Next man up!
Join Date: Apr 2009
For the Bucks fans
Just a year ago, Milwaukee looked like the NBA's Siberia: a cold, depressing place with an old arena, a bad team and a bad cap situation. Not anymore. After a 46-win season, a near-upset in the first round of the playoffs and an influx of talent in the offseason, the Bucks appear to be a rising force in the East.
Twelve months ago, Milwaukee was coming off a 34-win campaign, and had jettisoned Charlie Villanueva, Richard Jefferson and Ramon Sessions. A turnaround seemed even more improbable because Michael Redd, although technically on the roster, was battling back from knee problems; ultimately, he'd play only 18 games. With that, the top four scorers from the previous season were gone.
HOLLINGER'S '09-10 STATS
W-L: 46-36 (Pythagorean W-L: 47-35)
Offensive Efficiency: 102.0 (23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 100.9 (3rd)
Pace Factor: 94.0 (21st)
Highest PER: Andrew Bogut (20.81)
Yet the Bucks persevered thanks to a variety of factors: clever signings, breakout seasons from Luke Ridnour and Andrew Bogut, a strong rookie campaign from Brandon Jennings, and a midseason deal for John Salmons. But most of all, there was a ferocious defensive effort throughout. The Bucks overachieved their way to the playoffs and, despite losing Bogut in early April to a gruesome elbow injury, nearly stunned the Hawks in the first round.
General manager John Hammond won executive of the year honors for his work, and two moves in particular deserve credit. The first was letting Villanueva walk and signing Ersan Ilyasova in his place. Ilyasova was at least as good as Villanueva and cost a third as much, holding together a tenuous frontcourt rotation.
Later in the season, Hammond grabbed Salmons in a salary dump by the Bulls. Salmons was perfect for the Bucks -- they desperately needed a one-on-one scorer at the end of the shot clock, and he fit the bill, averaging 19.8 points a game in March and April. The Bucks also moved up in the draft as a result of that trade and relinquished nothing of consequence to Chicago.
Any discussion of Milwaukee's improvement has to start with the defense. Milwaukee won thanks mainly to a gritty defensive style that was a near-perfect embodiment of coach Scott Skiles; in fact, his teams in Chicago won in a very similar fashion. The worry is that his motivational methods ran out of steam in Chicago after his third season -- he's entering his third year in Milwaukee.
Fewest Shots* Per 100 Opp. Possessions
Team Opp. shots*/100 poss.
*shots = FGA + (FTA * 0.44)
The Bucks were physical, tough and often reckless. They finished second in the league in drawing offensive fouls and third in defensive rebound rate; however, the drawback was all the fouls. Milwaukee opponents averaged .348 free throw attempts per field goal attempt; only Utah fared worse in that category.
However, the Bucks did one thing better than any other team in basketball: prevent shot attempts. Milwaukee opponents averaged only 94.05 shots per 100 possessions, with "shots" here including prorated free throw attempts. So even though the Bucks didn't force particularly low shooting percentages -- they defended the 3-point line very well but offset it with the myriad opponent trips to the foul line -- they finished the season tied for third in defensive efficiency because opponents took so few shots.
Milwaukee's aggressive defense made up for a pretty lackluster offense. Despite Bogut's breakout season and Ridnour's utterly unexpected shooting accuracy, Milwaukee ranked only 23rd in offensive efficiency. The playoff series against Atlanta showcased the Bucks' lack of shot-creators and shooters; they scored 69 and 74 points in losing Games 6 and 7, respectively.
That the Bucks were even that good owes, again, to their volume strategy. Milwaukee was nearly as good at rebounding and avoiding turnovers on offense as it was at forcing turnovers and grabbing boards on defense. As a result, the Bucks rated fourth in shots per 100 possessions.
Worst Shooting, 2009-10
Team 2-Pt FG% Overall
New Jersey 45.4 42.9
Milwaukee 46.4 43.6
Washington 47.1 44.9
Minnesota 47.1 44.9
Chicago 47.4 45.1
What they did with those shots is another matter. The Bucks fell to 29th in both 2-point shooting percentage and overall shooting percentage; only the woebegone Nets were worse in those categories. Jennings, as helpful as he was overall, was the second-worst 2-point shooter in basketball at 37 percent. Since only Bogut took more 2-point shots, this had some negative consequences for the team shooting numbers.
However, it took more than just Jennings to drag Milwaukee down. Only two Bucks -- Bogut and Ridnour -- sunk more than half their 2-point shots, something that eight teams accomplished last season. The Celtics, who shot 52.2 percent as a team on 2-pointers, outranked every single Buck.
But wait, it gets worse. The inaccurate 2-point shooting was aggravated by the team's near-total inability to draw fouls. The Bucks earned only .239 free throw attempts per field goal attempt, placing them dead last among the league's 30 teams. This, again, pointed to the club's lack of a true one-on-one scorer, which is why adding Salmons at the end of last season was so helpful despite his flaws.
Worst Free Throw Disparity, '09-10
Team FTA Opp. FTA Diff.
Milwaukee 1,675 2,211 -536
Indiana 2,019 2,346 -327
Golden St. 2,085 2,390 -305
Washington 1,895 2,088 -193
Sacramento 1,969 2,149 -180
New Orleans 1,661 1,841 -180
Combined with their hack-prone defensive ways, the Bucks' inability to get to the stripe produced a staggering free throw disparity. Milwaukee took 536 fewer free throws than its opponents did, or nearly seven a game, and that's a tough disadvantage to overcome night after night. The Bucks often made up the deficit through sheer scrappiness, but last season was about the ceiling. As reflected in the chart, all the other teams with negative free throw differentials fared quite poorly.
Skiles, amazingly, didn't win coach of the year honors, despite winning about 20 games more than anybody expected. His squad overachieved as much as any in recent memory, setting the stage for Milwaukee to rebuild more quickly than anyone could have foreseen a year ago.
It was another busy summer for Milwaukee, which went about shoring up the lack of scoring that plagued it last season. The Bucks' other big offseason concern was Bogut's recovery from a dislocated elbow -- he still wasn't at full strength by late summer.