How Small Ball Would Lead Milwaukee on a Big Run

How Small Ball Would Lead Milwaukee on a Big Run

The Milwaukee Bucks are a conundrum. They're pure Jekyll and Hyde, feast and famine. A season that began with so many expectations and such promise finished with just 44 wins, a seventh seed and the separation from former Head Coach Jason Kidd. The Bucks were often criticized under Kidd's reign for having an over-aggressive defense and inefficient offense. The Bucks defensive strategy often put them in a scramble, giving up wide open corner threes and layup attempts. The offense was an old school homage to the midrange jumper and low block post iso, which lacked efficiency when compared to the run and gun offenses of today. But the biggest problem the Bucks have had in the Giannis era is who they surround him with much more than the X's and O's.

I think there's an easy fix to the woes that would set the Bucks on a path to play into June. I don't think we'll see the Bucks take this strategic route when we see them tip off their series with Boston Sunday, but as soon as we see this approach, I believe the Milwaukee Bucks will become the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

 So to give a look at what we should see in Milwaukee next year, let's put together a small ball game plan for Joe Prunty's squad that he could throw in against the Celtics, even though we all know he won't.

Starting Lineup (Minutes in Rotation)

PG1- Eric Bledsoe (34)
PG2- Malcolm Brogdon, (32)
SF- Khris Middleton (36)
PF- Jabari Parker (32)
C- Giannis Antetokounmpo (40)

The Bucks will not do this, this year. If you're looking for proof... there is no record at of the Bucks ever running this lineup all year long. Not one time. Which would seem pretty shocking considering the strengths of each player and how they complement each other, but Parker and Brogdon both missed extensive time this year so maybe we can give Kidd/Prunty the benefit of the doubt here.

1) Eric Bledsoe: 17.7 PPG, 47.3% FG, 34.7% 3pt, 5 APG, 3.8 RPG

Bledsoe has had a great year in Milwaukee, even if you wouldn't notice it as a casual observer. He's shooting just under 50 percent from the field despite questionable shot selection and a solid threat from deep at 34 percent. 


  • Bledsoe's biggest strength is that he gives the Bucks a two-headed monster in transition. Giannis is a rare end-to-end threat and together, Giannis and Bledsoe are a violent transition duo. 
  • Eric has a 6'7 wingspan to go with his modest 6'1 frame. This allows him to comfortably switch on to bigger wings and forwards and contest shots from out of his area.

  • The assist number for a modern NBA point guard (5apg) is way too low for the Bucks to take out Boston. Part of this is the iso-heavy style of play of Kidd/Prunty, so again, you can give Bledsoe the benefit of the doubt a bit here. 
  • Takes too many two point jump shots off the dribble. He'll need to commit 100 percent to creating for others and finishing at the rim for this to work.
  • 3.8 rebounds per game are way too low as well. For him to help us in our small ball lineup, we need him to be between 6-8 rebounds per game in this series. Rebounding down is even more crucial when you're playing a lineup smaller than your opponent.
2) Malcolm Brogdon: 13 PPG, 48.5% FG, 38.5% 3pt, 3.3 RPG, 3.2 APG

Brogdon's quad injury that kept him out during the bulk of the playoff push was a big loss for the Bucks. Brogdon is an elite defender who can stretch the floor. Before his injury he was showing a much improved game off the bounce as well.


  • Shot 40% from field last season and is hovering right around that number again. He can be a floor spacer for Giannis and Bledsoe as they put pressure on the rim.
  • Can defend multiple positions.
  • Capable off the bounce. Like the rest of this lineup, Brogdon can put pressure on the rim.


  • A bit undersized compared to a traditional wing.
  • Low rebound and assist numbers would have to go up for this style to work.
3) Khris Middleton: 20 PPG, 46.6% FG, 35.5% 3pt, 5.2 RPG, 4 APG

Middleton is enjoying the best season of his career thus far and provides a lethal skill set for Milwaukee to use in crunch time.


  • Middleton can guard three traditional positions and is a very good rebounder for a guard and a very good assist man for a primary-threat scorer. 
  • Khris draws a ton of attention. Because of his ability to make shots from everywhere on the floor, he tends to draw an extra dig from secondary defenders. 

  • One weakness. Shot selection. Middleton gets very inefficient at times with the contested midrange jumpers. Bucks fans call it the "Tough Shot Express." 
4) Jabari Parker: 12.6 PPG, 48.2% FG, 38.3% 3pt, 5 RPG, 1.9 APG

Before another ACL injury last season, Parker was averaging 20 points and six rebounds per game. Parker hasn't been a consistent 20+ scorer since his return but he may be the X-factor when it comes to a first-round upset.


