If this has felt like a weird season for the Milwaukee Bucks,
it's because it has been.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton have
all missed at least 10 games this season. Brook Lopez has missed
all but eight games.
The defense has been flipped on its head, in large part due to
Lopez's extended absence after the season opener. They went from a
drop-heavy system to one of aggression; it looked good ... until it didn't.
Injuries, COVID absences, rotation and personnel changes (hi
Serge Ibaka), general malaise. That isn't unique to the Bucks, but
you'd like to have a firmer handle on a team that just won a
Tuesday night's showing against the Philadelphia 76ers served as
a nice reminder to the masses: They are monsters when
healthy, and can ramp things up on both ends of the floor.
Good things happen when the Giannis-Jrue-Middleton triumvirate
is on the floor together. The Bucks have a 33-9 record in games
they play together. Per Cleaning The Glass, Milwaukee is outscoring
opponents by nearly 12 points per 100 possessions with them on the
Further, the Bucks are at their most dangerous when all three
players are used together. That Net Rating is high
because their offense (121.0 Offensive Rating) is absolutely
absurd. Their skill sets also contrast enough to force defenses
into uncomfortable positions when teaming up in set plays.
Take this doozy that the Bucks ran late in the fourth quarter of
Tuesday night's affair.
The Bucks set up in HORNS, one of the most common offensive
alignments in the league. If you see a player at each elbow and a
player slotted in each corner, that's what it is.
What I love about this is the Bucks take a routine look and flip
it on its head. The Bucks love running Middleton off a Giannis
screen to set up a high ball-screen with a spread floor. It'd look
something like this.
But instead, Middleton sets a screen for
Holiday, which throws the Sixers off.
The Sixers are planning to switch anything involving these three
players, but the positioning of Middleton and Giannis make things
tough. Tobias Harris isn't in position to cleaning switch onto
Holiday after the impromptu screen; Georges Niang can't really leap
out to take him because he has the Giannis assignment, and you
don't want him rolling into open space.
And that's what makes this play genius from the Bucks. They know
the Sixers plan to switch, so they set up their spacing in a way to
make that exchange difficult.
The Giannis portion is especially fascinating. As the saying
goes, the best way to beat a switch is with a slip; sure enough,
Giannis slips that sucker as Harris and Niang try to figure out the
Holiday assignment on the fly.
Giannis doesn't just slip; he slips to the
side with a single shooter. Wes Matthews is stashed in the corner,
defended by Tyrese Maxey. Because they're on the weak side, Maxey
is the "low man" on this play. His responsibility is to tag Giannis
on the role.
That poses two problems, though:
1) Maxey also has to account for Matthews, a
career 41.6% shooter from the corners.
2) Maxey is at a significant size disadvantage even if he does
fully commit to Giannis.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, Maxey doesn't choose Door No. 1 or
Door No. 2; instead, he gets caught in no man's land. Giannis gets
an uncontested lob as a result.
In a shocking turn of events, the Bucks went to the same action
roughly a minute later. If you're nice, you'll do it
Niang and Harris switch this time, but the same issue pops up.
Nobody can get to Holiday in time while also trying to account for
Giannis slipping to the rim. Joel Embiid tries to cheat down from
the strong side (generally a no-no) this time, but it doesn't