Milwaukee Bucks: Transition defense could stand to improve

DENVER, CO - MARCH 09: (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - MARCH 09: (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks are the proud owners of the NBA’s best defense this season, but their transition defense still leaves room for further improvement.

A perfect defense doesn’t exist, but what the Milwaukee Bucks have done in 2019-20 is likely just about as close as any team can possibly get to that.

En route to a 53-12 record before the coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a halt, the Bucks’ overall dominance was largely tied to a level of defensive excellence that has been much rarer as pace and three-point shooting have triggered an offensive explosion in the NBA in recent seasons.

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With a league-best defensive rating that sees the Bucks allow just 101.6 points per 100 possessions, Milwaukee has improved by 3.3 points per 100 possessions beyond what was already their NBA-leading defensive mark from Mike Budenholzer’s first season in charge.

Given that the Bucks have also allowed 3.3 points per 100 possessions fewer than the second placed Toronto Raptors, their standing as the league’s best defense is incredibly clear cut too.

With that background in place, it would be easy to imagine that there’s likely no path to the Bucks becoming even stingier on the defensive end of the floor. That’s not exactly true, though.

The Bucks do have an opportunity to further improve defensively, and it’s tied to an area of their game that was a real point of emphasis when they first remade their defense under Coach Bud in 2018-19.

Last season, the Bucks took great pride in limiting fastbreak scoring for their opponents. In fact, Milwaukee led the league in that department, allowing just 11.0 transition points per game.

The story has been completely different for the current campaign, though, which in some ways makes their overall success defensively even more impressive.

Allowing opponents 13.5 transition points per game leaves the Bucks down in 18th among all NBA teams this season, a full three points off the Oklahoma City Thunder’s top ranked mark.

Pace undoubtedly factors into that as the Bucks have settled into playing at a blistering pace that outranks any other team in the NBA, but even adjusting to per 100 possessions, Milwaukee only moves up to 14th and remains 2.3 points off the Thunder, along with 2.2 points behind their own per 100 possession mark from a year ago.

With the Bucks upping their pace from 103.57 to 105.36 year over year, there’s a certainly a case to be made that it has amounted to a form of a trade-off. With the Bucks expending more energy generally, perhaps it has hindered their ability to get back on defense quite as quickly and effectively as they did last season.

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Having said that, if the Bucks can prove that those two elements can coalesce when the season resumes, their defense could become even more formidable. In that scenario, the prospect of a Bucks championship would only seem all the more probable too.