I know that all of you loyal readers were awaiting this week’s progress report with your usual enthusiasm, and I can only imagine your crestfallen disappointment when I didn’t post it as usual yesterday. Please, dear readers, accept my humblest mea culpa! I just embarked on a two-week trip to the east coast (where I’ll be seeing at least one Bucks game) and the Thursday evening that I usually spend writing this column was spent
eating my travel anxiety away with pizza because I’d barely packed packing my bags. What can I say: after almost two years I’ve forgotten how to travel.
Anyway, on to the 3-2 Bucks, who went 2-1 this past week and are minutes away from a rematch against the same Spurs team they defeated 7 days ago...
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A+ (last week: A)
It simply doesn’t get much better than Giannis’ 40/16/7 effort against Minnesota, even if it came in a loss. Monday’s near-triple double in Indianapolis was obviously impressive but stands out more than any time he flirted with such a statline last season due to the 10/13 shooting at the charity stripe. All totaled, The Best Player In The World (fight me!) shot a solid 76.7% on high volume (30 attempts) after getting to the line this week. His efficiency returned to its customary levels too, shooting 57.1% from the field with a 65.8 TS%, up from 44.4% and 53% the week prior, respectively. Once again, he appears primed to be an MVP frontrunner.
Khris Middleton: A- (last week: B)
On Wednesday night Middleton struggled mightily to hit open threes—he was alone in that regard—but he did manage to cut down on some significant turnover issues plaguing him so far this season: against the Spurs and Pacers he coughed it up over 5 times. His handle looked pretty lose facing the T-Wolves suddenly-pesky defense, though he can’t blame that for his shooting woes. He did hit a huge shot in the final minute at least (sure looked like a three on the broadcast) with two defenders in his face, plus he had terrific outings earlier in the week. While his three-point shooting has yet to appear (25%), it hasn’t affected his scoring output thanks to a recent knack for drawing fouls (7 per game this week). It appears the new unnatural shooting rules aren’t phasing him.
Jrue Holiday: B+ (last week: injured)
For the purposes of this column, one game with 25 minutes is enough to qualify for a grade, so here’s Holiday on the list. In the mere 48 minutes of action we’ve seen from him this season, he hasn’t missed a shot inside the arc and is 5/8 outside it. Obviously, he would have been of great help on Wednesday night in preventing D’Angelo Russell from getting to his spots, but maybe he wouldn’t have missed as many of those 27 wide-open threes they took (they missed 21)? Here’s hoping he plays enough in the week ahead for me to write something more insightful.
Grayson Allen: B+ (last week: B)
Somewhat quietly, Allen is averaging 13.2 PPG and has been in double digits each night. I hope soon we’ll see one of those trademark high-volume “outlier” three-point shooting nights like the ones he hung on the Bucks last April because we all know he’s a much better sniper than the 32.6% 3PA he’s posted so far, thanks to his first three games (he’s 41.1% since). He’s not the ballhawk that Donte DiVincenzo is, but his instincts are good enough to be good for a steal each night and as you might expect with the hustle he’s known for, he leads the team in loose balls recovered.
Pat Connaughton: B (last week: B+)
Tuesday night’s shooting debacle starred Connaughton in a leading role (2/9 from deep) after his blazing start to the year, and during such games, I’d like to see him go to the rim more. He has the athleticism to attack most perimeter defenses and has one of the better finishing abilities on the team. Plus Minnesota is not one to seal off the rim. I do think he’ll rediscover his stroke quickly, though. Never regarded as more than an average (at best) outside marksman before last, the strides he made—especially in the playoffs—look like they’ll stick.
George Hill: B+ (last week: C+)
I was a touch concerned about Hill’s shaky (re-)debut as a Buck last week, but since then he’s looked like everything the Bucks need in a backup point guard. Unfortunately, he’s not the backup right now. While he should absolutely be starting in Jrue Holiday’s absence, I’m most interested in seeing him get minutes with players new to the team since he left Milwaukee the first time (just 11 months ago!) like Bobby Portis and Allen. It’s also important to keep an eye on his minutes: without Holiday his 35-year-old frame is getting a bit more action than would be ideal, especially considering he’s come off two shortened seasons (only 42 games last year, regular and postseason combined). He also has nearly fouled out twice so far, but that screams fluke to me.
