The Milwaukee Bucks have so far proven to be wildly inconsistent throughout the 2017/18 regular season. The inconsistency comes despite the abundance of top end talent at their disposal. MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe form one of the leagues most productive trios averaging 65.8 points per game. Yet, at the time of head coach Jason Kidd’s dismissal, the Bucks found themselves languishing one game over .500 and clinging to the Eastern Conferences 8th seed.
A big reason for Milwaukee’s struggles has been the lack of contribution from the second unit. All season the Bucks bench has ranked amongst the bottom few teams in production, and at the time of writing this article, they sit dead last, averaging a measly 24.1 points per contest.
Along with ranking 30th in points per game, the Bucks sit 28th in rebounds (11.3) and 25th in field goal percentage (43.3). It’s been the starters, namely Giannis, carrying the Bucks to victory or bust for much of the season.
Wildly inconsistent rotations from Kidd, included playing the allergic to offense Gary Payton II in 12 games and DeAndre Liggins in 31. An additional and unexpected blow has been the unfortunate health issues suffered by Mirza Teletovic, who after a rough first year in Milwaukee, had started off the season hot in knocking down 48% of his 4.5 three pointers attempted per game. Teletovic was only able to suit up for 10 games, and with no news regarding his health of late, you can only assume he will not be available for the rest of the season.
Since the change in coach, the Bucks second unit has began to find its rhythm. Consistent rotations and opportunities a likely source of confidence for a group that has likely been as clueless to how much playing time they will receive as the fans.
Just hours after Jason Kidd got fired, the Bucks went to battle and ground out an impressive home victory over the Phoenix Suns given the circumstances. The lacklustre performance was understandable, but following that night the Bucks had three days rest to reset. The Bucks have played three games since, winners in all of them and the second unit has contributed 32 points per game in that stretch.
Sterling Brown, Matthew Dellavedova, Thon Maker and Jason Terry have all made major contributions in those victories. Lets take a look at how their numbers have compared over the last three games when stacked up to the rest of the season (season averages in brackets):
- Sterling Brown: 24.9mpg (11.5), 8.7ppg (3.5), 5.7rpg (1.8).
- Thon Maker: 18.5mpg (18.0), 5.3pg (4.5), 4.0rpg (3.5), 1.7bpg (0.8).
- Jason Terry: 16mpg (9.7), 5.7ppg (1.2), 62.5%3PT (11%3PT).
- Matthew Dellavedova: 20.9mpg (18.5), 6.7ppg (4.4), 4.0apg (3.8).
Now clearly it’s a small sample size, but overall these players are contributing improved numbers across the board. Sterling Brown in particular has worked his way into major rotation minutes with excellent defensive intensity and an ability to knock down the open shot. Brown is currently connecting on 44 percent of his three point attempts. Drafted in the second round, 46th overall, the Rookie was a DNP-CD in 23 of the Bucks first 39 contests, the majority of his minutes coming in garbage time.
Notably, the improvement hasn’t just come on the offensive side of the floor as the Bucks defense has been remarkably better since Prunty took control. Through the first 46 games, the Bucks second unit ranked 29th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.1. In the last three games they have posted a defensive rating of 94.5 to rank third in the league over that stretch. The Bucks defense is locked in right now.
The Bucks starters have carried a monumental load this season with Antetokounmpo (37.2) and Middleton (37.1) ranking first and second in the league for minutes played per game. With Giannis carrying persistent knee soreness and Middleton showing signs of fatigue, it’s imperative the Bucks find a way to continue to lighten the load on their two stars. Joe Prunty has made a conscious effort to run a consistent rotation that does just that, with Giannis (34.4) and Middleton (34.6) seeing a very noticeable dip in minutes since the coaching change.
In a further boost to the Bucks depth, Jabari Parker is set to return to action this Friday night, at home, against the New York Knicks. An offensive powerhouse, Parker was averaging 20.1 points per game last season before tearing his ACL for a second time in February. Parker will return under a heavy minute restriction whilst rounding into game shape, but theres no doubt Milwaukee will welcome this extraordinary boost to their depth at this point in the season.
Once again, the sample size is small enough to not assume the Bucks second unit struggles are a thing of the past, but it’s a nice step in the right direction for a team that desperately needs to find more consistent production right down the roster. If indeed the uptick in production holds up, then the Bucks will be well positioned to continue their run up the Eastern Conference standings.
*All stats via NBA.com
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus