After receiving a huge amount of hype following the Damian Lillard trade in September, the Milwaukee Bucks had a disappointing start to the season in late October and early November. They were just 2-2 in their first four games and 5-4 in their first nine games, and they did not look all that impressive out of the gate.
On November 2nd, with a 2-2 record, the Bucks had a -27 point differential and were coming off a blowout loss to the Raptors where they looked completely out of sync on both ends of the court. Many were shocked at how a team with as much talent as the Bucks have could look as bad as they did to begin the year. Were these just growing pains, or should fans actually be worried? Well, since then, things have improved pretty drastically, and here are some encouraging stats that should help fans feel good about the team moving forward.
Encouraging stat #1: Milwaukee Bucks are fourth in net rating since the 2-2 start
As previously mentioned, Milwaukee did not start out hot on either end of the court, ranking 29th in defensive rating, 11th in offensive rating, and 24th in net rating after four games. Adrian Griffin implemented a more aggressive defensive approach right away that generated more turnovers (16.3 per game in the first four games) but really was ineffective overall, as it did not fit the team's personnel and led to a lot of easy buckets for opponents. They brought Brook Lopez out further on defense, which only made matters worse, and the defense just seemed to be bleeding points in all areas.
The Bucks were also struggling offensively to make the Lillard-Antetokounmpo combination work. They weren't terrible on that end, but they were not elite to start the year as many expected them to be. The spacing was off, Lillard and Antetokounmpo weren't playing off each other very smoothly, Antetokounmpo wasn't used to playing off-ball all the time, and everything offensively seemed more difficult than it should be.
However, since those first four games, the Bucks rank 1st in offensive rating, 17th in defensive rating, and 4th in net rating. They made adjustments defensively (including going back to the drop defense with Lopez and playing more zone defense) that have helped their defense go back closer to average, and offensively they have completely taken off. Giannis has allowed Lillard to run the offense and handle the ball more (Lillard is averaging 7.7 minutes with the ball in the last 10 games compared to 5.7 in the first four games), and the two stars have played beautifully off each other as of late.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 37 points on over 70 percent shooting over his last six games, and Lillard has begun to find his shot from deep, shooting 43 percent from three over his last four games after starting 27 percent in his first eight games. The duo has also been great playmaking recently, combining for 48 assists in the last three games. Milwaukee's offense is running more and more through their superstar duo, and as time has gone on they've gotten increasingly comfortable together. This should remain one of the best offenses in the league all season, and if the defense can continue to be near-average, the Bucks will be very very good.