Jordan Nwora: A- (last week: B-)
I’m trying to contain my excitement about the improvements I’m seeing from the non-scoring aspects of Nwora’s game. Mitchell talked me down from cloud nine: the word is “encouraged,” not “excited.” Those 4 blocks he racked up this week are ones any All-Defense big man would be proud of. Chasing down a fastbreak layup and swatting it off the backboard or sending a Jakob Pöltl floater sailing over the rim... those are high-effort plays and we should be pleased with such commitment to defense. Plus he’s already exceeded his assist total from last year (7) and is averaging 5.2 boards. All of this makes me overlook his below-average shotmaking and efficiency to date; those should trend back up soon.
Bobby Portis: B- (last week: injured)
I’ll cut Portis a little slack since it was his first actual game action in three months. Don’t expect him to shoot 47% from three again but expect him to be better than 0/3. Last year I was highly impressed by his touch in the 6–10 foot range: he seemed automatic with those floaters. He sunk one of them and biffed the other on Wednesday. He also had a nice stop down low on a driving Jarred Vanderbilt and I’m hoping that’s a harbinger of improved defensive ability.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: C+ (last week: B-)
Two decent showings with a spot start thrown in for the elder Antetokounmpo, but his minutes are waning with bigger Bucks who foul less often healing. As long as Lopez remains out and Portis’ minutes are restricted, we may not have seen the last of these centerless lineups featuring Thanasis alongside Middleton or Nwora, unfortunately. Unsurprisingly, lineups featuring those three and Thanasis checking opposing 5s have a -35.1 net rating. Such is life until the frontcourt gets healthier.
Rodney Hood: B (last week: injured)
Hood has only taken threes as a Buck (naturally) and has at least hit a couple. He managed to corral some rebounds and get to the line against the Wolves as his minutes started to hike up. I don’t know how much more you can ask from him than 7 points, but I would prefer to see him than Justin Robinson at this point.
Semi Ojeleye: C (last week: injured)
Nothing good to report from Ojeleye’s Milwaukee debut on Wednesday. He even whacked his head on a chair diving courtside after the nice save he made to notch a steal. That was after he missed all of his shot attempts (all threes, four of them in the corner) and free throws, so he doesn’t have the convenient excuse. Give him a mulligan for that one and hope he’s closer to the 37.6% career shooter in the corners moving forward.
Sandro Mamukelashvili: C (last week: C+)
Mamu’s initial taste of pro action concludes as the Herd start their season and the returns suggest he might indeed be an NBA player, albeit one that needs to put on more muscle. He did nothing of much consequence in 16 minutes last week, which means that while he didn’t flash any brilliance, he didn’t screw up either! Go get 'em in Oshkosh, big fella.
Justin Robinson: C- (last week: D+)
Did you notice that Robinson had 4 steals on Monday night? No? Well, I did when looking back at the box score and managed to find footage of them. Like Nwora’s blocks, these weren’t cheap steals either, they were legitimate. I do see the possibility of a decent defender here and he had a great reputation on that end in college, but actually becoming a viable NBA player is a ways off at this point.
Mike Budenholzer: B+ (last week: B+)
Still forced to trot out small lineups against bigger frontlines with varying success, I’m continuing to withhold judgment on Bud’s rotations. After their punchless rim protection efforts against Karl-Anthony Towns and Co., it’s mildly shocking that the centerless Bucks didn’t have trouble with Indiana’s two centers. Avoid looking at their defensive rating. How much better a team could have navigated losing 2 of their 3 best defenders—who also happen to be 2 of the best 15-ish defenders league-wide—than this 3-2 start? For one, taking your last timeout down 4 with less than 10 seconds to go is not the answer. Have another veteran big man on the roster? Maybe, but that’s not Bud’s fault. Play Giannis 48 minutes? Ok, maybe one more win, but at a wholly unnecessary cost. I don’t think that question has a good answer.
Incomplete: Georgios Kalaitzakis (1 minute), Brook Lopez (injured), Donte DiVincenzo (injured)
There you have it, a little pre-game reading before this Spurs matchup tips off in a half-hour. I’ll be back on schedule next week when there will be four games worth of stuff to discuss! I’m glad this season is getting going in earnest because 2 and 3 game weeks are hard to take too much away from. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.