Everyone was excited to see a reinvented Bucks team under new head coach, Mike Budenholzer, but if anyone tells you they anticipated the best start in franchise history… well, you just can’t see that coming in the NBA. It is thrilling though, to see the Bucks show a sense of structure and polish. They appear to have found a team identity that is fitting for the roster and coaching staff, not to mention, exciting for fans. Let’s dive into some of the changes they’ve made and highlight some impressive differences for key contributors.
Team First Mentality
It’s pretty clear to see that as a whole, the Bucks have taken a completely new approach to the game of basketball. Let’s check out a few thoughts from the players over the past few weeks:
“Coach is giving us the freedom. We can shoot threes, so you’re more relaxed when you’re out there playing. You know you can pull up and shoot it.” -Eric Bledsoe. 10.22.18
“…just trusting in the system and trusting my teammates will always have my back If I mess up. But at the same time, I have theirs as well.” -Thon Maker. 10.29.18
“It just shows that it works. You know, if you trust in it, like we do, and just stay in it consistently, it just shows that it works. And you see the results every night.” -Thon Maker talking on the system and playing without Giannis on the floor. 10.29.2018
“The ball movement, player movement. Everybody benefits from it. It allows us to use our IQs to make scoring cuts, to shoot a lot of threes, to shoot a lot of good, easy shots.” – Malcolm Brodgen when asked what is fun about the new system. 10.29.2018
As evidenced by the players themselves, the Bucks have taken on a new passing mentality and the sharing of the ball has helped them flourished. You would have never heard any of these comments in previous seasons.
Here is a play from the 2017-2018 team showing how they moved into ISO after a few initial screens and everyone else just stands around.
Now, here is a play from this season showing smart passes to create a wide open three.
This season is still very young, but it is already a pleasant surprise to see even Eric Bledsoe dishing out more assists. As an aggressive player, you would expect to see him still choose driving as his main attack, but he has provided glimpses of improved vision and more importantly, a willingness to pass the ball to his teammates.
This play from 2017-2018 shows Bledsoe (with teammates wide open) driving into a pack of defenders and forcing up an ill-advised shot.
Fast forward to this season against the Knicks and we have a similar situation and Bledsoe opts for a pass, resulting in a wide open corner three!
This is just one example, but it’s pretty evident that Bledsoe is more open to the idea of passing through these first few weeks. So far this season, he is averaging 6.0 assists and an impressive 10.1 potential assists. Don’t get me wrong, his assist numbers last year weren’t bad (5.1 assists, 9.4 potential assists), but when you watch him play now he appears more focused on his passes and who is open instead of his points. A welcome improvement that should pay dividends if it sticks for the season.
Khris Middleton has always been underrated, but that may all change this year if he makes an all-star team. This outcome seems extremely likely after the first few weeks of the season. He has consistently made difficult shots in ISO from mid-range in the past, but he has now decided to just let it fly from three way more than he used to. This is in part due to the teams passing and spacing concepts that Coach Bud has implemented, but it’s also a fundamental change in Khris’ mindset. He’s currently averaging 3.1 three-point makes on 7.4 attempts per game. Up from his averages last season of 1.8 three-point makes on 5 attempts.
Here’s a clip from last year where Middleton gets the ball in the corner and with two defenders closing in decides to just pull up and make the difficult two. He makes it look easy, but this is an extremely difficult and low percentage shot. Plus, it’s only worth two points!
Now, here he is this season sending up a three after getting significant space thanks to the new design of the offense.
It’s these changes in players and scheme that are providing the Bucks the opportunity to play a fun and exciting brand of basketball for both players and fans. All of that helps the team bond and grow together positively and it’s already producing more wins, which is the ultimate goal.