Things are getting dicey in the NBA right now. Games are being postponed across the league due to positive COVID-19 tests and the league’s health and safety protocols. It feels like we’re approaching the same place the NFL was midseason, when games were moving from Thursday to the next Wednesday, bye weeks disappeared and it seemed very possible the league may pause for a week or two to get things ironed out. They plowed ahead though, and even finished their season entirely on time.
The NBA appears prepared to do the same thing. To this point, the Milwaukee Bucks have escaped any missed players, rescheduled games or other issues. Hopefully for everyone’s safety, it can remain that way. Now, let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- January 6: Milwaukee 130, Detroit 115 (Bucks Obliterate Pistons)
- January 8: Milwaukee 118, Utah 131 (Bucks Fall to a Barrage of Threes)
- January 9: Milwaukee 100, Cleveland 90 (Antetokounmpo-less Bucks Etch Way Past Cavs)
- January 11: Milwaukee 121, Orlando 99 (Bucks Take Care of Magic)
A heavy dose of Eastern Conference opponents is a rich meal for this team. Bookended by sizable victories, Milwaukee also eked out a Cleveland victory after falling to the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz game weighs heavily in my mind this week, as losses are wont to do. We should get some solid litmus tests after the next slate of games, which includes both the Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets.
After the atrocity that was 2020, we really should find joy in whatever we can. And holy cats do I enjoy watching Donte DiVincenzo and Jrue Holiday play basketball together. Sure, Wes Matthews was a solid veteran, but the craftiness on display by Holiday and DiVincenzo in their passing repertoires is majestic at times. That’s why I was so delighted to see them connect to kick off the Bucks matchup with the Utah Jazz. Unlike last week’s initial set setting the game’s tone, this one most definitively did not.
The beauty of this play is how much stuff is going on simultaneously across the strong and weak sides. As it starts, you have Giannis clearly drawing defenders as Jrue and Khris swap spots while Brook and Donte perform a similar (if less spirited) dance on the right side.
That light brush screen above isn’t much, but it’s enough to knock Bogdanovic off his rhythm as Khris clears out the floor through the lane and works his way back to the right corner. Giannis switches the floor, passing to Jrue on the right side, where Donte is transitioning up before slipping the screen on Jrue. He even adds a spin to up the flair factor.
By this point, you can already tell it’s too late for Utah. As Mitchell and Conley double Jrue Holiday, Royce O’Neale doesn’t sag nearly far enough off Giannis to properly tag Donte. Bogdanovic is a little busy over there chasing Khris, and Brook is keeping Rudy from planting a foot firmly in the paint. Suddenly, The Big Ragu ladles in the easy bucket. If only they’d drawn it up like that all night...
Riding the StruggleBucks
It was a tougher choice this week for this category. For the purposes of my own sanity, I’ve already decided to exclude Thanasis Antetokounmpo from this section. So I was left pondering a few choices, but then I stumbled upon this while reading FiveThirtyEight’s update of their RAPTOR rating for players.
This is an odd artifact. It’ll be irrelevant by the time the season concludes given it’s reliant upon small sample sizes. Normally, I’d be okay with Bryn Forbes sharing any sort of list with Damian Lillard and James Harden, but I was a little surprised to see him included. Sure, he’s seemed to be getting his sea legs under him, but I didn’t think he would’ve gotten worse on a superior team this year...
As some background, RAPTOR stands for Robust Algorithm (using) Player Tracking (and) On/Off Ratings. Here’s how it’s calculated per FiveThirtyEight:
“RAPTOR is derived by blending two components: one based on individual box score and player-tracking data, and another based on how the player’s team does with the player on the court (versus without) after adjusting for the quality of his teammates and opposing lineups.”
I couldn’t help but wonder why Forbes rated out so poorly thus far. I’m not going to go full tilt trying to diagnose it given the small samples sizes thus far, but I did want to take a peek at how Forbes has performed thus far. In general, the theory with a low salary dude like Forbes is to enter Bud’s system, swaddled in a lineup of superstars, take his vitamins and grow into a player with boosted stats. Not the case with Forbes thus far, whose -9.8 efficiency differential on Cleaning The Glass is the worst among primary rotation players (Thanasis excluded).
