The Milwaukee Bucks Are Onto Something

Expectations for NBA teams vary drastically. Some teams entered the 2016-17 season virtual locks for playoffs. Others were almost assured a lottery pick.

Then, of course, there were teams in the middle, ones that could go either way. Naturally, it doesn't always go according to plan.

Exactly two months ago, I wrote about four NBA teams we should expect to take a step forward this season. Of those four teams, two of them -- the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves -- have failed to make any progress for one reason or another.

However, it's also just as clear that the Utah Jazz have taken a leap in their own progression.

Up until recently, the only team up in the air were the Milwaukee Bucks.

Are they now playoff contender, or are they the same young wannabes? The numbers suggest the former.

Enhanced Defense

Last year, Jason Kidd's Bucks had their fair share of struggles on the defensive end of the floor. They ranked 17th, surrendering, on average, 103.2 points per game. However, after accounting for their 10th-slowest pace, the Bucks were much worse than the per-game numbers suggest.

Milwaukee ranked 23rd and 19th, respectively, in defensive rating and effective field goal percentage allowed a year ago. They allowed 108.7 points per 100 possessions on an effective field goal percentage of 51%.

A big reason for that? Three-point defense.


You can see that, while their three-pointers attempted and made against have risen, they have improved drastically in their effectiveness against the three-point shot.

Three-point percentage against isn't the most sustainable mark of defensive ability, but this is cause for their improved effective field goal percentage against (48.7%) through the first 25 games this season.

Giannis & Jabari

Speaking of three-point shooting, Milwaukee has improved only marginally in that area. They've gone from last in makes and attempts a year ago to 26th in both categories this time around, with just a 0.7% jump in shooting percentage. So, what gives?

There really isn't much that sticks out offensively for the Bucks. Across the board, they've bettered themselves only negligibly -- that is, outside of the star play of both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker.

Last year, at their youthful ages of 21 and 20 years old, respectively, the two were considered budding stars. As such, they averaged a combined 31 points per game on a combined usage of 43.9%. As far as usage goes, they've only taken on more of the responsibility, with combined usage percentages of 54.4%.

That has translated to even more production for the two. So far this season, they've combined for 42 points, 14.7 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 3.3 steals, and 2.2 blocks a game.

With their high usage, they make up a colossal part of Milwaukee's statistical output. And what's crazy is that they have the ability to do this while hitting only 1.9 three-pointers per game between them.

Whenever you're able to do this or this, though, why would you float to the perimeter?

They are leading the Bucks to be better offensively, and as a team, the Bucks are a lot better defensively. That's why they're now fifth in the East, with a record of 13-12 and having won seven out of their last 11.

They're ninth in our own power rankings and according to our algorithms, the Bucks now have a 60.3% chance to make the ultimate leap into the playoffs.