Ask me how many times I wanted to exchange sexy for new in this article title. Approximately 2.4, which is incidentally the number of blocks per game Brook Lopez is earning this season. Yet neither him, his brother nor the reigning MVP are the Bucks best paint deterrents, according to an enticing new metric.
Andrew Patton of BBall-Index created an easily decipherable, user-friendly analytic that helps shed some light on how Milwaukee has formed one of the best defensive teams ever. Specifically, a metric called RAD reveals which players most limit an opponent’s best looks.
Patton was able to simplify the analytic by writing that…
“RAD and Q-RAD are defensive statistics that attempt to measure how a player deters the offense from taking high efficiency shots. Made or missed shots do not matter in this context, only attempts.”BBball-Index.com
In essence, the stat is used to determine how effective a player is at limiting field goal attempts at the rim. Additionally, Q-RAD factors in the success of surrendering long midrange jumpers while also accounting for at-rim attempts and high quality 3-point looks. It is a way to measure how adept players are at making opposing players take the least valuable shots.
The top 20 performers in this category feature four Bucks regulars yet, they are not the players you may think. When we consider Milwaukee’s paint deterrents, the first names that come to mind are Giannis and those dual 7-foot-6 wingspans of the Brothers Lopez. Despite those players providing wonderful rim protection, they are not the ones featured in the highest percentiles.
Rather, Pat Connaughton, George Hill, Wesley Matthews and Khris Middleton appear. They rank 5th, 8th, 10th and 16th, respectively, among all qualified players in the NBA. This is when you say “hmmm interesting” and stroke your chin beard. Connaughton’s chart will demonstrate how this metric works.
Connaughton is in the 99th percentile for limiting opponents shots at the rim. Specifically, teams take just about 3.5 less rim attempts when he is in the game, which is why the stat has a negative cal. For context, Joel Embiid leads the league with a score of about 4.87. When we think of players who make people think twice about going to the rim, behemoths like Rudy Gobert and Mr. Embiid come to mind. So what the hell are some Bucks wings, guards and forwards doing on this list?
Coach Bud and the Bucks implement a strategy that maximizes this personnel. Connaughton, Hill and Matthews all stand 6-foot-5 or shorter but boasts wingspans that measure 6-foot-9. Middleton’s extends to just shy of 7-feet. Their directive is to almost always fight over screens and funnel players towards the hoop.
There, Towering anchors like Giannis or Dem Lopez Boyz are typically waiting for them. These bigs often meet the ballhandler at a point in the paint that dissuades them from driving any closer. Instead, they often opt for awkward, low-value midrange shots. A good example of this fightover/dropback mentality can be seen below.
On the surface, this does not make terribly clear how that group of four keeps opponents away from the paint. If anything, it suggests just the opposite. Aren’t they encouraging players to go towards the paint where the protector is? Yet, sending bigs to drop back works in tandem with our deterring wings and forwards. Film of Connaughton further details how.
Arguably the best screen setter in the league, Domantas Sabonis, gives Doug McDermott a DHO. Instead of getting a closer look at the rim with a continued drive, or drawing the big before lobbing to Sabonis, McDermott pulls up for a midrange 2-pointer. Connaughton’s length and leaping ability tallies the block. But the wing deterrence from him comes before the shot.
Notice how the Bucks didn’t even have a plan in place that could allow switching. They all know to fight over the picks. The sagging big allows just enough time for Connaughton to make up lost ground. By fighting hard over the pick Connaughton lessens the chance of a stop-and-pop triple. The waiting big man leaves McBuckets with one option; to take a low-value 2-pointer.
This fightover/dropback approach takes two to tango. They work together to channel players into a spot on the court where jumpers are still difficult but yield only two points, not three. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, rely on Brian Sampson, an insightful Bucks writer who runs the Bucks Film Room account. He suggests that,
“Part of what makes Brook Lopez and the Bucks aggressive drop defense so effective is the bigs are only asked to defend the pick-and-roll attack for a limited time. “– Brian Sampson
Next, he continued to explain the essential role Milwaukee’s non-bigs play in squeezing opponents into taking midrange shots. Plus, he delineated how important they are to the traditional rim protectors.
“Guys like Bledsoe do a great job getting skinny and fighting through the screen, applying pressure on the ball-handler to quickly make a decision. If those guards took their sweet time getting back to their man or were consistently knocked out of position by the pick, it would be a nightmarish two on one scenario for Lopez and the defense.”– Brian Sampson
Below, the lanky Sterling Brown (who also has good RAD/Q-RAD scores) gives visual support to Sampson’s explanation as he battles with a screen before getting beat to the rim. Watch his teammates disrupt the lane and force a pass, only to have that next attempt stuffed. Teams have to be aware of all the Bucks defenders due to how their scheme insists upon them weaponizing their length and athleticism in the paint.
The clip below is perhaps an even better example. Every single Buck becomes a disruptor, whether by reaching in to try and strip the ball or going straight up for a contest. The savvy Hill reads the
escape kickout pass and nabs a steal.
Don’t believe me when I say that the Bucks go crazy during closeouts? Unsure if they really form a wall of wingspan in the paint? This next clip should ease those doubts.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I do see the irony of detailing paint deterrence by showing clips of people getting stripped or blocked in the paint. But opposing players are aware of this no-fly zone around the rim. It is the reason
Midrange Jesus Kawhi Leonard was stymied in the video above.
Often times opponents are persuaded out of field goal attempts at the rim or are forced out of the paint completely, like in the following video. Fadeaway 13-footers on the baseline with the shot clock winding down are not high percentage shots, folks.
Some signs your defense is awesome: Forcing TJ Warren – who loves himself some shot attempts – to kick the ball out of the paint. Making Domas not even consider going to the block; a technique he used to become an All-Star. Giving former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon no other option than to take a low percentage, wrong-footed push shot from 12 feet out. Yeah…no one even thought about going to the hoop.
Before the season was suspended, Milwaukee was on pace to finish as what some consider to be the best defensive team in league history. Their length across positions is astounding. When paired with a brilliant coaching scheme to capitalize on these physical attributes, the Bucks find themselves limiting an impressive amount of opponent attempts from the paint.
To boot, they routinely score high in Q-RAD; the metric that accounts for forcing opponents into long range 2s and their propensity to attempt high quality triples. The Bucks are either using their length to make players think twice about going to the hoop or, selling out to contest perimeter jumpers. In fact, they rank first in total disruption and 3-point disruption as well as third in rim disruption.
Still, it would be unreasonable to suggest that Los Hermanos Lopez and Giannis are of less importance when it comes to limiting at-rim attempts. Their mixture of defensive IQ and physical attributes factor into every team’s game plan. So, which players are most deserving of credit when considering paint deterrence? Make time to watch Bucks games when/if the season resumes and hand out your own rankings!