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Are the Bucks an offensive team or defensive team? (They are both.)

The two most celebrated Bucks teams of this century — leading up to this year anyway — each had a clear identity as an offensive team or a defensive team. They arrived in that order.

First, the 2000–01 Light It Up version sported the second-best offense in the NBA, in a virtual tie with the Lakers (that is, the prime Shaq/Kobe Lakers who won the title and went 0–2 in the regular season against the Bucks). They launched threes at one of the highest rates in the league, were one of the most accurate shooting teams from the field, beyond the arc, and at the line, and were led by an offense-first Big Three (Allen, Cassell, Robinson). Even with those three gunning though, they were still liable to drop a 120–117 early-January game to Shareef Abdur-Rahim and his Vancouver Grizzlies (even in the slow-it-down pace of the early 2000s). That Bucks team ranked 18th in defense.

Nine years later, the 2009–10 Fear The Deer squad came along. The most famous or infamous game of that season was when Brandon Jennings put up 55 points in November, but that anecdote belies the fact that the team was a firmly below-average offense throughout the season, 23rd overall. Rather, this was a team built quintessentially in the image of coach Scott Skiles, led by Andrew Bogut at his absolute defensive apex (second in the league in blocks, 3rd Team All-NBA). These guys led the league in defensive efficiency. They won a game 83–67, and won a bunch of others with similar-looking scores. But after taking a 3–2 lead in their first round series against the Hawks, they scored 69 points in Game 6 and then 74 points in Game 7. They lost both.

And now, here, another nine years later, they have the look of the best (or at least the second-best) Bucks team of the century. Only, they are not one-or-the-other when it comes to offense and defense.

So far (emphasis on so far), this is the best offensive Bucks team in franchise history. That goes for straight-up offensive efficiency, but also when we control for the offensive boom, and put the numbers in terms relative to the league average, like below.

Relative Offensive Rating — Bucks Franchise History
1. 2018–19
2. 1970–71
3. 2000–01
4. 2002–03
5. 1971–72
6. 1985–86
7. 1999–00
8. 2003–04
9. 1973–74
10. 1980–81

Meanwhile, and the bigger surprise: They also rank as one of the elite defensive teams in franchise history.

Relative Defensive Rating — Bucks Franchise History
1. 1972–73
2. 1971–72
3. 2010–11
4. 1981–82
5. 2009–10
6. 1985–86
7. 1984–85
8. 1973–74
9. 1970–71
10. 2018–19

Five teams make both of those lists: The 1970–71 NBA champs, the 63-win team from the year after, the 1973–74 Finals runners-up, the 57-win 1985–86 team (arguably the best version of the very good 1980s Bucks teams)… and these Bucks.

Can this team keep that company? In the first half against the Bulls the other night, it looked like maybe not. And then in the second half, maybe so.

The Bucks currently rank second in the league in offense and fourth in the league in defense. Since 2009–10, only nine teams have turned the trick of ranking in the top five in both offense and defense — on average, one per year. Three won the Finals (Warriors in 2014–15 and 2016–17, and Spurs in 2013–14). No other team this year is in the top five of each.

Odds are, the Bucks will fall out as well, but they are defying the odds a bit so far. Anyway, it does not appear that we will need to wait nine more years after this season for another memorable Bucks team, either.


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