If the young NBA season ended today, the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks would just barely make the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. They’d also do so without their starting shooting guard and center from last year. It’s safe to say that their quest to defend their title hasn’t exactly gone as planned.
They’re 9-8 in the win/loss column as it stands. To say injuries have mucked up their play would be a complete understatement. To be frank — and for obvious and valid reasons — they’ve just looked like a shell of their former championship-winning selves. Save for a few bright spots, their overall play has just (not unexpectedly) been lackluster in nearly every facet of the game.
What exactly has been going wrong for them on the basketball court this early into the season, and just how far-reaching are their effects? Here are a few statistics that may be cause for concern for the Bucks, and how they might prove to have long-term effects moving forward if not addressed properly.
Clutch performances are lacking for the Milwaukee Bucks, but does this say anything about the team’s early mindset?
Performances down the stretch are a cause for concern because they already were for this team a season ago. Defined as situations where the game is decided by five points or less in the last five minutes, clutch situations weren’t the brightest spot for the Bucks last year. Fortunately, they were able to lock in and work on their late-game execution eventually in the playoffs. We all know how it ends; in the tightest situations, they were able to find ways to win nearly every single time en route to their first title in 50 years.
For obvious reasons, none of that championship swagger seems to have made its way into this year’s iteration of the Bucks. They’ve been unfortunate with their injuries, to be sure, but they also haven’t looked the most composed as of late. Clutch performances — which have always been a decent barometer of a team’s competitive edge and overall mindset — are proof of this.
While it’s very much still early in the season, their clutch numbers haven’t been the best. Though they’ve gone 6-5 in their games that went down to the clutch, their 5.3 points per game in clutch situations ranks 24th in the NBA, according to NBA.com/stats. In fourth quarters in general, they also have a 26thth-ranked offensive rating of 101. Despite the consecutive wins, for instance, the Bucks dropped 20-point leads against both the OKC Thunder and the Orlando Magic. At the same time, it’s not all bad. The team is still fourth in the league in fourth-quarter defense. It’s clear the lack of offensive options has not affected their defensive effort and principles late in games.
It’s tough to expect the defending champs to just flip the switch later on. The LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, for instance, proved that just isn’t a sustainable model for winning basketball. And perhaps it is a reach; perhaps it is not. Right now, the Bucks are neither clutch nor composed, and that may be their downfall as a contender if it goes untreated.