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Milwaukee Bucks Progress Report: February 26

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

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed it last week, this is a new Friday series (h/t Bucksketball) where we evaluate the Bucks’ last week of games. This week, we’re covering four games: vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, and New Orleans Pelicans. All wins! A nice shift from the four losses covered in the first installment last week.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: B)

Maybe because it’s fresh in my memory, but the only thing stopping me from going full A+ for Giannis is some poor shot selection in the Pelicans game. But I won’t harp on that, and he at least sank a couple of threes. Instead, I want to continue to highlight (since I didn't jinx it last week) Giannis’ vastly improved performance at the charity stripe. 78.9% is solid for anybody, but when that occurs on 57 attempts over 4 games, it’s something we can point to as a determining factor between a win and a loss. While it might not have been as decisive in the Sacramento (19/24!) and Minnesota (10/13) games, his 8/10 performance against New Orleans was critical, if only for the fact that not too long ago we often said that a poor night from Giannis at the line might have cost the Bucks a W.

The Freak is visibly shooting with significant confidence at the line: he’s shot 71.1% since his infamous 1/10 night on January 15th, and he’s at an even 75% this month on 10.9 FTA/game, each high marks of his monthly performances thus far. He seems to have a new pre-shot rhythm at the line, receiving the ball from the ref after a practice attempt, but I also haven’t seen him short-arm one—as he always used to—in weeks. If he misses, it’s long, and that’s good. Am I crazy for suddenly expecting it to go in whenever he’s there, a complete 180 from a month ago? This reliability made for a hyper-efficient week for the All-Star starter, with multiple 30+ point and 18+ rebound games to boot. He’s an Eastern Conference Player of the Week candidate.

Khris Middleton: A- (last week: C-)

Two scintillating performances against New Orleans and Sacramento stick out much more than less-efficient outings in one-sided victories. While I can’t say I’m shocked Khris missed the All-Star game, and I would even go as far as to say there were several more deserving players who I would have put in ahead of him, he seems to have shaken off the slump that torpedoed an All-Star berth. His touch from the midrange has returned, after looking a bit off the week prior, but getting back to his typical success from behind the three-point line was most welcome. Khris shot 45% from deep, stuffed the stat sheet with lots of steals, assists, and boards, and had two 30 point efforts, the second one against New Orleans being another key to a narrow victory. The Bucks are extremely tough to beat when their two stars play this well, so just imagine when their third one returns, or another Buck moonlights as the third musketeer (more on that below).

Brook Lopez: B (last week: D+)

A very solid—if unspectacular—week from Brook, who has re-established himself as an important two-way contributor as the Bucks dealt with elite big men in Zion Williamson and Karl-Anthony Towns. Both those guys are so good that they’ll get theirs, as most stars do, but holding each honest in one regard (KAT going 1/6 from deep, Zion going just 4/11 in the second half on Thursday) is a victory. It seemed like Brook was the only one who could check Zion on Thursday, flummoxing him at the rim several times as his effectiveness waned after half (-10 in the third and fourth). Brook also shot the ball quite well in a couple of games with some nifty finishes driving to the rim, and even when he needed to float something up from 6 feet out, his touch is so good that you know he’s sinking it. His throwback, plodding drives coupled with such finesse combine to make a pretty effective offensive weapon that the Bucks go to a few times a game when they need a bucket, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that more often.

Donte DiVincenzo: A- (last week: C)

While he had a forgettable night vs. OKC, the ensuing three-game stretch has to be the best three-game stretch The Big Prego has had in the Association. I used to point out that for all the love Donte gets from Bucks fans with all he does, his career-high was a mere 19 points. I can’t say that anymore after he starred as the third member of the Bucks’ three-headed monster against the Pelicans, complete with a Giannis-style, off-the-backboard volleyball block and a massive game-clinching charge (how often does that happen?) that Ersan Ilyasova could feel from his driveway in Mequon.

While I don’t think we’ll see a return to those halcyon days of December shooting near 60% from deep, more performances like Donte’s Thursday night would be way more impactful. His jumper looked very pure and was falling from everywhere, even in locations I typically grimace at seeing him pull up from. And though it came against honestly terrible interior defenses (the Kings and Pelicans are 26th and 29th in opponent FG% within 3 feet), it’s good to see him finish off of drives more consistently. Nothing like facing three teams with bottom-ten (dead last in Sacramento’s case) DRtgs for your confidence. In the week ahead, the Nuggets give up the league’s worst FG% at the rim and the Clippers aren’t much better at 24th... how do you say “let the good times roll” in Italian?

D.J. Augustin: B (last week: F)

Firstly, congrats to the Augustin fam on their new baby girl! Here’s hoping the new arrival results in a VanVleet effect for the veteran. A surprise inclusion in last Friday’s starting lineup (the Bucks haven’t lost since that move was made...just sayin’), Augustin shot sweetly in two of his three starts, bookending a stinker against Sacramento. That stinker wasn’t of great importance, as D.J. impacted the game by finding teammates (5 assists in each outing this week) and credibly facilitating an offense that is currently very light on point guards. These were performances Augustin wasn’t having coming off the bench lately, and though this week might portend for more effective play once he moves back there and Jrue Holiday resumes his starting role, I for one would like to see more minutes of DJA with the starting unit, spelling one of Jrue or Donte.

