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Roundtable: Midseason Awards, Playoff Outlook, and Current Grades

After reaching the halfway point of the season, the Brew Hoop staff comes together and discusses the season so far.

NBA: Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t let the pugs on the table, thanks. Today, the staff sits down and hands out some awards, talks about playoff odds, and some other odds and ends.

But before all that, it’s our pleasure to officially welcome Rachael to the Brew Hoop staff! She can be found on Twitter (@RachaelHoops) and will also be helping manage our account (@brewhoop), and we couldn’t be more excited to have her aboard!

Can the Milwaukee Bucks make the playoffs with a seed higher than 8th?

Mitchell: Yes, they absolutely can. They had gotten themselves in the 5th seed not too long ago, and despite recent stumbles the Bucks are uniquely talented compared to their mid-tier counterparts in the East. Giannis’ emergence as an elite player and Jabari’s development into a near-elite scorer should start to carry the team through their struggles...with the operative word in that statement being should.

Eric B: I think they can, but I won’t predict it. There’s a handful of teams in the East, including the Bucks, who seem to fluctuate between home court advantage and the lottery in any given 10-day stretch. However, only the top three seeds in the East are locked up so anything can happen, and I’d like to think that the Bucks have enough talent to separate themselves away from the 8 seed. But who knows.

Adam: I think so. It sure seems like the glut of Eastern Conference teams are going to keep somehow falling back into that sticky morass, so I could see the Bucks sliding in anywhere from 5-8 depending on how the rest of the season flows.

Brett: Absolutely. At this point, only the Cavs, Raptors, and Celtics appear to be locked into the top three. From there, the remaining mess of Eastern conference mediocrity contains no teams that have managed to hold onto a decent seed, let alone a playoff spot at all. Far too early to count any team, aside from the Nets, Sixers and Heat from finishing 7 or higher.

Rachael: Yes. Given the unpredictability of the East, I believe they can jump up another seed or two; especially considering they are right behind the Pacers and the Wizards. I'm hoping the Bucks come back with a fire lit under them after the All-Star break, and based on last season it's reasonable to expect that they will.

Corey: Sure. 5-10 in the East will be in a blender until the final month of the season, in my mind. I’m not sure any team in that group of six is appreciably better than any of the others. I wouldn’t even put Atlanta too far out of that mess either. The last stretch of the season will have fans seeing the Bucks in the six slot one day and the nine slot the rest barring a major move from someone.

Dylan: They definitely can, but it’s gonna be tough for them to climb much higher than seventh having lost their tie breakers with the Hawks and Wizards. If they can put away other Eastern conference contenders (Pacers, Hornets, Pistons) and continue to beat the pretenders they can put themselves in a position to play a non-Cavaliers playoff team.

Riley: Absolutely, they “could”, but will they? Color me pessimistic these past few weeks. You can look at a whole bunch of different trends that don’t look great (that catastrophically declining defensive rating, for one), and even with the growth of Giannis and Jabari to an extent, I’m not going to hold my breath. That being said, if they get the 5th seed, I was always an enthusiastic supporter and you’ve heard no different.

How many playoff games can the Bucks win?

Mitchell: Two games, as currently constructed, assuming that a healthy Khris Middleton isn’t actively detracting from the team’s efforts. And yes, I think they can get two games against Cleveland or Toronto, because they’ve proven that they can hang with those teams just often enough to earn a victory. A classic symptom of a young team is a tendency to play to the level of competition, and I would (foolishly, perhaps) expect them to do just that against even the best the Eastern Conference has to offer.

Eric B: If they’re in the playoffs and avoid Cleveland or Toronto, I think they are capable of winning a series. A lot depends on matchups, of course, but I don’t think any other team in the conference is so dramatically better than the Bucks. I’ll set the Bucks playoff win total floor at two games and put the max at five.

Adam: If they somehow make it into the five slot, I could see them winning two to three games. If not, I don’t see them pulling more than one game out, if that, against the likes of Cleveland, Toronto or Boston.

Brett: If we’re speaking in solely theoretical terms for how far this team could go in the playoffs, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to imagine them actually winning a playoff series come April, provided Middleton is himself and one of Henson/Plumlee become a competent starting big. But that’s a ceiling. Ask me in March.

