Numbers show Bucks have been ineffective in slowing opponents
It's bread and butter.
Without it, the Bucks are not going to succeed on a consistent basis.
So it's understandable that coach Scott Skiles is quite concerned when he sees the numbers—and the visual evidence on the court—so far in this lockout-shortened season.
The Bucks ranked sixth in the league last season in opponents' field goal percentage (44.7 percent) and second in opponents' three-point percentage (33.4 percent). They allowed 92.7 points per game, ranking third.
It's still a relatively small sample size just 13 games into the current season, but the numbers are a bit alarming.
The Bucks are allowing their opponents to shoot 45.3 percent from the field, ranking 22nd among the 30 NBA teams. Their opponents' three-point percentage (35 percent) places them 19th. And they are allowing 96.1 points, ranking 18th.
It has contributed to a 4-9 start, including eight straight road losses, that has the Bucks looking up at plenty of other Eastern Conference teams.
"We're not that far off," Skiles said. "We're having a guy or two on a handful of possessions that is not as focused as he needs to be. And when you're playing against any decent NBA team, they're going to move the ball, they're going to find the weak link and they're going to score."
On Tuesday night it was Denver backup guard Corey Brewer running out on the Bucks, hitting his threes and scoring a season-high 22 points.
The previous day in Philadelphia it was 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday dictating the tempo of the game and getting to the basket while scoring 24 points and adding five assists and five steals.
Earlier this month, it was Detroit center Greg Monroe scoring 32 points and grabbing 16 rebounds while effectively attacking center Andrew Bogut and the rest of the Bucks' front line.
"We've gotten a little loose, a little too spread out," Skiles said. "And then our individual (defense), especially at the point guard spot, we've got to defend that position better."
Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings played a strong defensive game and the team's help defense was good when Milwaukee faced Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul on the recent western trip.
But Jennings admitted he did not play well the next night as Steve Nash ripped off 10 assists in the first quarter and finished with 17 as the Suns routed the Bucks.
"Look, the perimeter players in this league are very gifted with the ball and almost all of them are great athletes," Skiles said. "You've got to be on. You've got to be competitive and stay in a stance.
"Your footwork has to be impeccable. What we challenge our guys to do from the first day of camp is guard your guy for three dribbles. If you can do that, we'll get the help there.
"You can't be expected to guard some of these guys when they have such dribble moves. But we're just getting blown right by, not even one (dribble), just straight-line driving. It's something we have to address."
The Bucks haven't been helped by the absence of Bogut in five games or the injury to forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, arguably the team's best individual defender.
Mbah a Moute has missed 11 of the first 13 games due to right patella tendinitis. But he was cleared for action Tuesday and could return when the Bucks face the New York Knicks tonight at Madison Square Garden.
"Two of our better individual defenders have been out," Skiles said. "But that doesn't mean when we watch the tape, other people should be in the wrong positions."
Bogut has played in Skiles' system for four years and understands it well. The Bucks center believes it can work again but said he hasn't seen much improvement thus far this season.
"Our defense is useless if we're going to get beat one-on-one," Bogut said. "This is everyone including myself.
"When you're guarding your guy, you have a responsibility of keeping him out of the paint and trying to stop him from scoring. If things break down, which they usually do in the NBA, our team defensive principles are there. Our help defense will come.
"But guys are just taking us one-on-one, and we've got to react and it causes problems for us defensively. If we can't keep guys in front of us, we're not going to have a chance to win many games."
The Nuggets brought their running game to the Bradley Center on Tuesday, and the Bucks were aware of the threat but did little to stop it.
Sloppy play on offense also has hurt Milwaukee, which has committed costly turnovers leading to points for the opposition. Denver scored 25 points off 19 Bucks turnovers in its 105-95 victory on Tuesday.
"We've got to get better," Bucks guard Carlos Delfino said. "The only way to get better and get wins and change this is working.
"We have to find our principles, find our leaders and do something. If you asked me a month ago if 4-9 was going to be our record, I would never have thought it would be.
"We need to find our best basketball. Don't cry about the injuries; don't cry about the games we've lost already. We need to continue to look forward and stay positive."