Bobby Portis: B (last week: C+)

Not an outrageously good week for the Buck my mother calls “Googly Eyes,” but a very solid one nevertheless. Bobby continues to be automatic from deep (7/12) and his teammates continue to find him in the corners and on the wing: very reliable locations for Portis that I always feel confident he’ll bury. Moonlighting in the starting lineup for the first time on Thursday, Bobby also performed some impressive work on the offensive glass, where he is the heir to Ersan in terms of tip-ins. While few can stop Zion, Portis unsurprisingly appeared highly susceptible to the young star’s array of moves toward the basket, getting beat multiple times in the first half and forcing smaller defenders to rotate towards Williamson, who also had no chance of thwarting a bucket. Still, we saw the kind of scoring output and rebounding we expect from Portis each game, and he was rarely a negative on the court this week.

Bryn Forbes: B+ (last week: B)

He was invisible on Thursday (1/4, 0/3 from deep) but moving back to the bench is clearly not stopping the supernova that is Bryn Forbes behind the three-point line. He eviscerated Minnesota’s flimsy defense to a season-high 23 points, including 5 triples on 9 attempts. His other two performances were more muted, but still in double figures with multiple triples. Some gripe that he fires away too often from the midrange, but since he’s a cool 56.8% on the season from 16 feet to the arc (15.1% of his FGA), I don’t think he needs to alter his shot profile as that gives an already potent offense another look. I’ve heard and read this mentioned around the Bucks Twitter and podcast arenas recently, so I’ll reiterate what I said last week: Forbes is their Kyle Korver, but better. It sure is nice to finally have a deadly perimeter threat in the mold of such tormentors as Duncan Robinson, Joe Harris, and... Lonzo Ball? Ok, maybe Forbes is not quite like each of those guys, but opposing teams know what he’s in there to do and so far, no one can stop him. I’m not sure how one even does so because I don’t think I’ve ever seen him phased by a closeout. I get excited thinking about the damage he could do in a playoff game.

Pat Connaughton: B (last week: D+)

Connaughton’s three-point stroke returned this week (6/13), he was solid on the glass, he attacked the rim with the frequency and effectiveness we’d expect against the matadors of Minnesota and Sacramento, and he even found himself at the line five times against the Kings. The two timely—if early—threes he sank against the Pelicans buoyed the Bucks in an intensely back-and-forth affair and helped mitigate some bad passes and fouls— he’s been getting whistled much more often lately. Unlike last week, Pat’s good outweighs his bad, which is always desirable for options off this year’s thinner bench.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: B (last week: INC)

Move over Pat: the Bucks have a new energy guy. While only two of his four buckets this week didn’t occur in garbage time, for the first time in his NBA career Thanasis is regularly contributing to solid lineups. A few stocks (steals + blocks) and boards make up the extent of his box score contributions, but the intangibles are plain to see while watching actual gameplay. He makes good closeouts to the perimeter denying shot attempts (something the Bucks are doing rather well lately), goes after any loose ball with more reckless abandon than a cheetah after a gazelle, and crashes the offensive glass like he’s breaking-in-case-of-fire. He turns the ball over a bit much, but he at least isn’t in the way on offense. It’s pretty much all been coming up Milhouse for Thanasis, and while I don’t know that it will keep up, I’m happy to ride this wave while it lasts.

Sam Merrill: C (last week: INC)

The rook only played 18 minutes across 3 games, but unlike in the others, his appearances in Thursday’s game weren’t in garbage time, entering to start the second quarter. Merrill looked pretty overmatched even against New Orleans’ reserves and was part of a highly suspect lineup in the third period (more on that below) that swung momentum heavily away from Milwaukee. The one triple he took was very short, and while the entire Milwaukee bench was below zero in plus-minus, Merrill was the weakest link. But I’m glad to see him get legitimate rotation minutes in a close regular-season game. This probably does a lot more for his development than G-League bubble PT. I’m still hopeful he’s more Brogdon than he is Wolters.

Mike Budenholzer: B (last week: D)

While Bud thankfully did not trot out the mystifying three-bigs lineup of Bobby-Giannis-Brook again, he tried a Merrill-Forbes-Connaughton-Thanasis-Giannis grouping in the late third quarter that promptly was shredded, even while Zion sat. I actually was pretty intrigued to see the Antetokounmbro frontcourt when this lineup appeared, and maybe with Jrue and Khris replacing two of the guards, this could be a solid defensive group in the right matchups. We also saw a lot more zone drop than the week prior (I saw Brook sink deeper than I ever have in the first half as Zion handled at the perimeter) and more judicious use of switching, so player execution naturally benefited from the familiarity.

Big credit to Bud for the defensive adjustments made at half on Thursday too. Not only did they successfully neutralize the previously-destructive Zion, but the Bucks also curtailed what had been a solid shooting night from downtown for New Orleans, holding them to 2/10 in the fourth, enhancing the mean reversion the Pelicans were already experiencing. His defensive gameplan on Brandon Ingram was solid tonight too, holding a deadly volume gunner to an inefficient 23 points on 25 shots (1/10 from deep). Sure, the Ws weren’t against the cream of the NBA crop this week, and you can argue that some games shouldn’t have been as close for long stretches, it’s hard to kvetch too much about Bud’s schemes this week.

Incomplete: Torrey Craig (DNP), D.J. Wilson (DNP), Jordan Nwora (injured), Jrue Holiday (soon...)

A second week in the books, and as any teacher will tell you, it’s a lot more fun to give out As than Cs. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.