There’s nothing lucky about the Milwaukee Bucks recent string of success, but the offensive end has sure seemed like a rainbow with a pot o’ gold waiting at the end for Giannis Antetokounmpo lately. After a sluggish start to the year, the reigning MVP just capped off three straight triple-doubles, a first for any Buck in team history. His food-filled lax press conferences are indicative of this team’s vibe right now: calm, cool and collecting victories. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 134, New York 101 (Bucks Race Past Knicks)
- Milwaukee 125, Washington D.C. 119 (Bucks Survive Westbrook’s Supernova Performance)
- Milwaukee 133, Washington D.C. 122 (Bucks Cast Spell on Wizards)
Revenge is best served cold. Milwaukee was anything but in their rout of the New York Knicks, who buckled in an enjoyable fashion after toppling the Bucks in their own lopsided win earlier this season. The whiz kid Mamadi Diakite scored his first bucket in that one. Afterwards, the Bucks took to the road, starting off a NE corridor road trip with back-to-back contests against the Washington Wizards. In the first, Russell Westbrook grabbed the carving knife and took it to Milwaukee’s turkey of a defensive effort. Thankfully, the Wizards defense is one of the league’s worst, and the Bucks secured their first win of the season after trailing an opponent by 10+. Bradley Beal returned for the finale of this week’s article, but the score is closer than it appears. The Bucks played with their wings, pizza, smoothie, whatever it is Giannis is craving nowadays. A solid week of wins before the competition stiffens.
It was a tough stretch on the opening set beat. Brook Lopez was in the bailout business and Jrue Holiday stole a tip in the first Wizards game that mucked up the usual opening flow. Without anything astonishing, I am going to revert back to getting Brook some shine, especially since his bucket-getting bravado has already been one of the post-ASB storylines to follow.
But first, an ode to Sargento, who recently re-upped on a 5-year commitment to the Bucks. And in Monday’s Wizards game, whoever is in charge of the Bucks broadcast must have heard my prayers, for they were answered. No longer was the top of the key blocked, but instead, Donte was parmesaned out in the corner. I know it was solely because the Bucks were headed from right to left on the court, but when you watch every opening set too often, you appreciate the little things.
Thank you Sargento. Now, onto the main business, which is actually a nifty set originally designed to get Khris MIddleton flowing after his flop of a shooting night (sans the FT line) in the first Wizards beef.
It’s DHO heaven on this set, with Jrue getting the whole gang going after Donte starts his cut up from the corner to retrieve the ball from Milwaukee’s lead guard. After that, Donte fakes the DHO as Jrue set up shop in Donte’s former corner corridor, while Brook moseys over for a little half-hearted screen. Giannis set up near the free throw line.
After tossing it to Giannis, Donte clears out by cutting straight to the basket. Brook hops out to the top of the key while Khris starts his two-man action with Giannis.
Bradley Beal is already late getting up to cover Middleton, and Giannis starts to dribble down a bit so he can give Middleton space on the corner. He dishes a DHO to Khris, in a not quite Tony Snell play since Giannis doesn’t exaggerate his screen or turn his hips quite so dramatically, but Middleton clangs the shot. It’s a good look, and makes sense to get him going early. Instead though, the possession actually turns into a right and proper table-setter for the Stanford standout Brook Lopez.
He sets up on the block against Alex Len, awaiting the entry pass. Then, instead of doing some one-footed turnaround from midrange or anything fluffy, he dives into the vintage Brook bin for a confident push into the lane and deep floater over Len. It’s certainly not the best shot in Milwaukee’s arsenal, but it came with the shot clock winding down and portended an 8-9 performance from inside the arc for Lopez. Those eight two-pointers was actually the second most two-point shots he’s ever had in one game for Milwaukee. He had nine in an August 2, 2020 contest against the Rockets.
On the StruggleBucks
On a week when the Bucks returned to action and notched three straight wins, it’s tough to quibble with too much of their overarching performance. Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes continue to shoot the lights out. D.J. Augustin is finally coming around. Sure, their defense against the Wiz left something to be desired, but it wasn’t a decimation in terms of defensive rating along the lines of losses like the Pelicans, the Jazz or even both Raptors losses. Instead of one overarching deep dive, I want to highlight just a few trends that continue to bear monitoring.
Middleton’s midrange game has moved from flamethrower to BIC lighter
Yes, Khris is still a lethal midrange shooter. Yes, he remains one of Milwaukee’s most consistent bucket-getters when the shot clock approaches midnight. But for all the accolades heaped upon him last year, he’s just not quite shooting at the same level from midrange this season. On a macro level, it hasn’t been a major drag in his overall eFG%, which is still at 56%, second best of his career, but slightly below last year’s 57%. Per Cleaning The Glass, he’s shooting 44% on long midrange shots (defined as between 14 feet and the arc), in the 65th percentile for forwards. In 2019-20, he was in the 95th percentile at 56%. Considering his predilection for the midrange game, those percentage points can make a significant difference.
