In the Bud era, road trips have grown far more inviting to the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. As they close up shop on their West Coast escapade, they find themselves in a relatively promising position. They’re 3-2 thus far, with a chance to end it on a winning note against a Mavericks team that’s had their number for several years. But, considering they’ve played two games without Giannis (Milwaukee is 12-13 in Bud’s era in games without the Greek Freak), they have to feel relatively promising about where they’re at. Every game counts this season with the one seed within their grasp. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 112, Los Angeles 97 (Jrue Holiday Shines Again in Bucks Victory)
- Milwaukee 127, Portland 109 (Giannis Annihilates Hapless Blazers)
- Milwaukee 129, Sacramento 128 (Bucks Stymie Kings in Sacramento)
- Milwaukee 121, Golden State 122 (Bucks Falter in Final Minutes)
Yikes. That Lakers game. The less said, the better. From the Lakers hot start to the abysmal three quarters that followed, that game leaves stripped ball sunspots in my eyes. Sloppy as a pig sty, but a win was much-needed. Besting the Blazers was like biting into a donut and finding a cream filling. It was gonna be satisfying regardless, but a win made it that much sweeter. Giannis detonating, delivering and deliberating throughout the whole game was pure mastery. He didn’t just overpower defenders, he found ways around and above them with a patience missing from his game since he missed the Pacers contest. Jrue Holiday shined so brightly in the Kings victory, the Bucks just couldn’t wait to lock him up. What a strange coincidence...
Yep. Eric Bledsoe signed his extension after the Bucks beat the Kings by 1 point in Sacramento.— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) April 5, 2021
Jrue Holiday signed his extension after the Bucks beat the Kings by 1 point in Sacramento. https://t.co/ciCLxcQMhJ
Unfortunately, Milwaukee ended this sequence of games on a sour note, dropping a narrow game to Golden State, albeit without Giannis.
Milwaukee saved the best for last this week in the first play department. In Tuesday’s tip against Golden State, Bud opted to insert Bobby Portis into the starting lineup and get him going from the outset. This one was fun, starting with the fact Holiday remains so deep on the court, practically setting up at halfcourt. From there, it’s more an obstacle course than anything else, but it results in a Portis corner triple.
It starts with Middleton getting a light screen from Lopez, but that’s more deception than anything else. Khris doesn’t do anything with it, instead taking up residence near the right block as he awaits a screaming Donte DiVincenzo with Curry in pursuit.
DiVincenzo whirls through screen one and screen two. He even grabs hold of Brook to steady himself and hurl his body into the paint on a quick change of direction. Curry gets stuck in traffic and Donte finds himself awaiting the pass, hands up, right near the rim. His eyes show that shots aren’t on the brain though, especially with Draymond Green sucking into the paint for help.
It’s a bang-bang passing sequence from there, with DiVincenzo flinging the rock over to Portis in the corner who pays it off. One of my favorite bits of this play is how patient Holiday is, not even taking a dribble as he waits for the play to develop. A quick set, and a rather simple one, but a real treat.
On the StruggleBucks
We’ve covered Brook Lopez quite a bit in this space, but it’s not without reason. He’s become the 7-foot lightning rod for much of the fanbase. Thankfully for his sake, he’s not getting struck with as much regularity post-ASB. Still, his reliance on the zone drop scheme to maximize his defensive value continues to create a learning curve for much of this roster. We’ve seen him switch at the end of contests, but more and more frequently, we’re seeing him work within a drop scheme while the Bucks switch 1-4. Lopez has his place, whether it’s as the fourth highest salaried player on this roster is a fascinating question (even moreso due to the rich tax bill sailing down the Milwaukee river) but he has unquestionably improved since breaking for All-Star festivities.
The raw stats are obviously better, but that’s surprising given his 3-point percentage has dipped over that period. Typically, that’s been the bellwether for Brook’s success during his Milwaukee era. Instead, he’s focused his efforts inside to solid success. For the season, he’s effectively re-routing 9% of this 3-point attempts to either right at the rim or within a short proximity of it. Even for someone who was known as an efficient inside scorer, Lopez has been nearly Giannis-ian under the basket this year. Per Cleaning The Glass, He’s hitting 76% of his shots there (within 0-4 feet of rim), in the 89th percentile among all bigs. Giannis, by comparison, is hitting an utterly absurd 80% there. Still, Lopez’s figures are closer to his first year in Milwaukee, after hitting 67% there last year. More interestingly, he’s up to 32% of his shots coming at the rim, which would be his highest figure since the 2016-17 season, his last in Brooklyn. Here’s his splits in terms of shot distribution for pre- and post-ASB.
Lopez Shot Location Frequency
|Season Split||eFG%||Rim||Short Mid||Long Mid||All Mid||Corner Three||Non Corner||All Three|
|Season Split||eFG%||Rim||Short Mid||Long Mid||All Mid||Corner Three||Non Corner||All Three|
One of the prevailing storylines last year was how the Lopez post-up was Bud’s brand new offensive panacea. Switch on him, and Lopez will stand in the post Stanford tree style and punish smaller defenders. While it was relatively effective, in retrospect, it seems crazy that a Lopez post-up would save them from postseason roadblocks. Regardless, it’s always baby steps with Bud, and Brook is finding a better role as a man who can fill the dunker spot vacuum occasionally. This year’s Inside Man Brook feels like a more sustainable, intelligent solution. Last year, 17.7% of Lopez’s play types were post-ups (2.1 possessions per game). That’s rather high for a team whose offense is reliant on read-and-react work. His tidy 1.05 points per possession is solid, but post-ups also break up the flow of what Bud wants his team to do. This year, he’s posting up just once per game. Sure, it’s a super small number in the grand scheme of the game, but Milwaukee should be trying to find better ways to maximize each and every possession.
