One Team, One Stat: Sanders Asked To Defend The Basket Too Much

From Media Day until opening night,’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that underwent some changes this summer.

The basics
MIL Rank
W-L 38-44 18
Pace 97.3 3
OffRtg 100.9 21
DefRtg 102.3 12
NetRtg -1.4 18

The stat

37.9 percent – Percentage of shots taken from the restricted area by Bucks opponents, the highest rate in the league.

The context

That’s bad, because restricted area shots are the best on the floor, worth 1.21 points per shot last season. With Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings leading the team in minutes, the Bucks’ perimeter defense was pretty porous. In fact, when Ellis and Jennings were on the floor together, almost 41 percent of opponent shots came from the restricted area.

But the Bucks had Larry Sanders, and allowed their opponents to shoot only 58.3 percent on those restricted-area shots. That’s still 1.17 points per shot, but was the seventh-lowest rate in the league.

In general, the teams that allowed a lot of shots near the basket didn’t defend those shots particularly well and ranked near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency. The Bucks were the exception.

Highest percentage of opponent shots from restricted area

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA DefRtg Rank
Milwaukee 1,536 2,634 58.3% 7 37.9% 102.3 12
New Orleans 1,428 2,339 61.1% 17 36.3% 107.6 28
Portland 1,530 2,470 61.9% 22 36.3% 106.9 26
Charlotte 1,488 2,449 60.8% 16 36.2% 108.9 30
Phoenix 1,426 2,332 61.1% 18 34.4% 105.7 24
League average 60.6% 32.8% 103.1

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

With Sanders on the floor, Bucks opponents shot just 54.2 percent in the restricted area and Milwaukee allowed just 98.8 points per 100 possessions. That number was 101.5 — the level of a top 10 defense — in 1,445 minutes with Ellis, Jennings and Sanders all on the floor together.

Here’s some clips from a Nov. 30 game in Minnesota in which Sanders blocked 10 shots and contested a few more, with the Wolves shooting a miserable 11-for-32 in the restricted area



The one thing that the Bucks didn’t do well defensively is rebound. They ranked 28th in defensive rebounding percentage at 71.3 percent, and that number wasn’t much better — 71.9 percent — with Sanders on the floor. If he’s trying to block shots, he’s taking himself out of rebounding position.

Still, if Sanders plays more than the 27.3 minutes per game he averaged last season (which will require him to foul less), the Bucks have a shot at fielding a top 10 defense and remaining in playoff contention. They will certainly miss Luc Mbah a Moute on that end, but think about it: they ranked 12th defensively last season with 2,295 minutes of Ellis and Jennings on the floor together. That’s pretty amazing.

And from the numbers, it’s clear that Jennings was the bigger problem defensively…

Bucks efficiency, 2012-13

On floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Ellis + Jennings 2,295 101.5 104.3 -2.7 -151
Ellis only *781 104.5 98.0 +6.6 +107
Jennings only **601 94.6 105.5 -10.9 -138
Neither 279 99.0 91.3 +7.8 +59

*Sanders was on the floor for 249 (32 percent) of these minutes
** Sanders was on the floor for 173 (29 percent) of these minutes

If Brandon Knight can do a better job of keeping guys in front of him than Jennings did, fewer of those opponent shots will come from the restricted area and less will be asked of Sanders. And that’s a good thing.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


  1. Alex Koch says:

    Sanders, although the franchise player, does have Ilyasova and Henson as a good supporting frontcourt cast. Brandon Knight is going to build into a solid PG. He’s making progress this preseason. What’s going to be difficult is how long can they keep OJ Mayo? How long can they keep Caron Butler? Luke Ridnour? Gary Neal? Giannis and Olek Czyz are solid players as well. Middleton can build into a sharpshooter. This Bucks team could be very good in the long run.

  2. Paul Henning says:

    Great read. Appreciate the breakdown. Brandon Knight’s on ball defense has been stellar so far this preseason. What’s been missing is his offense. Ball handling needs to improve and creating on offense needs to improve. But coming from a guy who’s watched Jennings let opposing PG’s blast right by him for 3+ seasons, Knight’s defense is going to be a refreshing change of pace.

    I think Mayo can definitely improve our defense at the SG spot as well over Monta who just gave up so much size every night. Hopefully Mayo can also give us 18ppg on decent efficiency as we’re going to need his scoring badly.

    Responding to a previous commenter: the Bucks have no need to acquire a PF right now. Ersan is a great stretch four and John Henson is waiting to be unleashed with more playing time. Ersan sprained his ankle in Game 1 so Henson is getting that opportunity.

    The Bucks weakest position is probably PG to be honest, but we’re rolling with Knight this year and hopefully he can make a leap. Only two years removed from being the #8 pick in the draft and also a two time Gatorade Player of the Year in High School.

  3. Lucky Star says:

    The Bucks already have TWO decent Pfs. Ilyasova is one of the better stretch 4s, and Henson looks to become a very good pf/C.

    What they need is a playmaker/efficient scorer.

  4. bradley hughes says:

    The bucks should try to sign a decent pf next season if they can, if they cant trading draft picks and a player like luke ridnoulur in a package deal would be wise and bump the bucks up to a 6th seed contention for the next few years comining

    • Really now? says:

      Easier said than done. There are only a handful of “decent” PFs in the entirety of the league. All of which have problems just like Sanders. If they score well they do not defend well. If they defend well they do not score well. Any PF that can play both ends of the floor is already signed onto a team and chances are he is going to be staying there for the majority of his career.

    • YoYo says:

      Henson? Ersan? they need a good PG and some defense…