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Examining Sterling Brown’s (good) defense, D.J. Wilson’s (meh) defense, and three other observations.
The Milwaukee Bucks have now pushed their win streak to seven games with a busy 4-0 week.
Wesley Matthews’ Infamous November
Perhaps nobody in the NBA has had a bigger adjustment to their new role than Wesley Matthews. Before this season, he was historically a tertiary threat often playing off others and taking advantage of the lesser defensive attention. This year, he’s clearly at the bottom of the pecking order-specifically when he’s on the floor for tip off.
The Bucks’ starting lineup is loaded with talented players who love to have the ball in their hands. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton (when healthy) all thrive with the rock. That’s caused Matthews’ usage percentage to plummet to a career-low 11.3 percent (his previous low was 15.4 percent during his rookie season with the Utah Jazz). Only four wings use a fewer number of their team’s offensive possessions in 2019-20.
His inactivity hit a new low in November. Coming into this season, he failed to score a point only three times in his career when playing more than 15 minutes. Unfortunately, he’s doubled that “milestone” in the month of November alone. The third time came last Monday against the Chicago Bulls when he played 17 minutes, declined to take a shot and finished the game with zero points.
It’s not as if he’s being ignored. His role on the team is simply to compliment the others and provide them room to work with around the hoop. He knew this was part of the gig when he signed on in July.
Sterling Brown’s Defense
Following a rookie season that showed a lot of defensive promise, the expectations for Sterling Brown were tempered after Year 2. It’s quickly reverting back to hope after a strong start to the season.
Brown is playing his most natural position of small forward more than ever and its led to great individual and team results. His 90.1 defensive rating is basically at the top of the NBA and is three whole points better than the great Joel Embiid. He’s regularly clamping up his opponent:
Try as he might, Zach LaVine can’t get around Brown. He starts by dribbling toward a ball screen in the middle of the floor, but spins back toward his left as he rejects it. He then hesitates momentarily before hitting the turbo and exploding to the hoop. Brown stays attached to his hip through it all and forces the turnover which leads to a fastbreak bucket at the other end.
Brown’s great at helping his teammates too. He’s always been active at that end of the floor and he’s finally beginning to pair it with an advanced understanding about where to be and when to be there. Watch here as he baits the ball-handler into a turnover:
The Bucks desperately need another wing who can step up and help take some of the defensive load off Khris Middleton. It’s too much to ask of him to defend the other player’s best perimeter player and be the second fiddle on offense. Brown provides Milwaukee with another option to throw at the opposition and keep Middleton fresh down the stretch.
D.J. Wilson saw his first extended playing time of the season in the past week, averaging 16.5 minutes in his two appearances. He’s brimming with defensive potential, but has struggled to see the floor throughout his time in the NBA.
He’s all arms and legs and moves tremendously well for a near seven-footer. His approach is straight herky jerky, but, hey, it mostly works! He’s often able to slide his feet to stay with his man and use his long wingspan to make them shoot over him:
Future superstar (just ask him) Christian Wood gives it his all on the way to the bucket in the third quarter. He hits Wilson with a fake dribble handoff, a hesi and a straight line drive. Wilson absorbs it all, including the contact, and forces a shot off the back of the iron.
Wilson’s effort and energy are to be applauded. He goes hard all the time and understands his path to more playing time. Unfortunately, that hurts him at times:
As the Bucks are quickly matching up in transition, Wilson fails to effectively communicate with his teammates. Instead of picking up the lone uncovered player at the top of the key, he runs all the way to the paint to call off George Hill on a bigger post player. It leads to an unguarded Trae Young and a semi-open three-point attempt by the point guard.
Wilson’s heart was in the right spot. He wanted to avoid a mismatch down low and match up with the proper assignment. However, it’s most important to ensure all five guys are guarded in that situation-something that didn’t end up happening.
Bledsoe To Giannis
We don’t see nearly as many alley-oops as we should with someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo. When we see three(!) in one week, we have to hit the pause button and celebrate:
Getting To The Rim
After a slow start in their number of attempts around the rim, the Bucks’ arrow is pointing straight up. They began last week ranked 22nd in the NBA by attempting only 33.9 percent of their shots within four feet of the basket. After pounding the paint in four straight games, they suddenly rank 12th with an average of 35.5 percent.
Their whole offense is built around attacking and getting shots near the hoop. Their main cogs on offense, Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe, thrive when they attack downhill and get things going around the rim. When they get deep into the lane it disrupts the entire defense.
And defenses know this too. That’s why the “build the wall” strategy has become so popular this season. Antetokounmpo is a wrecking ball and destroys the best-intentioned game plans when he can consistently get shots at the basket. Ditto for Bledsoe.
Despite a propensity for bombing away from the outside, Mike Budenholzer wants his team to make a concerted effort to attack the rim. It opens up the floodgates. The Bucks took 40.6 percent of their shots at the rim last season, second-best in the NBA. Don’t be surprised to see this year’s number continue to trend upward.