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(Percentages from the 2009-10 season)
Scoring was rarely easy for the Milwaukee Bucks last season. Long droughts were the norm, zones were horror movie scary and the rim was a foreign place they rarely explored. The long ball was often the weapon of choice though it wasn’t always reliable. In the end, it worked often enough to keep the Bucks in games and let their defense do the rest. But Milwaukee did little to boost their outside game this off season, focusing mainly on fours while adding Chris Douglas-Roberts and Corey Maggette, two players not proficient from outside.
So are they in danger of losing their touch from outside and watching their scoring woes grow worse?
Not if they can figure out layups and dunks. The easiest shots in basketball. Penetration, offensive rebounds and dishing point guards can create these shots for big men in the NBA. Unfortunately for last season’s Bucks, finishing at the rim was easier said than done. Milwaukee was dead last in shooting percentage at the rim, finishing on just 56.3% of their attempts. So when the Bucks front office spoke at length these past few months about adding length and athleticism (see the Earl Boykins signing), they may as well had been saying they need some guys who can finish.
So out goes Charlie Bell and his 46.3 at the rim shooting percentage and in comes Maggette converting 66.2% of the time. So long Dan Gadzuric (56% at the rim) and hello Jon Brockman (61.6). Suddenly, the Bucks look like they might be able to convert at the basket and in turn boost their true shooting percentage.
TS% is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2 and 3-point field goals as well as free throws according to Basketball-Reference. And the Bucks were among the worst teams in the league with regard to the measure of theirs. Milwaukee’s TS% was 51.8, fourth worst in the league and by far the worst among the playoff teams. It’s no wonder that the top five teams in the league were Phoenix (Western Semis), Orlando (Eastern Semis), Cleveland (Eastern Quarters), Utah (Western Quarters) and Boston (Finals).
But improving at the rim doesn’t automatically insure a boost in true shooting percentage. Milwaukee was a middle of the pack team in terms of 3-point accuracy last season, finishing 12th in the NBA in hitting 35.6% of their threes. 3-point shooting inconsistencies certainly weren’t for a lack of trying, as the Bucks were fifth in the league in attempts per game at 22.1. The shooting ups and downs were up often enough for the Bucks to claw into the playoffs, so a theory could be, if Milwaukee added all of these efficient finishers at the rim while subtracting their 3-point shooters, they wouldn’t be doing themselves much good.
But the Bucks took care to make sure they kept the majority of their shooters, even if they didn’t bring in any new ones.
Returning Bucks Brandon Jennings, Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova had the three highest totals of made threes last season, combining for 360 or 55.8% of the Bucks total. And Milwaukee has reason to believe that Jennings and Ilyasova in particular could improve on their respective performances given their age. Jennings went through his hot and cold periods, but with a year of experience and idea of what a full season is like he should be able to improve on the 28.3% effort from deep he put forth in his final month of the regular season. Coach Skiles also said a number of times throughout the season that the team expects Ilyasova to develop into a 37 or 38 percent shooter from three once he adjusts to the distance and full NBA season. A full season of John Salmons (38.5% from three) won’t hurt their numbers either.
And of course, some improvement at the rim from Jennings would go a long way too. As my esteemed colleague John Krolik noted on Twitter, Jennings was last in the league in field goal percentage at the rim last season amongst players who played more than 30 minutes per game, finishing on just 42.7% of his attempts.
So while the Bucks lost Luke Ridnour, Bell and Jerry Stackhouse, numbers 4-6 on their 3-point leader board last season, improvement from within and around the hoop should offset those losses.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com