Analyzing the Milwaukee Bucks’ biggest concern amidst an ugly 2-2 start

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 1 (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 1 (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

Despite all of the hype and excitement coming into the 2023-24 season, a lot of people expected the Milwaukee Bucks to start slow due to all of their new cogs.

Indeed, they’ve done just that. Through four games, the Bucks sit at 2-2. In their two victories, the  Bucks blew huge leads and let the opposing team claw right back into things before escaping with a win. In their losses, they’ve been blown off of the floor. It’s been far from ideal, and though there are a handful of early issues with the team, the defensive output might triumph them all.

Analyzing the Milwaukee Bucks’ biggest concern amidst an ugly 2-2 start

For the past several years, the Bucks had been one of the NBA’s most formidable defensive units. Of course, that was under Mike Budenholzer, who was let go in favor of newcomer Adrian Griffin this past off-season. Many were excited to see what kind of defensive approach Griffin would be able to implement into his team, and so far, the results haven’t been great.

Per, the Bucks currently have the second-worst defensive rating in the NBA, coming in just a tick above the Indiana Pacers. Teams are feasting when they play Milwaukee, as evidenced by their defended field goal percentage, which is the worst in the league – teams are shooting 51.4 percent against them.

A major reason for that is Milwaukee’s defense down low. Though they’ve surrendered the fewest shots in the paint among all teams this season at 84, the Bucks’ opponents have shot 75 percent when they have gotten into the paint. As you might’ve guessed, that’s the worst in the NBA for a defensive unit. The Bucks need to prove more resistance in the paint.

Milwaukee’s putrid paint defense is partially due to the defensive schemes and adjustments being made by Coach Griffin, which has put Brook Lopez in an odd spot. As he’s shown over the years, he is more built for drop coverage, which helped him finish second in the Defensive Player of the Year running last season. When they aren’t running that, it can make Lopez a weak link.

This is among the reasons why he played just a tick over 16 and a half minutes in the team’s loss to the Toronto Raptors. Griffin must find a way to utilize Lopez in a way that will help him be the best version of himself defensively to get the wheels turning. What he brings to the table is too valuable for him to be playing for less than 17 minutes.

Along the lines of paint defense, Milwaukee’s effort in transition has not helped. They’re currently surrendering 21.5 fast break points per matchup, which, again, is the worst in the entire league. The Bucks simply aren’t getting back quickly after missed shots, and their opponents have taken advantage. Against Toronto, the Bucks gave up 26 fast break points. That can’t happen.

It certainly doesn’t help matters that Milwaukee is also currently trying to figure things out on the perimeter, as opponents are shooting 41.5 percent from distance. That’s the third most efficient mark in the league. When teams aren’t pounding the Bucks in the paint, they’re hitting shots from behind the arc. It’s been a pick-your-poison approach for opposing teams.

Sure, let’s address the big elephant in the room. Jrue Holiday, one of the best defenders out there, is gone. Over the past few years, he was one of the many reasons why this team was so good on that side of the ball, and he would certainly help this team out on that end. Yet, to claim that his defense being gone is the sole reason for these issues is false.

Holiday would not clean up the Bucks’ current paint predicament. That’s something that starts with Brook Lopez and the positions he’s put in. As alluded to, this coaching staff must find a way to maximize his strengths if he’s going to remain a key cog for this team. If these issues persist as the season goes on, trouble could get brewing fairly quickly.

Having Holiday would have certainly shored up the team’s point-of-attack defense, but that’s just one area of a defense that is struggling all around right now. Outsiders will claim that Milwaukee’s struggles can be fully attributed to Holiday’s absence, but that’s just not true. He’d likely help, but the team also has some scheme issues that are holding them back as is.

On top of that, the Milwaukee Bucks are not lighting the league up offensively either, which hasn’t helped them out much. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard are still trying to put together the pieces next to one another, and Khris Middleton being on a minutes limit has hurt the offense. The chemistry just isn’t there right now, and that’s on both ends.

Four games into the season, there’s no reason to panic just yet. No one expected Griffin to come in and have everything mastered in his first NBA head coaching job. The results early on haven’t been overwhelmingly great so far, but he’s got time to figure things out. Conversations about the team’s schemes need to be had, and they likely will very soon.

Simply put, the Milwaukee Bucks have got to get the wheels turning on defense.

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