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Bucks Progress Report: February 19

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

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With a tip of the cap to the erstwhile bloggers of Bucksketball (RIP), I’m starting a new weekly series that echoes their old post-game recapping format of handing out grades, because what’s more fun than arbitrarily rating performances? I’ll do this on Fridays, evaluating the Milwaukee Bucks’ performances from the prior week of games (this week that covers 4, back to the Utah loss).

And what a time to start a new weekly series it is! Sure not gonna be pretty... the Bucks might be losing some privileges with this one. Let’s see the damages.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: B

While sadly coming in losses, the Greek Freak has put up some gaudy stat lines this week, notching one triple-double and flirting with them in other games. His 2017-like free throw numbers since we hit February (75.6%) could be this season’s biggest positive development if it holds. Still, Giannis seems to have lost a bit of touch near the rim, is settling for too many jumpers (which are not high-value shots for him, nothing new here), and is turning the ball over far too often (5 in each of his last three games). He’s been their best player this week, but in losing efforts which he shares blame for.

Khris Middleton: C-

Is Khris an All-Star? The numbers say so even if the guys from TNT don’t, but it’s fair to question whether or not this team deserves a second All-Star being 3 games above .500, even though that’s still somehow 3rd in the East. Regardless, his marked lack of aggression in his last four games is certainly not becoming of an All-Star. 13 and 8 attempts in the Raptors series is far too low, and though Toronto certainly played suffocating defense on him, Khris has busted through opposing schemes before. What is also disappointing is how after a few games of capable initiation in Jrue’s absence, his playmaking and passing flairs seem to have largely vanished, and I’m not entirely sure why.

Brook Lopez: D+

It’s tough to watch Brook get played off the floor in multiple matchups because, aside from his stinker vs. OKC, he’s been decent on the offensive end. But that’s not outweighing his struggles in a switching scheme, where his efforts are inconsistent at best. We know he can’t usually keep up with opponents one-on-one, so how long much can the Bucks play Brook at the 5 if they aren’t going to zone drop? That was a scheme tailor-made for him, but so far this year its effectiveness has eroded and we’re seeing it less and less. Brook’s minutes have waned lately as a result. The Bucks really have no choice but to stick with him, though. He’s usually a better option than Bobby Portis and replacing him with an upgrade from outside the organization is doubtful given cap constraints.

Donte DiVincenzo: C

His performance in OKC was a bright spot in a dark game, but the DiVincenzo experience has been far too adventurous for my liking lately. He’s taking a bunch more shots than Khris (not ideal); shots that are bricking too often to justify such volume. Plus he’s still missing a lot at the rim. NBA newbies typically have trouble finishing when they enter the league before acclimating to the physicality and bigger bodies of the pros, but Donte is regressing in this area relative to his first full 82(ish) games. He also hasn’t been the disruptive force on defense lately, only registering one steal last week, and his typically-fruitful gambles at jumping passing lanes have often resulted in busts. The biggest issue with Donte right now, however, is his role while Jrue is absent. Donte is simply not an initiator and is miscast in running an NBA offense, first or second unit. While he can certainly defend point guards, he is a borderline liability playing one himself. Given the depth issues right now, the Bucks are a bit stuck with him at the 1, but Donte should defer to Khris and Giannis in setting the halfcourt offense.

Bryn Forbes: B

While he had a couple of forgettable shooting nights and faded hard after a quick 3/3 last night, Forbes has been a solid third option for the Bucks in Jrue Holiday’s absence. He’s the unshy gunner the Bucks haven’t really had under Bud. He’s Korver or Brogdon with more volume. He’s Brook or Mirotic with more accuracy. His continued wizardry coming off screens and curls, quickly snapping to face the hoop, and firing up bullseyes from the perimeter while needing very little space or time makes him a great fit in any lineup or halfcourt set. His percentage will probably settle, but opponents must respect him at the arc. Hopefully, that will pay some dividends for Giannis, Jrue, and Khris if he remains a starter, which I think is worth a try.

