Howdy Brew Hoopers. After being listed as “Did Not Write — New Kid” for the first 10 or so weeks of the season, life has finally settled enough for me to bring back the occasionally read, Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up. Clearly third in the pecking order behind the people’s champ, Riley’s Monday Morning Media Round-up, and Van’s Friday featurette, the Weekly Progress Report, I hope you’ll welcome me back with open eyes, albeit belatedly.
One preface, in an effort to streamline this column a bit (and, candidly, due to a bit less time on my part), I’m going to excise the “Bud’s Best” feature highlighting my favorite opening set from the last week. Hopefully, this puts a greater focus on my more in-depth musing/observation of the week. Now, without further ado, let’s wrap up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 127, Charlotte 125 (Bucks Win Thriller)
- Milwaukee 93, Toronto 97 (Bucks’ Winning Streak Snapped)
- Milwaukee 124, Miami 102 (Bucks Obliterate Heat)
- Milwaukee 112, Cleveland 104 (Bucks Close Out Cavaliers)
The positivity parade is in full swing around Bucksville. Milwaukee didn’t have their superstar for two of the four games in this slate, so posting a 3-1 record is nothing to sneeze at. The Charlotte game was really the creme de la creme of this crop, with Giannis Antetokounmpo out-dueling the stylish theatrics and impressive outside shooting of LaMelo Ball. The Raptors game was odd. Nick Nurse has them playing as aggressive a defense as I’ve seen in some time, whirling and flying with their gaggle of long limbs. It was a good test for Jrue and Khris to handle defenses keying in on them (Khris v. double teams remains instructive teaching moments IMO), even if watching Fred VanVleet tear through their tissue paper interior D brought back gnarly flashbacks.
The Miami game was pure joy. What a thrill (albeit a fairly meaningless one) to smack the team that embarrassed you just a few months ago. PJ Tucker getting his ring was touching too. Finally, we saw maybe the most entertaining Bucks-Cavs game since the LeBron era, in my view. Cleveland’s length is a quirky test for Giannis, who struggled at the rim but found success late as a jump shooter. All in all, a solid set of wins against non-trivial opponents.
On the latest Brew Hoop podcast, I said flat out the Milwaukee Bucks could not win the championship without Brook Lopez, and in the same breath that I wasn’t quite ready to buy into the Boogie hype just yet. One week into the DeMarcus Cousins experience, there is far more cause for optimism than I would’ve guessed, albeit still plenty of room for skepticism. Watching him play feels like a drastic change from really any big Milwaukee has had in recent vintage. Brook and Robin Lopez both had more spinning touch inside. Bobby Portis dribbles and drops floaters. John Henson...fished. But where Brook ballets and Giannis bounds, Boogie bullies.
I mean, this is just flat-out one of the rudest plays I’ve seen on the basketball court.
And that was against a guy who was giving Giannis some fits defensively. Still, he doesn’t always have to bring that level of brutishness, as evidenced by this stylish spin. Calling his own number in that way won’t always fly in Milwaukee’s offense, particularly when you have dudes like Holiday, Middleton and Giannis well above Boogie in the team’s pecking order. But, his physicality, particularly on drives against smaller foes, has led to 12 free throws in just 44 minutes. That’s more than Semi, Rodney Hood, and just behind Jordan Nwora and Thanasis despite far less playing time. If you look over the years, Bud’s Bucks have never been a team that relies on getting to the free throw line to manufacture points. They’ve finished in the bottom half of the league each year, despite boasting one of the league’s best foul-drawers in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Bucks Offensive Free Throw Rate
|Season||Free Throw Rate||Rank|
|Season||Free Throw Rate||Rank|
Stats per Cleaning The Glass
Neither Jrue or Khris have ever been ones to lean into contact around the basket, although Khris has a predilection for occasionally drawing those three-shot fouls. If you look at the percentage of shots they draw fouls on, they each rank around the 50th percentile for their position, per Cleaning The Glass. Cousins changes that calculation, or at least provides a bit of what Lopez could when he burrowed inside and got fouled. Cousins has been an elite foul drawer his entire career, sans last year during his stints with the Clippers and Rockets. Small sample size obviously, but he’s drawn fouls on 15% of his shots per Cleaning The Glass, almost twice as high as the second biggest percentage on the team, Middleton at 8.6%. Human foul magnet Giannis is at 21.8%. I’ll be interested to see how Cousins’ number fluctuates over time.
