Return of the 2019 Raptors? Not so much — for now
When the Bucks fell to Adrian Griffin and Nick Nurse’s Toronto Raptors in 2019, it was largely because that team’s personnel was uniquely constructed in a way that seemed to be those Bucks’ kryptonite. Their length and aggression meant any offensive sets could very easily sputter to a halt, while their size and switchability meant their vaunted “Giannis Wall” would do exactly what it set out to do in slowing down the Greek Freak.
Coming into these preseason games, head coach Adrian Griffin wasn’t shy about implementing this same defensive philosophy in his first tenure as head coach. The result was obvious: We saw a lot of wide-open looks at the rim given up, but we also saw a lot more ball pressure and deflections that flowed into easy offense for a revitalized transition attack for Milwaukee.
While Mike Budenholzer would have always opted for a more conservative defense that conceded open threes in favor of cutting off easy shots at the rim, these days, the Bucks are also applying more pressure on the ball handler, extending their reach beyond the 3-point line, and actively challenging gaps and reaching into passing lanes. Fortunately for Griffin, the roster as currently constructed boasts a lot of length and athleticism, too, which bodes well for a scheme heavy on positional versatility and switching on ball screens.
The young guns have a lot to do with that potential. According to preseason statistics courtesy of Real GM, rookie wing Andre Jackson also ranked 19th among all rookies in defensive rating, giving up just 98.5 points per 100 possessions in the preseason games.
The problem facing the Bucks now is this: they’re hoping to slow teams down enough so they can’t keep pace with their offense, which is an extremely tall order for a backcourt featuring Damian Lillard and Malik Beasley. Adrian Griffin will no doubt need to work the defensive magic he showed with the Toronto Raptors, combined with the defensive presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez around the rim, to field, at the very least, a league-average defense this coming regular season.
It should also be said that the Milwaukee Bucks’ problems were never on the defensive end, and the sizable changes in this department should and will see some growing pains going forward. They’re causing more turnovers but giving up more wide-open cuts to the rim now that they’re hanging up the ole drop coverage they spent years perfecting.