Brooklyn Nets vs Milwaukee Bucks X's & O's Preview
An X's & O's dive into the Nets vs Bucks series. How will Milwaukee attack the switching of the Nets? Can Brook Lopez stay on the floor against the best offense in NBA History?
The Bucks swept the Heat, the Nets took care of the Celtics with a relatively easy 4-1 series win setting up a second-round matchup in which the winner will likely be the favorites to come out of the East in the wake of Joel Embiid’s injury news. There are so many compelling matchups and thoughts when approaching this series so I decided to keep it pretty simple with two main ideas:
1) How the Milwaukee Bucks will attack the switching of the Nets.
2) Can Brook Lopez stay on the floor against the best offense in NBA history.
Note: Any stats referenced throughout this breakdown will come from Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise noted.
Throughout this breakdown I will be referencing terms and concepts that I may not be going in-depth on, if you want to learn everything about X's & O's my class with Ben Falk from cleaning the glass is back on sale for the playoffs - link below.
Some numbers to look at for this matchup:
The Bucks finished the regular season with an offensive rebounding percentage of 25.7, ranking 12th in the NBA. In the playoffs against the Heat, that has jumped up to 32.4% with the Bucks showing a clear intent to attack the glass every single possession. Brooklyn’s defense allowed the Celtics to rebound 34.4 of their misses, a trend that has continued from their regular season struggles to rebound where they finished 24th in the NBA allowing teams to rebound back 26% of their misses.
Brookyln’s historic offensive efficiency
This year the Nets finished the regular season with a 119.4 offensive rating, the best in NBA history. Since they acquired Harden, that has bumped up to 120.3, and against the Celtics in the first round, they finished with an offensive rating of 132.6!!! One of the factors that I think the Bucks can control is to not foul the Nets, who finished 5th in the NBA in FT Rate, while the Bucks finished 2nd in the NBA in defensive FT Rate. The Bucks defense has been worse this season, with some tweaks and looking to switch more - will they be able to slow down the Nets offense looms large.
How will the Milwaukee Bucks attack switching?
In general, there are 3 main ways to attack switching without setting up special plays or concepts. In situations such as after time outs, free throws, or game stoppages the Bucks will be able to set up these special sets or concepts. Besides those scenarios, the Bucks can attack the switch by either posting up the mismatch, isolating the mismatch or keep the ball moving and try to exploit the mismatch by keeping it moving.
On post-ups this season, the Bucks rank 10th in the NBA overall with a 1.02 PPP (per Synergy). This of course does not factor in anything besides plays ending with a post-up, or switches against smaller defenders. There is some data available for this, but overall post-up efficiency is still a solid metric for us to look at. I think this year the Bucks will look to post up Lopez against smaller matchups, as well as Giannis against any matchup, and even Jrue Holiday against players like Kyrie & smaller guards on the Nets. Below are some examples of the Bucks posting up against the Heat:
Here is a great example and breakdown of the Bucks specifically attacking the matchup after a switch to post up Lopez.
The Bucks are 3rd in the NBA in Isolation PPP (per Synergy) scoring at 1.05 PPP, these possessions including passes with creation. Although this would not be my preferred method - especially when attacking the Nets, since this is the game the Nets want their opponents to play.
When the bucks ISO, the Nets are going to likely zone up, and really try and clog up driving lanes - especially on Giannis - and force the Bucks to beat them from 3. Obviously, this was one of the main ways the Heat tried to stop the Bucks offense and that went poorly.
Double Fist Empty
The Bucks found success going against the Heat’s defense by running double ball screens early in transition, with the ball-side corner empty. Typically called double drags, the Bucks and Budenholzer call these “77" a reference to the number system with 7 being a ballscreen, so naturally, 77 is a double ball screen.
In these double ball screens, the first player pops to the wing and the second player rolls creating “Shake” action. This is not a hard rule, as we can see in the first clip Giannis rolls as the first screener, so it may be personnel or random read-based - since this is more Budenholzer’s style.
A common theme that we have talked about in the Bucks preview, as well as throughout the past few seasons is having a guard screen for Giannis. Putting Kyrie, Brown, Harris & Shamet in ballscreen defense means the advantage stays with the Bucks.
After Time Out specials that the Bucks ran in the first round:
AI 2 Chase
A great after-time-out counter to the normal side ballscreen the Bucks ran out of the Iverson cut, the Bucks go to a double ball screen as we talked about earlier. Having a guard the first screener and a big the second screener makes it tough on the defensive coverages.
More common action we have discussed. The Bucks keep their 3 best players involved in the action, usually flowing into a ballscreen with Giannis and Middleton.
