It hasn’t been a dumpster fire, but let’s be honest: the Bucks haven’t been defending so well the past couple of weeks. Before their debacle two weeks ago today in Houston, the Bucks’ defensive rating was 110.4, good for 7th in the league. That’s jumped nearly a point since (111.3) thanks to some really high opponent outputs, and while that may sound trivial, they’re now ranked 11th. Sometimes, it’s visible that the effort is lacking, but other times opposing shooters are knocking down well-contested jumpers left and right. Though they’ve won 4 of 5, in 4 of those last 5 their foes have scored at least 133 points. I don't have the answers—and I’m pessimistic that the coaching staff does either—but this is a problem. I’m inclined to say it’s a slump because they were solid-to-good most of the season and that they’ll lock in a bit more when the games really count. However, I also see these recent problems and think they’ll rear their ugly heads again once the playoffs start.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A)
Would you believe that Giannis’ FG% (69.8%) this week is higher than his FT% (69.7%)? Sure, only by a tenth of a percent, but it really underscores how dominant he’s been recently, especially in the paint. He’s been at the line a bit more lately and though his free-throw shooting regressed in April, I’d have been pleased to see this current version of Giannis in some critical moments in past postseasons. Registering only 1 block this week, he’s been less impactful on D, though Milwaukee’s defensive woes are happening away from the rim.
Jrue Holiday: B+ (last week: A-)
Throw out the Magic game—check out how well he did down low against San Antonio and Indiana: a perfect 14/14 inside 5 feet. Holiday definitely has a knack for penetrating to the rim to get shots up over tall defenders, but it’s his silky-soft touch and timing that puts him in elite company; he ranks 7th among point guards in FG% within 4 feet, ahead of Steph Curry and just behind Ben Simmons. He wasn’t quite the usual perimeter stopper we’ve seen against elite guards, though: DeJounte Murry, Patty Mills, and T.J. McConnell gave him more trouble than you’d have predicted.
Khris Middleton: A- (last week: A)
Scoring at least 20 in 7 of his last 8 appearances, Middleton saved his best performances for stronger opposition, with his clunkers coming against Orlando and Houston. The shooting wasn’t there on those nights but he got to the line 13 times combined, so it was a pretty efficient week all in all. That scoring is coming on three levels as he’s made a bigger effort to get inside, picking up more free throws as a bonus. He’s definitely on the upswing. I could see such confidence raising his three-point accuracy back up from the basement it found in this past trio of games (4/19).
Brook Lopez: A- (last week: B+)
As the three-ball continues to fade from Lopez’s game, I notice that he really can’t make treys unless he’s squared up as he’s struggled off the dribble a lot recently. The Bucks should look to get him more catch-and-shoot opportunities rather than sending him around the arc. That kind of motion is great in the lane, however, because opponents can’t stop his throwback craftiness within 10 feet. Highlighting this makes him very effective offensively as a third or even second option, as he was against the Rockets and Pacers.
Donte DiVincenzo: A- (last week: B)
DiVincenzo is steadily regaining the effectiveness he showed during much of the year, prior to a prolonged slump in April. He’s playing within himself: not wildly gambling for steals as much, avoiding early shot-clock threes off the dribble, and improved body control, which drastically improved his finishing (7/9 in the restricted area this week!). Still, when the other 4 starters are cooking he’s best as a catch-and-shoot perimeter guy. That’s exactly what he was last week, evidenced by his solid 12/30 on triples. The rebounds are still there too.
Bobby Portis: A- (last week: B)
Four consecutive games in double digits after some lackluster efforts last week has Portis back in our good graces, as he often is. Milwaukee’s bench has scored very little over that time and Portis was the only reserve over 10 these last three matchups. He’s sharing lineups with both Giannis and P.J. Tucker that look surprisingly good. Tucker can spell Portis against many bigs on D allowing them to hide Portis on a perimeter player and keep the rim safe.
P.J. Tucker: B (last week: B+)
Hopefully the side-splitting collision with DiVincenzo last night isn’t an issue because the Bucks can ill afford to lose Tucker’s defensive presence, though he couldn’t subdue Kenyon Martin Jr., DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and Doug McDermott last week. I can’t really ever point to his stats for anything, but he avoided the Tony Snell Special on Tuesday (zeros across the board) by pulling down 5 boards to go with his goose eggs. A quick observation: his jumper and stroke at the foul line look so weird. I’m a bit surprised anytime they fall.
Bryn Forbes: C (last week: A)
This was an unusually quiet week by Forbes standards, capped off by a tough 13 minutes on Thursday with a single bucket. Milwaukee’s bench was roundly outscored this week—even against Orlando—so his lack of offensive production and poor defense sticks out. Maybe he’s just getting the bricks out of his system before the playoffs. At least he got that tribute video in San Antonio.
Pat Connaughton: C+ (last week: B+)
It was not a great week for Connaughton, who seems more up-and-down as of late. San Antonio isn’t known for its donuts, but he had one down there on Tuesday (0 points in 18 minutes) and couldn’t get much to fall back in Milwaukee the next night. He did make multiple treys for just the second time this month on Thursday: his 3P% of 34.6% is propped up by a 4/8 night against the Wizards. He really improved as a three-point marksman this year but he needs to carry that into the playoffs, where he really struggled in 2020.
Jeff Teague: B (last week: B)
He also tried one of San Antonio’s donuts and didn’t do much in limited minutes back at home, but I liked Teague’s performance in Indianapolis. In just 10 minutes he scored 8 on 6 shots and was more willing to shoot, especially when Indiana gave him a good look. He even got a Pacer to bite at a pump fake which I found mildly shocking.
Mike Budenholzer: C+ (last week: B+)
I saw Bud gearing up for the playoff run which will likely decide his future in Milwaukee in a couple of salient ways this week. We’ve very probably seen the nine-man playoff rotation in each game this week with the starters getting heavier minutes (especially on Thursday), four reserves (Portis, Connaughton, Tucker, and Forbes) usually totaling between 15–25, and a small bit of Teague—the clear tenth man. Thinning down the rotation is always good postseason prep. What’s not, however, is experimenting with oddball defensive packages. The Bucks zone is already bad, and not only when the Spurs are shredding it with jumpers. I don’t see the need to try Giannis and another big at the top of the zone to make it even more objectionable. This was a year for Bud and the players to try new schemes and figure things out. While it’s not entirely their fault thanks to the short preseason and limited practice time, I’m left wondering if they’ve figured anything out.
Incomplete: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (8 minutes) Jordan Nwora (6), Sam Merrill (5), Mamadi Diakite (DNP), Rodions Kurucs (released), Axel Toupane (DNP), Justin Jackson (DNP)
With just two games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs not starting until next Friday, this will be the last progress report for a bit. Once we know Milwaukee’s first-round foe, I’ll shift these evaluations to after the conclusion of each round. I hope to write several of them! What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.