Bucks Defense – Trying to Make Sense

I found this funny stat that showed Monroe is the best player on the Bucks in terms of defensive win share. He was 69th in the league. As of writing this, he’s down to 74, as BBR updates often. But I thought it was actually kind of an interesting little stat. I don’t think it says anything about Monroe being secretly a good defender, as that’s so far from the truth.

So last year with Sanders at center, or even Zaza or Henson, the big thing they offered was that early help against pick and roll. The goal was trap the ball handler, force them to pass out of the play, and the long wings on the Bucks would be able to recover across the court before anyone could attempt an open shot. Zach Lowe broke this down incredibly well last year.

That’s clearly not working this year, and it’d be easy to blame Parker/Monroe for their role in it. But oddly, teams are running pick and roll against the Bucks at one of the lowest rates in the league. The percentile number there is telling, and the Bucks are doing a terrible job on defense during those plays, but it’s not like teams found a new weakness in that defensive plan and are exploiting it.

Instead it’s the spot up shooting that’s killing them, as most of us probably knew.

I’m not smart enough to reconcile any of this into something meaningful… I guess if I were, I’d be a basketball writer or coach, haha. But I’ve been trying to pay more and more attention to the defense and just learn/understand more. So part of that is that I can see Monroe stink on defense a lot, but I don’t know that it’s really hurting them. There aren’t many dominant big guys he has to cover. And even last year, it seemed the big guy mostly had to run to the free throw line to help. They never seemed to do any crazy switching where the 5 had to hang with a guard and Monroe wouldn’t be able to keep up.

That’s where I start getting lost. I almost gave up trying to compare to last season and dig through lineups and whatever. Especially after watching them play Detroit the other night, or New Orleans not long ago, it feels like every play involves a pass in the paint, the defense crashing in, then a kick out (plus maybe an extra pass or two) for an open 3.

The Bucks are allowing basically one more made 3 per game this year. They were in 11th worst last year at allowing 3 point makes. This year they are 5th worst.

And smart writers have pointed out that all along, 3’s were going to be a result of their aggressive defense against the pick and roll… but if teams aren’t running that, what’s missing?

They went from 2nd in points allowed/possession last year to 19th this year. One extra 3 per game shouldn’t impact that too much. The defensive rebounding is certainly bad, but the NBA stats on putback rankings have the Bucks doing a little better than average. Nylon Calculus has the Bucks 3rd worst in offensive rebound points allowed/100 poss – but if you strip the #1 best and worst teams from that list, the span between good and bad is pretty insignificant. It pretty much lines up with the put back data from NBA.com.

If you look at opponent stats year-over-year, they’re a bit worse pretty much everywhere. I grabbed all those numbers on a per game and per possession level and have them below:

While they’ve gotten their points in a different manner this year, the offense isn’t terribly different. The net result is their offensive production is similar enough to last year, but the defense is giving up about 5.5 points more. And it seems to be a combination of doing basically everything a little worse.

What is somewhat interesting to me, and maybe there is some clues hidden in here, is simply looking at the win/loss splits. Of course virtually every team is going to play noticeably better in games they win. Usually the only difference is when you get into teams that win/lose a lot of close games or crazy anomalies like Golden State this year who has barely lost a game and thus their splits are skewed.

So here’s what this looks like:

I’ll save you a lot of sorting on league-wide stats, but essentially the Bucks defense on a DefRtg level are one of the best in the league when they win (compared to all other teams in wins) and one of the worst when they lose (compared to all others in losses).

Trying to understand why that happens is alluding me a bit, but I’ll try to find some hints. For one, my casual observation is that they play a lot better against good teams or at least in big games (e.g. national TV, Saturday nights, etc). To try and quantify that, here’s how they look when the opponent is above .500 vs below (use the filter on the right to show above vs below .500 opponents):

Hmmph. They have a slightly better record against under .500 opponents and their defensive rating is pretty similar.


Jay Ratkowski runs this joint, which is why his name is on the front door. You can find him elsewhere at Google+, Facebook, or Twitter

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Author: Jay

Jay Ratkowski runs this joint, which is why his name is on the front door. You can find him elsewhere at Google+, Facebook, or Twitter