Strong Side Hand Off
One of the actions I think the Bucks will go to, especially if the Nets continue to switch everything to muck up some of the sets is the side hand-off action. Emptying one side of the floor, then having Giannis hand off into a ballscreen at the same time allows him to roll into the post and keep the Bucks attacking.
Zip AI Giannis Deep DHO
Speaking of Giannis and hand-offs, this counter is similar to the 21 Flip counter we looked at previously. Running Giannis off an Iverson cut, Forbes fakes a ballscreen and comes off a deep corner hand-off.
Something the Bucks added for the playoffs had been to run a guard off a pindown or a quick rub screen low to pick off his defender then sprint into a hand-off from Giannis. This creates a tough switch or coverage the defense is going to try and execute, expect more of this after time outs.
Can Brook Lopez stay on the floor against the best offense in NBA history?
The Brooklyn Nets are going to switch Hunt, here is how they put the defense in the worse place possible:
Brooklyn Nets “Hunt” Ballscreens
Can Brook Lopez stay on the floor defensively?
Drop Coverage. Last season and over the past few years that has been the number one defensive term and talking point in today’s NBA. It makes sense, why do teams decide to play off the 3 point line with some of the greatest shooting this league has ever seen - to allow open 3’s? Well, besides 3 point variance (just see Seth Partnow’s Twitter for more information on defending the 3), defending the rim is a priority for any great defense including the Bucks.
Notoriously in last year’s bubble, the Heat tore up the Bucks' best defense and exposed some of the issues with drop coverage. Whether or not that was bubble shooting and some of the struggles that all of the NBA went through emotionally last season, we will likely never know. All I know is I have been charting the Bucks drop coverage and in 106 possessions so far the drop coverage of the Bucks is RIDICULOUS.
You are not reading that incorrectly, in 106 possessions against the Heat, the Bucks allowed only 0.60 PPP when playing drop coverage. There is good thinking about process vs outcome, and this is obvious that the outcome has a ton of variance because there is no way this was the same in the bubble against the Heat (still tracking and editing that film from last season for the coverages).
Here is the problem: James Harden, Kevin Durant, & Kyrie Irving are night and day better than anyone on the Heat was this year.
Pick & Roll Scoring (per Synergy)
Kyrie Irving - 1.01 PPP
Kevin Durant - 1.02 PPP
James Harden - 0.97 PPP
All 3 of the Nets stars are in the 75th percentile or above in pick and roll scoring alone, so playing drop ballscreen coverage against any 3 of those players will give any coach nightmares. Factoring in playmaking out of the pick and roll, it gets even more worrisome.
Pick & Roll Playmaking
Kyrie Irving - 1.01 PPP
Kevin Durant - 1.07 PPP
James Harden - 1.10 PPP
Brooklyn Nets Spread Ballscreen vs Drop Coverage (Regular Season)
Here is the issue guarding the Nets, let’s say hypothetically that the Bucks want to look at other options and strategies to keep the Nets players guessing. Maybe, switch and force the Nets to play in ISO, or trap, maybe make them post up?
Kyrie Irving - 1.10 PPP
Kevin Durant - 1.20 PP
James Harden - 1.13 PPP
Post Up Scoring
Kyrie Irving - 1.33 PPP
Kevin Durant - 1.14 PPP
James Harden - 1 PPP
Pick & Roll vs Traps
Kyrie Irving - 1.21 PPP
Kevin Durant - 1.21 PPP
James Harden - 1.03 PPP
OK. So, these numbers are ridiculous and somewhat overwhelming when thinking of a game plan. Here is what I think the Bucks should try and do if they are going to mix it up throughout the series.
Drop on Harden.
Turn Harden into a pick-and-roll playmaker or scorer. He isn’t looking to score out of the pick and roll attack as much as he used to, he is looking to create the switch he wants to ISO or play the matchup. Try to turn him into a 1 on 1 scorer, just like the Spurs did in 2017 vs Harden.
Trap Kyrie when Harden is on the floor
When the Nets play Harden and Kyrie without KD, Harden is very reluctant to shoot spot-up. Get it out of Kyrie’s hands by trapping and make anyone else after that besides Harden beat you.
Keep Lopez on the floor & play the long game
Trust your defensive system. If it works and Lopez can provide offensive value on post-ups and the glass, trust that the Nets are going to hit shots anyways, so let them shoot them out of ballscreen and protect the paint.
I look forward to this series and being able to focus more on specific games as the playoffs progress. If you enjoyed this and want to support consider supporting these breakdowns here and on YouTube.