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Bucks Progress Report: December 17

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

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With today’s news that Bobby Portis becomes the fourth Buck in the league’s health and safety protocols, Milwaukee’s depth is about to be on full display against beatable opponents, regardless of personnel. Optimistically, Giannis/Portis/DiVincenzo/Matthews could return any game now, should they have only been in close contact with a positive case or test negative twice themselves over a minimum of 24 hours. While we await some good news about their health and hope the ultimate reason they’re being held out is contact-tracing caution instead of positive tests, let’s grade!

Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: B)

A nice rebound in Houston after being stymied in Miami, then a 20 point triple-double at MSG two days later. Giannis was solid enough in Boston in spite of the team’s lackluster efforts before entering the COVID protocols. It was a good week at the free throw line too, shooting 73.3% on 10 per game. While the Bucks’ schedule is easy enough to weather their superstar’s absence for another handful of days, his all-around impact will be most missed against the more talented teams ahead like Cleveland and Dallas.

Khris Middleton: B+ (last week: A-)

Uncharacteristically, Middleton looked horrible against his usual whipping boy of the Celtics before exiting with what thankfully appears to be a minor knee injury. That snapped a streak of seven games above 20 points. He was particularly efficient against New York, scoring early and often to cap off a solid weekend of three-point shooting (9/22), but he was a mere 7/20 inside the arc, struggling inside 15 feet in the other two games. With the Bucks’ COVID-related absences mounting, a return that proves his knee malady was nothing more than a tweak should keep things very much afloat.

Jrue Holiday: A (last week: A)

While he’s been sneakily bad at the line this year (he missed 4 this week and sports a sub-Giannis 66.7% FT% ), he’s not getting there enough to detract from his outstanding scoring abilities of late. Holiday’s 17.8 PPG this week seems low given that his shooting splits are .547/.444, but I guess it’s just how effectively he’s marshaled the offense in recent games that gives me that idea. His critical effort on Wednesday leading the short-handed Bucks to a convincing win was one of his best games since arriving in Milwaukee, missing just 6 of 18 shots and assuming the mantle of primary scorer from basically the tip. He had the tough task of guarding the supernova Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on Monday, matchups he could have done better with.

Grayson Allen: C+ (last week: C+)

Allen is stuck in a bit of a shooting funk: .359/.304/.500 this week, a line that can mostly be blamed on shooting 2/13 on Wednesday. He had a lot of trouble finishing at the rim on Wednesday when other Bucks guards (mainly Holiday) didn’t and while I usually like to see him drive a healthy amount each game, he kept pulling up from 10–15 feet on his way in. With absences among top-scoring Bucks upcoming, he’ll get a chance to right the ship with his volume already increasing back up to its early-season levels.

Bobby Portis: A (last week: A-)

Often assuming the role of the Bucks’ second option in recent games, it’s going to hurt missing Portis’ production while he’s in the protocols. Each one of his 18.3 PPG and 8.5 RPG this week was key to picking up wins and came on good efficiency. Boston’s game did show his struggles with stopping athletic big men at the rim and even though he was likely tired at the end of the road trip (like the rest of the Bucks), this was as much instinctual as physical.

Pat Connaughton: A (last week: A)

Hard not to give Connaughton top marks every week as his 3P% climbs up the leaderboard: he’s 12th in the NBA with 43.4% on 6.3 per game (just one guy ahead of him takes as many 3PA/game), career-highs by a mile just like his scoring (12.5 PPG). This week’s shooting performances are typical of his year: he’ll have one or two games where he misses between 3 and 5 of his attempts before hitting 4 of 5 the next one. In the games he can’t connect from deep, he’s getting better at expanding beyond just sharpshooting. He made hay driving to the rim this week going 8/10 inside the arc, including sinking that one rare pull-up midranger.

George Hill: B (last week: injured)

As per usual, nothing stuck out about Hill’s two games after returning from a week off due to the infamous knee hyperextension outside of his plus-minus, a cool +17 across his 35 minutes. He’s done a great job of drawing whistles the past few weeks (16/17 there in his last five games), something I don’t recall him doing during his first Milwaukee stint.

