To start the season, the Milwaukee Bucks have employed numerous different lineup configurations. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is using a lot of unusual five-man combinations, both out of necessity due to injuries and partially as a strategy to tinker with the roster to discover who gels well together.
Milwaukee has employed 206 different five-man units through 19 games. Behind the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, and Toronto Raptors, that is the NBA’s seventh-highest total.
The usual starters, Jrue Holiday, Jevon Carter, Grayson Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Brook Lopez, have been combined the most frequently. The next highest combo has played for 28 minutes; they have played 127 minutes together. With the second-highest net rating of any five-man lineup that has played at least 100 minutes together this season, this combination has also been the most effective.
They are utterly dominant on defence, with Holiday and Carter leading the attack on the guards and Lopez and Antetokounmpo guarding the paint. According to Cleaning the Glass, their 94.5 defensive rating puts them in the 97th percentile. They not only make teams take difficult shots, but they also make many of turnovers. It will be entertaining to watch them improve after Allen begins Khris Middleton.
If I didn’t include a little example disclaimer moving forward, I would be failing in my duty. It’s crucial to keep in mind that a single outlier performance might have a significant impact on the lineup groups as a whole.
Surprisingly, their second-most frequently used lineup performs better than their starting lineup. With eight games and 28 minutes of combined time, George Hill, Wes Matthews, Jordan Nwora, Bobby Portis, and Antetokounmpo had a net rating of 32.8. (about 10 points better than the starters). Hot shooting and a potent offensive strategy focused on Antetokounmpo have been their driving forces.
When possible, Budenholzer like to keep one of his elite bigs on the court. The best rim protectors in the game are Antetokounmpo and Lopez, who act as the final line of defence. As a result, Portis is playing more power forward in Milwaukee than ever before. Serge Ibaka is available when not teamed with the defensive superstars to provide more assistance.
The more challenging part is the wing. With the exception of two games, the Bucks have played without Pat Connaughton, and Middleton and Joe Ingles have yet to make their season debuts. The roster is now lacking in both strength and size.
In order to bridge that gap while Holiday and Carter take over the starting backcourt positions, Allen has been asked to switch to the three. After just spent 12% of his time there the previous season, he now spends about half of his time at the three. However, none of them have yet to step up: Nwora, Matthews, and newcomer MarJon Beauchamp have all received run on the wings. Now that he’s back, Connaughton will aid in filling that immediate vacuum.
Guard has been much more hygienic. Hill, Carter, and Holiday make up Budenholzer’s three-man rotation, with one of them always on the court managing the offence. They can also play together, which allows the Bucks to experiment with different roster combinations.
For Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo’s versatility unlocks every door. He can go up or down a position depending on the mismatch the Bucks want to take advantage of. If he chooses the three, Lopez and Portis will shoot enough around him to keep the floor open. Milwaukee has the pieces on the roster to force teams to pay if he switches to the five.
The Bucks’ whole season is spent practising for the playoffs under Budenholzer. They want to establish solid routines so they can make another genuine attempt to reach the NBA Finals. That also entails experimenting with different player combinations to discover who meshes effectively. Budenholzer is underestimated in that regard.
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