Milwaukee Bucks: Can their defense stand up to top offenses?

The Milwaukee Bucks will have quite the test on their hands Sunday afternoon when the Brooklyn Nets come to town for a marquee matinee.

The Bucks’ back-to-back series with Brooklyn will not only give their biggest test to close out what remains of their regular season, but also a potential playoff preview with three weeks out until the start of the postseason. With this kind of preview, one of the Bucks’ primary focuses will be in how they’ll be able to slow down the most dangerous offense in the league.

Even as the Nets will be without James Harden, who torched the Bucks for 34 points on 13-for-25 shooting in his Nets debut during their lone matchup with the Bucks back in January, the 1-2 punch of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving presents quite the challenge for the Bucks defensively.

And that challenge will force the Bucks to rely on the tactical changes they’ve increasingly turned to as the season has gone along, though it hasn’t been a seamless transition after having built the best defense in each of the last two seasons.

The Milwaukee Bucks have struggled containing top offenses around the league

That transition certainly hasn’t been seen in the occasions that the Bucks have been faced with slowing their best offenses around the league. Per Cleaning the Glass (subscription required), the Bucks are allowing 118.1 points per 100 possessions and 56.2 effective field goal percentage in the 18 games they’ve gone up against the top 10 offenses this season, with both marks ranking 19th in the league.

Of course, those marks come with plenty of noise, especially as the Bucks have churned over the roster and even after a busy offseason. Bucks general manager Jon Horst recently talked about the numerous personnel changes and the steadfast belief that he has in head coach Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks’ coaching staff, especially in regards to the job they’ve done this strange season.

Considering that noise has come before the Bucks rounder their roster into their final form, their defensive performances when going against strong offenses have improved since their deal for P.J. Tucker. In the six games they’ve played against a fellow top-10 offense since Tucker made his debut, the Bucks are allowing 115.1 points per 100 possessions and an opposing 54.9 effective field goal percentage in six games.

Of course, these numbers shouldn’t be that much surprise, considering the improved competition we’re drawing from here. The question of whether the Bucks have improved their personnel to withstand and/or even neutralize such high-powered offenses is the biggest question of all with two weeks remaining this regular season.

Even for all of the changes the Bucks have dabbled with and increasingly deployed, the Bucks still surrender the same 3-point shooting onslaughts from their opponents as evidenced by their recent loss to the Houston Rockets. Since the All-Star break, Milwaukee is allowing the most 3-point attempts per game in the league (39.9) and their opponents are shooting 37.7 percent.

Tightening up their defense and clamping down on allowing the same kind of shots that have proven to be their downfall in past years has been clearly been a process as the Bucks’ defensive inner workings evolve into something else entirely.

As it relates to the Nets specifically, the Bucks face quite the challenge in trying to put the different schemes they’ve deployed, put them into practice and have success in slowing the best offense in NBA history. Doing all of that will prove to be much easier said than done.