I made it back from Boston relatively unscathed, with any ailments brought not by Celtics fans, but by Sam Adams (who would probably be a Celtics fan if basketball existed in the late 18th century). Both myself and my Celtic loyalist friend were sad to see Giannis ruled out while we sat across the street from TD Garden with Sam, but it was a good time and there was little trash-talking, with the Celtics fans around me acknowledging the result would have been different had Giannis played. After I gestured at my ring finger when one young Bostonian—who surely wasn’t alive when Larry Bird won his last title—asked me how many banners the Bucks had hung, I simply said “what have you done for me lately?”
Anywho, onto the rankings from this 1-2 week, as the Bucks prepare to host the Thunder...
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A)
Sunday was a meh effort against an East contender that keeps him from an A+, but Wednesday night was simply the finest performance of Giannis’ 2021–22 season so far, and indeed one of the finest of his career. For all LA’s big men, who are no longer defensive stoppers aside from Anthony Davis, none had answers for The Greek in what should be discouraging for Laker fans if this Finals matchup ever happens. Sure, a certain Laker was missing who would make the game closer, but Davis was thoroughly outclassed. Giannis eclipsed AD a good 3 years ago and that gap steadily grew to where they aren’t in the same conversation. If this game was any indication, the gap is bigger than I thought.
Khris Middleton: B+ (last week: COVID-19 protocols)
I was shocked to see Middleton go 30 minutes against a marquee opponent on the heels of missing 8 games, particularly since he returned from a respiratory infection and was said to be on a minutes restriction. While the shooting line leaves a bit to be desired, he sunk big jumpers late that harkened back to last season’s ECF and Finals, plus was heavily in the playmaking mix with 6 dimes. His +13 was comfortably ahead of other starters and backed up by the eye test: the Bucks simply looked good when he was on the floor. He struggled with his outside shot to open the year but since he appears to be just fine after COVID-19 and he got a nice break to reset his mechanics, I’m sure we’ll see them drop soon.
Jrue Holiday: C+ (last week: B)
With how terribly Holiday shot across the past three contests (30.9% from the field and 13.6% from three), this decent grade is not predicated on his weak scoring abilities. He had no answer for Trey Young either, but Holiday struggled to contain him at times in the playoffs too and Young is one of those Kevin Durant types who sometimes are unanswerable defensively. He struggled to stop Dennis Schröder the game prior, so not a banner defensive week despite a great performance on the still-dynamic Russell Westbrook, who actually shot the ball decently for once. Holiday was able to snatch 4 steals, 6 boards, and 8 dimes (he averaged 9.7 this week) against LA but his handles were poor with 5 turnovers. At times he unwisely put the ball on the floor traversing through the lane and was very susceptible to the Lakers’ hands in single coverage. Far enough removed from his lower-body injuries, we need to see more even performances from him.
Grayson Allen: A (last week: A+)
Only shooting the ball six times on Wednesday for just his second single-digit game (both in FGA and points) all year, that game may have been a preview of what we can expect from Allen alongside healthy Middleton and Holiday. In the only other games where all 3 played (opening night and in San Antonio), Allen was 3/10 and 4/11 for 10 points in each, hitting just 5/18 from deep. Allen clearly works as a secondary or tertiary scorer in this offense—evidenced in the week’s two other matchups—so perhaps he should be staggered a bit with Middleton or Holiday until he figures out how to remain as effective on lesser volume.
Bobby Portis: A (last week: A-)
It looked like Game 6 of the Finals again as the first half closed on Wednesday as Portis appears to have regained his scoring prowess (16.7 PPG this week) in starter’s minutes. He’s yet to find his touch from the outside (23.1% against 32.5% on the season) but every other part of his game is back. This career 37.7% three-point shooter is too good not to start draining them soon, even though he may not hit 47% again. He will likely be able to maintain this production when sliding back into a bench role; I look forward to the scoring punch he and Pat Connaughton will provide when checking in.
