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The Bucks Are 15–7 And They Seem Better Than That

The end of the game in Madison Square Garden was rife (rife!) with cruel ironies, not the least among them watching Giannis — arguably the most dominant post presence going in the NBA— be stood up under the rim by Enes Kanter — one of the softest defensive centers in the league— to seal the loss.

With that, the Knicks (a bad three-point shooting team) remained undefeated in franchise history (not fact-checked) when Damyean Dotson and Emmanuel Mudiay combine to hit 9–10 threes in a game of basketball.

Knicks Franchise History— Dotson and Mudiay Both Play Great
Wins: 1
Losses: 0

The Damyean Dotson Game (he was almost perfect, not just the 5–5 threes either) may not teach us much about the Bucks and so we will not keep talking about it much longer. It felt like an aberration: the Bucks blowing a big lead instead of the other way around, the Knicks dropping 136, a healthy Khris Middleton playing 18 minutes, and so on. Mario Hezonja dunked (ostensibly on Giannis) and then stepped over the King of New York; this was little more than fuel for Giannis to build his legend in New York City and win 12 of his next 15 against the Knicks, at least. (Giannis has won 12 of his last 15 against the Knicks.)

Just a second though.

When Giannis secured that last-second chance to push it to double-overtime, it was because he snatched an offensive rebound. He missed, and the Knicks won the second-chance points battle, 10–7 on the night, a margin just enough to win the game, by two. That was a rarity.

In part, the Bucks have transformed into a top-tier defense this season because they funnel opponents into relatively low-quality shots, like mid-range jumpers (although, don’t look now, but the Bucks allow the most three-pointers per game in the NBA…).

But they also rate among the elite when it comes to not allowing second-chance points (second in the league), which ties closely to the fact that they are the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA, one of the great unforeseen developments in the Bucks looking like a shiny new team. Giannis got that offensive board and almost added a chapter to his MSG reel; the Bucks are the least likely team out there to give up a decisive offensive rebound. They also give up the fewest points in the paint in the league.

Fewest Second-Chance Points Allowed Per Game — 2018/19
1. Pacers — 10.3
2. Bucks — 10.7
3. Pistons — 10.9

Defensive Rebound Percentage — 2018/19
1. Bucks — 76.8
2. Pistons — 75.7
3. Jazz — 75.2

Points Allowed in Paint Per Game — 2018/19
1. Pacers — 41.5 
2. Bucks — 41.6
3. Grizzlies — 42.8

That is all related, and all helps explain the mystery of their defensive turnaround this season. It is part defense, of course, but it is part rebounding too.

And the defense is partly about the offense, also. Hezonja threw one, but the Knicks got out for just four fastbreak points in 53 minutes. The Bucks give up fewer fastbreak points than any team in the NBA so far this season (a surprising achievement when you consider that the Bucks actually turn the ball over at an above-average rate).

Fastbreak Points Allowed Per Game — 2018/19
1. Bucks — 9.1
2. Pistons — 10.5
3. Rockets — 10.5

All this time you might be thinking that the only stat that really matters is scoring more points than the other team. At that, the Bucks are, hmm, still the best in the NBA.

Net Rating — 2018/19
1. Bucks — 9.2
2. Raptors — 8.2
3. Nuggets — 7.6

Nonetheless, in terms of wins and losses (15–7), they are as close to the seventh-seeded .500 Hornets (11–11) as they are to the top-seeded Raptors (20–4).

How is this is possible? This is possible because the Bucks beat the Blazers by 43 points (for example, among the many blowout wins), which is easily more points than all seven of their combined losses (31 points).

Five of their seven losses have been one-possession games (six of seven if you count a four-point loss in Boston). Meanwhile, only two of their 15 wins have been one-possession games.

We are at the point where Giannis can go for 33/19/7/3/2 and be miserably disappointed about hoops, and we are at the point where the Bucks are 15–7 but it seems like they are better than that.

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