The Milwaukee Bucks reportedly acquired P.J Tucker on March 17th with the thought that he would allow them to play Giannis Antetokounmpo at center more often. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer stated on February 22nd that Milwaukee wanted to acquire Tucker because they believed he would excel defensively alongside Antetokounmpo in small-ball lineups.
Why P.J. Tucker has not been a defensive upgrade for the Milwaukee Bucks
Unfortunately, the Bucks’ plan hasn’t come to fruition yet as Antetokounmpo and Tucker have only been on the floor together for an average of 3.6 minutes per game in 5 outings. The pair haven’t spent a significant amount of time on the floor due to an injury and Mike Budenholzer’s decision-making.
Tucker sustained a strained left calf on March 24th, which sidelined him for ten straight games. However, when Tucker has been available to play, Budenholzer has chosen to mostly pair him with Pat Connaughton as they are averaging 12.1 minutes per game in 7 appearances.
The duo hasn’t performed well as opponents are shooting 47.5 percent from the field on 22.9 attempts per game. The field goal percentage has contributed to the team getting outscored by 0.7 points as they gave up 29.3 points per game.
The duo’s subpar performance is related to Milwaukee’s defensive system. Bucks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer has implemented a defensive system that emphasizes protecting the rim. For example, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker had the basketball at the top of the key waiting for DeAndre Ayton to set a screen.
Once Ayton set the pick, he went over the screen and began driving to the basket. After a few steps, Booker decided to take a midrange jumper as Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, and Jrue Holiday were standing below the free-throw line blocking his path to the basket.
Budenholzer’s system has helped the team be fifth in the league in opponents shooting within the restricted area as they have held opposing teams to 62.1 percent shooting on 23 attempts per game. The shooting percentage has contributed to Milwaukee being fourth in opponents’ points in the paint as they are holding them to 31 points per game in 57 outings.
Although the Bucks have done a great job at protecting the paint, Budenholzer’s system has left the team vulnerable to three-point shooting. Bucks players usually do not have time to run back and properly contest a three because they are standing closer to the rim.
For example, Bradley Beal had the ball on the left-wing early in the first quarter of a home game against the Bucks waiting for Alex Len to set the screen for him. Once Len set the screen, Beal went over it and immediately passed the ball to Russell Westbrook on the other side of the court as he couldn’t get separation from Jrue Holiday.
Westbrook decided to drive to the basket leading Donte DiVincenzo and Lopez to rotate over and help Khris Middleton protect the paint. Unfortunately, DiVincenzo’s original assignment Garrison Matthews was left open in the left corner. Westbrook saw Matthews open and passed him the ball for an open three, which he missed.
Before the trade, Milwaukee was fourth in the league in opponents’ three-point attempts averaging 37.8 per game. Opponents converted 37.5 percent of those attempts, tied for 7th highest in the league.
The opponent’s three-point statistics haven’t improved since the trade, as Milwaukee has allowed opposing teams to shoot 37.7 percent from behind the arc when Tucker and Connaughton share this floor on 9.9 attempts.
More importantly, opponents are shooting 39.1 percent from behind the arc on 13.1 attempts in 16.1 minutes per game. Milwaukee’s inability to contain the three-point with Tucker on the floor has contributed to opponents shooting 37.6 percent on 41.9 attempts since the trade.
In conclusion, Tucker won’t alleviate Milwaukee’s defensive issue as the root of the problem centers around Budenholzer’s system.