Bucks Diary

Monday, March 06, 2006

Three reasons the Bucks are in trouble

After years of research and close observation, Dean Oliver, author of the brilliant book Basketball on Paper, created a devastatingly effective way to evaluate a basketball team. Oliver found that the strength of any particular team is revealed in four key areas. In order of importance, those key areas are: (1) Shooting the basketball ; (2) Protecting the basketball; (3) Offensive Rebounding; and (4) Getting to the foul line.

If Oliver's analysis is the truth According to Hoyle (and it appears to be backed up by solid testing), then the Milwaukee Bucks are in trouble. The Bucks are seriously deficient in three of Oliver's Big Four, and they are comparatively awful in the two he considers the most important. Here's what I mean:

Shooting the Ball. Oliver says offense, not defense, wins basketball games. The more proficient a team is at scoring the basketball, he asserts, the more wins they will produce. And the best way to evaluate offensive prowess, says Oliver, is to look at the team's shooting percentage. That's bad news for the Bucks. They are not a good shooting team. Their overall shooting percentage is 44.5%, which ranks 20th in the NBA. Then if you consider "effective" shooting percentages (a statistic which factors in the 3pt shot), the news gets even worse. The Bucks fall to 22nd in the league (48%).

This, unfortunately, seems to be an indictment on Bucks General Manager Larry Harris. Why? Because the Bucks are not so much a bad shooting team as they are a team of bad shooters. If you take into account the career shooting percentages of the 11 Bucks who at one time or another have figured prominently in the rotation, their combined career percentage is just 44.9%. Thus, the players are not really underperforming, they simply have a very low ceiling. Harris must recognize this and rectify it over the off season. Of particular concern should be finding a decent perimeter shooter. As currenlty comprised, the team does not have a perimeter player who shoots over 45%. Ouch.

Protecting the Ball. Oliver says that fans do not appreciate how important it is for a team to take care of the basketball. He says the ability to avoid turnovers (which includes, of course, offensive fouls and violations) is the second most critical factor in winning games. Unfortunately, the Bucks are not good in this area either. Led by the carefree TJ Ford, and the simply awful Jamaal Magliore, the Bucks commit an atrocius 14.3 turnovers per game. That's 22nd in the NBA. Are you seeing a pattern here? This might properly be laid on Terri Stotts. He continues to play guys who show no respect for the value of each possession. Plain and simple. And until he makes it crystal clear that protecting the basketball is a high priority in Milwaukee, I just think the turnovers will continue to happen.

Offensive Rebounding. This might be the team's saving grace... of sorts. They are a pretty effective offensive rebounding unit. When you consider the percentage of offensive rebounds gathered (offensive rebounds + opponents defensive rebounds/ offensive rebounds), the Bucks rank 10th in the Association, gathering 28.5% of the available O boards. By the way, when you look at the first three factors, it really highlights the value of rookie center Andrew Bogut, and really exposes the damage done by center Jamaal Magliore. Bogut is strong in all three areas, while Magliore is awful in the two most important areas, and doesn't do nearly enough make-good work in this area to justify himself to the team.

Free Throws Taken. For whatever reason, the Bucks have not been good at getting to the foul line for many years now. This year they rank 20th in the NBA in free throws attempted at 25.6 per game. What's curious about this is the team is not really a jump shooting team, as I pointed out in my last post. Maybe they are just a little passive when it comes to challenging the other team's interior defenders. Perhaps there is too much falling away on shots rather than powering those shots up. I really don't know.

Overall. The overall picture, as you can guess, is bleak for the Milwaukee Bucks. If you weight the four areas in the manner prescribed by Oliver, the Bucks are the 21st best team in the NBA, or the 11th worst. Obviously then, the team has serious flaws that GM Harris and Coach Stotts must work to rectify. That's why I get nervous when Harris says he 'likes the make-up of the team'. There's not much to like.


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