The good news is he’s offsetting it with a slightly better performance at the rim (66%), albeit on small volume, and a nifty 50% from floater range. Still, the midrange is where he remains quite comfortable, with 25% of his shots coming from long midrange, 97th percentile among forwards. Bud’s learned to live with it. In reality, last year’s outrageous shooting performance may end up as an outlier in Middleton’s career, making it a teensy bit frustrating that he continues to not increase his 3-point output in any significant way. Indeed, he’s taking 2% fewer shots from 3-point land than last year, and 6% fewer than Bud’s first year in Milwaukee.
Using NBA.com’s stats, Middleton is fairly middle of the pack in terms of midrange percentage among players that shoot three or more from that zone per game. He’s tied with Jamal Murray, on similar volume, at 43.4% even though Murray’s narrative has generally been a cold shooting start. Contrast it with last year, when he was at 52.7%, second among all players who shot three or more, behind only Chris Paul at 54%. Keep an eye on Middleton’s midrange percentage in the second half and let’s see whether it ticks back up to last year’s career-best level, or flattens out and remains at this solid but unspectacular performance. Here’s how he’s shot during Bud’s tenure, and how he ranks among players who shoot three or more from midrange.
Middleton from Midrange
Donte’s rim finishing continues to languish
Even as Donte’s 3-point shooting has evened out to just sub-40%, his rim finishing has not responded in any meaningful way to last year’s 62%. He’s at 53% (61-116) now per Cleaning the Glass, and continues to inexplicably miss lay-ins like this one from Saturday’s game:
I’m not sure of the rhyme or reason for what’s up with his finishing, although he does often contort himself in mysterious ways and doesn’t have the bulk to bounce off anyone. It’s a small part of the Bucks offense, but Milwaukee needs its role players to consistently hit the easy stuff. There won’t be these types of margins in the Playoffs.
Offensive Board Boon
Let’s end on a positive note. It’s no secret the Milwaukee Bucks have grown more accustomed to crashing the offensive boards this year. Per Cleaning The Glass, they’re up to 10th in terms of OREB% (26.8%) after ranking in the bottom ten of the league the last two seasons under Bud. Fellas like Bobby Portis and Jrue Holiday have helped boost that figure. The percentages between worst (GSW at 20.4%) and first (NOP at 29.4%) OREB teams aren’t massive, but it does lead to a fairly sizable difference in terms of second chance points. And while the Bucks boast a modest uptick in second chance points, it is twice as much as last year. And if adding more semi-consistent ways to score is part of this season’s core goals, then they’re doing that. Here’s a breakdown of the difference between team’s second chance points and their opponent’s second chance points from the last two seasons.
On the flipside, I was curious if the uptick in resources devoted to the offensive boards may damage Milwaukee’s normally stellar transition defense. The theory being that extra bodies remaining down low makes it easier for teams to get out and run with a potential numbers advantage. To this point, that hasn’t been the case. The Bucks are second in the league in terms of stingiest opponent transition points/play off live rebounds, 104.9. For context, the league’s 15th ranked team, Detroit, is allowing 119.3 points per transition play off live rebounds. So Milwaukee’s remained more than stout on their transition D. I’m sure that’s part of the reason Bud’s allowed the tactic to continue, but it’ll be fun to monitor and see if the Bucks stellar transition defense can remain intact down the stretch.
We’re now through 10 weeks of voting for the weekly MVP (technically nine since I skipped a week) and here are the current standings:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: 5 Weekly MVPs
- Khris Middleton: 2 Weekly MVPs
- Jrue Holiday: 2 Weekly MVPs
It’s not surprising at all that Giannis has racked up wins the last four times we’ve conducted this poll too. His play has clearly elevated as the season’s gone on. Maybe it’s him growing more comfortable within the offense. Maybe it’s him re-adjusting after the sudden restart to the season. Maybe it’s him learning more about his teammates. Regardless, his elevation in play back to an MVP level has, unsurprisingly, coincided with a winning spree for this squad. I’m tossing Brook into this category, even with Holiday’s return to the starting lineup, if only because it could be the only time he’ll make this company. I quibbled between Holiday and Middleton, as each have fairly similar shooting and counting stats this week, but opted for Middleton with the slightly higher assists and free throw attempts.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (3 GP: 29.3 pts, 12.0 reb, 10.3 ast, 1.7 stl, 1.0 blk)
Just another day for the back-to-back MVP:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 16, 2021
31 PTS | 15 REB | 10 AST | 3 STL | 12/19 FG pic.twitter.com/aDW6FlD44r
Khris Middleton (3 GP: 17.7 pts, 5.0 reb, 4.3 ast, 1.0 stl)
Khris came through in the win:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 16, 2021
23 PTS | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL pic.twitter.com/0MWAt6y05P
Brook Lopez (3 GP: 15.7 pts, 5.0 reb, 2.0 ast, 3.0 blk)
The best plays from tonight’s VICTORY over Washington!! pic.twitter.com/PjSH4tnzGp— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 16, 2021
Week 11: The Bucks MVP was...
This poll is closed
This poll will close at noon central on Thursday, March 18.
That’ll do it for this week’s wrap-up. Thanks to all for continuing to read and sticking with it as I took a brief layoff for the All-Star Break. Hope y’all are feeling as refreshed and ready for the second half as I am.