It’s been all Ws for the Bucks since returning from the All-Star break, even if they haven’t looked great doing it. But style points aren’t really important when you run off a 4-0 week, so I found myself boosting a few players’ grades after accounting for the results, in spite of suspect processes.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A+ (March 4th: A)
Have a seat and let me ask you something. At any point, have we ever seen Giannis play at this high a level, with this much swagger, and having this much fun? In one week: Back-to-back-to-back triple-doubles for the first time in franchise history, 25/29 at the free-throw line, making his first five treys after his perfect night in Atlanta, multiple 30 point nights, delicious smoothies, off-day pizza, dropping philosophy that would make Plato proud, and a cheesesteak with wiz (or something) to top it off. Another Eastern Conference Player of the Week is assuredly coming and he’s likely on his way to Eastern Conference Player of the Month. This may be the best stretch of his career to date even after winning consecutive MVPs. Therein is the only reason for him not being the odds-on MVP favorite right now. But there is no good reason why he shouldn’t be in the top three vote-getters, even if Joel Embiid was healthy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this relaxed and happy. The guy was smiling after missing a free throw on Wednesday, can you imagine that a month ago? Just so we’re clear here big guy, there is nothing wrong with having this much fun.
Khris Middleton: B (March 4th: A-)
While it was nice to see Middleton get to the line 9 times last Saturday and put up 22 and 16 shots in the following games, the increased aggressiveness—while welcome—did not beget increased efficiency. I think all of us have wished he would take more shots over the last couple of seasons given how efficient he’s been, but regression can sometimes come with increased usage for certain players, and that regression is coinciding with his shooting swoon. The deep shot is the biggest culprit as he’s just 4/17 since the return, a very un-Middleton 23.5%. Plus he had to deal with Matisse Thybulle and Ben Simmons. Still, if this is the nadir for Middleton (and it probably is), it’s really not bad at all. What I’m a little more concerned about is actually his playmaking: his assists have taken a slight dip this month and his turnovers have jumped. Usually, he’s made a difference in that area when his shot isn’t falling, but he hasn’t lately.
Jrue Holiday: A (March 4th: B)
Can I say he’s back yet? Holiday has shot the ball decently well lately, but he’s filling the stat sheet with rebounds, assists, and steals that somehow feel more impactful than any shots he’s drilling, without turning it over too much. I think Holiday has usurped the second most important Buck title from Middleton over the past month, which is no small feat given how many thought that Middleton was in fact the most important Buck for the first few weeks of the season.
Brook Lopez: A (March 4th: B-)
Who else noticed that Lopez played basically all of the last 3:30 and entire overtime period against Philly? Hitting a clutch three in that tilt and generally being a very good scorer in the post recently, shutting down Julius Randle and enforcing both the 4th-lowest opponent FG% and 2nd-lowest FGA/game within 5 feet over the past week on the other... he is a valuable piece in the right matchups, even when the Bucks are doing a lot of switching. I’m interested to see how he fares against different Eastern contender frontcourts with smaller, less bulky personnel; Boston should be a good indicator. If he struggles with more mobile lineups, I hear he has a new understudy who could tap in.
Donte DiVincenzo: A- (March 4th: C)
We readily take the good with the bad from DDV, as for every big gamble he takes which results in a transition steal and room-service bucket, he whiffs and gives up a wide-open, game-tying corner three. Ok, maybe the tradeoffs aren’t always that extreme, but the reason DiVincenzo is regarded as a good defender is not because of his on-ball skills, as we saw when he was shredded by Russell Westbrook. It’s because he can disrupt offenses, and to use a modern baseball analogy, he hits enough home runs to outweigh the strikeouts. Though he had a costly error (think Trent Grisham, for all you Brewers fans) allowing the Sixers to tie, one of his 4 triples was key in building a late 7 point lead. DiVincenzo was sneakily-good on offense this week despite continued struggles at the rim and was outstanding on the glass. Nights from him like Wednesday are going to portend a lot more Buck wins than losses.
Bobby Portis: B- (March 4th: B-)
I have faith that soon, Portis will show up in a big-time matchup against a top-tier team. He looked great picking on his former teams in close games where his output meaningfully helped the Bucks win, so credit where credit is due for draining all those smooth Js against Washington and New York. Was Philly’s big man rotation of Dwight Howard, Tony Bradley, and switches from Ben Simmons that flummoxing? The proof will be in the playoff pudding for Portis and will likely be the difference between another mid-level salary in Milwaukee or elsewhere, or something in the 8 figures. Somehow, he needs to figure out how to channel the Wizard confidence to Sixer scenarios, because I don’t see his already-dinner plate eyes get nearly as big when he checks in against teams like the Nets.