Bobby Portis: C+

The knock on Portis has long been that he doesn’t show up for the big games and instead feasts on bench lineups or bottom-dwelling teams. Though Toronto held him in check last night, Portis was key in keeping the Bucks in striking distance the other evenings as the only reliable bench scoring option. His jumpers looked very pure all week and he picked up a bit of Middleton’s slack. So he put forth great efforts against quality opponents! But how much did it matter? While you can say this for basically every Buck lately, they were outscored with him on the floor and it was visibly bad at some points (-18 last night), particularly with some rather mystifying lineups featuring Bobby, but more on that later.

Pat Connaughton: D+

That first half on Tuesday was fun. For a second, I thought we were back in the halcyon days of January when Planet Pat shot 50% from deep. He even was cutting to the rim with a spryness we haven’t seen since what feels like 2019. Sadly, he soon retreated to the frigid wasteland of perimeter shooting in February 2021 (he’s scraping 26% this month), not unlike Wisconsin farmland of the same era. Outside that half, he wasn’t providing the team with much despite his heavy minutes, at times even seeming to lack his trademark burst of energy. His value to this team when he can’t hit shots (which is most of the time, honestly) is very questionable. First, it was Donte who came crashing down to earth, now Pat... I sure hope Forbes isn’t next. But unlike Forbes, Donte and Pat are mediocre shooters at best and these flukes got my hopes up a little too high for big improvements.

D.J. Augustin: F

Even after a respectable 3/7 performance from deep last night, I can’t pass DJA’s effort this week. He has zero finishing ability (even Donte has him beat there), I have no confidence in his jumper, and he does nothing of clear value for this team right now. I would even say he is being detrimental. Somehow he got to the line 9 times against Utah and scored 12 points, but did you even notice? He’s getting a fair bit of assists too, but did you even notice? All I notice is my heavy sigh whenever I see him enter the game, as I watch a once-underrated facilitator (he was quite good in Orlando) look completely washed. Usually, a stretch of poor play this lengthy buries a player deep on a bench, but given their depth issues, the Bucks basically have to stick with him and hope he turns a corner.

Torrey Craig: D

Craig hit a couple of threes against Utah, but otherwise was a whole lot of nothing in scarce minutes. His defensive reputation preceded him in coming to Milwaukee, and while I’m glad he’s seeing the court more, I don’t see him having any impact on that end lately. Then again, this team is completely out to sea defensively right now, but I’d hoped someone with his acumen and instincts could help buoy the ship, which is taking on a lot of water.

Mike Budenholzer: D

I’ll give Bud credit for trying. Unlike in past seasons, he’s searching for new ways for this team to be effective defensively. He hasn’t found one yet with the group of players currently at his disposal. Will that change when Holiday returns? Things may improve, but even an all-world defender like Jrue won’t solve the lion’s share of the team’s current issues. While the Bucks have actually cut down opponent 3PA rather successfully lately (teams attempted below their average in 3 of 4 games), the interior defense is increasingly leaky as poor communication has led to plenty of blow-bys. Of course, such lack of execution is mainly on the players, who haven’t gotten appreciable practice time to implement a new scheme, let alone a true training camp. The offense has been largely good despite cold stretches early in games, and even with a lackluster halfcourt performance on Thursday, that component is markedly better than in recent years. But we can’t deny that the guy pulling the strings may not be pulling the right ones at present. The cast he has to choose from is limited right now due to injury, G-League assignments, and lack of roster flexibility, but Bud surely can do better than a Giannis-Portis-Brook lineup, which coughed up six quick points late on Tuesday before a quick hook of Portis, only to somehow again reappear on Thursday. Why?

Incomplete: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (9 MPG), Jaylen Adams (2 MPG), D.J. Wilson (DNP), Jrue Holiday (get well soon)

Certainly an inauspicious start to this weekly series, but a lot of room for upward growth! What are your grades? Want to argue for a higher one like a whiny high schooler? Want to give me an F for my writing style? Let us know in the comments below.