  • Jabari is a very good three point shooter, especially off the catch. 
  • He's a matchup nightmare for most teams because of his ability to score off the drive and finish on the block.

  • Has no concept defensively. Not only is he a subpar on-ball defender, he's a ghost off the ball and in transition. You can't expect any help from him on scrambles, transition breaks or long rebounds.
5) Giannis Antetokounmpo: 26.9 PPG, 52.9 FG %, 30.7% 3pt, 10 RPG, 4.8 APG

Giannis is consistently improving as one of the biggest stars in the NBA and he still has yet to be used in a way that would make him virtually impossible to defend.


  • At around the seven-foot mark, he's a monster off the dribble.
  • He's developed his perimeter game and is now a decent shooter from midrange and deep.
  • Can guard every position on the floor.
  • Constant triple-double threat when surrounded by shooters.

You could say that Giannis' weaknesses lie in his perimeter shooting, but at 30% from three, he's improved to the point that you have to guard him there. To add to that, if you play him at the five, his weaknesses are hidden by the fact that opponents have to either go small to keep him in front, or be okay with their fives getting beat off the bounce all night.

Bench Options:

Point Guard- Brandon Jennings
Shooting Guard- Tony Snell/Shannon Brown
Small Forward- Tony Snell
Stretch Four- Tony Snell/Shabazz Muhammed
Stretch Five- Thon Maker

This leaves Prunty with a rotation of eight but an option of ten in emergencies. I wouldn't go outside of this group. Brandon Jennings is a shot creator who can create pace. He struggles defensively and never shoots a very high percentage from the field, but a 10-12 minute stretch as a replacement for Bledsoe should be a perfect fit.

Tony Snell can play the 2, 3 or 4 in our small ball system. A natural 3 & D wing with serious length. Stretches the floor and makes it hard for the opponents to do the same.

Thon Maker. Why not Henson or Zeller? The 8-12 minutes that Giannis won't be the five man is absolutely crucial to making this lineup work. Thon Maker can stretch the floor and protect the rim. He is not the best rim protector or rebounder in the group of centers, but he's got the best skill set for what the Bucks should be trying to do. 

Offensive Attack:

Get your popcorn ready because the Bucks are going to be running. All outlet passes should go to Giannis or Bledsoe first and they don't give the ball up unless it's to create a shot for Brogdon, Parker or Middleton off the catch.

In the halfcourt, we need to simplify and spread it out. Giannis should be involved in every ballscreen as either the ballhandler or screener. With Giannis at the five, you force Brad Stevens to either go small to guard Giannis off the bounce or stick with centers that can't keep him in front.

No more midrange jump shots. Penetrate to shoot, much like Villanova does under Jay Wright (who really needs to be the next Bucks head coach). Milwaukee has five attacking ballhandlers on the floor in these lineups, there's no reason to settle for anything other than a three, dunk or foul.

The Bucks have the advantage off the bounce at every single position. To add to the threat, all five of them can shoot the three pointer. This forces defenders to pick their poison. Would you rather have Giannis on a one-on-one drive to the rim or an open kickout to Brogdon, a 40% three point shooter?

Defensive System:

This small ball lineup has some length and athleticism. I think the Bucks should switch every position on ballscreens and handoffs and fight through off-ball screens. I think they should guard the ball straight up instead of "sending" the ball to either the corner or middle.

In the post, I think the Bucks should 3/4 front and play one-on-one on catches. There will be possessions where guys like Greg Monroe go and get a bucket but they'll never be able to guard Giannis.

The biggest key for the Bucks is to simplify and keep the ball in front. By switching hand-offs and ballscreens, this keeps the ball on the perimeter without giving any space inside the three-point line. Milwaukee needs to be able to contest every shot off of screens and wall up in the paint. 

The biggest struggle the Bucks may see in this small ball philosophy is that the guards will NEED to rebound down. Milwaukee doesn't give anything up athletically by playing Giannis and Parker at the four and five, but the guards have to negate the size advantage that opponents will try to throw at them in the playoffs.


The Bucks will not do any of this, which means my hope of my home team moving to the second round will have to wait another year until Jay Wright shows up on the lakeshore. I think the Bucks will play a traditional lineup, run traditional sets, trap and scramble defensively and get beat by Boston in either five or seven games.

If the Bucks went small and Giannis had space to operate for an entire series... what happens?
Tweet me your thoughts! 


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