T within Budenholzer’s scheme. Even down to the discipline they’ve shown in playing within the scheme’s tenets and principles as evidenced by their opponent free throw attempt rate, which ranked first last season and fourth this season.

Where this Bucks’ defensive unit ranks up against other elite defensive teams throughout NBA history will certainly be of great debate, especially if this season will be able to continue in some fashion. The variable of different eras certainly looms large in such a discussion.

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But the fact that the Bucks have built a defensive scheme that’s seemingly antithetical to an era where NBA teams take more perimeter shots than ever, and they’re successful in playing to their strengths more than any other team, may just explain their excellence in that regard.