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Milwaukee vs. Golden State: Christmas Cheer for Bucks Fans

On the second game of the season, my NBA team gave to me...

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Golden State Warriors v Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee enjoyed a pleasant visit from the ghost of Christmas present (and perhaps the Warriors saw a dire warning from the ghost of Christmas future) on Friday afternoon, in an out-and-out 39-point shellacking that felt out of place when considering Golden State’s lofty perception among casual sports fans.

The Bucks won all four quarters as they continue to acclimate to the new roster in games that count in the standings. The Warriors were a depleted version of themselves, missing both Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, leaving Steph Curry to carry a roster of young up-and-comers and Andrew Wiggins. Against a Milwaukee team motivated by dropping their first game to Boston, the end result seemed inevitable.

Most of the Christmas Day games were similar blowouts; considering that we’re less than a week into the regular season (and less than a month away from the commencement of training camp), it’s not hard to understand why. Still, games in-market is a pleasant reminder of what “normal” might be in a few months and, by this time next year, we might be able to enjoy these contests with fans in the stands.

What Did We Learn?

It is going to take time for Giannis to acclimate to an offense that takes the ball out of his hands at the beginning of offensive sets. In the postseason, this shift would go a long way towards breaking down the wall that playoff opponents implement to slow Giannis down. In the meantime, though, Giannis is going to look uncomfortable and his efficiency is going to take a hit.

As an aside, Giannis can buoy his efficiency numbers if he ever figures out his free throws. After going 6 for 8 in the opener (including the ballyhooed final miss), Giannis missed 8 foul shots today (7 of 15), which contributed to the eyesore that was his final shooting splits (4 of 14 from the field, 0 for 3 on threes). He simply never found an offensive rhythm and will need time to get back to the domination we’ve become accustomed to.

There were signs of what it looks like when things are clicking. For example, Bucks toyed with Giannis as the screener with DJ Augustin, and the results were encouraging as Augustin pulled up for an easy three. Later on, the Bucks inverted this action, with Augustin popping to the three point line as his defender stuck with Giannis. Again, the result was a made three for Augustin, who might end this season as one of the team’s most important roster upgrades.

Three Things

Khris Middleton came to play this year. With an output of 31 points and a usage rate of 27.5, Khris was as efficient as anyone could ask for with shooting splits of .667/.750/1.000 and a true shooting percentage of 90.1. In addition to his accuracy, Middleton also looks like he’s in mid season physical form, causing some to ask exactly how high his ceiling is this year.

Coach Bud’s rotation has room to evolve. Bucks fans have refocused their supermax-fueled ire squarely on Pat Connaughton and his place in the pecking order; Planet Pat (18:53) logged only a minute less on the floor than Donte DiVincenzo (19:59), and came off the bench earlier than Bryn Forbes, Torrey Craig, or either of the second-round rookies. However, given the state things this early in the season, it makes sense that Budenholzer would want to play it safe with Connaughton (who logged a team-high +/- of plus-27) ahead of other options at the wing while everyone continues to get their bearings.

The wing rotation is really the only place where there’s much room to tinker. The point guard position will be split between Holiday and Augustin (with others taking on PG duties, particularly Middleton), while the frontcourt only has Bobby Portis and DJ Wilson in reserve. There are 70 more games with which to figure out which combinations work best for which situations, so there is less cause for worry than some would choose to show.

The average level of shooting seems much higher this year. With Giannis (rightfully) taking on so many of the team’s possessions, there historically has been a ceiling to just how much the Bucks’ offense can pump out credible three-point attempts. After hitting 20 out of 37 yesterday, the team looked like they just hit a hot streak, but looking at the box score further revealed how much more margin for error the team has this year with shooters. Five Bucks players (Giannis, Brook, Jrue, Connaughton, and Portis) went a combined 0-for-10 from deep, meaning the Bucks were buoyed by the other seven players who made an aggregated 20 out of 27 from behind the arc. Considering expected averages from each player, it’s reasonable to assume that the five who missed all their shots would hit more, and the seven who made shots at a great clip would make fewer than they did against Golden State. But as a whole, that means that the Bucks should be able to get more out of their offense than in years past, which is a great sign for the future.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Jrue Holiday enjoys taking smaller guards into the post more than Khris Middleton. But due to his strength, Holiday also has the ability to take wings or even certain bigs into the post and be able to put the team into position to find a good shot. Once again, the price to acquire Holiday seems worthwhile in terms of on-court results this year.
  • James Wiseman looks extremely comfortable, defying any reasonable expectations for someone in his position. He’s a particularly young draftee and wasn’t able to play very much during his lone NCAA season due to the coronavirus pandemic. With 18 points, 3 made threes, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks, Wiseman was also the fourth-youngest NBA player to start a Christmas Day game.
  • That being said...

The Warriors are in rough shape. Despite their star power, Golden State has become known for their high-IQ approach to the game, but with the turnover of their roster and the absence of mainstays Thompson and Green, their collective IQ just isn’t the same.

  • The rookies continue to grow towards becoming viable NBA players. Jordan Nwora (7 points) and Sam Merrill (6 points, 4 assists) didn’t get any run until garbage time, but considering they’re in their second professional game and are showing the ability to make shots and move to the right spots, there’s plenty of cause for optimism.
  • Kane has it right; when it comes to 30+ foot Curry bombs, Brook Lopez is all of us.

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