Pat Connaughton: A- (March 4th: B+)
His long-range accuracy escaped largely him outside of Saturday night, but Connaughton drove the Bucks to victories in two important ways, one of which he’s long been very good at. Always an elite rebounder for his size, he picked up some clutch ones in late-game situations in Washington and Philly, the latter of which notched a season-high 12. The other way he impacted the final outcome was just by sheer energy. Much like DiVincenzo, Connaughton’s predilections towards jumping passing lanes and closing out wildly to the arc result too often in whiffs (more so than DDV, honestly), but when he hits on a bet it always feels like a pendulum-swinger. His early fourth-quarter drive and subsequent steal sparked a 13-0 Bucks run to take their first lead since the early stages. Though they were his only points on the night, 6 of those 13 were his.
Bryn Forbes: B (March 4th: C-)
No one perhaps wore that awful shooting first half on Wednesday more than Forbes (0/10, 0/6 from three overall), which glued him to the bench for the last 9 minutes of regulation and OT. Forbes also seems to have a bit of the Portis performance issues against top teams, but it doesn’t seem for a lack of confidence because he’s every bit the gunner in every matchup. That resulted in a couple of stinkers from downtown this week, but he still averaged 10.5 points on 47.8% from deep. Sounds like a typical Forbes week. 7/7 against the Knicks is all he needed to look that good, and man did that performance look good.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: B- (March 4th: B)
His very brief spurts off the bench after playing 12 minutes against the Knicks almost rendered him an incomplete, but his small-sample advanced numbers actually look really good for the few non-garbage time minutes he played. So I’ll give him an honorable mention this week because P.J. Tucker is.. well, the NBA version of Thanasis, and I’m sure he’ll soak up all minutes at the 4 behind Giannis and Khris.
Mike Budenholzer: A (March 4th: A-)
Tactically-speaking, I think the best way to describe the Bucks’ last four games is consistent. Bud has stuck to his guns and they’ve done the trick. The half-court offense looks pretty crisp and the frigid first half on Wednesday wasn’t for a lack of quality looks or ball movement. Defensively, Milwaukee has grown instinctively to the point that they’re making key late-game stops (against Westbrook on Saturday most notably) through switching. On paper, this scheme works when you need to thwart late-game comeback attempts (which would have happened twice had Philly not tied it on Wednesday) or shut down opposing stars going bonkers in clutch situations. It’s now working in practice and translated to two comeback wins from double-digit deficits, which had just happened at all this season. For a team that never really had to make up deficits, especially last season, and then looked powerless to change the outcome of a playoff game, this is huge. Bud installed the system, it’s now up and running rather well, and positive results are following. You can see the confidence the players have in it too, especially in fourth quarters when scores are tight.
Incomplete: Sam Merrill (10 minutes), Mamadi Diakite (5 minutes), Jordan Nwora (injured), Axel Toupane (just signed)
Suddenly, like a lame wedding, the Bucks are without a DJ. Not even one! These three erstwhile Bucks get their final grades early and fortunately for them, they will not carry over to their next institutions. However, they will transfer credits to these lesser (sorry Phoenix) new homes, and we wish them success in their future endeavors.
D.J. Augustin: C+ (March 4th: B+)
DJA really began to put things together as a reserve ball handler in recent weeks, but for contract and defensive reasons, it was a coup to move him. While not ignoring the immense struggles he had going to the basket (he made DDV look like James Harden... ok, maybe that’s a stretch) or the likelihood he’d be played off the floor in the postseason, he was a solid distributor and great distance shooter who helped quite a bit when Holiday was out. Oftentimes in the last few weeks, the Bucks played visibly quite well when he was on the floor, with or without Holiday, reflected in his game-to-game plus/minus. Not many people will miss him, especially once the Bucks can find a new backup point guard (they had better), but Augustin’s tenure in Milwaukee was neither a failure or a rousing success.
Torrey Craig: C (March 4th: D)
It’s really too bad this didn’t work out. On paper, Craig was a great get for a team light on defense off the bench, not to mention his minimum contract. Whether it’s due to actual skill decline or leaving Michael Malone’s system in Denver, Craig never fit in on what was admittedly a defense in flux. Maybe with an actual preseason and practice this year this wouldn’t have been the case, so I’ll cut him some slack. I’ll reserve my judgment on Craig’s NBA future until I see what he can do in a normal NBA season (hopefully starting this October) if he doesn’t bounce back in Phoenix before.
D.J. Wilson: Incomplete (March 4th: Incomplete)
So ends a 3.5 year odyssey where we saw DJW go from draft pick whiff to NBA-quality player (for like 2 months) to scrub. I wish the guy nothing but the best going forward, but I’ll be surprised if he’s in the NBA after next season. This year he barely cracked 100 minutes in Milwaukee, and so many of those came in garbage time it’s tough to get a read on how he actually performed. I hope he’ll get some real minutes in Houston if only to show that his defense is still worthy of keeping him in the league.
A lot of these guys got a nice boost this week due to the W column from me, so I could see why some might seem a touch high. But as ever, the Bucks are about results, not the process. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.