The Milwaukee Bucks are fresh off a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in what was clearly the team’s game of the year thus far. We’ll see whether the upcoming Los Angeles Lakers matchup can measure up to the East Coast’s contenders. For now though, let’s wrap up a largely successful week.
The Week That Was
January 13: Milwaukee 110, Detroit 101 (Bucks Leave the Motor City Victorious)
January 15: Milwaukee 112, Dallas 109 (Bucks Escape with a Narrow Victory)
January 18: Milwaukee 123, Brooklyn 125 (Bucks Fall in Final Minutes During Superstar Showdown)
Finally, the Bucks have cleared the Detroit Pistons off their slate for at least the first half of the season. We don’t need to spill any more virtual ink on that team. Then, they tackled a Mavericks team with a performance that left plenty to be desired, but got the job done. Given the Bucks recent struggles against Rick Carlisle’s teams, you’ll take any type of win. I won’t go too deep on the Brooklyn-Milwaukee matchup, you can read my recap for more in-depth thoughts. Suffice it to say, there was Playoff energy, maybe even more so than any Bubble game the Bucks participated in?
Either way, a loss couldn’t dampen my spirits after watching that tug-of-war.
Once again, not the finest candidates this week, with Milwaukee having to settle for less-than-ideal shots against the Mavericks (a Giannis hook shot after a failed alley-oop) and a Jrue pull-up triple against Brooklyn. Thankfully, the week tipped off with some BBSE (Big Brook Screen Energy). Take a gander at everything the big fella does here to start and end this set.
To start with though, we have to talk about the options on this play. Here’s the first missed opportunity. Brook has already set a screen on Jrue’s man as the wily point guard dashes to the bucket through the lane.
Blake Griffin must get just enough of a mitt in Giannis’s passing angle. Couple that with Giannis being guarded by Plumlee rather than a smaller defender, and he can’t execute the pass into the awaiting Holiday’s arms. Instead, he’s forced to reset it to Brook on the left wing. He passes to Donte, who gets it to Jrue at his pop-up shop on the left elbow, before DiVincenzo sprints out of frame. Meanwhile, I spy someone starting their run from the right corner.
Khris trots up to give Jrue a release valve, as Giannis and Brook each set screens to try and free up Middleton for an open jumper. Griffin gets just enough of a hand in Middleton’s face to force the miss, but you’ll take that shot any time. Kudos to Griffin for actually having a hand in disrupting both key elements of this play.
On the StruggleBucks
It pains me to do this, but it’s time to talk about Donte DiVincenzo. Remember those halcyon days where The Big Ragu had magically become one of the greatest shooters the league had seen? 64% from deep? The leap was clear. Say arrividerci to that. Since his sterling start, the newly minted starter has rode his vespa back to earth from deep. After Monday’s game, he’s sitting at 44.1%. That’s more than solid. If he finishes around 38%, the Bucks should be ecstatic. If he finishes above 40%, Horst can rip down that Bogdan Bogdanovic picture he put over the dartboard in their offices. The funny part about Donte is that shooting never drives the conversation around him, but it’s still clearly the biggest swing statistic for him to turn from solid bit piece to clear cut closer.
Reducing Donte’s game to outside shooting does him no favors though. He’s the do-everything dude. Lately though, that’s felt like do-everything-at-all-times-and-get-out-of-position dude. And I don’t mean to just pick on the guy with a few choice plays, because there were some solid examples of one-on-one defense later in the matchup, but the Friday game against Dallas had a few particularly egregious errors. Who can forget this one? Ah, the sweet scent of switching gone south.
Yikes. Clearly there are going to be growing pains as Bud incorporates switching more routinely. The next error was more egregious.
Just an utter lack of awareness to allow the back-cut. These ones are less acceptable. The same thing happened against Brooklyn too. But, they are going to happen to players occasionally, no one is perfect. As a role player though, these are the kinds of plays you have to be locked in on since you can’t exactly make up for it on the other end.
