In the 2007-2008 season, the San Antonio Spurs were perpetrators of a no-frills style of basketball. Their defense was the third best in the NBA, allowing just 90 points per contest. Offense was more of a formality, evidenced by their 88 possessions per game average (good for 28th in the league).
Words like “ugly” or “disciplined” were tossed around in talking about San Antonio. Even their playoff success came as the result of some gritty basketball.
Nowadays, the Spurs are scoring 109 points per game and allowing 97. In short, they’re running.
In light of the Spurs’ recent offensive renaissance, the distinction of “ugly basketball” has had to transfer to another team. This year, it looks like the moniker-worthy squad is the Milwaukee Bucks.
Though Milwaukee is playing a style of ball seen by most as unattractive, they exist in an interesting statistical limbo.
In the Spurs’ 2007-2008 season, their ugly style was complimented by a possessions count of 89 per game. That number put them as the 28th best team in the category.
Like the Spurs, the Bucks are pretty dismal on offense. They put up just under 96 points per contest, leaving them in the bottom three in the category. Unlike San Antonio, Milwaukee is getting a ridiculous amount of possessions per game. At 93.5, the Bucks boast an offensive pace that’s seventh best in the NBA.
What does any of this mean? It means that the Bucks are playing an exciting version of “ugly ball”.
The Spurs of 2007-2008 were a fundamentally sound bunch. Head coach Gregg Popovich instilled a defensive mentality that focused more on making opponents’ shots as difficult as possible without having to steal the ball or block attempts.
The low-risk approach helped San Antonio become the league’s poster child for defensive discipline. It also resulted in the Spurs placing 24th in both steals and blocks that year, along with a ranking of 27th in turnovers forced.
The Spurs wanted their opponents to just take as difficult a shot as possible. The idea was perhaps inspired (at least partially) by the fact that 12 of the Spurs’ players that year were 30 or older. They wanted the bricks rather than the rips or swats, further evidenced by a league-leading defensive rebounding percentage.
Milwaukee is quite the opposite. They’re playing some exciting defense.
At this point in the season, the Bucks are forcing 15 turnovers per game, 4th best in the league. They have 238 steals (7th best) and 196 blocks (4th) so far. Additionally, opponents have managed to put up 2218 shots against Milwaukee. Of those, the Bucks suffered just 972, resulting in opponents’ fg% of about 44%, and putting Milwaukee at 9th best in scores allowed.
Though Milwaukee could use some more help from their local fans (the Bucks are 27th in attendance), they carry with them a 15-12 record and a promise for more defensive-and hopefully offensive-exploits.
With a speedy back-court of Monta Ellis (1.6 steals per game) and Brandon Jennings (2.1), the steals shouldn’t slow down any time soon. In fact, of the Bucks’ 15 players, eight average around 1 or more steals per game.
Mohamed Abdihakim is a journalism student at Florida Atlantic University. He is a Phoenix Suns fan, who is not prepared for the possibility of Nash winning a title in a Lakers jersey. Mohamed is also an editor at Hoops Nation and contributes to Les Snobs. Interests include International basketball, Mad Men, and blues music. Nearly all stats are credited to Hoopdata or Basketball-Reference.
Twitter handle: @Abdi_hakim