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What's wrong with the Milwaukee Bucks?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks entered training camp with high hopes for this season. Despite finishing the season 12th in the East with a 33-49 record last season, there was real reason to be optimistic for this season; Giannis Antetokounmpo made large strides last season with improvement on the horizon, Jabari Parker’s knee would be 100% healthy after having surgery for a torn ACL and Khris Middleton was an All-Star caliber player last season. Then the Bucks went out and signed Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, and traded for Tony Snell.

Everything looked to be in great shape, but then in September the Bucks got the news that Middleton would be out for about five months with a torn hamstring. Middleton is the second most important player on the Bucks behind Antetokounmpo. While Parker may have better promise and be the better player, Middleton is a very crucial piece. Middleton provides that three point sharp shooting threat that no one else on the team has. While improving, Antetokounmpo is not a threat from three and Parker isn’t reliable enough. Without Middleton, opposing teams can defend much better by leaving the three point line undefended.

Around 40 games in the season, things were going alright. The Bucks at one point were 20-18 and fourth place in the East, all of this without Middleton. This was largely due to Antetokounmpo making another massive improvement in his game from the last season. Antetokounmpo is sixth in the NBA in player efficiency and can defend multiple positions.

Parker became a huge offensive threat averaging 20 points per game and shooting 49% from the field and 36.5% from three. For many of those games, Antetokounmpo was essentially the point guard and his versatility opened up the floor for everyone else.

At this point, the optimism of Bucks fans before the season was still there given the fact Milwaukee had played that well without its best shooter. Then things fell apart. The Bucks are now 23-30 and have lost 12 of 15.

What went wrong? Much of the lack of success over the last month is due to coach Jason Kidd. There are three things Kidd did in that span that backfired. One, he has stopped using Antetokounmpo as the main ball handler. Players like Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon have the ball more. While both are quality point guards, they don’t open up the offense like Antetokounmpo does.

Second, Kidd’s rotations have been poor. Antetokounmpo and Parker should be getting many more minutes together, but Kidd rarely sits either on the bench at the same time. Then there are players like John Henson, who get too many minutes.

Lastly, Kidd’s defensive scheme has finally been exploited. The defense has not been a strong point for the Bucks this season as it has in the past. Milwaukee has allowed an average of 105.4 points per game. They allowed 103.2 points per game last year and 97.4 the year before. The issues with the defense have been there since last season, but now teams know how to defeat it. It’s almost as if Kidd’s defensive strategy is to allow corner threes. Here is a graph which shows the percentage of shots allowed in each zone.

This shows the Bucks allow by far the most corner three attempts in the league and are allowing many shots in the restricted area and non-restricted area. They also rank last in the NBA in effective field goal percentage.

Kidd often mentions the Bucks lack of effort for their defensive woes, but the way the defense plays, it isn’t lack of effort but exhaustion. Every team seems to be able to drive to the basket and kick out for a corner three every possession. Then when the Bucks try to defend that there are other holes the players need to fill. The defense is running around so much it can’t keep up and even if the players weren’t tired, the scheme wouldn’t work.

The Bucks finally got some good news when it was announced Middleton would be returning before the All Star Break. While the defense was still a problem, a boost in the offense might help balance it out. On Feb. 8th, Middleton returned to the lineup. That same night, rising star Parker tore his ACL for the second time in two years. Any optimism is now gone.

The Bucks are a mess right now. Parkers’ productive career may very well be done. They still have Antetokounmpo, who is playing like a star and have Middleton back, but it might be time to tank. There is still much promise for the future of the team. Even if Parker is not a part of that future, Antetokounmpo and Middleton can be stars and the Bucks are slowly finding out what they have in rookie Thon Maker.

The Bucks can’t waste Antetokounmpo’s prime. This season is a lost cause, they should experiment and give Maker 20+ minutes a game. The Bucks also need to fire Kidd. As a player developer, Kidd is great but as a strategist and in-game coach has been horrible and it doesn’t seem as if that is changing. Tank this season, get a top draft pick and try to Own The Future as the Bucks slogan says. 

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