And just like that we’ve flown right past the halfway point of the NBA season! What better way to celebrate the passing of a largely arbitrary time marker than to compare Milwaukee’s stats so far this season to the abject terror that was the Bucks just a season ago?
- 2017-2018 Bucks
22-19 record, 110.0 ORtg (7th), 110.7 DRtg (22nd), -0.7 NetRtg (17th), 95.6 Pace (21st), 24.5 3PA (26th), .300 3PAr (23rd), .543 2P% (17th), 38.5 TRebs (30th), 30.8 DRebs (29th), 22.8 APG (13th)
- 2018-2019 Bucks
29-12 record, 114.0 ORtg (4th), 105.2 DRtg (2nd), +8.8 NetRtg (1st), 102.3 Pace (5th), 38.6 3PA (2nd), .427 3PAr (2nd) .575 2P% (1st), 49.2 TRebs (4th), 39.8 DRebs (1st), 26.5 APG (9th)
For those keeping count at home, those are gigantic increases in output and effectiveness in nearly every statistical category. The only areas where I didn’t note a postive year-over-year jump were in steals per game, free throw stats, and a .001 decrease in overall FG%. Just because it’s common knowledge doesn’t mean we shouldn’t emphasize it once more: This team is scary good and only needed a few tweaks to get here.
I even went back and looked at the types of articles I could find across the internet in last year’s MMR around this time. It included headlines such as “Why the Bucks haven’t arrived yet” and “Do the Bucks actually make it tough on the Warriors?” and who could forget pressing matters like, “Do the Wisconsin Herd hold Joel Bolomboy’s G League rights?”.
Oh the times they are a-changin’.
Much has been made of Milwaukee’s prime-time victory over the Houston Rockets last week, and rightfully so. That the Bucks, a team that has been burned repeatedly by opponents who have historically hot shooting nights, were able to withstand a herculean effort by James Harden and his optimized Rockets is a mark of progress.
The most encouraging takeaway from the game wasn’t derived from any one player. Rather, I think it was an important sign that coach Mike Budenholzer is capable of game-planning opponents just enough to give his team a slight advantage. Adjusting defensive pressure and direction applied to Harden is a small adjustment, but did enough to keep the scoring maestro contained (relatively, of course).
With so much depth and so many options at his disposal, Bud’s ability or willingness to shift strategy when called upon may make the difference between a deep post-season run and disappointment.
Which of the two following statements would’ve been more bewildering if asked before the season:
1) GM Jon Horst is a strong candidate for Executive of the Year
2) DJ Wilson has played the part of an actual NBA contributor
Both are bewildering, but the case in favor of Horst as a legit GM last summer wasn’t exactly on solid ground. A series of small moves (drafting Donte DiVincenzo, signing Brook Lopez/Pat Connaughton/Ersan Ilyasova, etc.) showed a semblance of a team-building philosophy, but it wasn’t until the games began that the coherence of his acquisitions came into focus.
Horst constructed a roster suited to excel under Bud’s direction and co-exist in orbit around the team’s Giannis Antetokounmpo-shaped star. Add onto all that his transforming Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson into immediate help and future flexibility and you’ve a massive change in perception of how capable Horst may be. Not that I’m complaining: Things are already tough enough being a small market in the NBA and having a capable guy running the ship would be an invaluable positive.
Yes, the time-tested strategy of downplaying critical acclaim in a bid to reverse-psychology MVP voters into your camp.
In all honesty it is so typically Giannis to try and avoid inserting himself directly at the top of the MVP race. We know he’s worthy, the team knows he’s worthy, his peers know he’s worthy, and those who will cast votes know he’s worthy. That being the case, why stoke the fire off the court when your windmill dunking and literally-never-happened-before statline can do the talking?
Time will tell whether voters will flock to Antetokounmpo. Harden is hard to ignore given his eye-popping scoring figures, but being a previous winner and not necessarily viewer-friendly may harm his chances at a second award. If that argument holds we should be well on our way to Giannis’s acknowledgement as one of the league’s supreme talents.
