How are the Bucks dominating without Khris Middleton?

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The Milwaukee Bucks have been dominating on defense without one of their best perimeter defenders. A change in their defensive principles has made a big difference.

The Milwaukee Bucks lost their first game of the season Monday night against the Hawks. But, at 9-1, they still have the best record in the NBA despite starting the season without vital two-way wing Khris Middleton.

In a new episode of The Step Back Podcast, Mat Issa joined hosts Ethan Skolnick and Brady Hawk to discuss the Bucks’ hot start and how they’ve been elite defensively without one of their best wing defenders.

How are the Milwaukee Bucks winning without Khris Middleton?

“It’s highly unlikely that it holds at this pace,” said Issa, “but if it does, it’s the greatest defense the NBA has ever seen in terms of relative defensive rating. I think a big part of it is their principles, their philosophy. Obviously, their defensive personnel, they have some of the best defensive personnel in the league in the middle. Brook Lopez is one of the premier rim protectors in the league. Giannis is one of the best defenders in the league, period.”

Issa went on to call out the screen-navigating abilities of the Bucks’ backcourt defenders, including Jrue Holiday, Jevon Carter and Wes Matthews and elaborated on the principles he thinks have really made a difference for Milwaukee.

“They have been playing defense the way they started playing against the Celtics after Game 2 of that series last year. The Bucks, Budenholzer, they’ve been running drop coverage for a long time, since Budenholzer has been there. That’s their base. For a long time, they were willing to give up corner 3-pointers to protect the rim and concede shots that way.”

Issa went on to explain how the Celtics exploited this and forced an adaptation in last year’s playoffs.

“They lit them up, so they said, okay, we’re not going to help off the corners as much, we’re going to trust our guards to either trail pick-and-rolls or go under [screens].”

The results have been more space in the middle of the floor where opponents are goaded into contested mid-range jumpers against drop coverage rather than over aggressive rotations that leave the corners open.

In addition to Issa’s segment, Skolnick and Hawk dug into injuries to Pascal Siakam and Cam Johnson, the chaos with the Brooklyn Nets, the surging Grizzlies, Nuggets and Jazz, and the struggles of the Golden State Warriors.

Subscribe to the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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