Take a seat on the bench for five observations about the Milwaukee Bucks:
Milwaukee has one of the most lethal offenses in the entire NBA, putting up 113.4 points per 100 possessions (the third-highest). Head coach Mike Budenholzer built a free-flowing offense with shooters constantly orbiting Giannis Antetokounmmpo. Defenses must choose between stopping the Greek Freak from getting to the rim or giving up open three-point looks, as both tasks cannot be simultaneously completed.
So far this season, the opposition has primarily chosen to team up on the reigning MVP and lock down the paint. Thus is the life for someone who can get to the hoop at will and finish nearly 60 percent of those shots.
This strategy has made it difficult for the Bucks to attack the rim. After ranking second in the league last season by attempting two out of every five shots at the basket, that number has dropped significantly this season. It’s clear defenses have prioritized protecting the paint in exchange for giving up open looks to Milwaukee’s shooters.
It may be minor, but the Bucks’ offensive rating has slipped to 111.2 over their past 14 games, ranking near the middle of the pack in the NBA over that span. As we saw against the San Antonio Spurs in back to back games, team’s are over-helping more than ever in an attempt to deter shots at the rim.
This strategy has forced the Bucks’ shooters to bomb away from the outside time and time again. Maybe a little too trigger happy, Milwaukee’s offense has sputtered when those shots aren’t falling. It would be nice to see them probe the defense a little more before taking the first available semi-good look from the three-point line.
Donte DiVincenzo’s Confidence
The Bucks’ second-year guard never seems to fluster. His perpetual cool, calm and collected manner allows him to be wise beyond his years. It always appears to have been like that for the 2018 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player—an award he won despite coming off the bench for the Villanova Wildcats.
A year after missing 55 games due to injury, DiVincenzo’s confidence is getting tested once again. This time in his jump shot.
The do a little of everything guard typically flies all over both ends of the court. He’s constantly hustling for rebounds, anticipating the offense’s next move, jumping passing lanes and making the right plays for his teammates. A consistent three-point shot is the only thing he’s missing.
He’s only knocking down 32.8 percent of his outside looks on the season. That won’t earn him a spot on the bench given everything else he does well, but it certainly makes life easier for opposing defenses.
The great news is his confidence in his shot appears higher than ever. DiVincenzo hoisted 22 triples on the Bucks’ four-game road trip—at least five in each game—and connected on 36 percent of them. Milwaukee needs him to continue to keep his head up, fight through the shooting struggles and keep chucking from the outside.
Wes Matthews’ Slump
Wesley Matthews has been a very nice addition to the Bucks this season. He brings veteran leadership, a hungry, never back down attitude and many other intangibles that are difficult to measure. On the court, he plays physical, in your face defense and spaces the floor on offense.
Still trying to find his place with the Bucks, his shooting percentages have been all over the place. After making 32.1 percent of his threes in just four October games, he lit up the month of November by knocking down over 40 percent of his shots behind the arc. He followed that up with an average December, but has slumped since the New Year—making only 23.1 percent of those shots in 2020.
Since he takes nearly 70 percent of his shots from behind the arc, it’s imperative he’s making them in order to contribute in the scoring column. Matthews has failed to make more than one three in seven of his last eight games, also scoring fewer than six points in each of those contests. In a long season full of plenty of ups and downs, this could be just another mini-dip. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on as January progresses.
Brook “James Harden” Lopez
Brook Lopez doesn’t get to the free throw line very often, averaging just 1.7 per game, but when he does it’s likely because he went searching for some stray limbs. In the big man version of James Harden’s infamous grab technique, Lopez will lull his defender into a false sense of security down low:
After setting a cross-screen for Khris Middleton, Lopez posts up on the left side of the lane and receives the ball with Trey Lyles matched up on him. He immediately turns over his right shoulder and dribbles toward the left side of the basket. When a help defender deters his path, he pivots back toward his dominate right hand while simultaneously swopping the ball under his man’s arm, extending for a shot attempt, drawing contact and the whistle.
Defenses are constantly left feeling frustrated and hoodwinked, often pleading their case to the officials. Even though it may look awkward, the foul call is often the right one in this situation. Let’s call it the seven-footer’s version of getting your hand caught in the cookie jar.
The “Big Three”
When the Bucks’ “Big Three” of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are cooking, they are truly horrifying. Even nightmares are scared of them. Thus was the case on Saturday night against the Portland Trail Blazers when they combined for 91 points.
It’s difficult to remember a time when all three played this well in the same game, but hopefully it’s a sign of more to come. With Antetokounmpo dominating the paint, Middleton roaming the mid-range and perimeter and Bledsoe regaining his stroke from all over the court, this trio puts constant pressure on defenses.
As the three of them teamed up once again for the postgame interview, it was evident how much fun they’re having this season. Three unselfish people all working together toward one common goal is downright unstoppable. Let’s see if they can continue to their great play into this week.