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Bucks gang defense opens great looks for Bulls

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The Bucks had the top defense in the East for the 2014-15 NBA regular season, but they don't force bad shots late in shot clocks, and the Bulls are taking advantage in their first round series.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, there is no defense in the Eastern Conference wing of the 2015 NBA Playoffs as strong at stifling production as the Bucks. They led the conference in points allowed per 100 possessions, the entire league in turnover rate, and forced their opponents to use almost the entire shot clock among the most in the league.

Forcing an opponent to use the entire shot clock generally increases the success rate of a defense. It usually means that the defense has effectively reset their defense, countered the first and second options of a play, have broken an entire play, and are forcing opponents to go to contingencies on the fly or improvise on offense with multiple players being on the same page. This tends to lead toward more forced shots, errant passes to the wrong team or out of bounds, and shot clock violations.

All of this said, Tom Thibodeau clearly has the Bulls prepared to destroy the Bucks late in shot clocks and it should be no surprise.

Only Heat opponents went more than 20 seconds into the shot clock more often than Bucks opponents, but there may be no correlation between preventing points in a possession and forcing one's opponent to go deep into the shot clock. Milwaukee may be an overall coincidence.

Eastern Conference Shot Clock Drainage and DRtg


Opponents Possessions
20+ sec into Shot Clock

Def Rating
Heat 431 1st 104.3 11th
Bucks 414 2nd 100.1 1st
Cavaliers 409 3rd 103.1 9th
Magic 406 4th 105.5 14th
Knicks 403 t5th 107.0 15th
Wizards 403 t5th 101.1 5th
Pistons 402 7th 103.3 10th
Bulls 398 8th 101.6 t6th
Hornets 392 9th 100.9 4th
Hawks 390 10th 100.6 3rd
Raptors 384 11th 104.9 12th
76ers 382 12th 102.1 8th
Nets 378 13th 104.9 13th
Pacers 358 14th 100.5 2nd
Celtics 337 15th 101.6 t6th

Though there is no correlation between simply pushing your opponents shot clock at a high quantity and overall defensive efficiency, defensive ratings go down at huge rates in those final four seconds. But the Bucks were an outlier.

The Bucks allowed 103.9 points per 100 possessions in the final four seconds before the shot clock buzzed--more than they did overall. Not only were the Celtics 126.6 the only worse team, but Milwaukee and Boston were the only teams in the East which allowed more points per 100 in the final four seconds than the other 20 seconds of the shots.

There also is no significant difference in a team's turnover rate later in the shot clock, once shot clock violations are removed from the equation, but that is where the Bucks exploit their opponents most. Their overall league leading 17.9% forced rate jumps to 19.1% with seven-to-four seconds remaining on the shot clock, but dips to 11.4% in the final four seconds.

Bucks opponents had such high efficiency so late in the shot clock, despite the turnovers, because of the types of shots they were getting in the cases when they got shots off. The Bucks were among the worst in the East at forcing long-twos and among those who allowed the highest frequency of threes and shots within eight feet toward the end of the shot clock:

Opp % Late FGA By Distance, Final Four Seconds
Rk Team
Total %FGA in Final Four Sec. Less Than 8 ft. 8-16 ft. 16-.23 ft 3P
1 Knicks 6.9 52.0 3.67% 32.45% 17.19% 18.89% 31.48%
2 Bulls 10.7 60.0 3.66% 38.26% 15.65% 14.49% 31.59%
3 Pacers 9.4 63.1 2.87% 33.56% 15.07% 19.52% 31.85%
4 Wizards 12.4 65.4 2.79% 33.55% 13.82% 19.74% 32.89%
5 Raptors 12.9 68.6 3.38% 26.26% 17.32% 22.63% 33.80%
6 Hornets 10.0 68.8 2.72% 33.70% 10.87% 21.38% 34.06%
7 Pistons 8.2 69.4 3.48% 35.63% 10.92% 19.25% 34.20%
8 Heat 12.4 72.6 2.85% 32.72% 15.60% 17.43% 34.25%
9 Hawks 10.4 73.2 1.90% 35.34% 10.78% 18.97% 34.91%
10 76ers 12.6 76.9 1.75% 41.78% 8.00% 15.11% 35.11%
11 Cavaliers 12.0 80.5 3.56% 33.42% 15.63% 15.36% 35.58%
12 Magic 11.8 81.5 3.24% 35.62% 14.05% 14.71% 35.62%
13 Nets 16.1 97.3 3.14% 31.08% 13.23% 19.08% 36.62%
14 Bucks 16.8 103.9 2.41% 37.60% 10.33% 15.29% 36.78%
15 Celtics 16.1 126.6 4.31% 33.18% 11.58% 17.82% 37.42%
League Average 3.05% 33.95% 13.63% 18.03% 34.39%

