“Scoring the ball in the first quarter, we thought we were going to outscore Chicago and not play defense.” – Jason Kidd
It’s going to be tough for Milwaukee to beat the Chicago Bulls in round one, hell, even in one game, if they aren’t going to play defense. The Milwaukee Bucks are no offensive Juggernaut. They aren’t even really an offensive Hawkeye. They’re like Vibe. They aren’t good.
The Bulls? They’re a good offensive team and occasionally a very good offensive team. We know they have stars and quasi-stars in guys like Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler. We know they have Mike Dunleavy Jr., the ultimate role player. We know they have Nikola Mirotic, a funky, rookie European who can do a little bit of everything on offense. We know there are threats. But what do all those threats add up to?
A pretty efficient offense.
The chart above demonstrates how both the Bucks and Bulls get their points. For some reason the Bucks are in red, which was a poor decision on my part. Let’s just make peace with that and move on. Let’s focus on the contents of the chart.
What we see is two very different offenses. The Bulls have hunted efficiency well this season and finished the season 11th in the league in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions). An increased reliance on 3-pointers and free throws over past season has been the key.
Notice the biggest gap? It comes on percentage of points scored via the 2-point shot. That’s where every team does the majority of its damage, but the Bucks have carved out more real estate here by a fairly significant amount over the Bulls. Inside the arc is where the Bucks live. All season long Jason Kidd has talked about paint touches and the Bucks have pretty regularly out-scored opponents in the paint, but that’s not the only place where they out-score the Bulls.
The Bucks take a higher percentage of shots within five feet of the hoop, but a huge difference comes on shots between 15-19 feet from the hoop where the Bucks take 18% of their shots and the Bulls take 13.5% of their shots. Milwaukee connects on a slightly higher percentage of these shots, but having a bit more affinity for the mid-range jumper is a significant contributing factor in their reliance on two point shots.
Ideally, they’d extend those shots out behind the arc, but as we’ll see in a moment, Milwaukee may not exactly have the personnel for that.
O.J. Mayo is Milwaukee’s most diverse offensive threat. Jared Dudley relies on the 2-point shot slightly less, but the majority of his shots are catch and shoot jumpers, whether he’s shooting a two or a three. Mayo at least offers the threat of a drive, as evidenced by his higher percentage of points from free throws than his 3-point threat counterparts in Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova and even Khris Middleton.
Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Mayo is tough to rely on, as evidenced by his 1-7 showing in game one. Such is the life of a NBA reserve. Some games they have it, some games they don’t. He can’t and isn’t asked to regularly bear the load of Milwaukee’s offense. That job falls upon guys like Middleton, Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The lack of offensive diversity for MCW and Giannis isn’t something we need a graph to point out, but if you glance ahead at the highest usage guys on Chicago, guys like Rose, Butler and Mirotic, you see that none of them rely on the 2-point shot for more than 60% of their points. Both Giannis and MCW have scored over 70% of their points without the help of the 3-point shot or free throws. If you’re wondering how the Bulls are so much more efficient than the Bucks, that’s a great place to start.
Mirotic is a super interesting offensive player when viewed through this lens. He wasn’t a huge problem for Milwaukee in game one, but he could prove to be a thorn in their side yet. Less than 40% of his points come from 2-pointers! He’s camping outside and pump-faking his way into free throws at an extreme rate. He’s like Ilyasova taken to a maximum level.
As many as six players can hurt Milwaukee from outside and guys like Mirotic, Butler, Rose and Gasol post real problems getting to the line. Chicago finished the season fourth in the league in free throw attempts. In game one, this wasn’t too much of a problem for the Bucks, as Milwaukee actually outscored the Bulls 17-15 from the line, but that may prove to be an exception as the series goes on.
Chicago’s offense is impressive. They do a lot of things that give defenses trouble and the way they very fluidly moved the ball from strong side to weak side created a lot of open shots against the Bucks on Saturday night. Realistically, the Bucks aren’t going to be able to score at Chicago’s level when that offense is operating at its peak.
So Middleton was right after the game when he spoke to reporters:
“We just have to make them do things that they don’t usually do,” Middleton said. “Once we make those adjustments, I think we will be fine.”
Can the Bucks force the Bulls inside the arc and keep them off the free throw line? It may be Milwaukee’s only hope.