Entering the all-star break at a disappointing 22-32, the Milwaukee Bucks have thus far dismantled all preseason expectations following their surprising 2014-15 campaign. Jason Kidd's once stifling defensive unit is among the league's worst, the curious case of Michael Carter-Williams continues, Jabari Parker's development is coming along slower than many fans hoped, Greg Monroe's been great offensively and the opposite defensively, and the team overall couldn't buy consistency if it were on sale at the Milwaukee Public Market. Not surprisingly, trade rumors have run rampant leading up to Thursday's deadline.
With the midway point of the season here, it's time to look back on the first 54 games of the team's season and hand out some awards. The Brew Hoop staff addressed four categories and provided a bold statement about the second half of the team's season, while Eric and Frank also recorded a podcast last night to discuss their picks.
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As always, we welcome your thoughts and awards in the comments section below. Enjoy.
Aron Yohannes: Khris Middleton
I thought about giving this award to Greg Monroe, but Middleton has been the better all-around player this season than Monroe. He has justified the Bucks giving him sizable money this offseason and then some. Nobody really considered Middleton to be more than just a 3-and-D guy last summer, but he's shown the ability to facilitate and dish the ball, along with becoming a stout defender in the league. His 17.7 points per game on the season don't do his remarkable stretch during the month of January (20.7 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds) justice.
Eric Nehm: Khris Middleton
There is no denying that you could contort the definition of valuable a number of different ways to make an argument for other Bucks, namely Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the Bucks' MVP in their first 54 games of the season, but those arguments would be dishonest. The Bucks have ran their offense this entire season through Middleton, whether that has been the more pick-and-roll heavy diet they've employed recently or the much maligned post-ups used regularly early in the season. Middleton has been the MAN for this team and, after struggling with the increased responsibility early in the season, made massive developmental steps forward as an offensive player.
Giannis Antetokounmpo Khris Middleton
I couldn't do it. I couldn't find a way to give Giannis the nod over Khash Money. Giannis means so much more to the franchise in the long-term, and is on the short list of "potential top-5 NBA player" at the ripe old age of 21. And he's made strides this season too, no doubt about it! But...when you look at how Middleton has been the main focus of the offense, and how well he's handled that role relative to last season, and the value of his contributions, I can't justify naming anyone else more valuable than him. This year.
Frank Madden: Khris Middleton
Middleton, Giannis and Monroe all boast solid if unspectacular per game numbers, which makes them the obvious candidates. But while Monroe's offensive productivity has been quietly terrific, Middleton stands out for both how much the Bucks rely on him and how poor they've been without him. I'm hoping Giannis claims this spot a year from now, but for now it's MIddleton's team.
Aron Yohannes: Johnny O'Bryant
Based on his poor performance last season, Johnny O'Bryant seemed like he might be fairly close to being cut by the Bucks back during training camp. Now, he's turned into a decent role guy off the bench and has bought himself another season in Milwaukee. He still tends to look completely lost on the court at times and doesn't add anything offensively in the post, but he's shown the ability to punish teams from midrange (47 percent on long twos) and hustle whenever he's on the floor. At media day he said he got into better shape during the summer and it looks like the results are paying off.
Eric Nehm: Jerryd Bayless
Here's something: Jerryd Bayless is one of the league's five best players in spot up situations. Another thing: He's one of the NBA's ten best catch-and-shoot three point shooters. Bayless has been fantastic for the Bucks this season and has received little of the attention he deserves. As I wrote last week, a number of Bucks fans want more shooters on the team, yet many fail to realize Bayless has been one of the league's best.
Mitchell Maurer: Jerryd Bayless
This season has been full of disappointments (aka surprises that nobody wants), from the short-lived Point Juice experiment to the limited development of key long-term players, to everything Chris Copeland has ever touched, to the practical exile of Damien Inglis. Bayless has been steady on offense and hit tons of big threes. This wouldn't be a surprise if it weren't for the fact that Bayless hasn't ever been a big-time shooter. Having him bomb off the bench is a valuable part of this team's woeful offense, and it wasn't part of the plan.
