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Bucks at the Break: Fighting for Deer Life

Feb. 14, 2017
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Five weeks ago, the Milwaukee Bucks’ season was proceeding nicely. They were 20-18 and bound for a playoff berth to make fans recall the major gains of 2014-’15, not last season’s regression. And Giannis Antetokounmpo was on his way to becoming the Bucks’ first NBA all-star in 13 years.

But when the “Greek Freak” plays in the league showcase Sunday, he’ll be representing a team in trouble. The Bucks entered this week at 23-30 after losses in 12 of 15 games. And most of that happened before their worst setback: the loss of Jabari Parker to his second severe knee injury.

How did the season suddenly start slipping away? The Fairly Detached Observers discuss...

Artie: I’ve been baffled, and nobody on talk radio seems to have a clue either.

Frank: Statistics aren’t everything, but they show a big problem at the defensive end. In the 3-12 stretch that took them into this week, the Bucks averaged about 105 points, roughly their season mark. But they gave up an average of 111, about a six-point spike. 

A: Plus there was some voodoo happening, with the Bucks tanking just as Miami won 13 straight to join the playoff hunt.

F: Two of those Heat wins were against the Bucks, including the 106-88 embarrassment last week at the Bradley Center.

A: Yeah, the Bucks came out with no energy at all. They were down 17-2, and that was before Parker got hurt.

F: It was worse two nights later when the Lakers had 47 points in the first quarter and 76 by halftime.

A: Maybe whatever defensive scheme Jason Kidd is trying doesn’t fit the players, so they’re in a funk.

F: The coach said after the Lakers game, “Our spirit has been down,” and he wasn’t just talking about losing Parker. 

A: They perked up with a nice effort at Indiana, but they need a lot more of those.

F: Watching the Miami game, I was thinking they’re good at flashy defense, as in almost six blocked shots per game. But they’re lousy at team defense.

A: As in rotating and helping each other out.

F: Goran Dragic is a nice player, but he was waltzing down the lane or along the baseline, so Miami was getting all these layups, or else inside lobs for dunks.

A: Something’s really gone wrong. The Bucks were building something, playing with energy—and then it vanished.

F: Until last week, the only major injury was the one they’d had all season. Khris Middleton is an important guy, but his absence until last week didn’t keep them from getting to 20-18.

A: One thing we’ve heard since last season is that they stink at defending against three-pointers—in a league that’s trey-crazy!

F: They’re doing OK in shooting threes—about 37% accuracy, ranking fifth in the NBA. But the opponents are making about 36%, which puts the Bucks’ D down at 17th. And in the 3-12 stretch the mark was more like 39%.

A: The Lakers hit half of their threes, 15 for 30.

F: But it’s more than percentages. The Bucks are among the league’s worst in terms of opponents’ three-point attempts per game, about 30, and their “makes,” about 11. Teams obviously feel comfortable in taking as many threes as they want.

A: So in most games the Bucks have a minus-differential in successful treys.

F: Last year it was glaring—almost four fewer per game than the opponents. This year it’s about minus-2, but that’s next-to-worst in the NBA. In effect, the Bucks start every game six points behind.

A: Still, the season opened with everyone saying this is the kind of team they want.

F: As TV analyst Jon McGlocklin noted during the Miami game, the Bucks are predicated on getting the offense out running in transition. But to do that you have to keep the other team from making easy baskets and you have to out-rebound them. The Bucks’ rebounding differential doesn’t look bad at a minus 0.8, but that’s 21st in the league.

A: Not good for a team that’s committed to “length.”

F: Kidd also said this after the Lakers game: “We’ve got to lose the concept that we’re an offensive team. That’s what we believe, and that puts us in a bad seat.” In other words, don’t think you’ll win consistently just by getting in a “track meet” and relying on your scoring.

A: I wonder if there’s some growing strife on the team. Last month, Parker was benched for the start of a game because he talked to the Journal Sentinel about a team meeting the previous night.

F: And his teammates determined the penalty. The offending quote was: “I spoke up for the first time, and it didn’t go my way. I was getting thrashed; but hey, as long as I gave them another perspective I did my job.”

A: Another factor is that every year there are so many new faces. Guys like Jason Terry, Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell and Mirza Teletovic are quality players, but it takes time to blend in. There may be changes in the rotations and guys’ minutes that spark disagreement.

F: So what’s the best to hope for? They claw past Miami, Charlotte and Detroit, finish No. 8 in the East—just so they can get smoked by Cleveland?

A: I don’t see that. Looks like the near future is spelled “L-o-t-t-e-r-y.” 

F: And what kind of draft pick should they go for?

A: A top-notch shooter who can pony up on the defense. Someone like last year’s fabulous second-rounder, Malcolm Brogdon, who’s hitting more than 40% of his threes and playing solid defense.

F: There’s that D-word again... 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek is an expert on bad decisions involving lotteries.

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