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Bucks Progress Report: October 22

What grades do we send the Bucks home with this weekend?

Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks

We’re back for season two of this weekly series where Brew Hoop grades the Bucks, week by week. Only two games to go off of thus far, but this has been a Friday feature and it will stay that way. Sample sizes are small and the results in the standings were mixed. Milwaukee is enduring what will hopefully be their only injury-ridden stretch (having just 10 players healthy last night in Miami), which necessitates fielding some lineups of questionable NBA talent. Fortunately, we’re a long way away from individual performances making or breaking any critical stretch of games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: A

His mediocre night in Miami notwithstanding, there is plenty to be encouraged about The Greek Freak’s first couple of games. Since the NBA 75th Anniversary Team selection met the standard of great performances he set during last year’s playoff run matching Kevin Durant with 32 points on 12/25 shooting, let’s discuss the hot topics of his continued evolution: the jumper and free throws. Going just 4/19 outside the restricted area, perhaps we got a little too excited about his preseason shotmaking. However, this is still a very small sample size and we’re just over 3 months past his shotmaking breakthrough in the postseason’s latter rounds: the confidence from that 50 point effort isn’t going anywhere. Same goes for the confidence gained from Game 6 at the line: at any point last year we’d have been quite pleased with 13/19 over two games. The routine is quicker, the motion is smoother, and the trust in himself is apparent. Between the two current foci of interest in Giannis’ game, that feels like the more sustainable one. Finally, let’s not forget that the Nets have no one who can slow him down, while the Bucks have a few guys who can do that to KD. Forget stopping either of them.

Khris Middleton: B

As can happen, it was easy to miss his 20 points against the Nets, especially since his jumper clanked more often as the game went on. Still, I for one feel an astronomical level of confidence in Middleton’s midrange shotmaking, to the point where I expect every shot to go in. The last several games I’ve seen him (dating back to the NBA Finals), most of them do! He also deserves plaudits for his defense on KD early in that tilt, giving the star no room to shoot (like KD needs room to make buckets) and making drives difficult. That’s the best you can do against Durant and it’s exactly what P.J. Tucker did in June. Like every Buck, he couldn’t buy a shot on Thursday evening missing 7 of his first 8 shots and he’s just 2/10 downtown so far. I’m not concerned because the looks he’s creating are as great as ever and he’s distributing well as usual. He did seem a bit careless last night with 4 turnovers, though.

Brook Lopez: B+

While he was solid enough against his former team on Tuesday (8 points, 5 boards, 3 blocks), Thursday’s result underscores just how important he remains to this team defensively and on the boards. The Heat annihilated the Bucks down low to the tune of a 60-38 advantage with Giannis thrust into a less-than-ideal role as the primary rim protector. Just as critically, Milwaukee sorely missed his exceptional box-out ability, which made them one of the league’s best defensive rebounding teams since he arrived three years ago. Miami feasted on the offensive glass early to help put the game out of reach, notching a ridiculous OREB% of 28.8% for a final rebounding edge of 58-38. Lopez has remained healthy for nearly all of his time in Milwaukee and thankfully, his back tightness shouldn’t keep him out much longer.

Grayson Allen: B

Not an outstanding start to his Milwaukee tenure, but solid enough. The three-point stroke will come: he’s too talented of a shooter to stay at 27.8%. He flashed his competent finishing ability at times last night going 3/3 within 6 feet. While Let It Fly remains the Bucks’ M.O. and he fits seamlessly in that ethos, it would behoove the coaching staff to encourage Allen to drive more often, regardless of how well or poorly he shoots. On the other end, he’s the scrapper I expected him to be. He might not be a ball-hawker on the level of Donte DiVincenzo, but instinctually they’re similar and I can tell there will be some games where he’s a total pest.

Pat Connaughton: B+

Count me as shocked that his 20 points against Brooklyn marked the highest output of his Milwaukee tenure. I have some concern he won’t be able to replicate last year’s personal-best shooting performance from deep (let’s not forget that he’s a 35.3% career three-point shooter) and still he’ll be prone to 0-for nights like last night (or Game 6 of the NBA Finals!). Nevertheless, he’s a skilled slasher to the rim much like Allen and he cut through the Nets’ interior “defense” like a hot knife through butter. Some Bucks’ analysts note that they no longer are uneasy seeing him switch defensively onto stars like Kevin Durant after holding his own in last year’s postseason matchup and I echo that. While Duncan Robinson did get him to bite on a ball fake last night (Pat leaped sideways instead of into the front row), he’s largely removed that part of his game, and the Bucks’ perimeter defense keeps benefiting.

George Hill: C+

Largely ineffective in 23 minutes against Brooklyn, Hill at least cashed in half his four 3PA on Thursday, but he still hasn’t convinced me that he’s currently anything more than a serviceable backup point guard. It seems like many fans expected him to perform as well as he did during his previous Milwaukee tenure (which is reasonable since it only ended a year ago), but the man is 35 years of age and we ought to lower those. I sincerely hope he’s not washed. Part of the issue on Tuesday was an uncharacteristic 5 personals, something I wouldn’t expect to inhibit his play moving forward. He also made a bad turnover off an inbounds pass last night in a mistake atypical of a veteran like him. Hill needs more time to settle back in.

