NC Playoff Previews: Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks


Apr 1, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) and Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) battle for control of the ball during the fourth quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 95-91. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

For each first round series, the staff at Nylon Calculus has put together some visual comparisons of the opposing teams featuring many of the metrics and techniques we’ve been tracking and using all season. This page features charts and visualizations comparing the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.

Series Notes

by Justin Willard – @AcrossTheCourt

Bulls rating with Rose: 5.47

Bucks rating with MCW: -0.88

The biggest outlier my predictions have probably involves the Bucks. They’re been surprisingly decent all season with a swarming defense and lots of switching of long-armed defenders, but they’ve been below average since trading for Michael-Carter Williams, or as I call him the starting point guard for one of the worst offenses ever (at least for two-thirds of the season in Philly.) Long-term, I just don’t understand going after a guard like him because his offense isn’t usable and his defense isn’t special. Nonetheless, the Bucks can take solace in the fact that defense is slightly more important in the playoffs than offense. Of course, they are not a title team, but with Jabari coming back next season and the potential of Giannis, there’s a nice future in Milwaukee.

On the other side of the court, the Bulls are secretly a bit of a mess. Most people in the media have praised the Pau Gasol trade, but it pushes Taj Gibson and Mirotic further back in the rotation and often forces Noah to play power forward. The Bulls have been better when Mirotic plays, and his skills at power forward supercharge the offense. Yet don’t be surprised if he’s wasted at small forward; it’s not like the Bucks could punish Mirotic in the post at the 4. Then there’s the lingering doubts attached to Rose and his healthy, which is partly what made my forecast this pessimistic. (I didn’t just use the rating seen above.) Chicago’s roster is cluttered, but there’s a lot of talent there and they could be a strong team for the conference if the rotations are nailed down.

Odds: Bulls 79.3%

(Team ratings are per 100 possessions. The ratings were calculated with ridge regression for better estimates and with one key player in/out of the game. (Playing fewer than 10 minutes counted as being out.) This means every playoff team had two variables. These numbers are used in conjunction with ratings derived from long-term RPM, as seen on, to calculate the odds.)

Shot Charts

by Austin Clemens – @AustinClemens2

These special editions of Austin’s NBA shot charts show offense by each team over the full season. Like other shot charts they show the volume of shots (dot size) and the FG% of the team from that spot compared to the league average (color – warmer colors are better). As a special feature for these playoff previews, these charts also use SportVU data [is this correct? I always get vantage v sportvu confused] to show how closely shots taken by each team are defended on average. On average, defenders of shots taken near the hoop are about 3 feet away from the offensive player when a shot is taken, whereas defenders of 3-point shots are usually more than 5 feet away from the shooter on average. The large transparent circles behind each dot on the chart have a radius equal to the average distance a defender is from team players when a shot is taken from that particular location. A bigger circle means defenders are farther away and suggests that the offense is generating good looks for its shooters.

Team Offense-Defense Matchups

By Krishna Narsu – @Knarsu3

These charts compare the offensive and defensive efficiency for the two squads over the course of the season. As always, lower efficiency is better for a teams’ defense.

Rotation Comparisons

by Seth Partnow – @SethPartnow & Kevin Ferrigan – @NBACouchSide

Comparisons of regular season production by Daily RAPM Estimate and True Usage components.  


by Matt D’Anna — @hoop_nerd

TeamSPACE Hunting Grounds map the clusters of repeated success for a group of players. Generally, there are two themes worth observing in any chart: overlap and size. The degree of overlap can indicate either the beauty of a fine-tuned offensive scheme, or general chaos. The ‘good’ overlap is where multiple players systematically hit from the same areas on the court; Golden State, Atlanta, and San Antonio are great examples. The ‘bad’ overlap is evidenced by mis-mashed swaths of color blending together; Boston, and to a lesser extent Cleveland and Memphis, fit this mold. Second, size matters. Typically the more precise the Hunting Grounds (smaller), the better. This type of precision represents a degree of spatial efficiency, freeing up space for other teammates activity. Notable examples include James Harden and Dirk Nowitzki.

I raved about the Bulls shooting activity spaces in the preseason. While the season didn’t pan out quite as expected (but pretty darn close!), this is still an impressive smattering of shots. Pau-and-Butler and Butler-and-Dunleavy are pairings that work really well together – each set has complimentary Hunting Grounds. There’s not a lot to nitpick here, only the caveat of all caveats – HEALTH.

This chart is fairly indicative that Milwaukee’s stronger side of the ball is on defense. The 3pt spacing is good, but the midrange is a bit chaotic – almost everyone is shooting from the similar-but-slightly-different spots on the baseline and the top of the key. Some of this could likely be cleaned up with Ersan and Middleton transitioning to purely 3pt and At The Rim activity, which would free up Giannis and MCW in the midrange.

Offensive Styles

by Ian Levy — @HickoryHigh

These charts represent offensive style, not effectiveness. On each axis, distance from the center represents increasing quantity (or efficiency in the case of shot selection). Read more about how they’re constructed here.

These two offenses have some strong similarities but are also interesting mirror images in other ways. Both teams ranks fairly high on all four axes. However, the Bulls tend to emphasize ball and player movement, while the Bucks are focused more on pace and shot selection.