Are the Milwaukee Bucks a Threat in the NBA's Eastern Conference?
It seems like yesterday we were all talking about the Milwaukee Bucks' youth and how we weren't sure if Jason Kidd was the right fit to coach the "young Bucks." It feels like yesterday the Bucks were in a "rebuilding year."
But it wasn't just yesterday -- it was forever ago.
Five months ago, we projected the Bucks to finish just 29th in the NBA with a nERD of 30.4 -- and we had good reason to. There were so many questions revolving around the organization after trading for Jason Kidd's coaching services, failing to trade for any notable veterans and drafting Jabari Parker with the second-overall pick in this year's draft.
Five months later -- uh, we were wrong. All of us.
The Bucks are now 15th in the NBA and 6th in the Eastern Conference with a nERD of 53.1. They're currently in the six spot in the Eastern Conference with a record of 29-23, and have won eight out of their last 10 games. But are they just feasting on a weak Eastern Conference schedule?
Not quite. Despite their 15th-ranked strength of schedule, in their last eight wins, the Bucks have bested playoff-caliber teams from both conferences -- the Raptors from the East, and the Blazers from the West. Those two teams are both in line to make the playoffs, and have an average nERD of 62.45.
Yet the biggest takeaway from those two wins is how Milwaukee won them. They managed to hold the two teams, who together average 104.2 points per game, to an average of 81.5 points per game, well below their season averages.
That's just what the Bucks do though. Night in and night out, they defend.
The Bucks play great defense, and as a result, find themselves at the top of many defensive categories. They're fourth in the NBA in defensive rating (102.2) and sixth in opponents' points per game (97.1). But when you look at the names on the Bucks' roster, no one really sticks out. So how are they so good defensively?
The Bucks' height, length and versatility has helped them to excel on the defensive end of the floor. It helps them to force their opponents' into tough shots, bad decisions and turnovers.
Opponents shoot just 43.5% from the field and 32.9% from the three-point line against the Bucks this season -- good enough for fourth and third in the league, respectively. They also turn opponents over at a rate of 15.5% while forcing 17.0 turnovers per game (second in the league) and average 9.6 thefts per game (second).
They really utilize the strengths of their roster on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers show it. The youthful Bucks have been one of the better defensive teams in the entire league.
That's why the Bucks are exceeding their expectations by leaps and bounds, and why they're now a threat to each and every one of their Eastern Conference foes.
The Bucks we expected to see this season have yet to show up. They've done more than exceed our expectations -- they've shattered them. Here's our preseason projections in comparison to our current projections.
|Projections||Wins||Losses||Conference Finish||Playoff Chances||Title Chances|
It's apparent that we didn't see any success in the cards for the Milwaukee Bucks this year. Most notably, we gave the Bucks just a five percent chance of making the playoffs, a figure that has seen a huge increase over the course of this season, all the way to 99.9%. At this point, the Bucks are practically a lock for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
If the season ended today, the Bucks would be the sixth seed in the East and would take on the Washington Wizards in what would be an intriguing Eastern Conference battle. The Wizards, as well as every Eastern Conference contender, should fear the lurking spoilers.
The Bucks' defense is for real, and so are they.