Can the Milwaukee Bucks score with the Chicago Bulls?

“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.

bucks bulls points per shot

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.

bucks percentage of points per shot

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.

bulls percentage of points per shot

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.

Categories: Playoff talk

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4 Comments

  1. I like the idea of focusing our defense at protecting the arc and the paint. Force the Bulls to shoot two-pointers outside the paint as much as possible.

    This really is the time for John Henson and his amazing agility ability to protect the rim, but we need to have another big man in Zaza or Miles in their most of the time to clean up the rebounds. Instead of O.J. and Jerryd and Jared in the game at the same time, let’s put in one of our big men to replace one of them at any given time.

    Can’t we at least try this? Correct me if I’m wrong, but did the Bucks finish the season 10-18? Whatever the record, whatever the Bucks were doing, it wasn’t working after the all-star break. Plus, we’re underdogs here, so let’s be at least a little creative, a little daring, and do something different at least some of the time.

    I want to compliment MCW for only taking a couple of shots during the first quarter in the first game, and coincidentally or not, the Bucks offense was humming. I’m not saying MCW shouldn’t shoot, but he has to pick his spots carefully, and focus on getting his teammates involved in the offense.

    Again, I’d like to give Jorge a run. Take him and O.J. and Jerryd and Jared for some minutes in the first half, and see who’s on their game; adust the minutes in the second half accordingly. At the least, more guys means fresher legs. Plus, let’s see if Jorge can get the offense flowing better for the second unit.

    Finally, keep shooting from the outside Giannis. Be selective, but confident! If you’re open on the perimeter, let it fly from time to time. Focus on the rim and follow through. You’re a good outside shooter. Also, going to the rim, when things get walled off by the Bulls, keep your balance enough to kick out, or try some 10-15 footers, jumpers or floaters, using the rim or not. Don’t try to do everything, Giannis, but be one of our main guys, scoring, passing, rebounding, competing. You’re ready!

    • Couch Potato Scout

      Swisch, I love your idea, midrange 2’s are known to be the least efficient shot, but I’m just not sure the Bucks have the rim protection to successfully drive off the Bulls from the arc, yet prevent them from getting then to the rim. Also, I’m glad you appreciated MCW’s effort, I thought he did a very solid job, yet should drive and kick/drop it to the other side of the rim more often. Also, I noticed I really hate when the Bucks’ bench comes in because I feel like none of them play decent perimeter defense. Mayo, Bayless, (and Ennis although he didn’t play in this playoff game).
      I’d be ok seeing a little more of Jorge, but I feel like its useless when you’re only good perimeter shooter is Middleton (just for the moment, because I know Dudley, Mayo, Ersan, and Bayless can space the floor, but they were pretty bad during the first game).

      And I feel like Giannis should be getting the ball 60% of the time when anyone other than Jimmy Butler is guarding him. It’s a constant mismatch usually.
      Lastly, what do you think of Miles vs. Henson in terms of talent/production. I feel like Miles is just a larger slightly more athletic, yet less lanky version of Henson;(and with less ability on the offensive end) . Also, what does everyone think is the best guy to guard Pau Gasol? Zaza, Henson, Plumlee, Ersan, maybe even Giannis? I think he is the one who is going to roast the Bucks, but if the Bucks stop him they have a good chance at winning.

      To B.J. Rassam, I think realism is a horrible cult set to obliterate the world, if we were being realistic 5 years ago, we would have never thought the Bucks’ would have made the playoffs with a bunch of under 25 year olds, nor would we have thought that the Bucks would have had any potential at being a good team (seriously did anyone actually think the Bucks would hit the lottery with Giannis, or do so badly that they get the 2nd pick in the draft?) nor would he have though Herb Kohl would sell his team, or that we would ever be able to compete without Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut, and the amazing John Salmon.
      (Cue “Don’t Stop Believin’ music)

  2. Realistically, the Bulls should easily dispatch of the Bucks. Still, the Bucks improved markedly over last season and are poised for more improvements in the future.

  3. I like Henson over Miles even tho I like miles. Also Henson is our best shot blocker and he’s not much of a real shot blocker but he did have a nice block on Gasol. So Henson I believe should guard him cause neither one is that strong. Plans in the offseason should be getting a shot blocker and some shooters. I’m not talking free agency either theres some good ones in the draft.