Corner Stats: Budenholzer’s hand

Corner Stats: Budenholzer’s hand

Thanks to NBA stats, let's find out how Budenholzer has worked to bring the Bucks among the contenders for the Eastern Conference.

Welcome back to Corner Stats! As anticipated on Tuesday, Stats for Dummies has concluded and from today onwards you will find two statistical analysis per week. Today we go to the States to talk about one of the strongest teams of the moment: the Milwaukee Bucks.

“We’ve arrived.”

This is how Giannis warns all the NBA teams after their victory against the Celtics. Because yes, these Bucks are no longer a team looking for balance and self-confidence like last year: the road to becoming a real contender is still long, but at this moment it’s hard to imagine the Bucks out of the first four in the Eastern Conference.
The arrival of Budenholzer on Milwaukee bench has a huge weight in this transformation: his adjustments are not so transcendental, but they have really changed the face of the team. With the help of some statistical data, we try to understand what the coach has changed in the offensive and defensive settings.

This is the ratings chart of the last season: during the regular season, the Bucks averaged an Offensive Rating slightly above the league average and a medium-high Defensive Rating. Values of a team with potential, but still to be defined. This year the situation is completely different:

The Bucks are averaging one of the best Defensive Rating, jumping from 18th position of last season to the 3rd of this special ranking. The same can be said of the offensive efficiency, which passes from 10th to 3rd.
From the offensive point of view, the Bucks potential was already visible last season; Budenholzer’s adjustments were simple but extremely effective. They can be summarized in three points:

  • Run;
  • Spacing;
  • To the rim or from 3-point;

Very simple diktats, but it was enough: the Bucks Pace has gone from 97.2 of the last season (20th) to 105.2 (5th) of the current one. Freeing Giannis’s talent from the low pace is unquestionably affecting the improvement of the Offensive Rating.
If you remember, when we analyzed the data related to the transitions, the Bucks were among the teams with the highest transition frequency: their position was due to the will to force opponent turnovers and then run the fastbreak. This year we still find them at the top of the transition frequencies (19%, 8th), but this fact is due more to the desire to run, rather than to force lost balls (they have in fact gone from 3rd to 27th in opponent turnover every 100 possessions).

Two ways to exploit transitions in a completely different way. The chance to run more in transition is also due to the defense, which this year is much better: more errors are equivalent to more fastbreak opportunities. However, we will return on this aspect.
To complete the talk about the three diktats, we have to take the shots chart of the Bucks this season and compare it to the one of the past season:

The spacing and the search for the 3 points shots often go together: the willingness to open the court to allow players like Giannis to attack the rim without defensive help increases the shots taken behind the arc. Milwaukee has excellent shooters, such as Khris Middleton (I love that guy). Since the arrival of Budenholzer, the number 22 has increased his 3P shots by almost 3 attempts per game, compared to a smaller number of attempts from inside the area and long-2. In general, as we can see from the two graphs, Milwaukee now shots a lot more from 3 points.

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The real breakthrough, however, is the defensive one: the leap in the Defensive Rating is quite emblematic. What is it due to? Obviously from several factors. In my opinion, the most important data are those relating to rebounds. This is the situation of last season:

This is the current situation:

I have also included the offensive rebounds stats for a complete view, but let’s focus on the defensive ones: the Bucks pass from 71% of rebounds grabbed in defense in the last season to 75% of the current one. More rebounds are equivalent to greater fastbreak opportunities. This improvement of 4% is due in large part to the presence of the new arrival Brook Lopez. I already hear the observations stand up in the crowd: Cappe, Brook Lopez grabs almost 3 rebounds per game, how can he be the factor of that 4%?

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It’s true, the big man is not known for its rebounding skills, but thanks to the Hustle we can find the reason for this statement.
We find Lopez among the best for boxouts per game: about 10 per game. This dirty work allows his teammates to grab rebounds without contestation: that’s the reason for the rebounding growth. In general, the Bucks are the fifth team for boxouts, other data that explains the reasons behind the aforementioned growth.

Another data that confirms the different approach to the defense of Milwaukee is the contested shots: this year is first for contested shots when last year was among the last in this feature.

Remembering that we are talking about stats calculated on a small sample, it seems that the Bucks have arrived for real. Something is still missing to become a contender, but this season seems to be an important turning point for Milwaukee.

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