With the postponement of the Milwaukee Bucks-Washington Wizards matchup due to COVID-19 last week, we’re left with two measly games to break down. Thankfully, at least one of them produced plenty of storylines in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
January 21: Milwaukee 106, Los Angeles 113 (Bucks Fall Flat Against Lakers)
January 24: Milwaukee 129, Atlanta 115 (Bucks Ground Hawks)
One of the worst parts of losing to the Los Angeles Lakers wasn’t just the torrent of “the Bucks can’t beat good teams” dialogue it kicked off (which...fair), but the fact it had to be Alex Caruso of all people to hit one of the dagger threes late. Sure, LeBron hit a stepback triple, but you expect that from him. You don’t expect wide open corner triples from role players on two critical clutch possessions. Blergh. The Hawks game didn’t exactly send Milwaukee soaring either, with Atlanta missing Trae Young and the suddenly stat-stuffing Clint Capela. Bud’s squad survived pesky run after pesky run to emerge unscathed.
After the thumping Bud took for grabbing the final Nets play out of the locker room recycling bin, the old chap could probably benefit from a small pat on the back. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t exactly give Bud stellar marks for his X’s and O’s to start these two games, but he deserves kudos for recognizing that his star player needed opportunities to get in the flow from tip.
Rather than go in-detail on either of these two plays, because there’s mostly just off-ball misdirection happening, I thought it would be instructive to run through both of these efforts at getting Giannis the ball closer to the basket. Plus, it’s a tale of two defenders in Anthony Davis, a perennial DPOY candidate, and Onyeka Okongwu, an unseasoned rook who’s just potential in a box right now.
Against Los Angeles, Jrue gets the ball to Middleton, who waits for DiVincenzo to set enough of a screen on Anthony Davis that Giannis can release for a free catch as he gets into position on the block. From there, it’s patience makes perfect for The Greek Freak. A pivot for a right hook shot is blocked off, so he maintains his composure for a small drop step into a power finish for the and-one. I miss Giannis drop step finishes; when he pulled those on defenders in the early days...ooh that was enough to make a man melt.
For our second entry of the week, it’s much more of a conventional Giannis finish. By which I mean a dunk shot. Rather than plant Brook in the corner as a weakside spacer though, this time they keep Middleton and Giannis on the strong side. When Antetokounmpo gets the ball on the right side, he fakes the dribble-handoff to Donte DiVincenzo, who sprints into the dunker spot. While that’s going on, DeAndre Hunter can’t leave Middleton alone in the corner, while John Collins gets caught up in Lopez’s phony screen then must respect the big man’s range above the break. If Atlanta wanted a proper wall here, Collins probably should’ve helped off to double down with Okongwu and seal off Giannis’s path to the rim, forcing a kickout.
Instead, Giannis gets another one-on-one opportunity and his forearm is enough to send the slender first year from USC staring up into the net. Rajon Rondo wisely lets the rookie enjoy the lesson. Bud clearly seemed intent on having Giannis find his rhythm from the outset, which is a fitting lead-in to our next segment.
On the StruggleBucks
It’s important to use all the usual caveats here — he’s the franchise savior, this team would be treading water without him, his mere presence moves mountains — but given this last week featured a frustrating torrent of turnovers by Giannis Antetokounmpo, I wanted to touch briefly on him. I rewatched all his turnovers from these past two weeks (you can too!) and it basically breaks down into three categories:
- Out-of-control drives
- Loose dribble
- Errant pass
You can even find most of these, in detail, on basketball reference by looking at their play-by-play stats. As Eric Nehm detailed in this stellar piece about Giannis adjusting to Bud’s new offensive schemes, his numbers are down slightly. In a broader context, turnovers still aren’t a major issue for Giannis when compared to the top usage players in the league. Among the top-50 usage players of the past five seasons, here’s where he has ranked in terms of turnover percentage.
Given his height, and reckless abandon driving to the rim, I’d say that’s pretty darn good. The “struggles” we’ve seen thus far occasionally feel like a 7-foot square peg ramming itself through a circular hole until it breaks. He’s averaging a little more than one offensive foul a game (17 thus far), although FOUR freakin’ calls against the Lakers doesn’t help things. Still, it wouldn’t be too far off his pace the last two seasons (65 and 68 respectively).
The one place where Giannis clearly has issues turning the ball over is as a driver though. We saw plenty of those against the Lakers. Beyond just running into the wall, several Lakers players are able to dig into the lane and disrupt his dribble or do just enough to poke the ball free. I’ll spare you the charge footage, but here’s a common occurrence: three dudes slapping at Giannis as he goes into his patented spin move. LeBron just entirely leaves his man to throw another body at Giannis.
When looking at the league’s top-50 players in terms of drives per game (reflected in the chart below) the past five seasons, you can clearly see when teams started forcing him into more turnovers. His offensive fouls jumped from 39 in 2017-18 to 68 in 2018-19.
The thing that’s so easy to lose sight of in the midst of these nitpicks though is still how freaking good a Giannis drive still is. He’s shooting 60% on his 4.4 attempts per game, and draws fouls at an incredible rate among the most frequent drivers in the league. Some of that could be teams purposefully wrapping him up, but still, the point stands: anytime Giannis drives, it’s more likely to end up in a good outcome than bad for the Bucks.
Here are the turnovers I’ll be keeping my eyes on in the weeks ahead as Giannis is used more as a screener.
When he catches the ball on the short roll, can Giannis gather control and utilize either a short pull-up/hook shot? Or will he barrel into defenders? If he maintains his composure and weaves to the rim (more difficult with the dunker spot full this year) or takes an extra second to draw a defenders eyes away from his man on the perimeter so he can dish it out, his ability as a rolling playmaker should only benefit this team’s offensive diversity.
We did it, folks. We’ve unseated Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton atop the Weekly MVP throne. And it only took Jrue Holiday four weeks to reach that pinnacle. Props to him, and his two-way success is a glowing example of his continued growth as an offensive focal point for Bud. I’m honestly not sure how this week’s results will go, given each guy only had two games to showcase their skills. For what it’s worth, Giannis also attempted fewer shots than both Middleton and Holiday over these two games (15.0 vs. 15.5)...
Giannis Antetokounmpo (2 GP: 26 pts, 13.0 reb, 5.5 ast, 1.0 blk)
The best of The Greek Freak in Sunday's domination of the Hawks. pic.twitter.com/R4Gf5DuZTv— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 25, 2021
Khris Middleton (2 GP: 19.5 pts, 6.5 reb, 7.0 ast)
Jrue Holiday (2 GP: 18.5 pts, 5 reb, 6 ast, 1 stl)
Week 5: The Bucks MVP was...
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