Should we be concerned about the Milwaukee Bucks 3-point defense?

Jan 30, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

After a long night of watching the Milwaukee Bucks give up a bevy of 3-pointers to an opponent (the Denver Nuggets made 13 more 3s than the Bucks last night), there is bound to be another referendum on how the Bucks defend and if they have a problem guarding the 3.

I’ve seen both sides of the coin, whether it’s “well that’s simply an outlier shooting night, throw it away, and move on” (which sounds like me!) to “this is embarrassing, why does this keep happening, and it can only be an outlier so many times.”

Honestly, both are understandable. It’s frustrating seeing an opponent shoot over 50 percent on over 40 3-point attempts, mostly because there’s almost nothing a defense can do. But after last night, let’s go into how the Bucks are defending the 3, see if there’s an issue and if it’s a cause for concern as we go through the second half of the season.

Is there reason to be concerned about the Milwaukee Bucks 3-point defense?

I’ll start by answering this in the most “sit-on-the-fence” answer possible: yes and no. No, because this is what they’ve always done but yes because the dam will break at some point

We tend to notice these big shooting nights against our team more than we notice the opponent having a bad shooting night. The opposite goes for what we notice with our team’s shooting. We’re more likely to notice a bad shooting night than we will a good one.

Since we notice the good shooting nights for other teams more, it would surprise most Bucks fans to know that coming into last night’s game, opponents were shooting below league average against them from 3-point range (35.3 percent) and they were in the bottom 10 for 3-point percentage against at 34.5 percent, per Cleaning the Glass (subscription required).

Part of the assumption that Bucks are constantly getting killed on 3s is that it has happened in the past. Last season, opponents shot around two percent higher than average against the Bucks, but in the two seasons before that, it was right around average.

So, has anything changed in regards to how they’re defending 3s?

Traditionally, under head coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks have allowed more 3s than average and instead chose to prioritize protecting the rim. Over the last three regular seasons, the Bucks have given up around three percent more 3-point attempts than league average.

Has Budenholzer listened to the legions of fans yelling at him to worry about defending the 3-point shot this season so that’s why they’re getting better shooting luck? Well, no.

In fact, it has gotten a little bit worse! The Bucks are allowing over five percent more 3s than the league average this season, the second-highest mark in the league behind the East-leading Miami Heat (who have a top 10 defensive rating).

Milwaukee is once again allowing a ton of above-the-break 3s (the most in the league) while allowing a fair amount of corner 3 attempts but not nearly as bad (ninth-most, less than a percent above league average). They’re also, once again, allowing some of the most “wide open” 3-point attempts this season, which comes from how they focus on helping on drives to take away shots at the rim.

If we’re being honest, the Bucks were getting luckier than they were getting unlucky with how opponents had shot against them from 3 relative to how many 3s they give up.

However, because of the sheer amount of 3-point shots that the Bucks allow, they are going to be more prone to these wild shooting nights than other teams because they don’t prioritize defending 3s, especially above the break.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad strategy by any means. Looking at the five teams that allow the fewest 3s (Washington, Indiana, San Antonio, Chicago, Sacramento), all five are in the bottom 12 in defensive rating and four of those five are in the bottom 10 in the percentage of shots allowed at the rim.

Both the Bucks and Heat, who have consistently been two of the best defensive teams over the last three seasons, have the same philosophy for their overall team defense in that they would rather gamble on a team getting hot from behind the arc than allowing them to get easier shots at the rim.

You aren’t going to be able to take away everything that a team does on offense. There’s no feasible way a team can take away shots at the rim, floaters, mid-range jumpers, and 3s.

It’s frustrating watching it happen, but there isn’t going to be some magic fix. It’s how the Bucks have chosen to defend and, for the most part, it’s worked under Budenholzer. It would help if they were able to acquire someone who can help the Bucks switch more, but that isn’t the base of their defense.

Next. Pass or pursue on Milwaukee Bucks’ rumored 2022 trade deadline targets. dark

There wasn’t much the Bucks could do defensively against the Nuggets, even if they shot a normal percentage from 3. They scored well at pretty much every level, but the 3-point number will be the one that stands out. But with how the Bucks choose to give up 3-point attempts, that’s going to be par for the course.