The Milwaukee Bucks might have the most oddly constructed roster in the league. There are gritty swingmen Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Marquis Daniels, notable chuckers Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, long-overshadowed defensive athletic big men in Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, sweet shooters Mike Dunleavy and JJ Redick, and aging bigs Drew Gooden and Samuel Dalembert. All that plus gangly John Henson and the resurgent Ersan Ilyasova. It’s clear the roster was put together without a plan and quite often it shows in the Bucks’ play, which is speedy and opportunistic at best, beyond disjointed at worst.
That unpredictability is what’s so great about this team. Brandon Jennings might go for 50, but he’ll also have a few ungodly 34 foot heat checks sprinkled in. Monta Ellis may actually have it all for one night, but he’s more likely to have a 3-22 game that will surely induce more than a few chuckles. Larry Sanders could get a triple double with blocks, but could also do this. John Henson will be allowed on the court just long enough for fans to be enticed, and just as soon as that happens, he’ll be replaced by Samuel Dalembert (who, in fairness, dropped 35 points earlier in the season).
Look, there’s no chance they upset Miami and it’s likely they won’t even win a game. That’s why we have to fall back on these small, surprising little pleasures that make such a bad team so fun to watch.
Stylistically, Milwaukee is one of the most intriguing teams in the league . As stated above, they have a wide range of personnel and finding the right combinations can be a challenge unto itself. The Bucks’ two most used lineups are the same save for two things: swapping Mbah a Moute for Marquis Daniels and getting a positive difference of more than 12 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks can also throw Mike Dunleavy into the three spot and get a differential of 9.3 over the Daniels lineup.
Finding the right combination of big men to play together situationally is a jigsaw puzzle not yet solved. The Ilyasova-Henson combination has made a late season push (why it took so long for Jim Boylan to play Henson is anybody’s guess) for the crown of best scoring big men duo.
The Sanders/Udoh duo has been stunningly stifling, posting a 90.7 defensive rating that would easily lead the league. This lineup hasn’t even outscored opponents on the season though, due to an anemic 89.9 offensive rating. They’ve settled in the middle with a Ilyasova/Sanders pairing, and Milwaukee actually scores and defends at top-10 rates when these two share the floor.
The majority of the Bucks’ offense is pick and roll action, with the outcome usually the ball handler scoring or a spot up shooter catching on the perimeter. A lot of this action is generated by side to side movement and dribble handoff speed pick and rolls.
A crippling element in Milwaukee’s offense is the lack of a consistent roll man. Ilyasova is a maestro in the pick and pop, but not exactly a great roller, and neither Udoh nor Sanders has the finesse to make the required snap-judgment pass/shoot decisions on the move.
Henson has shown some promise in limited action, but is just as inclined to pop as he is to roll and could probably disguise himself as a rail. Dalembert’s plodding style just isn’t threatening enough to pull in weakside defenders. It doesn’t help that defending guards are inclined to go under the screen against the likes of Ellis and Jennings. The one guy who could be the pick and roll savior, Gustavo Ayon, probably won’t have the opportunity in a shortened playoff rotation.
One option that would be especially feasible against first round opponent Miami, would be going small. Mbah a Moute has been used sparingly as a power forward this season, and the results have been wildly inconsistent. It could be worth a try though, where his swarming defense could help suffocate LeBron, his ability as a roll man would be more dangerous than all other options, and his quirky post up game could bully Shane Battier.
Another large chunk of the Milwaukee offense you’ll see is JJ Redick and Mike Dunleavy running around all manner of screens, often at the same time. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but is effective when well executed, especially with shooters like Redick and Dunleavy.
When Sanders and Udoh aren’t on the floor, things reach near-cataclysmic levels for the Bucks on defense. Without those two, they allow nearly 114 points per 100 possessions. 5.2% more of opponent shot attempts are layups and they shoot 11.1% better on these attempts, per nbawowy. The best chance the Bucks do have at winning a few games is having Sanders intimidate James and Dwyane Wade heavily at the rim.
The Bucks will most likely get swept, all the while hearing about the Jazz and Mavericks’ better records, but hopefully people can realize what a fun team this is. Appreciate the soft fhwip of the net after an Ilyasova pick and pop or Redick pindown, the ridiculous Ellis spinning layups, the Jennings heat checks, the Mbah a Moute post ups, the Sanders tantrums, and the rage that builds within for every second Henson’s butt is touching the bench. It may not be glamourous, but that’s what the Bucks are and teams like this are what makes the NBA great.