The Whiteboard: Bucks offense fumbling, Nuggets depth and more

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports /

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Gerald Bourguet has more on the Suns’ Game 1 victory over the Nuggets from a Phoenix perspective but I think it’s worth highlighting again, just how much Denver is missing Jamal Murray (and to a lesser extent, Gary Harris, who they traded in the Aaron Gordon deal).

In Game 1, the Nuggets started Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazoo, who combined to shoot 7-of-16 from the field with 10 assists and 5 turnovers. Monte Morris was the first guard off the bench and he finished with a horrific 1-of-10 shooting line, although he did add 6 assists. The 3-point shooting from this trio was problematic — 4-of-14 in Game 1 — but their inability to create anything off the dribble as a counter after Nikola Jokic bends the defense is a bigger deal. The trio finished the game having scored just 7 points on 21 drives.

Michael Porter Jr. has become a formidable shot-maker and Nikola Jokic is still one of the best offensive players in the game. But this is a two-legged offensive stool trying desperately to stay balanced, and against a much better defense than they saw in the first round.

What’s happened to the Milwaukee Bucks offense?

During the regular season, the Bucks averaged 254.8 passes per game. This was one of the lower totals in the league (29th) and reflected how much time the ball spent in the hands of one of their three primary creators — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton or Jrue Holiday. But in this first round, the Brooklyn Nets have both forced and goaded the Bucks’ offense into an absolute quagmire of stagnation.

In the first two games of the series, the Bucks have averaged just 208 passes per game with an average touch time of 3.38 seconds, nearly 10 percent longer than their regular-season average touch length. If we compare their regular-season offensive style chart to a version for just the first two games of this series we also see they’re using far less player movement with a completely warped shot selection.

It’s not just that the Bucks are missing open shots (they are — 12-of-49, 24.5 percent on open and wide-open 3-pointers so far) it’s that their normal mechanisms for creating those shots have been subverted in a variety of ways. It’s become an unfortunately familiar playoff pattern — off-ball movement pared away as Giannis attacks a static defense geared towards stopping him while four stationary shooters watch and wait.

The Bucks probably won’t continue to shoot as badly on open looks as they have in the first two games but they’re going to need a lot more than progression to the mean to get their offense humming again.

Defensive matchups will be for Hawks-76ers and Jazz-Clippers

In tonight’s games will get an opportunity to look at how two coaches work to handle key defensive matchups. Trae Young worked the 76ers defensive coverages in Game 1, scoring, creating for teammates and getting himself to the foul line. Will Ty Lue make a change and let Ben Simmons work as Young’s primary defender in Game 2?

In Game 1 between the Clippers and Jazz, we’ll get a chance to see how each team deals with the other’s primary creators. Utah is built around a multitude of dangerous ball-handlers so it will be interesting to see where Doc Rivers decides to put Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard’s incredible first-round performance was largely overshadowed by Luka Doncic and his team’s struggles but the Jazz will need to make him work for his points. Royce O’Neal was his primary defender in their regular-season matchups but Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles may also need to take some possessions and try to hold up.

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