Building a Defensive Ecosystem and Milwaukee's Backcourt of Terror
Jrue Holiday and Jevon Carter have taken the Milwaukee Bucks' defense system from good to great.
Brook Lopez has gotten a lot of recognition for his defensive impact this year. All of it is warranted. He’s shockingly mobile for a man of his massive size, and his impeccable instincts protecting the rim are at the heart of the Milwaukee Bucks’ exceptionally stingy defensive scheme.
The men from Cream City have allowed a league-best 110.1 points per 100 non-garbage-time possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. They’re even better in Lopez’s minutes specifically, giving up just 108.6 points per 100 when he’s on the court, ranking in the 94th percentile league-wide.
Somewhat lost in the shadow cast by Lopez’s individual brilliance is the effectiveness of the defensive pieces that surround him, particularly the pair of pit bulls the Bucks employ on the perimeter in Jrue Holiday and Jevon Carter. Holiday is as good as it gets on the ball.
He’s as strong as an ox and nimble enough to mirror his opponents’ moves adeptly. Expose the ball for even a moment and he’ll snatch it away with a pair of lightning fast bear paws.
Holiday deftly sneaks around screens when dealing with pick-and-roll ball handlers and applies immense pressure chasing down would be jump shooters with rearview contests. His effectiveness allows Lopez to shine. The Bucks’ big man is best when he can stay near the paint and leverage his enormous stature to wall off the basket.
He’s capable of venturing out on the perimeter at times, but the more Milwaukee can avoid such scenarios the better. Holiday allows them to play a more conservative scheme without surrounding good looks from the midrange as a default.
In years past, opponents had a brief respite from Holiday’s relentless pressure whenever he hit the bench. Those days ended with the arrival of Jevon Carter, who while less impressive of an athlete when compared to Holiday, is equally dogged on the defensive end. He’s absolutely relentless and provides nearly identical coverage for Lopez to hang back in a drop.
The Bucks started the year playing both Carter and Holiday simultaneously. They’ve relied on that pairing less since the return of a number of players from injury and the acquisition of Jae Crowder at the NBA Trade Deadline, but it remains a defensively devastating ace up the team’s sleeve should they want to deploy it. Milwaukee has given up an absurd 102.7 points per 100 non-garbage-time possession when Carter and Holiday share the court, per Cleaning the Glass, ranking in the 99th percentile.
When Lopez is on the court with neither of the Bucks’ two pugnacious perimeter defenders, Milwaukee’s defensive rating jumps to 112.4 points per 100 non-garbage-time possessions. That’s still more than respectable, and should come as no real surprise, but its illustrative of just how good Holiday and Carter are.
The Bucks deserve a ton of credit for building a defensive ecosystem that highlights the strengths of their key players, and the team’s defensive anchor in particular. Most teams lean on drop coverage because its an easy based to build from, but one that needs to be abandoned against the NBA’s most talented offensive teams.
Milwaukee uses it as a weapon. They have the right pieces to make a conservative approach not only incredibly difficult to score on, but really challenging to get them out of. The Bucks can go to more versatile, switchier strategies if needed. Holiday and Carter have the tools to make those approaches sing as well (having Giannis Antetokounmpo involved doesn’t hurt either). They’re a nightmare for opponents.
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