To those who celebrate it: Merry Christmas and Christmas Eve. Happy Holidays and Friday to everyone. Here’s hoping any festivities for you and yours are healthy, vaccinated, safe, and responsible. Not only did we all make it through another week in the face of the ongoing pandemic, but the Bucks did too as the Omicron variant wreaks havoc on the entire league and nation. I’ll use this opportunity to retitle this weekly piece to something more apt.
In spite of myriad absences due to illness (even some of the non-COVID variety) and injury, the Bucks scratched out a 2-2 record with two solid wins on the heels of losses wherein the roster was stripped to its bare bones. With today’s news that Giannis has exited the health and safety protocols in the requisite ten days and Bobby Portis in even fewer (Donte DiVincenzo also has been away from the team over ten days and is questionable), surely more Ws await us, perhaps under the tree tomorrow?
Khris Middleton: A (last week: B+)
Shaking off what ended up being a minor knee injury that kept him out barely a week, Middleton played some of his finest ball of the season against the Texas teams. 6 and 7 dimes in the back-to-back with efficient 23 and 26 outputs, so I’d say the best takeaway from the two games was his knack for getting to the line, where he was 8/9 and 8/8. We never really regard Middleton as an elite foul-drawer and there was some concern earlier this year whether his already-below average volume would suffer due to the new foul rules (he was easily the best Buck at grifting his way into calls in years past), but his 5.0 FTA per 36 is easily a career-high, as is his 28.9% free throw rate.
Jrue Holiday: A+ (last week: A)
I can’t remember such an extended stretch of excellence while Holiday has donned a Milwaukee uniform. He assumed the role of number one scoring option with aplomb for much of his court time this week en route to a stellar 29.3 PPG, 7.3 APG, 5.3 RPG on .537/.333/.714 shooting. The 40-point effort against his old employer in NOLA was spectacular to be sure, but last night we saw some of his absolute best, beyond the 24 points on 8/14 shooting with 7 boards and 7 assists. We saw grace, we saw beauty, we saw bravado, and we saw style. He’s averaging 22.9 PPG, 7.5 APG, and 5.3 RPG on .554/.395/.724 shooting over his last ten contests. If he maintains similar production when the team returns to full strength, is he a dark horse all-star?
Grayson Allen: A- (last week: C+)
While he came down with a non-COVID illness that held him out of the next two games, Allen's 25-point effort (7/12 on threes) on Friday was badly needed as the Robin to Holiday’s Batman. Healthy enough to get 18 minutes off the bench in Dallas, his outside shot largely escaped him (1/7) but we’ll give him a pass as his legs rejuvenate and his body reconditions.
Pat Connaughton: C+ (last week: A)
Before we consider how he was victimized by the NBA’s most reckless player and perhaps the worst missed call I’ve ever seen (seriously, I’m glad he wasn’t concussed), let’s acknowledge that Connaughton has hit a cold snap regardless, hitting just 5 triples on his usual high volume (6.3 per game). I’ll cut him some slack for going 2 for 10 (9 of which were from downtown) after the kick. Amazingly without very noticeable discoloration around his orbital socket, he bounced back with a nice 9 and 8 performance in Dallas, driving inside very well and even hitting a neat floater—how often does that happen?
George Hill: B+ (last week: B)
As steadying a force as ever in his 22 plus minutes each night, Hill was the only Buck with a positive RPM (+8) as they were blown out by Cleveland thanks to a solid shooting night inside the three-point arc (7/9). I feel like I say a variation of this every week: it’s hard to even notice to the untrained eye—let alone a glance at the box score—but given all we know about him from years gone by, it’s no surprise that he’s a quality piece on a title contender.
Jordan Nwora: A- (last week: B+)
Before a muted 28 minutes last night (5 points on 2/6 shooting with 8 boards), Nwora showed as much confidence as ever on nights he took a prominent scoring role, and I’m not just talking about what might be the flashiest highlight of the season so far. Against Cleveland he tried his darnedest to put the team on his back with 28 on 21 shots and notched a second consecutive double-double: he averaged double-digit boards this week. The man also played 42 minutes in consecutive nights; oh, to be young! Though it was all pretty impressive, albeit not super efficient, I’m not positive he’ll receive rotation minutes moving forward as the team returns to health. Maybe he should?
