Post up on the block for five observations about the Milwaukee Bucks during their last week of basketball:
Ersan Ilyasova: Force to be Reckoned With
With Giannis Antetokounmpo (back) missing a couple of games last week, Ersan Ilyasova started in his place. And he might never relinquish the starting job again (or so the joke goes).
Ilyasova went straight Ers-mode against the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic. He posted 18 points to go along with 17 rebounds against the Hawks. He kept that same energy against the Magic when he dropped 17 points and 14 boards. Even better, he did it on only eight and 10 field goal attempts respectively.
He wasn’t just creating for himself, either. Everything he touched turned to gold, or so the saying goes. Whether it be grabbing offensive rebounds off missed free throws or throwing a cross-court, one-handed hook pass to Robin Lopez for a corner three, Ilyasova propelled the Bucks to two victories following their Christmas Day defeat.
Milwaukee is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the entire NBA. It’s one of head coach Mike Budenholzer’s primary principles (along with not fouling and protecting the rim). Of course, having Giannis Antetokounmpo grabbing the fourth-most defensive rebounds per game helps immensely.
However, it’s a team approach, as everyone has a role to play and they all contribute toward securing their opponents misses, particularly their guards.
Brook and Robin Lopez set the tone for their teammates. They selflessly take on the humdrum task of removing the opposing teams big man from the rebounding equation, and consistently rank near the top of the league in box outs.
That allows the Bucks’ guards to collect the glamour stats. Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, Khris Middleton, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Bledsoe all do their part by grabbing at least 13 percent of their opponents misses.
By owning the glass, the Bucks are able to get out in transition on 20 percent of their possessions (highest in the NBA). This allows guys like Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe to maximize their talent and athleticism in the open court and take advantage of scrambling defenses. It’s the domino effect.
George Hill’s Sixth Man of the Year Campaign
George Hill’s Sixth Man of the Year campaign is picking up steam freakishly quick. And the driver is no other than Antetokounmpo himself. The reigning MVP spoke to the media following the Bucks victory over the Magic and wanted to make it known that Hill deserves more attention.
The standard for winning the award appears to be based on straight points per game, an out-dated model to be sure. Look no further than Lou Williams, the two-time reigning Sixth Man of the Year. He’s been a sparkplug off the bench for years and is one of the most lethal scorers in the NBA.
That puts Hill at a disadvantage compared to frontrunners like Williams, Dennis Schröder and Montrezl Harrell, all who score significantly more than Hill’s 10.6 points per game. His only real shot at winning the award is if voters look at some of the more advanced metrics. Hill’s a much more efficient player, given his 70.0 percent true shooting percentage is much higher than Williams (53.6), Schroder (56.3) or Harrell’s (60.1). His assist to turnover ratio also supports his case.
It’s certainly a long shot, but the whispers for a Sixth Man of the Year award are becoming slightly more audible.
Khris Middleton’s All-Star Status
For most of the season, there have been conversations about the Bucks only having one deserving All-Star on their roster. We can do away with that notion any moment now.
Middleton has played extremely well since his return from injury on November 27th, averaging 25.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and six assists per 36 minutes. On the season, he’s averaging 24.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per 36. Here’s how he stacks up against the other top wings in the Eastern Conference:
The question about him being deserving of an All-Star nod should be behind us. Now, the question is should he be an All-Star starter?
Eric Bledsoe’s Return
The Bucks have been without their starting point guard for eight straight games now, accruing a 6-2 record during that time. Fortunately, he’s listed as probable for their Monday night contest against the Chicago Bulls.
DiVincenzo has stepped in and has mostly played well in Bledsoe’s absence. It’s the second starting stint he’s had after covering for Middleton’s absence earlier in the season. Still, the Bucks need Bledsoe’s elite defense and driving ability.
On the season, Milwaukee ranks 12th in the NBA by attempting 36.1 percent of their shots within four feet of the rim according to Cleaning the Glass. Unfortunately, they only reached that mark twice in Bledsoe’s absence. The 6-foot-1 wrecking ball, who takes 45 percent of his shots around the hoop, will certainly help his team in that regard.
With Antetokounmpo listed as questionable and Bledsoe as probable, the Bucks are inching back toward full health. They’ve been able to survive a couple of minor injuries to key players this year, but full health will be imperative to a title run come May.