Before the streak started the Bucks sat seven games under .500 and looked like they were giving up on their season. They had lost three of their previous four games, including a stinker to the Denver Nuggets at home. To make matters worse it appeared as if Milwaukee’s superstar had given up on the season. Giannis looked completely disinterested, averaging only 12 points in the two games before the winning streak started. The face of the Bucks franchise had lost his confidence and didn’t believe in his abilities that appeared ever so apparent to the rest of the NBA. The loss of Jabari Parker had seemed too much to overcome, both mentally and physically. The Milwaukee Bucks were destined for another disappointing season.
From January 1st through March 1st the Bucks defense was abysmal. Opposing offenses saw them as little more than a yield sign at a neighborhood intersection. Slowing down just long enough to see that nobody was coming from the other direction.
Giving up 111.2 points per 100 possessions they ranked 28th in the NBA over that span. Teams were easily able to pass the ball around the perimeter and find the weak spots in the Bucks defense. Most noticeably the corner three. During that same span, the Bucks gave up 4.2 made corner threes per game, most in the NBA. Bucks opponents were also finding success inside, shooting a scorching 48.8 percent in the paint.
Then, like a snap of the fingers, something changed. The Bucks, who had been beaten up by every opponent imaginable, began to fight back.
Milwaukee’s defense has been the key difference maker and the reason behind the six-game win streak. Their defensive numbers are vastly improved throughout the win streak. The 111.2 points per 100 possessions I talked about before? That is down to 99.6 over the course of the streak. They are also causing more turnovers and missed shots by their opponents.
The Milwaukee Bucks are finally taking advantage of their extreme length at nearly every position. Jason Kidd’s dream defense would feature five players on the court at one time who can guard every position and flawlessly switch screens. Although this may never happen the Bucks are close with their current roster. Milwaukee has two point guards, Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon, who are 6’4″ and 6’5″ respectively. Kidd’s (failed) acquisitions of Michael Carter-Williams and Greivis Vasquez also show that he has always been enthralled with tall point guard in his system. When you add in the length of Khris Middleton, Tony Snell, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Thon Maker to the starting five that closes a lot of the passing lanes.
On the following play, Antetokounmpo and Dellavedova use their length to aggressively double Jeff Teague after a ball screen. Teague is unable to get rid of the ball quickly and as a result, Antetokounmpo pokes the ball away for Dellavedova to recover. This is the kind of intensity the Bucks have shown on their recent win streak.
The Bucks have also dramatically cut down the open corner threes. After being exposed time and time again Kidd and his coaching staff have discovered how to shore up that area of their defense. Remember when I told you from January 1st to March 1st the Bucks were allowing 4.2 made corner threes a game? Well since March 1st they have only allowed 1.3 made corner threes a game. That’s a remarkable improvement and one that I’m not sure is sustainable. To stay on the positive side, the Bucks have been able to make this improvement because of two main reasons.
The first being Jason Kidd and his coaching staff. I’ve been seeing a growing number of “Fire Jason Kidd” twitter handles out there so that crowd will have to skip this paragraph. Jason Kidd and his coaching staff have tweaked their defense to better fit their personnel. They are no longer asking their players to handle defensive tasks they can not handle. Instead, the coaching staff is adjusting their scheme to fit their personnel, something that all great coaches do. Instead of asking Greg Monroe to chase guys around the perimeter on rotations they are allowing him to stay at home in the lane and communicate to his teammates where the rotations should be. The Bucks have also begun introducing two big men lineups, for however limited spurts. This shows to me that Kidd is finally accepting his current roster construction and is using the pieces to build the whole.
The second reason has been the return of Khris Middleton. Middleton’s return gives the Bucks their coveted “D and 3” player. In fact, when he plays with Tony Snell, it gives them two players who fit that prototype. Middleton and Snell’s defensive ability and length have combined to give opposing wings fits. They are both at a point in their careers with the Bucks were they have a solid understanding of how the defensive scheme is supposed to work. Once a player understands the mental part of the game they are able to play faster. It becomes second nature to them. Instead of thinking first, they do first. This “doing” first has allowed Snell and Middleton to get out and contest perimeter jump shots quicker than before. It has also allowed them to rotate to the ball quicker when a skip pass is thrown.
The old adage about defense winning championships still rings true today. Even in the era of three-pointers and offensive basketball, the most successful teams are the ones who can string together consistent stops. If the young Bucks want to truly reach their potential they will come to realize that. Scoring the basketball can only take you so far in a league that is ripe with offensive ability. Defense is what will separate them. Defense will carry them into the playoffs.