The heat was on the Milwaukee Bucks to boost our spirits after letting Erik Spoelstra’s squad blow up their sizable second half lead and send us home somber from South Beach. When the Playoff PTSD subsided though, the Bucks did what Bud’s Bucks do best: Kool-Aid Man through crappy divisional rivals. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
December 30: Milwaukee 108, Miami 119 (Bucks get Burned by Heat)
January 1: Milwaukee 126, Chicago 96 (New Year, Better Bucks)
January 4: Milwaukee 125, Detroit 115 (Bucks Outmuscle Pistons)
Frankly, it was a forgettable week in Bucks land, with the notable exception of the horrors of Playoff performance’s past coming back to haunt Milwaukee. Goran Dragic sliced their defense in his usual annoyingly speedy old man style, but the get-well games against flailing Chicago and Detroit represented a return to form for beating up on bad opponents. That Knicks loss was quite the wake-up call, but also, maybe the Knicks are okay?
The most fascinating document of this week was Bud’s rotational change, swapping out first quarter D.J. Wilson minutes for first quarter Thanasis Antetokounmpo minutes. No, it wasn’t a one-game fluke, he went back to it against the Bulls before resting Thanasis’s legs in just five minutes against Detroit. For this week’s postgame quote of the week, let’s run with Eric Nehm’s question to Bud about the decision:
It wasn’t Bud, or more aptly his player’s, finest moments to open this week’s games. Miami sniffed out whatever he planned, leading to a desperation late triple by Jrue Holiday. Against Chicago, Donte tried to spur a quick shot in transition when the tip went his way, and when Milwaukee finally got into position for whatever they had planned with Giannis above the break, he clanged a triple. Finally, Milwaukee found a winning combination against the Pistons. It had the bonus benefit of portending the evening’s offensive strategy. Let Giannis crush.
It opens with what looks like an attempt to get Middleton something easy going to the basket. Khris vacates the right wing, while Giannis fills his void, before Middleton slinks around a burly weakside Brook Lopez screen that disrupts rookie Saddiq Bey as he gives chase to Milwaukee’s sharpshooter. Miles Plumlee sinks so low that he snuffs out the action, and Giannis stares longingly at an assist that never was...or was maybe never meant to be?
If it was dummy action, Giannis then passes the ball out to Jrue who resets on the left wing, with Lopez screening Killian Hayes to give Holiday enough room should he want the triple. Lopez holds the screen long enough before churning to the left corner, freeing up Giannis to send Hayes through the wringer once more as he rolls to the basket as a passing option for Holiday in the lane.
Holiday hops into the air and flips the rock to Giannis, who mitts it and finds himself surrounded by two Pistons defenders. Rather than toss it to Lopez in the corner, he opts to truck stick Jerami Grant and gets fouled for his first trip to the line. Nothing pretty, but it set the night’s tone for paint prowess.
Riding the StruggleBucks
One could (and should) at this point forgive him for early struggles given his little time to acclimate, but D.J. Augustin looked like a bench piece still trying to find his role before Monday’s Pistons matchup. So today, let’s peek into what he’s done thus far, and examine whether it matches up with our perceptions of his idealized role.
Coming in, it seemed natural to envision him as the George Hill replacement. Veteran point guard, savvy enough to lead bench units, enough shooting punch to offset his defensive deficiencies. Smartly, Bud isn’t asking him to do too much heavy lifting right now, even with his occasional predilection for all-bench lineups early in this young season. Don’t read almost anything into this given the small sample, but thus far D.J.’s most common two-man lineups are with Bobby Portis, then Middleton, Holiday and Giannis.
That seems sensible while Augustin acclimates to Bud’s scheme, trying to find his spots and being mostly used as a spacer to this point. Despite just 16.4 minutes per game, Augustin’s 2.8 catch-and-shoot attempts per game is the most in his career since his 2013-14 campaign, when he had 2.5 attempts. It’s not a drastic raw numbers change, but it’s an indication of the ball being in his hands less. Here’s the percentage of his total shots that come via catch-and-shoot by season.
The theoretical benefit of picking up Augustin over some other pure catch-and-shoot players, to me, was the smidge of juice he offers as a floor general and pull-up shooter. If Augustin merely functions as a spot-up shooter, I’m not entirely sure the Bucks will be maximizing his ability. Certainly, you don’t want to take the ball out of your big three’s hands, but allowing Augustin to be more than a one-dimensional player seems important to take advantage of the outsized defensive attention paid to your top players.
Augustin’s assist percentage has plummeted this season thus far. Once again, that’s partially by design given Bud doesn’t want Augustin to be a primary creator when he’s got Giannis, Khris and Jrue to handle those duties. Plus, Holiday himself is still trying to feel himself into a creation role on this team. Still, Augustin remains really the only credible secondary playmaker on the bench. Bryn Forbes, Pat Connaughton and Thanasis don’t create offense. Bobby Portis can, and occasionally should do his “Bobby Portis Time!” thing, but he benefits from finding his way within the flow of others.
At this point, he seems like a creator for the creator, a floor calmer. The guy who gets Giannis, Khris or Jrue the ball, just the way they want it - the way a point guard should - so that they can drive, score, create. In Monday’s third quarter against the Pistons though, I think the Augustin I expected finally emerged with some extended playing time. There was this inbounds in for a Giannis slam.
After giving up an easy transition score off a poor Middleton pass, the Pistons kept hanging around in the second half. Augustin got the ball, utilized Middleton’s gravity to find himself open on the perimeter and splashed home a triple, no questions asked.
Later, he got the Pistons defense off kilter just enough to fling an overhead pass to Khris Middleton on the opposite side of the floor. It’s a tough shot, but was enough to get Middleton in isolation. Then Khris did what Khris does - swish.
A few possessions later, Augustin creates a wide open look for Forbes by dusting a Pistons defender.
Yes, it’s the Pistons. Yes, we need to see him do it against better competition. But Giannis spent the period being triple-teamed, while Middleton and Holiday were struggling to find an offensive rhythm that could catapult the Bucks to an insurmountable lead. Augustin stepped into the role Horst likely envisioned:
Calm. Create. Pass. Shoot if open.
Our week one MVP was never in doubt, with Khris Middleton taking a whopping 90% of the vote. This week might be equally as much a runaway with the results, with Khris and Jrue taking a backseat scoring-wise to Giannis, especially during his magnificent 40+ point outing against Detroit. Here are our three major candidates with a few weekly highlights. If the number of compilation videos available from the organization on Twitter are any indication...this one is pretty obvious.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (3 GP: 32.7 pts, 11.3 reb, 7.3 ast, 1.7 stl, 1.3 blk)
The Greek Freak makes dropping 43 points look easy. pic.twitter.com/mUIVIGoME7— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 5, 2021
Khris Middleton (3 GP: 13.7 pts, 6.0 reb, 6.3 ast, 1.3 stl)
Jrue Holiday (3 GP: 13.0 pts, 3.7 reb, 5.3 ast, 2.7 stl)
Week 2: The Bucks MVP was...
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Let us know what you thought of the Bucks this past week, as well as who you voted for as weekly MVP!