But that doesn’t explain it all, especially because Bobby Portis has been -4.8 this season in that same metric, but is ranked as 538’s biggest riser in the same article. RAPTOR uses both on/off metrics, but is more strongly weighted by box score plus-minus (BPM) metrics. Portis loves Portis time, and his BPM stats have been really solid this season.
The only thing I knew about Bryn Forbes coming into this season was that he would shoot. And shoot he has, in particular beyond the arc where he’s launched 63% of his shots. His growing chemistry with Giannis is evident. If you look at Giannis’s passing dashboard, 66% of the time Forbes gets a pass from Giannis, he’s chucking it up. We’ve already seen the power of his old-school screening (I love how Bryn puts his hands onto his chest) and its potency when paired with Giannis. And against less disciplined teams, like the Bulls, their PnR act will result in easy buckets like this, when Coby White doesn’t recover in time.
One bugaboo I have with Forbes’ offensive game thus far are his dribble-in midrangers. Not that he shouldn’t be allowed to take midrangers, but I’m dubious of their efficacy come gut check time. If the Bucks meet the Heat in Playoff time, this’ll be a possession I’d like back, even if it ends in a make:
Forbes feels more one-dimensional than most of Horst’s recent acquisitions. Generally they prefer players that match all three segments of Bud’s Triforce: pass, dribble and shoot. This year, in 188 minutes, Forbes has three assists. Three. Which is fine for a shooter I suppose, but you can see a bit of tunnel vision in the clip above. Brook’s creeping out for an open look, Connaughton is slinking up the arc while Kendrick Nunn gets a little distracted, and there’s still 16 seconds left on the shot clock. There were options. Forbes isn’t really a cutter, nor much of a ball handler beyond a quick pump fake or dribble-drive inside a bit of the arc. I’m not saying don’t shoot, but I’ll be interested to see if Forbes adds a greater semblance of skipping the rock around to his game as he grows more comfortable in Bud’s offense.
The role he’s primarily filling is Korver’s from last season, running around screens, grabbing handoffs for easy buckets, etc. Within it, there’s not a whole lot of room for experimentation, I get that. But, Korver was also one of the league’s best deadeye shooters. Can Forbes match that type of accuracy all season long? It’ll be a question until we have an answer in the Playoffs. And while Korver was on his skis often defensively, he did bring length at the very least. The on/off stats aren’t kind to Forbes defense thus far, with the Bucks D giving up 7 more points per 100 possessions while he’s out there. He seems to be hustling and doing his best to stick with shooters, so I’ll have to watch more closely in the coming weeks to see if there’s something more glaring.
He’s carved out a clear role offensively already though. Now let’s see if there’s if there’s any room for him to grow within that role.
After two runaway winners during our first two weeks, I think we may get some spirited debate in here. Personally, I don’t have a clear-cut winner offhand, especially after Giannis sat out that Cleveland Cavaliers game. I have to admit, Bobby Portis had a sneaky solid week, especially from a scoring standpoint...but let’s see how it all shakes out after I share some of the weekly highlights.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (3 GP: 27.3 pts, 7.3 reb, 4.0 ast, 1.3 blk)
Best of Giannis from last night's battle.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 9, 2021
35 PTS | 8 REB | 4 AST | 1 BLK pic.twitter.com/YIRr9EjdUj
Khris Middleton (4 GP: 25.3 pts, 7.5 reb, 5.0 ast)
Khris in the zone.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 9, 2021
31 PTS | 10 REB | 4 AST pic.twitter.com/vJb9mPylER
Jrue Holiday (4 GP: 13.3 pts, 4.5 reb, 4.5 ast, 2.0 stl, 0.8 blk)
Jrue Holiday or Aaron Rodgers?!? pic.twitter.com/kAb5rdPPLl— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 12, 2021
Week 3: The Bucks MVP was...
This poll is closed
This poll will close at midnight, Thursday, January 14.
That’s it for week three of the wrap-up! Let us know your thoughts on the past week as we look forward to a host of quality opponents in the days ahead.