clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Big numbers for Michael Carter-Williams aren't translating into wins for the Milwaukee Bucks

New, comments

Milwaukee's abysmal defense and inconsistent starters are wasting some of MCW's best games.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucks lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder by eight points last night. No big surprise.

Khris Middleton sank a bunch of threes and topped his previous career high in scoring, while Giannis Antetokounmpo wowed spectators with this ridiculous eurostep drive and dunk. Mildly surprising.

Michael Carter-Williams tallied a near-triple-double and we didn't even talk much about it? Quite surprising.

There are a few reasons one of MCW's best performances of the season got swept under the rug. Middleton and Antetokounmpo deservedly took the highlight airtime, with Middleton's substance keeping the Bucks competitive almost single-handedly for much of the second half while Giannis naturally provided the style. MCW meanwhile was more workmanlike, hitting a trio of mid-range jumpers and a critical corner three that kick-started Milwaukee's comeback attempt.  Also, the Bucks lost, and that's really been the story lately. Overshadowing most big games by anybody on the team has been the mounting pile of losses that invariably follows them.

Over his last nine games, beginning with the Golden State win, Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 16.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.3 assists while shooting 52.3% from the field. And in that stretch, the Bucks are 3-6, with the other two victories coming against bottom-feeders Phoenix and Philadelphia. His cumulative plus-minus over that span is a whopping negative four. To whatever extent raw plus-minus is meaningful over a tiny stretch of games, it suggests MCW's play has been anything but. Last night's plus-ten rating was the third time this season MCW has had a positive plus-minus in a game the Bucks lost.

Relatively speaking, the Bucks aren't a point-guard-centric outfit. When push comes to shove, the offense tends to run through Greg Monroe or occasionally Khris Middleton. So it's perhaps unsurprising that even strong performances by MCW fail to make a major impact on the Bucks' fortunes. But a 19/9/9 line, in a game where Middleton broke the 30-point mark, Giannis added 27 more, Milwaukee committed only 14 turnovers and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, and the Bucks lose somewhat handily?

Look no further than Milwaukee's 113.4 defensive rating over that same stretch of games. In five of those games they've had defensive ratings above 119! Milwaukee is putting up numbers, in no small part thanks for MCW, but simply can't keep pace with the outputs they're permitting. Nobody is free from blame for that mess, and Carter-Williams has never really lived up to his defensive reputation since coming to Milwaukee (for what it's worth, MCW is third among the Bucks' starters in defensive plus-minus according to ESPN.com). I'll continue to insist that point guard is the least important defensive position, but watch MCW for a full game or two and you'll see at least a handful of mental lapses and physical failures. Those haven't necessarily gone away lately; rather, Carter-Williams' improved offense has partially offset them, but the bar for improvement sits so incredibly low for the entire team that mere "offsetting" of their atrocious defense just isn't sufficient to really move the needle.

For me the biggest result of MCW's hot streak has been a shift in focus to a new target of frustration: Jabari Parker. There are loads of extenuating circumstances for Parker's generally so-so play this season, but that doesn't diminish the reality of how bad he's been lately. Giannis's big game was great to see, but he too has been prone to disappearing acts on any given night. The point is, anything short of superstar-caliber performances (and even MCW's strong games aren't quite that) will be for naught if there isn't at least a little bit of backup. Parker's no-shows put a tremendous strain on a team that is already stressed trying to keep up with opponents each night. I'm not advocating for a drastic reduction in his role--he and Giannis remain the two most important players on the team by a wide margin. But he's earned some criticism with this latest stretch of games, just as MCW has earned his praise.

Does this current run change the calculus moving forward, even to the small extent a nine-game sample ever would? Not necessarily, given the way it's been unfolding every night. But credit should be given where credit is due, and it's been due so rarely this season that we've got a lot of it just sitting around in the warehouse. Here, Mike, enjoy it.