Let’s review: The Bucks and Heat are tied at 45-35, but Milwaukee owns the tie-breaker. Still, the Heat have the inside track for the 5th seed because of their schedule. Their two remaining games are at Philly and a home finale against the Nets. The Heat should win out and finish 47-35.
The Bucks, meanwhile, host Atlanta tonight and finish up at Boston on Wednesday. That’s a much tougher schedule, and the Hawks, if they care about the 3rd seed, will play to win tonight against the Bucks.
And if Atlanta does win at Milwaukee? The Bucks will likely finish 6th and face Atlanta in the first round.
The C’s would face Dwyane Wade and the Heat, and that may make for a tougher series, considering the Bucks are showing signs of becoming an extremely one-dimensional team without Bogut. More on this after the jump.
Of course, if the Bucks beat the Hawks, the C’s may very well get the 3rd seed—and face….the Heat, and not the Bogut-less Bucks. Which is too bad, because there may not be an easier playoff team to defend right now than Milwaukee.
Milwaukee has now played 4 games without Bogut. That’s a small sample size, but it’s all we’ve got for this season. So it’s worth asking: How much has Milwaukee changed the way it plays without Bogut? And exactly how have they changed?
The results probably won’t surprise, but they are very stark.
In the first 3 of those games, the Bucks have averaged 17 shot attempts at the rim, 4.7 shots from between the rim and 10 feet away from the hoop and about 8.5 shots from between 10 and 15 feet, according to Hoopdata (see box scores here, here, here). *
*Hoopdata box score for Boston-Milwaukee on Saturday is not yet available as of this writing. I will update when those stats become available.
Here are their season-long averages from those distances:
From rim to 10 feet: 4.4-of-10.4
10-15 feet: 2.7-of-7.5
The trend is clear: The Bucks inside game has vanished without Bogut. The missing shot attempts have to go somewhere, and, to the surprise of no one reading this, they’ve gone out further from the rim.
In the first 3 of these games, the Bucks jacked about 22.5 shots per game from spots at least 16 feet from the rim but inside the three-point line—otherwise known as the least efficient shots in the game.
Their season average from there? 8.3-of-20.7, according to Hoopdata.
And three-pointers? The Bucks have loved threes all season long, and they love them even more without Bogut. They’re jacking more than 25 threes per game without the big Aussie, up from a season average of 21.8 per game.
None of this is surprising, but it has major implications for how Boston should play the Bucks if the teams face each other in the first round. Bogut emerged this season as a monster interior scorer; no one in the NBA attempted more shots from 10 feet and in than Bogut, according to Tom Haberstroh’s heartfelt paean to Bogut on Hoopdata.
The Bucks don’t have any other interior scorers. They’re giving Bogut’s minutes to Kurt Thomas, Dan Gadzuric and Ersan Ilyasova, none of whom are effective scorers inside.
Long story short: Guard the three well, and you should be able to shut down Milwaukee’s offense.
Two other things to note about the Bucks:
• Their offensive rebounding has collapsed without Bogut.
Milwaukee has cracked double-digits in offensive boards in just one game since Bogut’s injury (their loss to Boston, naturally), and they haven’t come close to their season-long offensive rebounding percentage in any game. This is another weapon lost.
• The Bucks’ defense hasn’t collapsed—yet.
In the first three Bogut-less games, Milwaukee opponents hit (38-of-68, or 56 percent) of shots at the rim, a percentage that would be among the lowest (i.e. best for defenses) in the league. Overall, Milwaukee opponents have hit just 133-of-306 (43.4 percent) in four Bogut-less games. Over the full season, Milwaukee’s opponents are shooting 45 percent, so they’ve actually been a bit stingier without Boges.
Of course, this is a completely fake trend. Three of their last four games have come against New Jersey, Philadelphia and Chicago, all truly pitiful offensive teams. Over the long haul, there doesn’t figure to be a way the Bucks can sustain their D without Bogut.
All of this has me leaning to the Bucks as the preferred first round opponent. They work hard, they force turnovers and they absolutely know how to play defense. But I don’t think a one-dimensional offense can score enough to beat Boston.