To those who celebrate it, I hope you had great Thanksgivings. Last week I ended this column by stating “I expect 4-0 and you should too.” Granted, the expectation of a title contender beating the Thunder, Magic twice, and Pistons is the most lukewarm of takes, but let’s not pretend that some out there in the Bucks Twitter wasteland were casting stones once Trey Lyles got the Pistons within single digits the other night. The thrust of what I’m saying is that this team was always good, we needn’t have doubted it, and I don’t understand why some did. Milwaukee took care of business this week, has a very palatable schedule from now until Christmas, and is very much in the mix for the East’s top seed. For an even spicier take, I’ll say this: their current 5-game win streak, while not overly impressive, could portend something much bigger.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A)
Was I too harsh in not giving the soon-to-be Eastern Conference Player of the Week an A+ last Friday? Giannis probably won’t see that honor again this week thanks to a light night in the second Magic tilt, but his box score-stuffing lines are something to look at. Set aside the scoring for a minute: 13.5 RPG (including evenings with 20 and 19 boards), 6.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 2.8 BPG. As the wins pile up, expect the MVP chatter to build.
Khris Middleton: A- (last week: B+)
It wasn’t a big scoring week for Middleton (and it didn’t need to be) but he managed to hit 40% of his threes and had big nights in either assists or rebounds. The shooting is the one thing we’re waiting on from him to get going in earnest while the rest of his game is at its usual level. A bigger scoring night can’t be far off.
Jrue Holiday: B+ (last week: C+)
Speaking of waiting for shots to start falling, Holiday put up two great shooting lines on Monday and Tuesday, the first time he’s had consecutive games making at least half his shots since his first two appearances (he actually sat out a game in between those two, though). Underwhelming starts from Holiday and Middleton are microcosms of the team’s challenges in the season’s first 19 games; naturally, if the Bucks do have a hot December ahead, it will likely have much to do with those two finding their groove.
Grayson Allen: A- (last week: A)
Allen had one of his just three single-digit scoring performances this week; two of those have come against Detroit! While the other was last week against LA, he’s pretty reliable against more formidable opponents, as we saw during the several weeks he moonlighted as the Bucks’ number two scoring option. His minute load was easier this week too, a well-deserved perk after a job well done earlier in the month.
Bobby Portis: A+ (last week: A)
Man alive, Portis loves to feast on crappy teams. A massive 20.5 PPG on 57.1% from the field and a cool 68% from deep, plus 12.3 RPG. It’s little wonder that Milwaukee’s rebounding woes began to dissipate once he was inserted into the starting lineup. Wednesday night was peak Bobby-chanting at Fiserv Forum as he scorched the nylon, missing just one of his seven threes. Is there a better feeling when watching this team than seeing Portis crush it?
Pat Connaughton: A (last week: A)
Right now, Connaughton is on such fire outside the three-point arc that even with a 1/6 night against OKC, he still shot 47.8% this week from there. A below-average shooter his first two years as a Buck, I never would have thought that he’d become a player from whom I expect every shot to go in. We’re in the midst of what’s likely the best stretch of his career: if he’d had just one more point last Friday, he’d be in double-figures the past eight games.
George Hill: A (last week: B)
The plus-minus darling had a personal shooting line befitting of such lofty single game figures like Monday’s incredible +32 in 19 minutes: .526/.444/1.000. Even though he didn’t score in double-digits or rack up many other numbers, it’s still nice to see the ways Hill impacts team success can still be overt, leaving little question as to why the team does so well when he’s on the floor. When Portis returns to the bench, the Bucks will have one of the league’s strongest benches on the strength of these past three players’ recent play.
Semi Ojeleye: D (last week: D+)
After another 0-for-everything last Friday, Ojeleye injured his other calf and will be on the shelf for a while. It’s doubtful any fans will miss him as that brief period of solid play earlier in the month is a distant memory. He just might be this year’s Torrey Craig.
Jordan Nwora: B+ (last week: B)
Nwora finally got dusted off for some run in the second Magic contest, pouring in 14 points and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes. He even had another two blocks! His number being called less and less in games, he needs to score more efficiently to see actual rotation minutes: a 5/13 shooting line (2/6 from three) isn’t doing him any favors.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: C (last week: B)
He’s fouling again! In two 14-minute appearances against the Magic, he had 7 personals. It doesn’t matter at all, but I thought he finally might have had that under control. Thanasis seems to only impact the game positively when he’s keeping his hands to himself.
Rodney Hood: C (last week: B)
Hood was dealing with a hamstring strain this week so I won’t read too much into the poor shooting in meaningless minutes. I noted that he made only his second two-point basket of the year on Monday. Sure, he’s not here to take those shots, but it sticks out when you’re only shooting 30.8% from the field while making a third of your treys.
Georgios Kalaitzakis: B+ (last week: INC)
When the starters are blowing the doors off rebuilding teams, that means lots of garbage time where we get a look at the end of the bench. Those guys let Orlando back into the game on Saturday with a 37-21 fourth quarter, necessitating the reappearance of the starters. You know who didn’t play on Saturday? This man, who made both his shots and hauled in 3 boards against the same Magic team on Monday. Yes, yes, the Magic won that fourth quarter 36-18 still since the starters opened up a lead that got to 51 points, but let’s let GK have this one.
Justin Robinson: B (last week: INC)
Robinson had only made one shot from the field over 45 minutes of gameplay dating back to November 2nd until 5 garbage time points on Monday. Unlike Kalaitzakis, though, he did play on Saturday when the Magic tried to come back. This is my sole way of evaluating the deep bench players this week, but I can’t think of anything else to go off!
Mike Budenholzer: A (last week: B)
I’ve long kept track of opponent three-point shooting, particularly noting how many attempts they take, as this is perhaps the best way a defense can prevent a team from going off. Against bad teams this week, the Bucks allowed their foes to take 7.9 more threes than their season 3PA per game but in all but one game, they shot at least 5% worse than their season 3P%. In the season’s first 15 games, all but a few of which were against playoff contenders, that first number was 3.0 and the opponent shot beneath their season 3P% nine times. Even though three-point shooting is notably down across the league this year from a conversion standpoint, we’d have been shocked to see them having so much success defending the arc two years ago, and even last year when Bud was integrating new defensive schemes. That new scheme this year is a matchup zone and it helped hold the opponent to under 94 points in 3 of 4 games this week. I don’t care how bad those teams are, they’re still NBA teams and that is always promising.
Incomplete: Sandro Mamukelashvili (3 minutes), Brook Lopez (injured), Donte DiVincenzo (injured)
The reigning MVP may miss tonight’s matchup, joining Denver’s other two best players on the sidelines. As the Bucks acclimate to the air one mile above sea level, this is as plum an opportunity to win in one of the league’s toughest road environments. Games against middling East opponents who are various distances away from .500 follow. Expecting 4-0 again is not at all crazy. Though I’ll stop short of saying you should expect that record, you should expect them to show they are indeed one of the NBA’s best teams this week. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.