Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has had it with all the three-pointers.
No, not the ones hoisted up by his team, which leads the NBA in makes per game (14.6) and is second in attempts (40.5) while shooting 36.1 percent, a full percentage point above the league average. It’s highly improbable he will reverse course on his “let it fly” mantra, especially with numbers like that.
However, the three-point numbers opposing teams have put up against the Bucks have become problematic. Milwaukee’s opponents rank second in the NBA in three-pointers made per game (12.7) and first in attempts (35.5) while shooting 35.8 percent.
With the Detroit Pistons — sixth in the NBA in three-point attempts per game — coming to Fiserv Forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Bucks have put an added focus on defending the perimeter. Running teams off the arc is going to be important for the rest of the week, too, as the always dangerous, defending champion Golden State Warriors come to Milwaukee on Friday before the Bucks visit the East-leading Toronto Raptors — ranked eighth in three-point attempts per game — on Sunday.
“I think we would just like to reduce the volume in general,” Budenholzer said. “I think we need to be better guarding the ball, I think we need to be better at the point of screens. … I think it’s fair to say that’s something that’s easier said than done, but we’ll see if we can get that done.”
The Bucks are coming off an overtime loss to the New York Knicks in which three-point shooting played a major part in the Knicks winning. A team that had shot 33.1 percent from long range in 23 games heading into that matchup, the Knicks connected on 20 of 34 in handing the Bucks a 136-134 loss.
Damyean Dotson went 5 for 5. Emmanuel Mudiay caught fire late while going 4 of 5. Noah Vonleh was 3 of 3, rookie Kevin Knox was 5 of 12 and Tim Hardway Jr. went 3 of 8.
As much as that type of sharpshooting could be considered a statistical outlier, the Bucks know their defense – or lack thereof – also had something to do with it.
“When we watched the clips, part of it was we were giving them open shots,” Bucks wing Khris Middleton said. “They’re NBA players – you keep giving them open shots, at some point, they’re going to knock them down and they did that.”
Cutting down open shots is both a matter of scheme and effort. Overall, the Bucks have done well to limit opponent three-point attempts from the corners, the most valued areas around the arc. But there’s more they can do above the break.
On Monday, the team watched film together and during practice instituted new wrinkles to its scheme regarding how they wanted to defend along the perimeter. Budenholzer later hinted that changing how the Bucks use their big men – who have often dropped toward the rim on pick-and-rolls – could be part of their adjustment.
“I think our bigs have actually been pretty good for us and maybe we need to value them or lean on them a little more to try and reduce the volume,” he said.
As much as the Bucks are concerned about the high volume of opponent three-pointers, that alone hasn’t necessarily been a problem statistically speaking. Milwaukee is 9-3 when opponents shoot 36 of more three-pointers. Using the lens of the league average (31.1 three-point attempts per game), the Bucks have a better winning percentage (11-5, 68.8 percent) when teams exceed that number than when they hold teams below it (4-2, 66.6 percent).
The issue, though, is more attempts means more chances for makes. And as should be expected, the more three-pointers an opponent makes, especially when they shoot a high percentage, the worse that is for the Bucks.
Milwaukee is 4-6 when its opponent makes 13 or more three-pointers. The Bucks are 6-6 when the opposing team shoots above league average (35.1 percent) on threes, accounting for all but one of their losses. Of course, the Bucks have had issues of their own when three-pointers don’t fall, with Milwaukee going 6-5 in games it shoots below the league average from long range.
The long and short of it for Budenholzer, though, is that Milwaukee’s defense, which has slipped from first to sixth in efficiency, can be better. He’s going to keep hammering that message home until it connects.
“A lot of the same message, a lot of the same discussion points that we need to be better,” Budenholzer said. “We’re either going to do it or we’re not. I think the players understand it and we’re talking about it, we’re watching film. … We feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement defensively.”