Jordan Nwora: B-

The preseason ace deservedly got a heavy dose of minutes off the bench each night, something that will likely continue so long as key reserves are out. As you might expect with a second-year player seeing his first extended non-garbage time minutes, the bag is very mixed. Nwora is fantastic at getting his own bucket, but not everything he creates for himself is of high quality. Marques Johnson called one of his misses “terrible” last night given the open man (it was Justin Robinson... but still) behind him in the corner, though his botches at the rim this week were more inexcusable. In each game, he missed a bunny himself and another of his layups was blocked. There’s still a lot of wildness in his game that makes it tough to watch almost half the time, but just as often I’m impressed with the degree of shotmaking. He was mostly a turnstile against the Heat, but after a few key stops and one stellar block of KD at the rim on Tuesday, maybe it’s a matter of focus.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: B-

Not enough people have been talking about how Thanasis scored just as many points as Blake Griffin on Tuesday in almost half the minutes. Maybe it’s not a fluke on the level of Bryn Forbes outscoring Jimmy Butler over four games, but the man had a better night than nearly every Brooklyn role player and managed to only attract one whistle. Naturally, he’d rack up 4 personals in just 8 first-half minutes last night. The refs certainly did the Bucks no favors but Thanasis did get away with some heavy contact that probably should have been ruled a flagrant-1. Par for the course with Thanasis, but credit to him for being productive on offense during this run of games with a thin bench (6 points and 4 boards in each contest).

Sandro Mamukelashvili: C+

Mamu was pressed into first-half minutes without Bobby Portis on Tuesday and a heavy workload on Thursday with Brook out. 27 minutes for a two-way guy in just his second pro game is unprecedented for the Bud-era Bucks. When the Heat game was out of reach and the pressure was off, the offensive production came (8 second-half points and 2 threes) versus the end of Miami’s bench. He looked more like a borderline NBA player during consequential stretches of gameplay but all four of his boards, including two of the offensive variety, came when he was on the court with actual Heat rotation players. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Mamu: maybe this early season game action and mistake-making will serve him well should the Bucks need his services in bigger games. If it comes to that, it’s better he’s lost now instead of then. Plus, he managed to stay with both KD and James Harden when briefly switched onto them on Tuesday night; a feather in any rookie’s cap.

Georgios Kalaitzakis: C

GK’s numbers also came against the Heat’s garbage time lineup, so I’m not going to get too worked up about 8 points on 3/5 shooting. None of it was spectacular and the eye test doesn’t convince me he’s NBA ready with 3 turnovers plus 3 missed free throws. It’s too early for me to tell how much potential is there, but there’s nothing wrong with giving him 18 second-half minutes in a blowout before the G League season begins, where he’ll hopefully see plenty of time. While I’ve heard of all but one of those Miami reserves that Kalaitzakis faced in the closing quarter, most of them are likely more viable NBA talents than him, which hopefully helps raise his game.

Justin Robinson: D+

Speaking of questionable NBA players, Bud had no choice but to lean on Robinson for first-half minutes with Jrue Holiday in street clothes. Not easy to watch! He even had a brief run on Tuesday in the third with the Nets still within striking distance, during which the Bucks managed to be +11. Maybe the two-way man can fit in well enough with NBA starters to keep things afloat, but those opportunities will be rare and if he’s not performing in the low-leverage minutes he does receive like last night (-35 and 1/7 from the field in 27 minutes), his stock will remain low. Ideally, the Bucks are fully healthy once the Herd start up on November 8th.

Mike Budenholzer: B+

NBA title-winning coach (don’t you forget it!) Mike Budenholzer can only do so much with the team in its current state. There’s a huge gap between the high- and low-ends of this roster currently, so the lack of quality reserves torpedoed any chance of being competitive against the Heat. It was a smart move to rest guys and punt a pretty meaningless contest for the defending champs (well, meaningless to the ones still playing for the Bucks at least, excluding a certain Miami newcomer). None of the Bucks’ injuries outside of DiVincenzo’s are thought to be long-term, so I’ll withhold judgment on his rotation decisions until some of the names below are healthy. When the team was more complete on Tuesday facing a fellow title contender (Miami is not a title contender), he marshaled a vintage Bucks win where they weathered hot opponent shooting (though on a very manageable 32 attempts) with stifling interior defense. Long live the drop zone! Brooklyn had a lot more success against Milwaukee’s switching lineups as they got back into the game during the second quarter, creating mismatches that Durant and Harden could easily exploit. Bud managed to stem that tide after half, adjusting his lineups to keep one of Connaughton or Middleton in at all times. That neutralized James Harden (just 1/7 in the second half) and Patty Mills (6 points after 15 in the first half), who were the only other Nets to make a real impact on the game. Even as Durant scored 13 in the third, the Bucks ensured he received no help with the scoring load, which was enough to seal the W.

Incomplete: Jrue Holiday (12 minutes), Bobby Portis (injured), Semi Ojeleye (injured), Rodney Hood (injured), Donte DiVincenzo (injured)

Recuperation by key rotation players and starters is the main short-term goal right now, but trying to unearth one more contributor from the end of the bench is fine pursuit until that happens. Nwora clearly has the inside track on that right now, but even if he can keep this up, will it be enough to warrant season-long minutes over the likes of Ojeleye and possibly Hood? Can he elevate his play to merit discussion of a playoff role? He’s the closest thing the Bucks have had to a microwave scorer off the bench since Michael Beasley. There’s real value to that when the half-court offense bogs down without enough shot creators on the floor, even though no Buck reserve has filled such a role since Bud took over. His opportunities will keep coming in the short term and with any luck, Nwora could raise the question of whether or not others should be playing the minutes that are now his. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.