NEW YORK – In one of the most important games of the season, the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks combined for 43 turnovers and 36 percent shooting. It was a gruesome display, and somewhat emblematic of this crazy and often ugly season. It was not, however, emblematic of the way the Bucks have played this year.
Really, these are not the win-ugly, lose-ugly Bucks that we’ve come to know and love over the last couple of years. Yes, Scott Skiles is still the coach. But this year, his team isn’t very good defensively. It’s getting by mostly with offense. Hard to believe, I know.
Bucks efficiency under Scott Skiles
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
No team has increased its pace from last season more than the Bucks. No team has improved more offensively. And no team has regressed more defensively.
Skiles, as you can imagine, is cool with the offensive improvement and not cool with the defensive regression.
“We felt like, in particular, with the addition of [Mike] Dunleavy, who’s having a great year for us, that we would shoot the ball better,” Skiles said Monday. “And if we could score mid-to-upper 90s and keep our defense the same, we’d have a heck of a year. Well, we’ve scored mid-to-upper 90s, but our defense has been awful. Hence, our record.”
The Bucks do have some good defenders, but they’re all in the frontcourt: Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute and now Ekpe Udoh. Skiles points to the perimeter when diagnosing his team’s defensive issues.
“A lot of our problem is just getting beat out front, with dribble penetration,” he said. “We’ve had great difficulty controlling other teams’ guards.”
The defensive area where the Bucks have fallen off most is rebounding. Last season, they ranked eighth in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 75 percent of available defensive boards. This year, they rank 28th at 70 percent. That would seemingly put the blame on the team’s big men, but if the bigs are helping on guards penetrating, they’re sacrificing their position under the glass.
The addition of Monta Ellis might eventually take the Bucks to new levels offensively, but he probably isn’t going to help in regard to containing dribble penetration. So Skiles will have to find a way to protect the paint.
After Monday’s loss in New York, the Bucks are 2 1/2 games behind the Knicks for the eighth spot in the East. But they have an easier schedule and get another shot at the Knicks in Milwaukee on April 11. They also might have a shot at the Celtics, who have a brutal April schedule and finish the season in Milwaukee on April 26.
If that game is going to mean anything, the Bucks will need to defend.
“If you have big goals, and you not only want to get in, you legitimately want to try to beat somebody, [defense] has got to be more consistent, instead of a seven-minute stretch each half,” Skiles said. “We haven’t been able to get that type of consistency.”