FINISH THEM – The Milwaukee Bucks and defensive possessions

Just pretend this guy is saying “them” instead of “him” – it’s fun.

The Milwaukee Bucks have played 13 games under new Head Coach Jim Boylan. They’ve won eight and lost five. But he’s much less concerned about wins and losses. He’s concerned with how his team is actually playing. If they’re struggling badly but eeking out wins, he’s not happy. No coach is. In fact, when the Bucks climbed over five games over .500 last week, reporters were eagerly waiting to ask Boylan about finally reaching that peak that the Bucks hadn’t been at since 2010.

“The only people who think about that are you, the media,” he said before Milwaukee fell back to four games over .500 with a loss to the Chicago Bulls. “For some reason the number five is a big number. That’s what no what we’re concerned about. We’re not concerned about being five over, four over, three over, two over, whatever. We’re just concerned about playing well. If we play well, everything will take care of itself.

So, after a few more games and a win over the Magic, I asked if Boylan had seen the Bucks be consistent with the things he thinks are important to this team’s long term success?

“A few things, but I’m also seeing some things that concern me,” he said. “When you give up 20 offensive rebounds in a game, that really concerns me. But, I like the way the guys play when they move the ball and we’ve been doing that fairly consistently. If we move the ball around the floor, we have enough offensive players, we have enough guys with skills – we’re going to be able to score some points.”

The ball movement is very key, as illustrated by Milwaukee’s last two games. I know assists are simplified way to look at ball movement, but Milwaukee’s 26 assists against the Magic in a 107-98 win on Saturday and 18 assists in a 96-86 loss to the Knicks on Friday were indicative of the way they played. The Bucks ended up having to rely on Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis jump shots in the second half Friday, rather than Jennings and Ellis creation. It didn’t go well. But both were much better about keeping the ball moving on Saturday.

Boylan is confident that when those two get the ball moving and the bench combination of Beno Udrih and Mike Dunleavy keeps it moving, that the Bucks will be fine offensively, their struggles on that end this season aside. So that’s why he’s more worried about the defense.

Interestingly enough, the Bucks have been a pretty good defensive team this season. They rank eighth in the league in defensive rating. Per 100 possessions  they give up 103.6 points, which isn’t so bad. But they could be even better, if only they could finish possessions.

“The thing is, on the defensive end, can we get the stops, which I think we’ve been able to do fairly consistently. The Achilles Heel that we have right now is the offensive rebounds we’ve given up,” Boylan said.

The Bucks can block shots – but can they corral the ball after those blocks and misses? That’s a big question to answer going forward. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

On the season, Milwaukee has grabbed roughly 70% of available rebounds on the defensive end, leaving them ranked 28th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage. And they’ve been worse under Boylan, only grabbing 68.8% of defensive boards. Not good, especially from a team with so many shot-blockers. In general, you’d think Milwaukee would be solid as a rebounding team. But they aren’t. They’re pretty light, so they get pushed around in the paint on occasion and they haven’t gotten much of of their regulars at the power forward position.

Larry Sanders has been a very good defensive rebounder as a center, but Ersan Ilyasova hasn’t been quite as good as a rebounder this season (down from a 22.8 DRB% last season to 19.5% this season), John Henson is still learning what he’s supposed to do and fighting for minutes and Ekpe Udoh is one of the worst rebounding big men in the history of my life.

Actually, among regular regulars, Mike Dunleavy has been the Bucks third best defensive rebounder. Not ideal. And Boylan realizes the situation the Bucks are in and that they’ll need the whole team to start to get active on the glass to improve.

“You know, we’ve talked about this in the past, a couple weeks ago we had a meting about it,” Boylan said after Saturday night’s win over the Magic. “We talked to the guys and we all got on board. We were pretty good for a couple of games, now there’s been a little bit of slippage, so we’ve just got to shore that up.”

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  1. It must be an absolute dream to talk with Boylan about these things as opposed to Skiles. I appreciate Boylan’s ability to be honest without being a total cocksucker about it. I’m sure the players do, too.

  2. I think Ersan’s tendency to go for the charge and flop to the ground really hurts us both for defensive field goal percentage in the paint and defensive rebounding. When one of your two bigs is on the floor instead of challenging with arms up, you have very little chance at a rebound.

  3. not sure why ekpe udoh is continuing to get minutes – he’s a great defender but that’s not what we need. Drew gooden is an excellent rebounder, and while he has a tendency to make bonehead plays he could help us in put in more.