Rodney Hood: A (last week: C-)

The standard was really low given how poor his Bucks tenure had been before last weekend, but any bench player should be happy with Hood’s best week as a Buck. He finally got into double figures in New York and sports a sizzling .647/.556/1.000 shooting line on low volume. He was even 5/7 inside the arc, a real accomplishment considering it took him 13 games to get his first bucket that wasn’t a three and didn’t hit his third two until the day after Thanksgiving.

DeMarcus Cousins: D+ (last week: B)

The good times of Cousins’ initial few games as a Buck are gone. He was solid enough on Monday with 6 points in 13 minutes but Rockets rookie Alperen Sengun devoured him on Friday night and drew him into an awful 4 personal fouls in 4:19 of playing time. He couldn’t solve his hacking problems against the Knicks two days later either, with 3 in nearly 12 minutes. We’ve seen how Boogie can be of use to this team from his first few outings, but he needs to figure out how to avoid whistles before his guarantee date in a few weeks.

Wesley Matthews: C+ (last week: B+)

Matthews played only one game this week before entering the protocols and didn’t put up many numbers, but he's far from invisible out there. For a 35-year-old, it’s easy to be pleased with his hustle and athleticism on defense, which still results in opponent bricks.

Javonte Smart: B (last week: A)

The rookie should continue seeing PT even with Hill back, who likely won’t play in back-to-backs in the near future. He barely got off the bench in the week’s first two games, but he was generally a positive out there in more extensive minutes since Monday, hitting a few shots along the way.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: B- (last week: B+)

While he didn’t make a shot in his 21 minutes on Wednesday, Thanasis sure did fill up the stat sheet with 4 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals, 3 personals, and a block. He flashed some nice moves at times and made some solid plays on defense. These efforts will do just fine while the Bucks need to lean on him for minutes in the next few games.

Jordan Nwora: B+ (last week: INC)

With just one game after being a late insertion to the starting lineup, Nwora’s 21–22 season is back from the dead! While 15 points on 7/15 from the field is not efficient, make no mistake about it: he was a huge part of the Bucks’ huge fourth quarter and 21-0 run on Wednesday night. His contributions didn’t stop there either with 6 boards, 3 steals, and a block to boot. He dropped one dime and it resulted in a Connaughton dagger three, but he made a few crafty passes otherwise too. Everyone would love to see more of this against the bad teams ahead this coming week (the Pelicans and Rockets), and unless he also enters the protocols, Nwora will have a chance.

Sandro Mamukelashvili: B (last week: B+)

Another guy who’s likely to see more minutes going forward, I thought Mamu did a pretty solid job on Domantas Sabonis on Wednesday. The Bucks are now down to just two big men with Portis entering the protocols... big yikes. The big Georgian needs to be eating his Wheaties.

Mike Budenholzer: B+ (last week: B)

Through some difficult stretches this year, Bud has kept the good vibes going surrounding the team. Thankfully, the coming absences are more temporary than the ones Milwaukee dealt with earlier in the year. Opponent three-point volume is at an all-time high for the Bud era and more have been going in lately: is this due to the Bucks’ new emphasis on blitzing pick-and-rolls? The varied defensive looks we’ve seen this season are likely more a byproduct of personnel available than anything else, but at some point, I’d like to see Bud stick with something they’ve found that works. Zone looks were working pretty well during that eight-game win streak, a stretch when opponents weren’t as hot from deep. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Incomplete: Donte DiVinceno (not injured anymore, but in protocols), Semi Ojeleye (injured), Brook Lopez (injured)

It’s anyone’s guess how the Bucks will do in approaching games given the likelihood of further players entering the protocols. With a healthy Middleton (recently recovered from COVID and vaccinated) and Holiday (more distantly recovered but also vaccinated) in the lineup—having both through the coming games sounds decently likely—they can still beat the New Orleanses and Houstons of the world. 3-1 looks doable before this time next week. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.