The ceremonial midpoint of the season is a time for players to get a rest, teams to adjust their plans, and for fans to evalute just what it is they’ve seen so far.
In the case of the Milwaukee Bucks, we’ve seen a little bit of everything. On the positive side of the ledger we have the gradual growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s playmaking, a steady integration of Jrue Holiday’s collected presence on offense and defense, a hot start from Khris Middleton through the first month of the year, a bevy of bench free agents that seem to have been hits, and a 22-14 record good for the East’s third seed. On the other hand, you can ding them for a decline in pure defensive metrics (while they pursue variety away from zone-drop coverage), the cooling off of Khris Middleton, questions about the strength of the non-starter rotation, occasional losses to perceived bad teams, and few top shelf moments which have you thinking they may just put it all together when it matters most.
If you add it all up the summary is as we sort of predicted before the season: this is a transition year. Now, the likes of Giannis and (to a lesser extent) Khris/Jrue are good enough to ensure that the team does well even while the Bucks slowly change the way they play. It’d have been difficult enough to sustain the kind of roster turnover — including sending their starting PG of three seasons packing — with a normal-length offseason. They’ve instead been handed about a week and a half to gather for preseason before the actual games began. That isn’t to excuse inconsistent play and bad execution, but that context will continue to be needed if we’re to fully appreciate just the kind of challenge Milwaukee is dealing with.
Are they the regular season worldbeaters of recent vintage? No. Are they a fatally flawed team bound for yet another flameout in the postseason? Also no. Milwaukee’s a team who isn’t too hot and isn’t too cold. They’re just the right temperature for a aspirational contender putting it all together on the fly.
I’m not sure there will ever truly be a consensus as to how Khris is maximized within this offense, a fact which speaks to his wide range of abilities and also the somewhat inconsistent nature of his play. However, I think most would agree that he is most valuable when he keeps his foot on the proverbial gas. That can mean shooting a ton, attacking the basket, or initiating sets as the ball handler. When he fades from view on a series of possessions things can stagnate and finding the right spot to step back into the stream may be a difficulty Middleton deals with. Kevin O’Connor gives a pretty good breakdown of the number of ways Khris can be impactful and O’Connor’s own suggestions for how best he can help the Bucks.
2021 Midseason report: Milwaukee Bucks (NBA.com)
Steve Aschburner returns yet again to the MMMR to hand down his first-half prognosis for the Bucks. In his mind, the tweaks Milwaukee has made have made this a season worth praising alone. Not because it has resulted in a great change of fortune, but because they may portend a higher ceiling in a few months.
How Alex Saratsis, the Agent for Giannis and Bam, Kept It Real Negotiating $423 Million Worth of Extensions (Complex)
Agents: you love to hate them, I love to hate them, we all love to hate them. If your player makes a decision you’re not happy with? Blame the agent’s underhanded motivations. Things taking too long for a contract to get across the line? The agent is probably trying to negotiate unlimited rides on the owner’s private jet into the deal. When you stand in the middle ground of relations between players and teams you’re bound to get a reputation attached to you one way or another.
This article takes a look at Alex Saratsis, his particular approach to agency, and also some insight into the process of how Giannis went from potential future free agent to $228 million supermax signer.
Bucks Have Found Their Missing Link in Jrue Holiday (Sports Illustrated)
And we’ll close this week’s portion of links by going back to everyone’s favorite third star Jrue Holiday. I think Michael Pina said it best: the importance of Jrue Holiday’s particular abilities is certainly visible in games where he plays, but it was starkly clear how much everything runs because of his presence when he missed 10 games due to a Covid diagnosis. A lot is riding on his hitting a stride when it counts. Good thing he’s as cool, calm, and collected as any player in the league.
Fan Post of the Week
R983’s “Coaching & Opponent 3pt Shooting Luck”, an article so chock full of color coding it’ll make your eyes spin. The research into the year-over-year opponent 3PT%s for coaches is a good starting point for some discussions as to what works for which coaches, and I do suggest you take a look to get an idea which teams have consistently held opponents down from the perimeter. Another interesting trend I noted was the gradual uptick for almost all teams over the course of three seasons in opponent 3PT% (though some dips do happen). Just another indication of the growing capabilities of players across the league to hit from outside, perhaps.
Know Your Enemy
- New York Knicks - Posting & Toasting - The 2020 Knicks vs. the 2021 Knicks: by way of numbers & metaphors
Those who regularly follow whatever we’re calling my NBA weekly game thread know that we like to take the occasional pot shot at the Knicks. Turns out our jokes have only been fuel to their fire as New York sits in the fifth spot in the East and look significantly better than even a year ago. Will it last or is this simply yet another Tom Thibodeau first-season special that will tail off with time?
- Washington Wizards - Bullets Forever - Most fans think NBA Top Shot is 2021’s version of Dutch “Tulip Mania”
I could pick out one of the pieces about how Russell Westbrook is or is not a bad player, but instead I wanted to toss out a nice explainer of the Top Shot trend in online NBA fandom. Albert Lee at Bullets Forever put together a good explainer behind the phenomenon that has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars moved for, uh, video highlights. I’m absolutely certain there are no obscure Cypriot bank accounts sitting at the heart of these currency flows.
The Social Media Section
Lol, sponsorship money hits different
Diakite is like the family-friendly version of Christian Wood
Salute to Arkansas men Sidney Moncrief and Bobby Portis
Fun fact: I went to the same high school and college as the great Sidney Moncrief!! https://t.co/RX6cgIg1uM— Bobby BP Portis (@BPortistime) March 5, 2021
The dorkiest dork basketball player ever
“It’s over guys! Me, LeBron, Luka, Jokic and Steph. Man, that’s a good starting 5.” pic.twitter.com/00FDz15Yox— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 5, 2021
We just want to make the playoffs. https://t.co/Jp9cPI0S3h— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) March 4, 2021
Only 16 more seasons of paying Larry a bajillion dollars
NBA COMEBACK IN 5..4...3...2... https://t.co/Z30SXjABUW— Larry Sanders (@l8show_thegoat) March 6, 2021
Riley’s 2020-2021 Prediction Record: 22-14
retired janitor’s 2020-2021 Prediction Record: 22-14
Are All-Star breaks usually this truncated? Probably, and my sense of time is just extra confused because of Covid bending reality to its will.
Anyways, with the mid-season breather out of the way the Bucks are set to kick off the second-half of their schedule this week against the Knicks and Wizards. New York will be in Milwaukee on Thursday after which the Bucks head out east to play the Wizards on Saturday.
It’s hard to get a read on whether the Knicks have Milwaukee’s number or if the early season stomping handed to the Bucks was a fluke. To be safe, I’ll guess the Bucks lose that one to a New York team going in with confidence and then follow it up with a win against the not-so-good Wiz.