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Milwaukee Bucks: Takeaways from preseason action

With preseason now behind them, it’s clear the Milwaukee Bucks are headed in a new and exciting direction in the season ahead.

From the three preseason games we saw, and the boxscore stats from the one we didn’t see, we can safely say that the Milwaukee Bucks’ offense is headed in a new direction.

The sample size is of course not sufficient to conclude how efficient the new offensive schemes will really be and of course some things are generally more extreme in the preseason compared to the regular season, but at the end of the day we can only judge what we see and what we saw was extremely promising.

Let’s start with the three-point attempt rate, which at 43.8 percent is the second highest of the preseason, albeit way behind the first-placed Houston Rockets (59.4 percent).

The Rockets’ three-point attempt rate last year in preseason was 61.3 percent but it dropped to 50.2 percent in the regular season, which was of course still first by far but that drop is a reminder that preseason is experimental. Mike Budenholzer’s Atlanta Hawks had a 38 percent three-point attempt rate in preseason and 36.3 percent in the regular season, which was sixth in the league, and didn’t show such a huge difference between preseason and regular season.

Overall, I believe it is reasonable to expect the Bucks to have an overall three-point attempt rate of over 38 percent which will be a huge improvement compared to last year’s abysmal 29.7 percent (25th in the league).

Another relevant element is the reduction of mid-range jump shots, which seems to be something the coaching staff is trying to minimize.

Khris Middleton is the first name that pops into Bucks fans’ minds when thinking about mid-range jumpshots. While Middleton is indeed an elite mid-range shooter, he is also an elite three-point shooter, which is way more valuable. Middleton had a criminally low three-point attempt rate of under 32 percent last season under coach Kidd. In Middleton’s first preseason under coach Bud it shot all the way up to over 51.5 percent, and he got only 12 percent of his points from mid-range which is way down compared to 27.1 percent last season.

This preseason, the Bucks as a whole got only 3.6 percent of their points from mid-range which is the second fewest in the league after, you guessed it, the Rockets. Last season the Bucks got 13.7 percent of their points from mid-range, which was the ninth most in the league.

So “yes to threes, no to mid-range” seems to be the motto and this is perfect, especially for Giannis Antetokounmpo who now has the proper space to demonstrate his full skill-set in terms of both scoring and passing. This also rings true for Eric Bledsoe.

The main idea of the offense seems to be spead pick n’ roll and constant player and ball movement to confuse the opposing defense, while always minding the spacing on the perimeter and being aware of opposing teams’ mistakes. In the confusion, Giannis was finding driving lanes and there were many wide open shots. This led to the Bucks having the highest offensive rating in preseason at 116.2.

It is, however, important to keep in mind that the Timberwolves and Bulls are bad defensive teams and we did not see the main forces of the team (Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe) against the Thunder so we are waiting to see how it will work out against better defensive teams.

The key to this offense is to have multiple capable secondary decision makers on the floor. This year’s first round draft pick Donte DiVincenzo seems like a good example of the elements coach Bud looks for in a role player. He did not shoot well (rookie guards rarely do so we can only wait to see how this progresses) but was a positive presence on the floor constantly moving and passing with good timing on offense and spacing the floor (he is not making his shots consistently yet but you still can’t leave him wide open). Malcolm Brogdon is a similar but much better at this stage of his development.

A big question is how the more pure spot up guys like Tony Snell and Thon Maker will adapt to a role more complex than just waiting in the corner for the pass. I get the feeling that this is a very decisive year for their NBA success in the future.

The defensive scheme did still seem pretty aggressive but hopefully there will be better discipline and execution. The defensive rating of the Bucks was 98.6 which ranked ninth in preseason but the Bulls and Timberwolves are not exactly offensive juggernauts.

As for rebounding, the Bucks ranked very much in the middle of the pack in rebounding percentages, yet they finished the preseason leading all teams in rebounds per game. Considering their long-running struggles in that department, it’s unlikely that will hold up but it remains one of the more interesting details to monitor throughout the season.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: The value of John Henson’s pick-and-roll success

All in all, the preseason delivered lots of questions and plenty of things to look forward to. The preseason could not have been much better, but ultimately preseason doesn’t matter the moment the real action gets underway. Let’s hope those positive signs carry over to the regular season.

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