Continuing with Giannis-for-MVP talk, it is interesting to note how he’s fared in head-to-head competition against some of his top-tier peers. Often such comparisons are like apples and oranges since not every guy is matched up on Giannis possession after possession, and this is also still a team sport, but still, semantic angles such as this an MVP season can make.
Per Alex Boeder’s mental math, Giannis has, “...gone something between 12–0–2 and 11–2–1” when playing the likes of Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and others. That mark not only speaks value of the field-leveling effect of Giannis’s on-court impact, but also the strength of those around him to continually push Milwaukee into victories against strong opponents.
Thon Maker: “Legacy starts today” (Pick & Roll)
We’re now deep into year three of Thon Maker’s career, and it is safe to say I still have no clue what to make of the guy. One night he’ll be just the right burst of chaos off the bench to whip up the defense while draining threes on the other end, the next night someone will pass the ball to him, and, well...
So what I’m saying is I won’t buy all the way back in after Thon’s solid appearance against the Utah Jazz a week ago. If he was going to be anything more than a player who does stuff once ever six games you’d have hoped it’d be visible by now. Maybe this is all just one long story arc setting us up for one more appearance of “Toronto Thon” in the Eastern Conference Finals. Time is a flat circle.
His case is equal parts strong and unlikely, but there is no question that Brook Lopez belongs on a list of some of the league’s premier sharpshooters.
The numbers don’t lie: He’s top-10 in made threes so far this season, has increased his three-point attempt rate to a ludicrous .696, and is making 37.6% of his attempts. He’s crazy, absolutely crazy.
It would be a fitting cap to one of the wildest transformations seen in basketball to have a once traditional center find himself in the three-point contest. Who better than Brook Lopez to represent the metamorphosis of the NBA into the era of the three?
The Social Media Section
Your weekly All-Star voting update (with Giannis still on top by a wide margin):
LeBron/Steph and Giannis/Kyrie lead the first returns of #NBAAllStar Voting 2019 presented by @Google!— 2019 NBA All-Star (@NBAAllStar) January 3, 2019
Vote on https://t.co/R6fBO5LSAS, the NBA App or by searching for your favorite player or team on Google.
Vote now! https://t.co/gcW4K59HC0 pic.twitter.com/JIZFyIC2Pu
Things that make you go “hmmmm”:
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu!
Trevon Duval officially has the Eric Bledsoe seal of approval:
Jason Smith showing why he was voted Teammate of the Year while a Wizard:
DiVincenzo’s nickname has officially made it into the locker room:
White Donte loves his nickname just as much as we do pic.twitter.com/bh6ZGWWl7b— HIGH NOON (@HIGHNOONonESPN) January 11, 2019
“Leveled up and ain’t going back” is a direct shot at all of us, and I accept it:
That Ersan Ilyasova used the eventual assist from Giannis as an excuse to post this footage is so petty:
Riley’s 2018-2019 Weekly Prediction Record: 23-18
Even when I had heard that Giannis would be sitting out the road match against the Washington Wizards I wasn’t too concerned about a loss. After all, the Bucks were 3-0 in the previous games he rested (against the Raps and Cavs x2) and the Wiz should start intentionally tanking any minute now.
Throw that on top of a lack of confidence in a win in Texas and I went 1-2 last week.
After a home-heavy schedule as of late the Bucks will be spending 15 of their next 21 games on the road. While the opponents aren’t the toughest there is always a danger of failing to bring full effort in game four or five of a long road trip. The Bucks will only be out of town for two of this week’s three games, but the road record heading forward will be a metric to watch.
The week begins Tuesday with a visit by the always game Miami Heat. Then the Bucks travel to Tennessee the next night to play the Memphis Grizzlies and finish the week Friday against the Orlando Magic.
All three opponents are interesting tests either because they’ve historically given the Bucks trouble (i.e. Miami), are somewhere between free-fall and a tough out (Memphis), or have the John Hammond Revenge Game advantage (Orlando). I figure the Heat will present problems and get the Bucks at home while Milwaukee wins both of their somewhat easier road games.
May your week to come be better than the weekend the Bradley Center just had, and as always...