Pat Connaughton: A (last week: A-)
Four straight games in double figures for Connaughton, a career first! These good times seem likely to keep rolling as he’ll get plenty of minutes against the upcoming stretch of rebuilding teams, so let’s start beating the drum for him as one of the league’s best reserves. He shot 45.5% while taking at least 7 treys each night (nearly as good as Allen) this week and sits at 39.4% from deep on 6.6 attempts per game, both of which would comfortably be career-highs. Last week I commented that Allen should now be in the conversation with Duncan Robinson-type players, so who does Connaughton now favorably compare to?
George Hill: B (last week: B-)
Though he was just 2 of 9 from three, Hill’s 16 points on 16 shots in Boston was by far his most prolific offensive night of the year, necessitated by the depleted starting lineup. His night off (probably more about rest than injury) in Atlanta was needed after a week of heavy minutes, so he returned to a better-suited bench role against LA with 22 minutes. Scoreless on one shot, he hauled in 9 rebounds and was a team-high +23 despite contributing none of those points himself. That’s happened in other games this year, so he’s usually making his impact in less intangible ways. He was one of just three Bucks above zero in Boston too.
Semi Ojeleye: D+ (last week: B+)
That brief feel-good stretch for Ojeleye is quickly gone as his shooting crashed hard to the low depth of his first few games as a Buck. With a slate of non-contenders ahead, he’ll still see minutes and hope to correct this, since he is capable of knocking down outside shots against good teams. Returning to Boston, he was serviceable in heavy minutes and did as credible a job on Jayson Tatum as a former understudy could do. On the other end, it’s often best to just look away.
Jordan Nwora: B (last week: C+)
It was great to see Nwora have an offensive impact off the bench in Boston (11 points on 3/5 from deep), a night when the Bucks really needed it being without Giannis. He looked good in Atlanta too before laying a goose egg in just 8 minutes on Wednesday. Since he’s chipping in assists from time to time while also grabbing a few boards, he does enough beyond scoring to remain in the rotation, though he’s not likely to see as much playing time being the 8th or 9th guy. If his shooting line (.393/.344/.778) moves out of the basement and towards last year’s (.459/.452/.760), he might take away more of Ojeleye’s minutes.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: B (last week: D)
While he was basically absent in the next two games, Thanasis managed two nice lay-ins through traffic and a putback in Boston during a quick spurt early. Has he ever had 6 points in just a minute and a half in the NBA, let alone in real rotation minutes? As a plus, he wasn’t fouling. A role he can now fill with a healthy roster, we’ve seen this is the energy role he’s best used in: crashing the offensive glass and disrupting opponents on defense.
Rodney Hood: B (last week: C-)
Hood played in 12 minutes Boston and 17 in Atlanta; in each, he hit a triple and got a couple of boards. Can’t complain about this in spot minutes. With the backcourt and wing corps in their healthiest states since around Halloween, this is the most action he can probably expect with a few DNP-CDs (as he was against the Lakers) mixed in. If he has even this modest level of success in such limited playing time, it’s a plus for this team.
Mike Budenholzer: B (last week: B+)
I have to give Bud a lot of credit for managing Giannis’ and Hill’s workloads this week, the two players whose minutes I was most concerned about. Wednesday marked Milwaukee’s first game in weeks with their best three players healthy and I thought Bud managed the lineups around them quite well as they held on for a big win. The Lakers made their move after they threw a zone against the Bucks in the third and I thought it took the Bucks a little too long—and one too many timeouts—to adjust, and even then their offensive gridlock was initially broken with a Connaughton three. The Atlanta loss was dispiriting and while that will hopefully be the season’s nadir, a lot of that blame rests with the players’ inability to match up with Young, rather than schematic or lineup issues.
Incomplete: Justin Robinson (10 minutes), Sandro Mamukelashvili (DNP), Georgios Kalaitzakis (DNP), Brook Lopez (injured), Donte DiVincenzo (injured)
I’m really looking forward to this next stretch of games, where the Bucks face 3 sub-.500 teams for 4 games before a more difficult road matchup in Denver in a week. This should address their underwhelming overall record, their surprisingly bad home record, and put them firmly back in the top few seeds of the conference (they’re only 3.5 back of that 1 seed) before a pretty appetizing December schedule filled with Eastern Conference teams who aren’t Brooklyn. I expect 4-0 this week and you should too. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.