Frank Madden: Jerryd Bayless
I spent the summer wishing the Bucks could dump Bayless' modest $3 million salary, but since November I've been having to eat crow. While he's hardly going to be part of anyone's long-term core, Bayless has shot the lights out for most of the season while providing a steady hand off the bench for a young team. It's probably not a bad time to sell high on him, but he deserves major kudos either way.
Aron Yohannes: Greivis Vasquez
The Bucks needed scoring and passing heading into the season, especially off the bench after the departure of Jared Dudley. But after arriving in one of the more surprising (to put it kindly) trades on draft night, Greivis Vasquez's tenure in Milwaukee has proven nothing but disappointing. Granted, Vasquez has been sidelined for a good portion of the season due to a foot injury, but he was ineffective before that as well. Vasquez was known in Toronto for his shooting stroke and ability to run the floor, but in Milwaukee his shooting has hit career-lows (35 percent from the field, 26 from deep) and he's turned the ball over on a fifth of his possessions. Although his assist numbers remain solid (7.1 per 36 minutes), Vasquez's season could hardly have gone worse.
Eric Nehm: Greg Monroe
Coming into the season, many Bucks fans (including me) thought that Greg Monroe would be able to produce a reasonable facsimile of Zaza Pachulia defensively. That has not been the case. Monroe has struggled to pick up the Bucks defensive system this season and his lackluster defensive performance has been one of the (many) reasons the Bucks have been unable to put together cohesive defensive performances. His inability to step into Pachulia's role has made it difficult to call his offseason signing a success, despite Monroe's numbers offensively.
Mitchell Maurer: Jabari Parker
This may not be popular, but it has to be said: after this many games, I wanted to have seen some more variety in Jabari's game. I am willing to accept that his defense is still sub-par, and that his development is on a lesser curve as he continues to rehab his ACL. But what I struggle to accept is the lack of variety in his scoring; he's still a get-to-the-rim-or-bust player overall. The combination of that singular dimension and a lack of fouls drawn could only be offset by some long-range shooting...which we have seen almost none of. Then again...maybe this should be directed at the coaching staff?
Frank Madden: O.J. Mayo
Let me start with an admission: I really like O.J. Mayo.
As combustible as he might appear, I like his crazy uncle antics with opponents and big brother mindset with the Bucks' young players. And after one of the most storied prep careers of the past two decades, he's oddly reinvented himself as an unselfish, scrappy vet. Of course, that's also why this season has been such a disappointment: injuries to both hamstrings (and reportedly his hand) have crippled him as a shooter (career-lows of 37 percent overall and 29 percent from deep), the one skill that you always assume you're getting with him. Greivis Vasquez has been a bigger bust in general, but Mayo's drop-off this season has been symbolic of a bench that has fallen on hard times after last season's surprising success.
Aron Yohannes: No
I thought the Bucks could creep into the playoffs because of a favorable home schedule in the second half (18 of their final 28 are at home), but they won't climb out from where they are playing defense the way they have.
Eric Nehm: Ha, no.
Too far back. Plus they're just not very good.
Mitchell Maurer: No
Too many good teams in the East, the Bucks are not among them. I want to see Giannis, Jabari, and Middleton take lots of shots, and I want to see other young players get opportunities to learn on the job. I don't care if that happens in the post-season or not...which is a good thing, because they're way too far behind.
Frank Madden: No
I said they were out of it in early January, and I'd stand by that.
One bold statement
Aron Yohannes: Jabari Parker sets a new career-high and completes five or more games with 20+ points.
Eric Nehm: Jason Kidd is a good, if unspectacular, professional basketball coach.
Mitchell Maurer: I still enjoy watching the Bucks play basketball.
Frank Madden: At some point between now and the end of the season, Jabari Parker will have a one-month stretch where he averages 15+ points per game and generally makes people excited about Jabari Parker.