With the arrival of a new head coach and another superstar in town, the Milwaukee Bucks are inevitably undergoing a major identity shift this season, with a focus on overwhelming opponents with scoring.
The addition of Damian Lillard has forced them to overhaul their offensive and defensive strategies, as Lillard has long been known around the league as an offensive powerhouse but a below-average defender.
While it is true that preseason games are not as important as regular season games, there are still some merits to examining them. We’ll insert this caveat now; it is important to keep in mind that preseason games are just that: preseason games. Teams are often experimenting with different things, players aren’t giving it their all and playing limited minutes, and ball clubs are just generally not playing their best basketball.
Still, there’s a lot to glean from the team’s play through their five preseason games where they posted a 3-2 slate, particularly on the schematic side of things. The early returns also give us statistics that allow us to hopefully predict what they might aim for on the court going forward.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far from the new-look Milwaukee Bucks through five preseason games.
What we’ve learned so far about the Bucks: ‘Playing random’ no longer
Under Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin, the Bucks have shown a new offense that is more focused on movement and passing. In the past, the Bucks often devolved into stagnant, isolation-heavy offense late in games, with players often standing in the corners and waiting for the ball to come to them while the Bucks superstars tried to make something happen. Griffin is looking to change that, and he is instilling a culture within the Bucks that emphasizes both player and ball movement.
This new offense is still in its early stages, but there have been some encouraging signs during the preseason. The Bucks are averaging more passes per game than they did last season, and they are also getting more open looks from three-point range. A number of Bucks also shot above 37 percent from behind the 3-point line — namely A.J. Green, Malik Beasley, MarJon Beauchamp, and Brook Lopez — which might indicate better spacing and better looks compared to years past. This writer once argued that a lot of the offensive woes the Bucks faced in the postseason fell on their just-average shooters, and the early returns might indicate that this is a thing of the past.
Speaking of the Milwaukee Bucks’ shooters, Green and Beasley have been revelations for the Bucks offense, as the two combined for 25-for-53 shooting from deep in the five preseason games, good for 47 percent efficiency. If they can keep up this caliber of deep-range shooting, their floor spacing will make all the difference for the Bucks starters.
Now, another key aspect of Griffin’s offense is the use of off-ball cuts. Griffin has said in his introductory press conference that he wants his players to be constantly moving and cutting without the ball in order to create open space for themselves and their teammates. This has been evident in the preseason, with players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard using their athleticism to get easy baskets at the rim. Lillard, in particular, demonstrated a solid understanding of how to leverage the threat of his shooting to shed defenders en route to easy layups.
Half-court sets were also much more varied in their actions, with a lot of dribble hand-offs out of horns formation involving all five guys on the court instead of the drive-and-kick, pick-and-roll-heavy scheme of the Budenholzer years. It’s clear the Bucks are now emphasizing both player and ball movement. Instead of letting it fly at the first opportunity, they’re much more patient and looking to go for easier shots, as evidenced by Brook Lopez often opting to bang down low instead of taking long threes.
“We’re going to have a lot of options, and I think that the fact that there’s going to be times where he’s willing to make the play for me and vice versa, and then you add Khris to that, and Brook making shots, and Bobby Portis, you got a lot of guys who are capable,” said Lillard of his first on-court experience with his new basketball club during his post-game presser.
“I think everybody’s just enjoying the fact that, you know, we have those types of weapons.”