Lopez is chipping away at the edges using Bud’s new schematic approaches and the trio of playmakers at his disposal. We’ve seen the Khris to Brook lobs, and he’s finding chemistry with Jrue Holiday too. These are easier with no Giannis in the game constantly hunting for the paint, but these slips force teams to recover quickly and a weak tag by a defender can prove fatal.
Still, with no Giannis in there, these are the kinds of plays they can slip into their offense to keep it humming if Middleton’s shot is off or the bench players are clanking jumpers. In the 389 minutes Brook has played without Giannis, his percentage of shots within 0-3 feet nearly double (16.7% to 29%), per NBAwowy.com. Lopez has only played around 28% of his minutes without Giannis also on the floor, but he’s logged more than half of his dunk attempts on the season in those possessions. It’s a sensible strategy. Brook’s best attribute with Giannis is his ability to space. When the Greek Freak is gone, Lopez shouldn’t just be a chucker when he can consistently score inside working off others. Use him there, and allow Portis to work as the better spacer and shooter that he is. Once again, maximizing each possession is key, and Lopez adapting his shot distribution based on lineup context is refreshing to see.
That doesn’t mean go to him every time. Or even that often. If he’s facing a pre-eminent center defender on that end, there’s no reason to force touches to him, but clearly working him within the flow of the offense with Khris and Jrue leading the crew can pay dividends rather than staying stationary on the outside. His 3-point shot is going to be fickle, his rim finishing, far less so.
The vast majority of his time will be sharing the court with Antetokounmpo though. Even then, the Bucks are finding ways to squeeze more variety out of their 7-footer. He’s getting a smidge more possessions in the paint this season, and Giannis’ growth as a passer getting to the dunker spot has helped that. It’s a small sample, but Brook has hit 24 of the 31 (77%) 2-point field goal attempts when he’s received a pass from Giannis. Last year, he hit only 25 of 58 (43%). You can see the growth too. Even if the dunker spot brings another stout defender into the paint for Giannis, he’s learned to navigate it and find a guy like Brook. Early in the season, crisp passing led to an easy Lopez layup after his roll.
If they kept a stat for wraparound passes in paint, Antetokounmpo would have to be up there. This has been a staple for him of late. Here’s one recent example from the San Antonio contest when Giannis barreled down low and Brook offered a designed bailout. Lopez understands how to navigate in the confines of the paint too. Once he sees the direction Giannis is going to drive, he vacates the space and shuffles to the opposite side of the paint.
Lopez may continue to struggle from behind the arc. I think 35% is about the best one can hope for, but he’s finding a few other ways to work alongside the other stars in more consistently productive methods to compensate for off nights. It’s a fascinating change after the postseason wrinkle last year, when Bud moved Brook out to the corners. He’s back to a low distribution of shots from the corners, 14% on the year. His defense is going to remain a work in progress, as the Bucks are as a whole. But his block percentage post-ASB is up to 3.0%, ticking closer to his rates from the last two years. His defensive field goal percentage at the rim still isn’t great, but neither is the Bucks overall compared to last year. He’ll prove his worth against larger foes, but we’ve seen Bud willing to close with and without him. That’s an important step, and Lopez, like so many of Bud’s players, continues to work and improve as the season goes along rather than growing frustrated with a shifting role.
Folks, the $140M man is coming for Giannis’ spot atop the weekly MVP leaderboards. For the second week in a row, Holiday took home crowing rights as top rooster. Middleton’s relative slump in March has found him dropping back, and if Holiday keeps sparkling in games Giannis misses, there may be a real race on our hands. Then again, Giannis making literal history is a decent accolade too, but is it enough to make up for missing two games? I’ll let y’all be the judge.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (2 GP: 36.0 pts, 11.0 reb, 3.5 ast, 3.0 blk)
Another MVP performance.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 3, 2021
47 PTS | 12 REB | 18/21 FG | 3 BLK | 2 STL pic.twitter.com/R2ZflBSkx7
Khris Middleton (4 GP: 20.5 pts, 4.5 reb, 7.0 ast, 1.8 stl)
Khris tonight:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 7, 2021
28 PTS | 7 AST | 2 REB | 1 STL pic.twitter.com/mEXiW5tuLt
Jrue Holiday (4 GP: 28.0 pts, 5.5 reb, 8.0 ast, 2.0 stl)
Put some respect on Jrue’s name:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 4, 2021
33 PTS | 11 AST | 7 REB | 1 STL | 1 BLK pic.twitter.com/ccR9UrRwy4
Week 14: The Bucks MVP was...
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That’ll do it for this week’s wrap-up. As always, thanks for reading and voting!