I’m not kidding: The Milwaukee Bucks are the worst one-on-one team in the NBA.
Among the 30 teams in the association, they are ranked 30th in numbers per possession in isolation games, 30th in goal frequency and 29th in effective shooting percentage. This is very different from the seventh-place isolation scrimmage in 2021-22, but unfortunately in line with their sluggish offense during the first quarter of this season.
Milwaukee’s offense as a whole took a significant hit. After placing in the top seven every year of Mike Budenholzer’s tenure, they have struggled to produce league average points this season. While it hasn’t deterred them from collecting W’s, it might prevent them from reaching their final goal next summer.
Budenholzer is always looking for ways to improve his team. He not only preaches about acquiring daily habits, he also lives. One of the changes he’s made this season has been to add more player and ball movement to offense and less reliance on isolation basketball. That’s a good thing considering how bad the Bucks were in these scenarios during the first quarter of the season.
The NBA recognizes two Bucks with enough isolation worth watching: Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo. And this season, they’ve both sucked.
Among 58 players with an average of at least two isolation positions per game this season, Holiday ranks last in points per position with 0.43. In the period leading up to the 2015-16 season, when the NBA first started tracking this data, 351 players (including year-over-year replays) have amassed at least two isolation games per game: Holiday ranks 351 in points per possession. No one else was particularly close.
Despite finishing at an elite rate in the circle, he struggles strongly in the mid-range area. For a player who lacks the elite quickness and ability to take down the defender, this can be crucial. He relies on his strength and a series of back steps and side steps to create enough room to fire his jumper. Unfortunately they do not fall and add to the poor isolation game.
As you can see in the video above, many of the shots he takes are heavily discussed with a hand on his face. During his tenure with the Bucks, he has proven he can beat them, but this year he hasn’t had the same success.
Antetokounmpo’s situation is no better. Among 58 players with at least two isolation positions per game, he is ranked 45th with 0.82 points per position. He is also facing difficulties in the midfield, where his percentage has fallen by 15 percent since last season.
It seems disconnected from the shooting mechanics. His shot usually comes out very straight from his hand and has a strange twist to it. Also, when he lifts the ball, his head tilts back, eliminating any chance of stabilizing his sight throughout the shooting action.
If there’s a glimmer of hope in all this, it’s that the Bucks rely less than ever on isolation basketball. Budenholzer found a way to improve ball and player movement and used actions such as dribbling handoffs to keep the defense moving. Their offense is still a bit stale for my liking, but an improvement on activities from the past.
The game is slowing down post-season, and Milwaukee will have to resolve their issues at some point before then. After averaging 10 isolations per game over the past two years, that number skyrocketed in both playoff rounds when the defense was locked in.
Perhaps the return of Khris Middleton will help (he averaged 0.95-0.98 in such games over the past three years). Adding shooters to the perimeter will help defenders stay home instead of sending additional support.
One-on-one basketball doesn’t play a big part in Milwaukee’s offense—just over gold per game—but it’s a slice of the pie they need to figure out if they want to hit the final goal again.