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March 15, 2011
The Clipboard
The Bucks Stop There

by Sebastian Pruiti

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Even before Milwaukee's 56-point performance in Boston, the Bucks were considered by many the worst offensive team in the NBA this season. The numbers back that up--Milwaukee has the worst Offensive Rating in the NBA, scoring just 98.3 points per 100 possessions. The average is 104.3. In addition to their low efficiency, the Bucks also sport the worst True Shooting Percentage (TS%) in the league, with a TS% of 50.4 percent well below the league average of 54.1.

The biggest problem that I have seen with the Bucks' offense is that they don't get to the rim enough and they take way too many jumpers. Both the Milwaukee coaching staff and its players are to blame here. The staff is to blame is because they run way too many sets that result players taking jump shots. The players are to blame because when they are not running sets that results in jump shots, they are still taking jump shots.

In terms of the play calling, Milwaukee run plays that end up in possessions described as spot-ups 23.3 percent of the time, second in the NBA according to Synergy Sports Technology. This would be understandable if the Bucks were knocking down these shots, but they aren't, as they only shoot 38.4 percent on spot-ups, 22nd in the league. It's not good enough to justify taking that many spot-up jumpers. Again, to me, it all comes down to play calling:

This clip is a good example of how perimeter oriented the Bucks offense actually is. You have a nice set, initially designed to get John Salmons a jumper coming off of a staggered pin-down screen. It isn't there, and this is where the offense tends to stall. Instead of looking to get the basketball inside, the ball gets passed along the perimeter, and eventually Keyon Dooling takes a contested three-point shot.

Here is another example of Milwaukee just passing the basketball along the perimeter. The ball doesn't go inside of the paint except for dribble penetration where the team isn't looking at the rim, but for a kick-out back to the three-point line. Eventually, Dooling has to take a three-point shot as the shot clock expires. Again, it is just a perimeter-oriented offense with the team not even looking for a post entry to give the defense a different look.

Here, the Bucks have four players standing outside the three-point line and when they cut, they cut along the three-point line instead of cutting through the paint. Again, the Bucks are forced to take a contested three-point shot.

To me, while the players are making the decisions on the court (in terms of where/who to pass it to) the general offensive philosophy of being perimeter oriented comes down to coaching. Milwaukee runs this offense so much in the half-court that if it wasn't what coach Scott Skiles wanted, he would be on his guys to change things. The fact that this happens so consistently tells us that Skiles is fine with these jumpers, and that is a problem.

So while the coaching is responsible for the overall offensive philosophy in the half-court, the players are as much to blame, specifically in the pick-and-roll offense. The top two ball handlers in the pick-and-roll offense for Milwaukee are Brandon Jennings (29.6 percent of total pick-and-roll/ballhandler possessions) and John Salmons (20.1 percent). Jennings is actually an average player in the pick-and-roll, with 0.91 points per possession and he's shooting 41.8 percent when coming off of ball screens. Salmons on the other hand, is a below average player when coming off of ball screens, and this is due to his tendency to settle for jumpers instead of attacking basket and getting to the rim.

When Salmons uses a screen (versus going away from it), he either takes a dribble jumper or attacks the rim. When he attacks the rim, Salmons is very successful, averaging 1.26 points per possession on 52.2 percent shooting (good for 13th in the NBA):

Here, Salmons gets a ball screen set for him and as that happens Marcin Gortat steps out to hedge on the screen. Salmons turns the corner and instead of settling for a jumper, he attacks the rim and gets a lay-up out of it.

On this play, Salmons gets another ball screen, and again there is an opportunity to settle for a jumper. Instead, he stays persistant, turns the corner, and attacks the rim for the lay-up.

After dribbling the clock out, Salmons again gets a ball screen. Again, he comes off of it and the big hedges out on him. The biggest thing for Salmons when he attacks the rim is he stays persistent. He keeps his dribble alive and he works around the big to get to the rim. That is exactly what happens here Salmons is rewarded with the and-1.

Despite his success when attacking the rim, Salmons does it just 20.8 percent of the time he comes off of a ball screen. Instead, Salmons opts to take a dribble jumper 78.5 percent of the time. When he settles for a dribble jumper, Salmons is a much less effective player coming off of a ball screen, posting a PPP 0.755 on 33.3 percent shooting (good for 128th out of 176 players in the NBA that have used a ball screen at least once this season):

On this play, Salmons gets the ball screen and the big, Nenad Krstic, hedges out on him. Instead of staying persistent and turning the corner looking to attack the rim, Salmons settles and takes the jumper that he misses.

Here, Salmons gets the ball screen on the wing and uses it. Instead of attacking the big switched onto him (the baseline is wide open), Salmons actually dribbles away from the rim, opting for a fall away jumper instead of attempting to attack the rim.

Finally, Salmons comes off of the screen as his defender, Paul Pierce, goes under it. Normally, when a defender goes under the screen, a jump shot is the proper choice. However, in this case Pierce goes under the screen so lazily that there is a lot of space for him to attack. Instead, he opts for a jumper that he misses.

Just watching when Salmons attacks the rim versus settling for jumpers you can notice a difference in his mentality, and unfortunately for himself and the Bucks, he takes the easy way out and settles for jumpers far too much. Salmons is just one example (granted, the most extreme example) on a team that settles for jumpers time and time again. Maybe the biggest indicator of the Bucks and their willingness to settle for jumpers is the fact that they have the least amount of makes at the rim in the NBA, making just 12.7 shots at the rim per game, according to HoopData.com.

In the NBA, there are jump shooting teams that have success (the one that really sticks out in my mind are the San Antonio Spurs, who when running the pick-and-roll use the three-point shot as their number one option versus hitting the roll man or attacking the lane), but those teams have competent shooters who have confidence in their ability to knock down jumpers. The Bucks on the other hand are a team at their worst when they are settling for jumpers, yet they continue to do so, and in my opinion, that is the main reason why their offense has been sputtering all season.

The 2010-11 Pro Basketball Prospectus is now available in paperback form on Amazon.com. For sample chapters and more information, see our book page.

You can follow Sebastian on Twitter at twitter.com/@SebastianPruiti.

Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.

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