Against Brooklyn, we also saw Donte take spot-up duty against James harden when Jrue Holiday left the floor. It started horribly, with him getting juked out of his shoes and looking entirely lost as Harden whirled past him. Later on though, he showed an admirable ability to use what strength he has to body up against him. Milwaukee wanted to stay in his jersey, not let him get comfortable, and DiVincenzo didn’t back down.
He lets Harden get a slight step on him, but Harden can get a step on anyone. Donte finishes the play with an impressive block. Now, if you watch later in that period, there are clear miscues, not always his fault. At one point, D.J. Augustin and DiVincenzo get caught in a pick-and-roll with Harden and Harris that ends in an easy triple for the Nets sharpshooter. DiVincenzo couldn’t always stay in front of Harden. He lost him occasionally in transition and his gambling for a deflection ultimately led to an open Harden trey that missed. (As an aside: remember what I said earlier about backcuts happening to everyone? Yes, even Jrue Holiday.)
Why does this matter? Well, for one, if the Bucks plan to switch pick-and-rolls more frequently in the Playoffs, there will be teams that try to get this exact type of mismatch against Donte DiVincenzo. He doesn’t have the bulk of Jrue Holiday to match up with stronger players. We’ll see how Bud handles these types of matchups as the competition ramps up this season.
Offensively, his scoring output has clearly gone down since his deep shot regressed to the mean. We’ll see how far it drops, but Donte’s clearest area for improvement this season is finishing around the rim. Much has been made of the snowflake nature of his shots at the rim, no layup seems the same. Well, that really didn’t hamper him much last season, when he finished 62% at the rim on 183 attempts, in the 70th percentile among wings per Cleaning The Glass. He’s at just 50% on 42 attempts thus far, in the 13th percentile. I expect him to return to equilibrium by the break, with his 3-point mark coming closer to career averages while the rim finishing ticks up a tad to last year’s levels.
The good news is that while his finishing may be working into form, he has found ways to squeeze out a few opportunities for others off the dribble. His driving ticked up a smidge this season, but he’s passing nearly twice as often in those opportunities with a lower turnover percentage. Tunnel vision is eroding itself from his game, and the Bucks are benefiting from his kickouts and interior tosses.
One through-line with these plays: they’re against crappy defenders. And crappy teams. Donte gets lots of assists through dirty work, grabbing a weird offensive board and twirling it to a cutter; driving and throwing to a dive-bombing Giannis from the perimeter, etc. These particular passes are more of the exception than the rule for the moment. But a bit of offensive evolution matters. Against starters, teams are probably going to put their worst defender on him or Brook Lopez. Can he shake-and-bake his way to create a little offense, or will he bumble the ball out of bounds? It’s good that Bud is giving him these reps to see whether these skills will continue to blossom or top-out.
With three installments thus far in our weekly MVP voting, Khris Middleton is currently the leader in the clubhouse with two trophies. I can’t say I disagree, and it seems sensible given his versatility and reliability thus far into the season. It’s one of the benefits of polling you loyal readers and Bucks fans, for anyone outside the fanbase would probably call those results ludicrous. A-okay here though. I even think there’s an outside chance Jrue wins this one given the defensive assignments he drew this past week. Here are this week’s main contestants:
Giannis Antetokounmpo (3 GP: 29.0 pts, 10.3 reb, 6.0 ast, 1.3 stl, 1.3 blk)
The Greek Freak with a near-triple double:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 19, 2021
34 PTS | 12 REB | 7 AST pic.twitter.com/DbDGOFx5Jl
Khris Middleton (3 GP: 20.7 pts, 4.7 reb, 5.3 ast, 1.7 stl)
Khris just keeps getting better. pic.twitter.com/eSsPgQVDl5— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 16, 2021
Jrue Holiday (3 GP: 19.7 pts, 4.3 reb, 5.3 ast, 1.7 stl, 0.7 blk)
Week 4: The Bucks MVP was...
This poll is closed
This poll will close on Thursday, January 21 at 7 pm central.
As always, thanks to anyone who actually read all the way to the end! Let us know who your MVP was in the comments below and any thoughts on the past week.