Rachael: It obviously depends on who they match up against. However, I believe they will win more than one game, regardless of the opponent. Maybe I’m being too hopeful and optimistic, but they do have multiple players on the team that can get very hot offensively (even if they do so inconsistently). Even if it’s pure luck, I say two games at the least.

Corey: They won’t be swept. The rest is completely on matchup.

Dylan: If they face one of the top three teams in the East I would say two games tops, but if they get the five seed they can win a series. The experience and coaching of those top teams will be too much for the Bucks.

Does the team make a move between now and the trade deadline?

Mitchell: Doubtful, but I almost wonder if a move is necessary to send a message to the rest of the team. Despite the influx of veterans, there’s still a ton of youth on the roster, and I wouldn’t put it past the front office to make a move in order to “shake things up” in the interest of promoting accountability. This isn’t a preferred outcome, but with public opinion vacillating between each extreme after each win or loss, the organization might feel a little bit of pressure to deviate from #OwnTheFuture.

Eric B: Probably not. The Bucks need talent additions to their guard and center rotations, and I don’t know if you can acquire such additions with the assets the Bucks are legitimately fielding calls on. It’s tempting to say a center will be dealt because thinning that positional clot would be good optics, but I don’t think the Bucks are going to get an offer they like enough to pull the trigger.

Adam: No. Good or bad it feels like this team locked itself into the roster it currently wanted around Giannis and Jabari in the offseason. I doubt they abandon it after a half season unless someone comes calling with a prime chance to unload one of the big boys either languishing on the bench (Plumlee) or on the court (Henson).

Brett: It’s always tough to answer these questions as a “fan” working with minimal knowledge of the trade market, even if we reduce the question to “should” the team make a move. In my ideal world, Henson gets moved by then for a close-to-negligible price. I’d think that’s around his value, if it’s not slightly negative at this point given the league-wide surplus of bigs. If Plumlee could be moved, that’d be great, too, but that figures to come at a price to the team given his contract.

Rachael: I doubt they will, and I hope they don’t. I have been happy with the rotation as of late; especially with Brogdon starting. I’m afraid that even if they only trade a bench player that’s essentially out of rotation (i.e. Plumlee or Teletovic), the minute allocation will get messed up again.

Corey: No. With Herb Kohl, yes. But not this group. Nor should they. If someone calls about a big they might listen.

Dylan: The rest of the league knows those center contracts are burdensome on the Bucks cap sheet, if they’re smart they’ll make the Bucks pay for their mistakes and keep Henson and Plumlee on the payroll. If the Bucks could unload one for an expiring contract, but I doubt there’s anyone out there willing to do that out of fear it could come back to hurt them in years to come.

Grade the Offense (A - F)

Mitchell: It’s no secret that Jason Kidd prefers to get shots at the rim, and through 40 games, it seems the team takes some measure of pride in leading the league at points in the paint per game (50.8 ppg). It doesn’t hurt that the team’s three main scorers (Giannis, Jabari, and Monroe) are expert bucket-getters near the hoop. The team also excels in transition, ranking 5th in the league at 15.8 transition points per game. The sticking point, as it has been for a few years now, is the team’s performance from behind the arc, where they rank in the bottom-third in threes attempted. On the whole, despite the (valid) criticism that Milwaukee doesn’t shoot enough threes, the offense is still very good. Kidd plays the team to their strengths, and it has paid off better than most of us expected. — B+

Eric B: It’s weird. The Bucks are top 10 in ORtg, but DFL in clutch ORtg. 7th in 3P% and 24th in 3PA. They look unstoppable at times, but also look at times like they’re chained to running their sets, prepared to make that dang entry pass or die trying. Their transition game does help cloud the picture in good and bad ways like Brett is saying, but I think compared to the last season or two, the offense has taken a few steps forward. I see our old pal Eric Nehm tweet about good action a lot more these days, and that has to mean something because he is smart and I am not — B/B-

Adam: I get they’re not shooting many threes of late, and the offensive performance down the stretch of games has been abysmal, but this team is top ten in offensive efficiency, a leap I never would’ve expected prior to the year. It still feels staid, lacking innovation and requiring an incomprehensible amount of time to even start any sets at points. — B

