Scott Skiles has generally led up-tempo teams, even in his few years in Milwaukee, but the scoreboard never reflected as much.
Friday night was an exception.
The Milwaukee Bucks put on a speed clinic in the first half against the Washington Wizards, moving up and down the court like freshly slapped air hockey pucks in their 102-81 victory over the Washington Wizards. But the movement didn’t stop there. After the Bucks sprinted and passed the ball up the court quick as they could, the team took the next step that they’ve so often struggled with over the past few seasons. Their secondary breaks were producing points, their half court offense was resulting in easy buckets. They moved, they cut, they found each other.
It sounds so simple.
For Skiles it comes back to defense, as it often does.
“In the first half, I believe I’m correct on this, we had two stops in a row maybe four times, we had three stops in a row a couple times, we even had four stops in a row and we a had a stretch of six stops,” Skiles said after the game. “So if you’re getting stops, you can push it. Long rebounds, ball’s coming out, guys are all in the NBA in the open floor and we have better ball handlers and passers this year, that’s how we’d like to play.”
But it’s often been anything but simple for Milwaukee. Friday night’s flair could be a sign of things to come though. Milwaukee’s offense has looked different with this season’s influx of ball handlers and, most importantly, ball movers. Now, multiple players feel comfortable bringing the ball up the court, making a move to the hoop and kicking out. We’ve always seen Brandon Jennings willing to grab a board and get out up the court, but so often he was pushing alone or finding teammates intent on holding the ball and planning out their attack.
But Mike Dunleavy? This dude never stops moving, never stops thinking and makes passes quick. Stephen Jackson? He might chuck up a bad shot, but at least he’s doing something quick. Remember the patented Michael Redd catch and hold? And hold. And hold. Who on this team is doing that? Evidence of the increased movement was everywhere: 26 assists were the product of players cutting to the hoop for easy buckets, the eight threes Milwaukee made often came from players making extra passes to open shooters on the perimeter and even the 20 turnovers the Bucks logged had something to do with the movement and speed.
“I thought we were trying to over pass a little bit, which we’ve done quite a bit, which I think is a good sign,” Skiles said. “It bodes well for us because of our talent at the one two and three spots. And we were moving and cutting and trying to hit cutters and they deflected a couple balls and got turnovers.”
Not that the offense can’t stagnate though. When Milwaukee stopped getting stops in the third quarter – Skiles noted they failed to get consecutive stops int eh quarter at any point – they scored just 13 points after dropping 65 in the first half. There are still bad habits that creep back in on occasion. The offense bogged down, the movement stopped and the pace became plodding.
No turnovers and no stops meant the Bucks were taking the ball out from under the basket and when they do that, Skiles noted that they become a very average paced team. Milwaukee turned back into a bunch of pieces working separately rather than a machine working together. It’s no surprise this is when they watched their lead slip from 24 to 12.
But the fun returned in the fourth quarter. Stops came again and the Bucks, especially Jennings, picked the pace back up. Jennings scored eight points in the fourth quarter (22 points on 8-15 FG with five assists on the night) and flashed some of the flair that we often see in his summer time mix-tapes but has largely been absent from his NBA game over the past two seasons, spare that first magical month.
“There’s two different BJs,” Jennings said. “There’s the summer time Brandon, where I just go crazy. But this is where I need to be more efficient. If I want to be one of the best point guards, I have to be more efficient and also, win.”
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.