NBA AM: Milwaukee Embracing Anti-Small Ball

While most teams are adopting small ball, the Bucks have doubled down on size and length.

Lang Greene profile picture
Updated 1 year ago on

4 min read

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There is a saying often circulated throughout Corporate America dealing with how to read, evaluate and act on developing trends in the industry. Some of the most experienced business professionals will tell you that if you see 95 percent of the crowd walking in one direction, try walking in the other direction for a bit just to see if a great idea comes across your mind by going against the grain.

The Golden State Warriors have basically run roughshod on the NBA for the past two seasons, winning a championship in the process and coming within a few minutes of repeating this past June. So it goes without saying the majority of the league is trying to emulate the successful style the Warriors have employed the past few seasons. This style involves a heavy dose of small ball, which in essence creates mismatches for their opponents because of the versatility available. Now, we can debate whether Golden State’s small ball approach will be the same this season after the defections of guys such as Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Rush and Andrew Bogut and the arrival of former league MVP Kevin Durant. But at its core, the presence of All-Star forward Draymond Green and his versatility allowed small ball to thrive in Golden State, giving nightly headaches to opposing teams.

With most of the league attempting to move into the small-ball, floor-spacing, three-point realm, there’s a team in the Eastern Conference that has seemingly doubled down on the idea of getting bigger and longer: The Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks were one of the biggest disappointments in 2016, struggling tremendously from the start of the campaign to the finish with little to no consistency or rhythm found throughout. What made the Bucks’ 2016 campaign so disappointing is that their 2015 campaign was full of promise, topped off by a playoff berth and putting up a spirited effort in their first-round series before being eliminated.

The Bucks returned their entire core group in 2016 and added a marquee signing in free agency, luring promising big man Greg Monroe into town. Monroe had a similar offer from the Los Angeles Lakers, but decided to head to Milwaukee since he was intrigued by the team’s promise. Unfortunately for the Bucks, they took a significant step back this past season – winning just 33 games and missing the playoffs. Heading into the 2017 campaign, the Bucks are hoping another year with this core group will yield much different results. But instead of giving up on their experiment and tweaking their roster to get smaller, the Bucks decided to go against the recent trend sweeping the NBA and instead load up on even more on length and size.

The club selected 7’1 youngster Thon Maker in the lottery of this year’s draft. The team has also been publicly flirting with the idea of using Giannis Antetokounmpo, who stands at 6’10, as their full-time floor general next season. Remember, this is a team that also boasts former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, who is a 6’7 point guard. Monroe stands 6’11 and the team re-signed 7’0 center Miles Plumlee. The team’s starting shooting guard, Khris Middleton, is 6’7 and third-year forward Jabari Parker is 6’8 (coming in relatively short in comparison to his teammates).

While Milwaukee doubled down on their commitment to size and length this summer, the team still doesn’t have many floor-spacing players. Middleton can knock down threes, Parker isn’t a bad shooter either and the addition of Mirza Teletovic will help. Still, opposing defenses will likely dare the club to beat them from the perimeter. So the dilemma in Milwaukee is while the team features plenty of youth and a tremendous collection of physical specimens that can cause problems with their size and length, the lack of an above average perimeter attack could turn into their Achilles heel.

While the rest of the league, outside of a few destinations, have embraced floor spacing and three-point marksmanship at the core of their offensive principles, Milwaukee is going against the grain with their youthful core built on length, size and athleticism to cause match-up problems.

Here’s a look at the players standing 6’7 or above who are currently on Milwaukee’s roster:

7’1  Thon Maker
7’0  Miles Plumlee
6’11  John Henson
6’11  Greg Monroe
6’10  Giannis Antetokounmpo
6’10  Mirza Teletovic
6’8  Jabari Parker
6’7  Michael Carter-Williams
6’7  Khris Middleton

We’ll see if the Bucks’ strategy can pay off next season as well as in the long run.

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Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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