“Today was just a great day. My teammates were looking for me.”
– Thaddeus Young 3-7-2010
“We’re loaded with guys who know how to put the ball in the basket. We all enjoy sharing the ball.”
– Jason Kidd 3-6-2010
“We’re not good enough to play 1-on-1.”
– Mike Miller 3-5-2010
“We found spots and moved the ball and had open shots.”
– Luol Deng 2-26-2010
It’s not easy to quantify unselfishness. Yes, we know it’s important, and those quotes I’ve selected from players in postgame interviews all have to do with the idea of unselfishness. Ad nausea, coaches and players will talk about how unselfish they were in wins and how selfish they were in losses. But, aside from assists, the NBA doesn’t really have any other statistics that express how one player is creating points for his teammates or how a team is working together. There are certain units on teams that play well together, do a better job rebounding or defending or shooting, but unselfishness itself is one of those difficult to calibrate traits. One that’s nearly immeasurable.
So naturally I’m going to try and show you how unselfish the Bucks have been in the last ten games.
It’s actually quite amazing, because, to be honest, unselfishness hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of the Milwaukee Bucks over the years. In what one could refer to as “The Dead Era” of Bucks basketball 2003-2008, the Bucks were a typically competent offensive team that couldn’t defend and as a result, didn’t win much. As someone who spent many a day watching and cursing the selfish nature of these teams, I can assure you these teams were only competent offensively because of their relative talent on that side of the ball. What I’m trying to say, is that Mike Redd could fill it up. Rarely was there a cohesive team effort at either end though. When looking back at the numbers of these teams, the assist to turnover ratio reflects on the selfish nature.
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In 2003-04, the Bucks ranked 4th in the league in offensive rating. The Bucks had a team assist to turnover ratio of 1.68-1 and had a shot at knocking off the Nets in the first round, but Tim Thomas didn’t box out Rodney Rodgers on a free throw and Terry Porter mysteriously refused to play Dan Gadzuric (when he was still good, 17 PER) in the playoffs. But that’s all a story for another day, what’s important is that these Bucks, spearheaded by a pre-injury T.J. Ford, weren’t selfish.
In the following season, Ford got hurt, Mo Williams became entrenched as the Bucks point guard, Redd began his all angles assault on the basket and eventually the Bucks imploded after many years of selfish, losing basketball. Each year the Bucks assist to turnover ratio dropped, further and further before cresting around 1.45-1.
There was an uptick in the ratio in Scott Skiles first season at the helm, but things really took off halfway through this current season.
Through the first 39 games the Bucks hobbled along offensively, lacking crisp ball movement or much in the way of imagination. After 39 games, the Bucks assist to turnover ratio was 1.51-1. But, behind another point guard with a gift for distribution, a team leader who doesn’t require shots by the barrel full and their surprisingly smooth trade deadline acquisition, Milwaukee is playing together. All parts are firing at the same time in the same direction. Finally.
With mid-season acquisitions of John Salmons and Jerry Stackhouse, the Bucks have an assist to turnover ratio of 1.77-1. Since the arrival of Salmons, the Bucks have five players averaging double figures in scoring. Field goal attempts are being dispersed evenly; the team’s game has developed from one that relied on a high three-point percentage and defense to win games, to one that still strangles opponents defensively, but now scores in various, unpredictable ways.
Most importantly, the ball never stops moving now. Salmons, Brandon Jennings and Stackhouse are always penetrating, dissecting opposing defenses and kicking out passes to awaiting teammates. The ball movement, the creation of scoring opportunities for more player and general unpredictability of the Bucks offense as it stands is a necessity for a team without a superstar.
Superstars can take liberties with an offense, they can get their own shot whenever they’d like and the fact that they convert with more success than other players, win games and sell tickets. Maybe Brandon Jennings could be a superstar one day. For now though, he’s a guard that shoots 37%. He’ll take occasional liberties with the Bucks offense, but the Bucks path to success, specifically in the playoffs, is not lined with layups and jump shots attempted by Jennings.
No, that path has all sorts of Bucks players’ offensive maneuvers on it. Coach Skiles has been talking about the team’s unselfish nature all season and he was at it again after the last win Saturday. “That’s how we win. Almost all the time we have multiple players in double figures,” said Skiles. “Usually we have high assists, low turnovers. For our field goal percentage being what it is as a team, we’re a high assist team, considering our field goal percentage generally.”
For a team that once featured a player who, according to a tale told to Chris Ballard by Damon Jones in Ballard’s The Art of a Beautiful Game, was referred to as “Bombs Over Baghdad” (cough Michael Redd cough), that’s quite a change. And it’s a change for the better, judging from the words of virtually every player and coach in their words after each and every game.