“It’s starting to get a little bit ridiculous.” – Brandon Jennings
It really is, Brandon. After another sub-40% shooting effort (38.6%) in their Saturday night 87-81 loss to the New Orleans Hornets, the Milwaukee Bucks saw their team shooting percentage fall under 40% for the season (okay, so 39.9%, but still). More importantly, they saw the players who seemed to be coming around, regress. Most importantly, they saw their record fall to 2-5.
Offense is first and foremost the biggest hurdle the Bucks have in front of them right now, but inside of this one, the Hornets were able to capitalize on a defensive match-up in the fourth quarter to hold onto their lead.
David West must have stopped somewhere in Wisconsin and picked up a deer hunting license for the way he was shooting down the Bucks Saturday. He spent the majority of the game abusing smaller Bucks defenders in the post with incredible aggressiveness or killing them softly with an all touch fadeaway. Before entering the game in the fourth quarter, West had already piled up 22 points on 10-11 shooting (he’d finish with 25, 10-12 FG 5-7 FT). Out of other options, Scott Skiles went to Andrew Bogut on West in the fourth quarter . New Orleans saw this as an opportunity.
As soon as Bogut picked up West, New Orleans planted him outside and saw the paint open up for them. The Hornets scored eight of their 32 points in the paint in the final 6:32 of the fourth quarter after West checked in. Hornets coach Monty Williams, saw an opportunity.
“As soon as they did that, Emeka posted up and got an and-1,” he said. “If they take something away, we go to something else. They didn’t want to double team tonight, I think because of our shooters. We took advantage of what was there.”
Those shooters played a role in the quarter too. The Hornets sandwiched threes from Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinelli around a Jennings three to maintain a seven point lead with under four minutes to go. Milwaukee defenders repeatedly were beat off the dribble in the fourth quarter, forcing their teammates to collapse. They could only watch helplessly as the Hornets hit two crucial, wide open threes.
As Jennings said, things have gotten ridiculous here. Without a strong 9-18 fourth quarter, the Bucks shot just 35.3% for the game Saturday night. Carlos Delfino, the early season reliable 3-point threat, was 1-6 from the field and 0-3 from deep before leaving with a neck strain. Corey Maggette was 3-9, dropping his field goal percentage to 36.1%. That’s impossibly bad for a player who shot better than 50% from the field on over 800 attempts last season. Something is broken in the Milwaukee Bucks offense, but no on is really sure how to fix it. That’s a problem. Not everyone is suffering though.
- Bogut had a strong return to the Bucks lineup, scoring 19 points (7-11 FG 5-6 FT) while grabbing 14 rebounds. Often, the Bucks find Bogut repeatedly in the first quarter and then forget about him late, but he attempted three shots in the second quarter and four in the third. He didn’t take a shot from the field in the fourth, and while that seems to be a problem, it’s hard to argue with the Bucks fourth quarter offense. Milwaukee scored 27 points on 9-18 shooting in the quarter. Bogut did touch the ball, he shot two free throws and had a particularly nice behind the back feed to an open Drew Gooden for a jump shot, he just wasn’t put in position to shoot. Maybe he needs to be more aggressive or maybe the team needs to improve on moving without the ball. It seems like the offense slows down a lot when Bogut gets it inside. Everyone waits for the defense to collapse, so they can get an open look that they haven’t been making this season anyway. If Bogut is going to get the ball in the fourth quarter, Milwaukee will have to move off the ball better, to take advantage of his passing skills and prevent double teams.
- Early in the second quarter, I noted that points off turnovers would be important for the Bucks, as the Hornets were very giving with the ball and the Bucks offense wasn’t able to muster up much scoring elsewhere. Things initially went well for the Bucks. Generally a slow paced team, they had 10 fast break points in the first half, largely due to Hornets turnovers. But many opportunities were blown, whether it was by a bad pass on a fast break or sloppy offense when the Hornets were able to get back. Milwaukee scored just 21 points on 19 Hornets turnovers.
- Some have criticized the Bucks for not “taking it to the basked” enough. It’s a popular criticism when a team is struggling offensively. This team took it inside plenty though, taking 25 shots at the rim, compared to 15 for the Hornets. The problem is conversion. Milwaukee hit just 13 of their 25 at the rim attempts, for a paltry 52% shooting percentage. The issue with Milwaukee doesn’t seem to be a lack of attempts at driving, but rather an indecisiveness inside.
“We went to the rim tonight and several got swatted out of bounds or back at us,” Skiles said after the game. “You gotta be able to go in there and either finish or draw the people and make proper plays. And if a proper play is made, you’ve got to be able to make the shot, and that’s something we’ve struggled with.”
West is sure to give Bucks front court defenders nightmares after his two performances this season, but Chris Paul isn’t too shabby either. Paul was a quiet assassin in this one, waiting until late to pick his spots offensively. The league’s best point guard had six points in the game’s final six minutes, including two that sealed the deal with 21.5 to go on a floater most guards in the league wouldn’t dream of hitting regularly. It looked like just another shot for Paul though. Milwaukee tried to throw something different at him, guarding him with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute down the stretch, but it didn’t do much good. Paul was amused when the though of Mbah a Moute being a challenge for him was presented and Monty Williams didn’t see it as much of a problem.
“We expected that, we talked about it a few games ago,” he said after the game. “You’re not going to fool the great ones, they’ve seen every defense. He’s played against bigger guys, he’s learned how to figure it out.”
- Defensively, the Bucks are still close to where they need to be to win games. Outside of David West, the Hornets didn’t do much all night and had they missed their two open threes late in the game, may have dropped this one. Milwaukee’s defensive rating of 96.7 (points per 100 possessions) is right where they want to be.
Milwaukee has to figure out how to make more shots. It’s a simple statement about a complicated task.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan of Bucksketball on Facebook (to the right).