DeMarcus Cousins: A- (last week: D+)
His defense is still a work in progress thanks to “limited practice time [and] preparation” and there’s always the foul issues, but the good vibes are back surrounding Boogie after stellar nights on the week’s second back-to-back. An offensive force down low and on the boards remains in his body even all these years and injuries since his halcyon days in Sacramento. Even though he’ll lose his starting spot to Portis in (hopefully) the coming days, Cousins’ fill-in work instilled some confidence that he can be a rotation player in the months ahead and should get his contract guaranteed early next month.
Wesley Matthews: A (last week: B+)
Perhaps the main guy who picked up the three-point shooting slack from Connaughton and Allen was Matthews, pointing his arrows upwards in honor of his recently-passed grandmother (all our best to him and his family) for a sizzling 4/5 night from deep, including one from the Fiserv Forum logo. Sure, this is only two games after he exited the health and safety protocols on Tuesday, but I saw much more from the Madison native than originally expected upon his signing. We knew he could still provide shooting and strong perimeter defense, areas in which he’s not disappointed in his return. What no one predicted is the possible rebirth of his inside game. Each night he attacked the basket with competence, converting on a nice Eurostep and some step-through moves that he probably hasn’t attempted in a game since 2018. Maybe it’s too early to ask this, but does he now possess a more diverse offensive palette than he did in his first Bucks tenure? Keep an eye on it.
Rodney Hood: C- (last week: A)
Back to near irrelevance for Hood, whose shooting numbers crashed down to earth (.214/.143/.000) in three games, but I’ll keep him above the D range since he was nursing an Achilles contusion which caused him to miss Saturday night. Of all the guys who could lose playing time (or a roster spot) to a healthy DiVincenzo and maybe even a rejuvenated Matthews, it’s him.
Semi Ojeleye: D+ (last week: injured)
A surprise return last Saturday evening from a longer-term injury, I’m giving Ojeleye a little less slack than Hood because he missed some of the cleanest looks an NBA player can get from three last night. The Mavs were happy to give him plenty of time and space to set his feet, square, and load up without having to pay for it at all. He played a lot of 5 as Boogie’s defacto backup—the best choice in Portis’ and Sandro Mamukelashvili’s absence—doing a decent enough job preventing Dwight Powell and Moses Brown from feasting too much at the rim, though the two bigs struggled with Marquese Chriss (6/9 in the restricted area).
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: D- (last week: B-)
A passable contributor off the bench last Friday (hard to ask for more than 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists from him), Thanasis’ week was marred by a very unnecessary hard foul against Dylan Windler the following evening. That takes the cake, even more than fouling out in just nine minutes on Wednesday. He racked up his first five in five minutes! I’m calling that “The Thanasis” from now on.
Sandro Mamukelashvili: A- (last week: B)
Also affected by a non-COVID illness, Mamu put together two really nice contests last weekend before being sent home. Hitting 6 of 13 from beyond the arc combined should do some good for his confidence and 5 stocks (steals plus blocks) might embolden him a bit more on defense, where he usually is overmatched by bigger and stronger opposition. It’s a shame he got sick because there were still minutes to be had in the next two games, and it may be a while before he gets another such opportunity.
Javonte Smart: D+ (last week: B)
A pretty empty week for the Bucks’ other two-way player, but he gets some props for a team-high 44 minutes on Saturday to give Holiday some blow after dropping 40 the night before. Now that the league dropped the 50-game rule for two-way players, he may have other opportunities to eat innings like this.
Mike Budenholzer: B+ (last week: B+)
Maybe the most controversial moment (and I use that term loosely) of the past week from Bud was his decision to not use a timeout with a chance to win Friday’s game in regulation. I am in favor of that: don’t give the defense a chance to set. It’s not his fault that Holiday and Connaughton dribbled the ball about 3820 times and showed all the urgency of my grandpa on his Sunday drive. Anyway, this was a fine work of load management and minute allocation in the face of several absences which should have been rewarded with a 3-1 record, but we’ll take 2-2.
Incomplete: Giannis Antetokounmpo (health & safety protocols), Bobby Portis (health & safety protocols), Donte DiVincenzo (health & safety protocols), Brook Lopez (injured)
If these last two wins were any indication, the Bucks should be poised to pick up right where they left off a couple of weeks ago upon Giannis’ return to a full workload, thanks to the way Middleton and Holiday are playing. After a pretty jam-packed stretch of games since December started (11 games in 18 days) they’ll get ample time to rest too this week in Florida of all places! They’ll likely coast after the Christmas Day date with Boston with two travel days to Orlando, where they will stay to face the hapless Magic on Tuesday and Thursday. 3-0 seems likely enough! Party at the Lopezes?
What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.