Of the shots allowed near the end of the shot clock against Eastern Conference teams, 49.5% were within 16 feet, 18% were long-twos and 34.4% were threes, excluding heaves. Milwaukee was fifth-worst at forcing long-twos and fourth-worst at allowing threes; below average rates at 15.4% and 35.6%, respectively. Worse, they were way at the bottom in terms of fouling opponents at 16.8 occurrences per 100 possessions, far above the median rate of 12.0.

In Games 1 and 2, the Bulls shot a 52.6 eFG% in the final four seconds of the shot clock, compared to 49.2% in the first 20, despite a lower overall FG%, largely because the Bucks begin to swarm the ball when the seconds tick down and turn their back to weak side shooter. The result has been the Bulls getting great three-point looks and a relatively average rates of settling for long-twos:

Bulls %FGA by Distance
Less Than 8ft. 8-16 ft. 16-23 ft. 3P
First 20 Seconds 41.1% 9.7% 13.7% 35.5%
Final Four 28.9% 5.3% 15.8% 50.0%

Bulls Shooting by Distance
Less Than 8ft. 8-16 ft. 16-23 ft. 3P Total
First 20 Seconds 29 51 56.9% 2 12 16.7% 6 17 35.3% 16 44 36.4% 53 124 42.7% 49.2%
Final Four 5 11 45.5% 0 2 0.0% 3 6 50.0% 8 19 42.1% 16 38 42.1% 52.6%

Just as regular season opponents did to the Bucks all season, the Bulls are not getting hurt by the shot clock draining on their offensive possessions. They are actually exploiting the Bucks overaggression and using strong-to-weak side ball movement to exploit the looks that are actually better than they were earlier in the possession.

Chris Terzic made the note to readers in this screenshot, "Notice where Pau is!". I would add: notice where Mike Dunleavy is headed, that all of the Bucks eyes are on Derrick Rose and all backs turned to Dunleavy, and notice the shot clock:

Again, yes, notice where Pau is, but the Bulls are more than halfway through the shot clock and look at all eyes on the ball and all backs turned to Pau Gasol and Dunleavy, again:

In Mike Prada's preview of the Bucks, he praised their defense in a way which could fool the naked eye that it is suffocating, but there are clearly people breathing, like 35.6% three-point shooter Joe Ingles:

And some guy named Kyle Korver, who can hit a shot every now and then, too:

Again, all backs turned to Nikola Mirotic in the weak corner as the clock winds down and he easily cuts baseline while every Buck looks at Rose. If you really want to watch all 24 of the Bulls' threes over the first two games, look at the shot clock and count the backs turned to the shooter. It's astounding!

Four or five defenders turning their backs on and giving space to open shooters is a mistake that many teams make when hyper-helping, but the frequency at which this occurs with the Bucks and the season-long exploitation by opponents bleeding into the playoffs feels like this is a gamble by design which Jason Kidd is willing to take. Combine the lowest overall rate of forcing long-twos and second-highest overall rate of allowing three-point attempts and there has to be serious questions as to how Kidd values shot locations. And how it is limiting the ceiling of his teams moving forward.

For now, the Bulls shooters are happy to accept Kidd's risky bets.

Stats via