Now, there’s an argument to be made that free throws can be fickle come Playoff time, but it’s never a bad thing to have options for how a team can manufacture points. That’s doubly true for a team that’s prone to bouts of offensive ineptitude and arctic shooting spells like this Bucks team. If Cousins survives to that point, and the team doesn’t have Lopez to fill all those minutes, having someone who can capitalize on efficiencies like the charity stripe is important.
What’s been equally impressive to me about Boogie is not just his willingness to pass, but his court vision. Almost immediately, it was evident he understood the geometry of the court and the bend of the defense.
That’s a one-handed, court-tilting, fastball of a sling while nearly being tripped. What a beaut. He also understands the essentials, drawing defenders in just long enough before kicking to the open shooter.
Giannis is the one that really “makes” this play happen with his attention, but Cousins adds the final ingredient. Already, Cousins has had a bevy of passes that I’ve enjoyed. Dump-offs while driving into the lane to someone in the dunker spot. Cross-court, one-handed passes. Quick rotations around the perimeter. In general, I wasn’t all that aware of Boogie’s vision or passing ability, and the early results are something that does differentiate him a bit from Brook. Lopez can pass, but he averaged less than an assist per game last year, and when he trudges into that methodical drive of his, it’s not exactly to dish.
All of this offense is well and good, but ultimately Boogie’s stickiness on this roster is likely going to come down to defense. In theory, the zone drop scheme seems like the most logical fit for him, but it takes time and patience to grasp it. It really makes you appreciate the constantly updating equations going on within Brook Lopez’s dome as the captain of Bud’s scheme. So far, they’ve been trying Boogie in myriad ways, but I’ve noticed far more blitzing on pick-and-rolls than I would’ve anticipated. Perhaps it’s to simplify things at this point, although there’s nothing simple about how lost the Bucks new arrival looks here.
This was his first appearance of course, but sequences of that ilk are probably going to happen regardless. Better communication will help, but staying “locked in” has always been a persistent question with Boogie throughout his career. The presence of Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo to potentially clean up any messes (as Giannis does, rather spectacularly I might add, in the clip above) helps too. But right now, Boogie is Brook in size only defensively, and not even quite that given he’s an inch shorter. Still, his on/off numbers in the last few injury-plagued years haven’t shown defense to be the issue, but offense. His teams have consistently scored below their average (-9.4 pts/100 poss with LAC, -6.3 with HOU and -7.3 with GSW, per CTG). Smallish sample sizes again, but it’s promising thus far that offense hasn’t seemed difficult to come by within Bud’s ecosystem. Boogie defenses being a net neutral would be a huge win for the coaches. We got a glimpse of a Boogie + starters and Boogie + Big Three lineups against the Cavs. That’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on moving forward.
Who knows how this whole scenario will work out. By January, Boogie might have already been waived and this will feel like a pipe dream. But the early returns have been enjoyable, and productive. For a vet min flier, that’ll do.
Normally I would close out my weekly wrap-up with a vote for Player of the Week. I enjoyed pulling the highlights and stats, and while Giannis didn’t run away with the awards tally in 2020-21, it can get a bit redundant voting for Giannis, Khris or Jrue week or after week. I was tossing around the idea instead of a “Play of the Week” poll. I think I can guess what would’ve been this week’s winner...
So I’ll leave it up to you. Let me know in the poll below whether you’d rather vote on a “Player of the Week” or a “Play of the Week” in this column moving forward.
I would rather vote for...
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Play of the Week
Player of the Week