We’re mercifully near the end of this Milwaukee Bucks regular season, and while I’ve certainly found this regular season more instructive than the first two Bud years, I’m quite ready to test the team’s mettle in the postseason. When even Giannis, who has been touting how meaningless the regular season has been all year, drops a “this win means nothing” line after putting 49 on the East’s best team...you know it’s time to turn the page.
"It's a team we're gonna see in the playoffs if we want to go to the Finals."— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 2, 2021
Giannis & @Rachel__Nichols postgame: pic.twitter.com/kUJupbl6fK
It doesn’t help that the Bucks have the league’s easiest remaining schedule either. With the Brooklyn games out of the way, the only chance at a meaningful game is Miami, and seeding could be so locked up that Bud opts for a restful evening. Barring an injury, you’re probably safe taking a Bucks break for the remainder of the regular season, and you’d emerge with just as salient points as us poor schmucks who will trudge on, wondering what sort of revenge Holiday will take upon Kevin Porter Jr. for dropping 50. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 136, Houston 143 (Bucks Re-Enact Apollo 13)
- Milwaukee 108, Chicago 98 (Bucks Blow Past Bulls)
- Milwaukee 117, Brooklyn 114 (Bucks Win Thriller)
- Milwaukee 124, Brooklyn 118 (Bucks Sweep Nets)
The less said about that Houston game, the better. I know folks were up in arms, and I get the frustration, but I can’t find myself all that worked up after a game like that. It was an outlier (I know, I know...) shooting performance and it didn’t make me any less confident in this team than I already was. They have flaws, and even after beating Brooklyn twice, they aren’t the favorite to make it out of the East. They certainly could pull it all together in the Playoffs, like they did in these two most recent games, but I’m not supremely confident in that. Occasionally, those types of teams drop clunkers. As for Chicago, well, shout out to each and every person who posted one of the 41 comments on that game thread. That’s a communal experience we’ll always have together. Given how few people I perceived as tuning in, we may as well have just set up a group Zoom so we could watch it together. Personally, I found joy in Vooch shooting brick after brick.
We went long on Brooklyn in the podcast recording Sunday, so I won’t belabor my points. It was the best defensive performance I could recall from the team this year. Notably, it also felt the most bereft of clear gaffes, namely the over-helping. The fact they followed it up with yet another win, powered by a triple-headed scoring effort from the big three, should certainly send the team (and more of the fanbase) into the postseason with some wind in our sails.
This entry was locked in from the moment Giannis leaped into the air. In the opening minutes against the Nets, Bud went to his favorite pet play when DeAndre Jordan sags off his superstar, the Khris-Giannis pick-and-roll. Still, it was a fairly long-developing play that emerged from a usual set-up they employ for first plays. The finish was just far more spectacular than normal.
As I said before, the play doesn’t look all that different from their typical sets. What it does have is quite a bit of separate actions, falling over like dominos rather than some concurrent stuff happening on either side of the floor. Khris stakes his claim to the left corner, while Donte gets shifty in the right running through a Giannis screen in an attempt to cut beneath the basket.
Holiday is too occupied, and high up the floor, to find him reasonably, so the Ragu rim run fizzles. The next 7-foot domino to fall is Giannis flipping around to accept a generous Brook Lopez screen. He’s more than happy to free up the Greek Freak, who accepts a pass from Holiday and fakes a dribble-handoff while he stands atop the arc.
This play already feels like the longest developing first play I’ve highlighted this season, and what I love about the above screenshot is that, at this point, I would not have predicted the end result at all. Middleton is still stashed in the left corner, keeping his cards close to his chest for as long as humanly possible before he finally makes his move sprinting up the court to accept the handoff from Giannis, who then goes to screen Durant. Giannis rolls while DeAndre switches and Khris rises up. Keeping up his magic act, this screenshot is indecipherable from what would be a Middleton pull-up.
The pass is obviously ludicrous, and likely couldn’t be caught by anyone else in the NBA (maybe sans Anthony Davis). Giannis has barely a sliver of separation from Durant and is still able to sky up and slam it down. It’s just as beautiful from another angle.
