As the yuletide fades and we prep for the wintry months ahead with only our hot takes to warm us, the Milwaukee Bucks season will unfold with twists and turns well worth documenting. Enter my new weekly wrap-up column, where I’ll run through the past seven days and try to capture the feeling of the week through a few different categories. Hopefully I don’t bore y’all out of your skulls, and we’ll have a pleasant archive of the comings and goings of our beloved Bucks.
First up, a brief reminder of the week that was with links to our game coverage if you were looking for a refresher.
The Week that Was
- Dec. 23: Milwaukee 121, Boston 122 (Bucks Drop Opener in Beantown)
- Dec. 25: Milwaukee 138, Golden State 99 (Christmas Cheer for Bucks Fans)
- Dec. 27: Milwaukee 110, New York 130 (Bucks Put up Stinker in Big Apple)
- Dec. 29: Milwaukee 144, Miami 97 (Bucks Eviscerate Heat)
Merely 24 hours ago, this week might’ve felt very differently to Bucks fans. Basking in the glow of a record-setting 3-point barrage against the Heat, it’s easy to be riding high. Enjoy the clouds, but alas, I need to remind everyone of the up and down week that was en route to this 2-2 start.
For my postgame quote to sum up the week, I’ll highlight a solid note from our friend Kane Pitman asking Bud whether he’s considering shaking up the rotation. Who would’ve known Bud was plotting to give Thanasis Antetokounmpo first quarter minutes against the Heat...
Bud on whether he thought about mixing up the rotation:— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) December 28, 2020
"I think there was some thoughts whether we could shake it up and throw somebody out there. It's also early and guys have kind of earned opportunities. You gotta be careful while being flexible and giving other guys a look"
Mike Budenholzer gets a lot of guff (oftentimes deservingly so!), but for all his warts, he is still a professional basketball coach whose acumen in one brain cell outstrips me entirely. There’s plenty we quibble about with him on an almost daily basis, so each week, I’ll highlight my pet favorite of his set plays that start each game. I always find it somewhat instructive to see who Bud runs the first play of the game for. Maybe it’s because they want to key-in on a matchup early, or they want to help someone struggling get into a rhythm from the outset. On Sunday evening, Giannis Antetokounmpo got the call.
After New York blew up Milwaukee’s initial set with a deflection, they went right back to the well inbounding from the sidelines. Brook passes it into Jrue, then trots to the corner so Giannis can come up to get the ball from Holiday and fake the hand-off.
Jrue swaps places with Brook, while Donte starts his sprints to the basket to clear out the left side. Meanwhile Khris Middleton’s man, Reggie Bullock, gets caught up with Donte’s sprint before hurriedly recovering back to K-Midd. Julius Randle lumbers across the free throw line to keep up with Giannis.
Giannis sets a light screen on Middleton’s man before sprinting into the lane. Randle can’t recover in time, and feably paws as Giannis lays it in. On the weakside, R.J. Barrett gets caught watching Lopez mosey up to the right wing where Giannis could kick it for a triple, while Mitchell Robsinson is straight-up ball watching. Those wandering eyes allow an uncontested lay-in. We’ve seen the Giannis-Khris pick-and-roll emerge as a weapon we want to see more of, and this was a nice variation on a typical “set screen above the break” play. It keeps Giannis in motion, and allows his athleticism to shine when he catches the ball on the move in a lane cleared of its usual clutter when he drives himself.
Riding the StruggleBucks
Not only will I subject you to my horrific portmanteau on a weekly basis here, I’ll also highlight one Buck who rode the struggle bus over the past week. Given the limited sample size, it’s a little unfair to pick on someone this early, but I want to talk about Brook Lopez for a bit.
The Heat game was the first time he looked like himself in this offense. He was looking for his shots early, was moving within the flow of the offense for an early triple and even took Bam Adebayo off the dribble for one of his glacially slow drives. Still, up to that point, he looked a little rudderless in the Bucks offense. The Heat game upped his 3-point percentage to 36% (albeit on just 11 attempts), but the Bucks also hunted out his looks early. Indeed, all 11 of his points came in the first quarter alone before he didn’t score again, partially due to the blowout that ensured.
Brook lowering his usage percentage isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly with Jrue Holiday shouldering more of the load. But, right now, he’s essentially getting shunted into the Wesley Matthews fifth starter role in terms of his usage percentage, at just 13.1%. Matthews’ was 12.5% last year for what it’s worth. Usage doesn’t just encompass shots, but per-36, he’s on pace for just nine field goal this year versus 13.3 last year. Given the Bucks want him to shoot triples, fewer shots puts more pressure on Lopez to knock them down with more consistency. Milwaukee has tried to help Brook out by moving him to the corners more often since the bubble. That’s stayed true this year, with 20% of his triples coming from the corner vs. 10% throughout last year. Here are his shot charts from 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Fewer shots also means it would grow tougher to justify Brook on his current contract, although not as severely if he provides the same level of defensive impact as he did last regular season. We’ve seen that mitigated in the postseason though, and his rim protection hasn’t seemed quite as stingy this season. I’d like to see if Bud found ways to get Lopez more involved with some of the bench units that are relying on sparkplugs that don’t seem as reliable as Brook. He scored solidly as a roll man last season on limited volume, but I also like to see Milwaukee occasionally just let him go to work on his defender like he did against Bam last night. He’s a sneaky okay driver in his few opportunities.
Brook looked on his way in that Heat game to carving out a bigger role offensively. This team is top-heavy, and Brook was consistently their third best player throughout all of last year’s postseason. Watching where he sits in this year’s pecking order should be an interesting endeavor week-to-week.
While the weekly MVP award likely won’t change hands between more than a few players on the Bucks, I figured it would be useful to track who our readers deemed as the most valuable Buck on a rolling basis. So, without further ado, here are the candidates and highlight reels from their signature performance.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (4 GP: 21.5 ppg, 11.3 reb, 4.3 ast, 1.5 stl, 0.5 blk )
The back-to-back MVP is just 'getting in shape' with a line of:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 24, 2020
35 PTS | 13 REB | 2 AST | 2 BLK pic.twitter.com/If2FNMGJqL
Khris Middleton (4 GP: 26.3 ppg, 6.5 reb, 5.8 ast, 1.0 stl)
31 points in 26 minutes on Khrismas!! pic.twitter.com/9Q7n4yiIY8— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 26, 2020
Jrue Holiday (4 GP: 17.3 ppg, 4.3 reb, 5.3 ast, 1.8 stl, 0.8 blk)
Happy Holidays.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 30, 2020
24 PTS | 7 AST | 3 REB | 60% 3PT pic.twitter.com/VNwTWBc8Cw
Vote in the poll below for who you would deem this week’s Bucks MVP. If you choose other, let us know in the comments who you would’ve picked.
Week 1: The Bucks MVP was...
This poll is closed
This poll will close at noon on Thursday, December 31.
That does it for week one of the season. Let me know if there are other components you’d like to see, and your own thoughts on Milwaukee’s performance for the first week.