Wipe away the tears from your face and tune into these five observations about the Milwaukee Bucks:
After nearly two straight years of regular season dominance, this phenomenon may be new to some Bucks’ fans, but we’ve reached that point in the season. For the second straight year, Milwaukee lost their first back-to-back games at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in early March. Last year it happened on March 4th, this time around, it was March 8th.
The regular season losing anomalies go on; they’ve lost three out of four for the first time since March 14-21st of 2017; the first time they’ve lost more than two games in a month since March of 2018; their Sunday, March 1st game against the Charlotte Hornets was the first time in 84 games they were held under 100 points; the list goes on.
Outside of the game against the Suns, Milwaukee’s offense has largely been the issue over the last month-and-a-half. They’re not shooting as well as they once were, they’re turning the ball over far too often and aren’t getting to the free throw line enough.
Unfortunately, it’s not about to get any easier. The Bucks play the Denver Nuggets on Monday—the second night of a back-to-back—and haven’t lost more than two games in a row since they dropped four straight from February 25th to March 2nd, 2018. Giannis Antetokounmpo is at least out for the Nuggets’ game before he’ll get re-evaluated ahead of their showcase against the Boston Celtics on Thursday (My guess—he doesn’t play in that one either).
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Three-Point Shot
A lot has been made about Antetokounmpo’s injury scare, and rightfully so, but his three-point shot deserves attention, as it has been slipping since January. Once raising his three-point percentage as high as 33.5 percent, it’s now plunged to 30.6 percent—and dropping.
Since January 6th, he’s only connecting on a quarter of his shots behind the arc. After making two or more threes 17 times in his first 34 games, he’s only reached that milestone on seven occasions in his last 23 contests; including his only two games of the season where he failed to attempt a shot behind the arc.
To be sure, teams have started to play Antetokounmpo slightly different. Earlier in the season, there’d be a gap as wide as the Mississippi River between Antetokounmpo and his defender when he was at the three-point line. Now, the difference is closer to the Wisconsin River.
The top clip is the Bucks’ December matchup against the Lakers while the bottom is their most recent contest. On top, Anthony Davis nearly backpedals to the free throw line upon Antetokounmpo catching the ball at the top of the key. This gives the shooter a bit more time to get the look off. On bottom, he only slightly surrenders ground and is in a much better position to rush the shot.
This half-second is all the difference in the world for the best shooters alive, nonetheless, an inconsistent forward trying to build his confidence and fundamentals from behind the arc.
Khris Middleton’s Slump
Middleton missed back-to-back games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets last week due to neck soreness and has since returned to some painful times on the court. In the four games since his return, not only have the Bucks lost three of them, but he’s struggled on an individual level.
Even with his 39-point performance against the Suns, he’s averaging 20.8 points per game with a less than stellar 46.1 effective field goal percentage (his season efg is 57.7). Most notable is his Giannis-esque three-point shooting percentage at 25.7 which includes him taking 10 threes in three of those four games.
Middleton’s getting the same types of looks he has been all season, but the shots just haven’t been falling. That will happen. He’s also faced some very good defenders in that span including Danny Green, Jimmy Butler and Andre Iguodala.
The good news is with the offense running through the Bucks’ second All-Star until Antetokounmpo’s return, he’ll have every opportunity to continue his showing in Phoenix on Sunday night.
Ersan Ilyasova’s Passiveness
We may be nearing the end of Ersan Ilyasova’s days as a Milwaukee Buck (at least until he comes back in a few years for his 479th stint with the team). Ilyasova has mostly been out of the rotation since the Bucks signed Marvin Williams on February 10th. Williams has shown he’s a clearly superior defender despite not yet being able to find his outside stroke—shooting just 29.6 percent from downtown with his new team.
Still, the Bucks’ new acquisition has held down his spot as the backup 4, in large part, because Ilyasova has been hot garbage over the last six-ish weeks. To be fair, that wasn’t always the case, as Ers was pretty good for most of the season leading up to February.
Unfortunately, he’s hit a wall typically reserved for rookies and players dwindling down at the end of their careers. He’s been a whole step slow on defense—something he can’t afford given his physical limitations—and just isn’t himself on offense. Against the Detroit Pistons on February 20th, Ilyasova failed to take a shot attempt when playing at least 10 minutes for the first time in his career. He accomplished that exact feat again on Sunday when he played 15 minutes against the Suns and didn’t get a shot up.
He has one year left on his deal after this season, but it’s non-guaranteed. It would be hard to imagine Jon Horst wanting to pay Ilyasova $7 million next year given his recent play. We might be witnessing the end of an era.
Donte DiVincenzo’s Emergence
Alright, enough of this sad shit. Let’s end on the high note that is Donte DiVincenzo. If there’s one positive you can take away from the last week of Bucks’ basketball, it’s the Big Ragu. White Donte. The Michael Jordan of Delaware.
After missing most of his rookie season with various foot and heel injuries, he’s made the most of his sophomore campaign. On the surface, his numbers look pedestrian—averaging 9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. However, his impact reaches further than any box score could ever measure.
DiVincenzo flies all over both ends of the court, cutting to the hoop, corralling rebounds and jumping passing lanes:
He’s scored 10 or more points in each of his last four games—tying a personal-best set two other times this season. During this span, he’s averaging 15.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 57.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from downtown.
Although he’s not an expert in any one area, DiVincenzo can do a little bit of everything. He fills in admirably by playing the role his team needs at the time. He might be the missing piece the Bucks need to get over the championship hump.