Brett: I think Brew Hoop has a Synergy account where we could see halfcourt and transition splits, but since I don’t know the login for that and am too lazy to find it, I’ll just say I’d imagine the contrast is stark. It’s hard for me to not watch games these days without wondering what the scoring total looks like at the end of four quarters given the opposing team commits to limiting live-ball turnovers and abandoning the offensive glass. Ultimately, I think their success in transition has helped to create a mirage that the team as an offensive unit is succeeding this year, as they’ve spent much time as a top-10 team in that area. But transition counts — C+

Rachael: Well, the Bucks are currently ranked 4th in assists per game, which is good. I do think their ball movement has improved, and the players are taking more appropriate shots… they just aren’t always falling. The offense tends to slow down when some players (Giannis and Jabari come to mind) tend to play too passively after picking up a foul or two. However, I do see a step up from the offense last year, both in returning and new players acquired. — B

Corey: Offense is magical in transition and average in the half court. —- B

Dylan: A top-10 ORTG was inconceivable when Middleton went down before the season, so clearly offseason additions and Jabari’s growth are making an impact. Let’s see this offense in a playoff series, that may be the benchmark to see if their clutch ORTG is a microcosm of what a well-scouted defense can do against the Bucks for 48 minutes. —B

Grade the Defense (A - F)

Mitchell: For a while, it seemed like the defense had recaptured the magic it lost track of last season, and was able to make life difficult for opponents across the board. As of late, the defense has gotten worse and worse, falling to middle-of-the-pack in Defensive Rating (105.4, 15th in the league). For my part, I genuinely believe that this defense is the key to unlocking what makes the Milwaukee Bucks special, and that the season isn’t lost because of hot shooting from opponents lately. ...It is a troubling trend, though. — C

Adam: The scheme’s counterintuitive nature seems to be catching up with it now, as teams are finally making the three-pointers the scheme is designed to “force” teams into. Still, I presumed it would be at least in the bottom-ten again, if not bottom-five and at least for a time they were maintaining a top-ten mark. As constructed, it feels like it’s too reliant on Giannis to cover up at the rim and for other’s mistakes. He’s remarkable, so maybe that can continue, but as his offensive load increases I’ll be interested to see whether he can expend that type of energy defensively on a consistent basis. — C+

Brett: Again, I think a mirage is in play here. This time, it’s opposing three-point percentage, and like Adam said, it’s catching up, and fast for a scheme that seems to generate more of them. That being said, the scheme can’t be wholly to blame with: Jabari, although improved, still frustrating; Henson failing to hold his ground both literally and figuratively; Beasley daydreaming about long-twos on the other end; and the glaring absence of a rim-protector outside of (no, it’s not John Henson) their Free Safety in Giannis (who, low-key, probably sees a lot less Basketball-Reference season comparisons without a scheme that seems to aid his raw defensive numbers). — C+

Rachael: At least Jabari is getting better, right? The Bucks seem to be just a step too slow on defensive rotations as of late. They still need better rim protection, despite Monroe’s improvement and Giannis providing great help defense. I’d say “average” is the right word to describe their current defense, with plenty of room for improvement. — C

Eric B: For as smothering as it can look in stretches (hey Bulls), there are also stretches where it looks repeatedly beatable. Good teams can exploit it while bad teams can not. The Bucks don’t have as good of defenders as they did two years ago when the defense was great, but they have better defenders than they did last season (probably, maybe). If you combine those two seasons, you get something average, and that’s the grade I’m going to give it after a regression to the mean. — C+

Corey: Could this be a recency bias of the Philly disaster influencing my answer? Maybe. But for a team that is Embiid and threes, the Bucks sure looked awful on defending the latter. And that has been quite a frustrating trend of late. They look downright chaotic when anyone swings the ball on the perimeter. By contrast, post defense has taken a few steps up from last year. But man do they look hilarious on the outside. --- C

Dylan: Despite valiant and improved efforts from Monroe and Jabari the defense still looks scrambled when the other team really works the ball around. Beasley, Teletovic and Terry weren’t gonna move the needle on defense in a positive way, and Henson’s supposed defensive prowess hasn’t come to fruition. There’s a solid defense here, but the Association’s offensive trends seem to be perfectly fit to render this defense less potent. — C

Awards! Who is the Bucks’ ____?

