The Milwaukee Bucks had three successful regular season campaigns with the last two of them finding them at the top of the Eastern Conference. This season, the Bucks are facing the first true regular season crisis, since the time Jason Kidd was on the team’s bench.
Mike Budenholzer created the perfect regular season machine transforming the MIlwaukee team to a machine that produces blowouts wins through the last two seasons. However, the team is on 5-game losing streak for the first since 2017, after latest loss to the resurging Toronto Raptors.
The fall of a defensive juggernaut
The Bucks has been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA the last season leading the NBA by allowing just 102.5 points per 100 possessions. They were also the top team in advanced defensive metrics during the 2018/19 season. However, this year they are 13th in DefRtg allowing 110.5 points.
The Bucks are still one of the worst teams in defending the three-point line allowing 14.4 made threes per game being almost identical to their 2019/2020 season performance. The huge difference lies to the percentage that their opponents converting this year.
In particular, the Bucks allowed 39.4 threes per game with opponents shooting a below average 35.5-percent in those attempts during the 2019/20 campaign. This season, Mike Budenholzer’s squad is allowing 37.4 threes per game with opponents shooting a purging 38.6-percent in those attempts.
The Bucks are really lacking the ability to guard in the perimeter this year as they are playing less capable on-ball defenders on that end of the floor, especially with Jrue Holiday out. Bryn Forbes and DJ Augustin are getting most of the minutes as part of different back court variations.
At the same time, Brook Lopez is getting pounded by the opponents due to his deep position, and his inability to follow the smaller guards are really hurting the Bucks. Lopez, Forbes and Augustin are three of the four lowest averages in DefRtg, when they are taking the floor for their team.
The return of Jrue Holiday, who is out due to health and safety protocols, will resolve some issues for the Bucks in that end, however their lack of two-way players in their bench could prove catastrophic for their championship aspirations.
The Bucks’ struggles against playoff bound teams
Milwaukee’s defense is not the only issue the last month as the Bucks regressed as a team in the offensive end also. During February, the Bucks shoot fewer threes (36.5 attempts) and making slightly fewer attempts per game (14.6). Whereas there is no significant differences the Bucks seems to be pretty predictable in that end.
Antetokounmpo is still dominant, however the opponents seem to have a set plan ready for him, whenever they try to actively stop him. The back-to-back MVP should become more creative in the offensive end, especially with the Bucks’ teammates being mainly stationary shooters.
When ‘going to the MVP’ is not working, Milwaukee’s squad turns to Khris Middleton or Jrue Holiday this season to shoot tough mid-range jumpers over the opponents. For example, the Raptors continue to outplay the Bucks whenever they are set to face them.
This season, Budenholzer’s team has a 10-12 record against teams closer to the playoff contention. They went perfect (6-0) against the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are among the worst teams in the NBA. They lost to Brooklyn, Utah(2 times), Lakers, Toronto(2 times) and Phoenix so far.
Can the Bucks being ready on time for the playoffs
Giannis Antetokounmpo said that the last stretch of games could help the Bucks become mentally tougher for the games and the adversity could face in the playoff. The Bucks seemed really unbeatable during the last two regular seasons facing a lot of adversity during the crucial playoff series.
The Bucks’ fans hope for that to be the case, however playing better in the postseason was always a tough process, especially for the teams that they were trying to turn the switch for the playoffs. However, for Milwaukee, lack of mental toughness was not the issue in every one of those situations.
Mike Budenholzer will definitely need to work actively on a legit plan B when the Bucks have a tough time on executing their initial game plan.