That's why his nickname is The Greek Freak. pic.twitter.com/c6wgG0RC8m— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 2, 2021
On the Strugglebucks
This stood out to me.
Eastern Conference assist leaders for April:— Kevin Chouinard (@KLChouinard) May 4, 2021
1. Russell Westbrook, 204.
2. Jrue Holiday, 111.
3T. Darius Garland, 110.
3T. TJ McConnell, 110. https://t.co/DJRaLtKHb4
One, that Westbrook stat is insane. Two, I wouldn’t have expected Jrue Holiday to be so high on the list. The absence of Giannis from a few of those games helps, but Holiday averaging 7.4 assists per game is still fairly notable for a team with three primary playmakers. He’s fit in seamlessly this year, but it’s been a gradual process seeing him grow into a more aggressive state within this Bucks offense. His usage rate for the season is 21.9%, the lowest since his third season in the league. Would you have guessed his usage rate is actually lower than Eric Bledsoe’s was during any of his seasons in Milwaukee? The good news is part of that lower number is a remnant of his first few months here:
Jrue Holiday Usage by Month
His usage has increased, but so has his assist percentage. Despite his apparent want to not be the primary playmaker, he’s now tied with Giannis for the most assists per game. He piped in 10 last night for good measure in his near triple-double against the Nets too. One of the things that can make him so effective as a passer is how potent he is driving to the basket. He’s finishing 66% of his shots at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass, and 49% of his short midrange shots (4-14 feet from basket), both of which rank in the 74th percentile or better among combo guards. He can get downhill at nearly any time, and his patience is supreme.
He might rush this shot a bit, but those are there for him every time. The sheer fact this team doesn’t have to rely on a third guard who gets floaters or must get fouled to be effective as a third player has been a godsend. And his potency near the rim, the attention he requires, is what can lead to easy playmaking like the below. Sure, part of it is Kyrie Irving playing like a space cadet on Bryn Forbes, but he’s ball-watching Holiday for a reason. Nifty backscreen by Connaughton too.
His patience and vision also pays off with the ability to quickly switch the floor. These passes below can be dangerous through so many waiting hands, but they’re the types of slings we’ve seen from Giannis in the past that deliver such quality shots to his teammates. They bend defenses in precisely the ways that stars should — exploiting the extra attention to find a weakside shooter whose defender has abandoned them.
It’s never about flash with Holiday, it’s all about the patience and smart reads with him. His in-control game meshes well with Middleton, and provides a consistent balance to the helter-skelter all-out manner that Giannis brings every time he’s on the court. Every month, he’s slowly grown more comfortable as a playmaker within this offense and it’s paying off with three confident heads of the hydra heading into the postseason.
Even with fewer games, I’m not even sure this week’s poll is necessary after Sunday’s game. I would like to have folks not sleep on Khris though, who certainly wasn’t all that efficient with 26 on 21 shots on Sunday, but he still hit some clutch buckets late. He did the same on Tuesday. As a counting note, I’ve removed the Houston game from Giannis’ averages. Here are the contenders for consideration:
Giannis Antetokounmpo (2 GP: 42.5 pts, 10.0 reb, 4.0 ast, 1.5 stl, 1.0 blk)
MVP things.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 3, 2021
49 PTS | 8 REB | 4 AST | 3 BLK | 1 STL | 50% 3PT pic.twitter.com/PpCMDqGfDb
Khris Middleton (4 GP: 26.0 pts, 7.5 reb, 6.0 ast, 1.3 stl)
Khris comes through in the crunch time:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 5, 2021
23 PTS | 7 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL pic.twitter.com/MYnoGhvFvl
Jrue Holiday (4 GP: 21.5 pts, 4.8 reb, 7.8 ast, 1.3 stl, 1.5 blk)
A near triple-double for Jrueski:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 5, 2021
23 PTS | 10 AST | 8 REB pic.twitter.com/71r0SX6iQM
Week 18: The Bucks MVP was...
This poll is closed
This poll will close at noon central on Thursday, May 6.
That’ll do it for another wrap-up; stay tuned next week for the final edition of this column.