On first glance, some of these awards might be obvious, and it’s possible that all of the votes for all of the awards could rhyme with “Honest And-Tee-Time-Soon-Tho.” Will any staff member be brave enough to put forth another name?

Most Valuable Player

Mitchell: No, it’s Giannis.

Eric B: Giannis.

Adam: Giannis.

Brett: Giannis.

Rachael: Giannis, indisputably.

Corey: Jeffrey Tambor in ‘Transparent’. Who the heck do ya think?

Editor’s note: We’re counting Corey’s pick as a vote for Giannis.

Dylan: Giannis.

Riley: That Greek fella.

Most Improved Player

Mitchell: I have to reward Jabari Parker for two things: the introduction of the three-pointer as a full-time tool in his offensive arsenal, and the willingness to take on tough assignments in order to create the best situation for the team defensively. Since his rookie season, we’ve predicted that the Bucks would never see Giannis and Jabari co-exist unless one of them developed a shot. Well, Jabari is hitting 0.414 from deep so far, and looks years ahead-of-schedule for becoming a dangerous stretch-4 on offense. And on defense, yeah he’s still not great, but he’s way improved from last season and seems more engaged than ever.

Adam: Greg Monroe. Giannis made a massive leap, but I can’t think of any Bucks fan who would’ve guessed that Monroe would go from the scapegoat about to be run out of town to the team’s fourth-most pivotal piece that works hard on defense, contributes steals, runs the floor and is almost indispensable due to the sieves the Bucks’ have at center behind him. That’s not a good reason not to trade him if someone offers up a tasty platter in exchange, but from a flipped narrative and performance standpoint, there’s no bigger leap this year than Monroe.

Brett: Monroe is tempting, but I’m more inclined to give it to the player whose new heights contribute to winning more, which is Giannis. After all, we didn’t give it to Johnny O’Bryant last year, did we? (That was the meanest implication I’ve ever read or written about Greg Monroe).

Rachael: I was slightly torn between Giannis and Monroe. Giannis has truly lived up to his nickname, putting up freakish numbers and leading the team in five (!) categories. He continues to improve every year, leaving me to wonder what his ceiling is. However, Monroe made the bigger (and certainly more surprising) improvement. For that reason, Monroe gets the award from me.

Eric B: Giannis has been great, but didn’t go from disliked to kind of crucial like Monroe has in the past season, so Greg gets the nod. Honorable mention should go to Jabari from behind the three-point line.

Corey: Smoothie King. Monroe a Giannis-eurostep-distance away in second.

Dylan: Giannis is obvious, but I’ll say Jabari simply because he’s still just two years removed from an ACL tear, he’s completely separated himself from Wiggins, become an arguable All-Star, is averaging over six more points per game than last season, and his 3P% has increased 15%.

Defensive Player of the Year

Mitchell: Considering how inconsistent the Bucks’ defense is, this award should go to the only constant on the squad: Giannis Antetokounmpo. His move to defending space on the weak-side (and having Jabari Parker check opposing stars) not only makes sense, but fuels his insane combined steals/blocks production.

Eric B: Let’s put it this way. The Bucks have their worst Net Rating and their worst DRtg when Giannis is off the court.

Adam: Giannis. He’s defending the rim at a really solid rate with opponents shooting 45.5% against him, and his ability to help off and roam the defensive end feels like the primary reason why this defense was so successful in the early going.

Brett: Hat trick! The now-much-maligned scheme without Giannis sounds like a f***ing nightmare.

Rachael: Giannis. Besides keeping his opponents’ shooting percentage low, he also leads the team in steals, blocks, and rebounds. His length is invaluable on the defensive end.

Corey: 34

Dylan: Watching the Bucks defense without Giannis is like being in a perpetual state of fear and tumult. Giannis Antetokounmpo.

We’re halfway through the year, and these are some thoughts from our staff. What about you? Leave a comment, or write a FanPost, and let’s get ready for the second half of the season!