The Bucks are good at never losing, for some of these reasons.
1. The defense is the best in franchise history, so far.
In the span of two seasons, from 2007–08 to 2009–10, the Bucks had transformed from the very worst defense in the league to the best in the NBA. The personnel had changed a lot, with guys like Mo Williams, Charlie Villanueva, and Bobby Simmons discarded for the likes of Luke Ridnour, Kurt Thomas, and Luc Mbah a Moute. But they also had in place a new defensive system, and renewed priority on that side of the ball, with Scott Skiles on the sidelines maximizing everyone. Consider: A thin, rookie, offense-first Brandon Jennings led the best defensive team in the league in minutes played. They leaned on a superstar-level defensive player (Andrew Bogut), but Bogut was on that worst defensive team in the league two years prior, too.
The Bucks were below average on defense last season (18th), and even optimists had to assume that growth — with a similar-looking roster — would be incremental; maybe they would jump into the top 11 or 12. And finishing in that range is probably still the best bet.
But so far, they are the second-best defense in the league (behind only the Celtics). Even with offense way up across the league, the Bucks are coming off back-to-back games of holding their opponent to 95 points or under.
Defensive Rating— 2018–19
By the numbers (comparing to league averages), this is (again, thus far) the best defensive Bucks team in history — and they have had some great ones. We will see if that ranking is, ahem, built to stay, but Mike Budenholzer is putting the defense in position to succeed, in no small part by putting opponents in position to fail (by forcing mid-range jumpers, for example).
2. At long last, they are controlling the defensive boards.
Last season, the Bucks were the worst team in the league on the defensive glass. Somehow, that marked the seventh straight season that they ranked in the bottom five of the NBA in defensive rebounding.
Now, they rank seventh-best in the league. They have out-rebounded all six opponents.
Defensive Rebound Percentage — Bucks
Giannis is crushing his career-bests on the glass (both defensive and offensive for that matter), John Henson is rebounding at the best percentage of his career — hell, even Thon Maker has turned into a plus-rebounder, nearly doubling his defensive rebound percentage from last season in [warning small sample size]. Meanwhile, Brook Lopez has a comically low defensive rebound percentage, but once again he is living up to his reputation as a guy who makes his team a better rebounding team, by boxing out, freeing up room for teammates to grab boards.
3. They are dominating second quarters.
They are not Warriors-in-the-third-quarter-in-the-playoffs yet, but the Bucks have yet to lose a second quarter this season, and that includes game-dictating dominant performances against the Knicks, Sixers, and Magic.
Overall, they have a +10.2 per game margin in the second quarter this season, which is the second best margin of any team in any quarter this season.
4. They shoot from the right places now.
As talked about here, the Bucks are increasing efficiency by shooting tons of threes (nearly 40 per game, third-most in the NBA) and shots at the rim, while largely refraining from mid-rangers. Final step is more free throws.
5. Khris Middleton is having another career year. (Refer to point above for why.)
Which is a welcome, seemingly annual tradition.
Following a scorching playoff run, Middleton is hitting 57.1 percent from long range while also making his way into the top 10 leaderboard in three-point attempts. In addition to shooting threes in volume, he is getting to the line more than ever, and his mid-range attempts are way, way down.
With that, he has been an ideal number two, which leads us to:
6. They are doing enough things well that five reasons were provided without focusing on Giannis.
Who is an MVP candidate, who has not even hit his stride, who has a real stride…