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Bucks Weekly Report Card: January 14

What grades do we send the Bucks home with this weekend?

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It occured to be that between Riley’s MMMR and Jon’s Extended Forecast, we already have two regular columns where a Brew Hooper predicts the Bucks’ record over a short time period. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is a player-focused column and as such, my reviews of the week gone by and prognostications of the week to come should be on the individual level. With that said, the Bucks had some really outstanding individual performances this week that only translated two a .500 record. Startlingly bad bench production is to blame for some of this, as reflected in the grades below. Credit to the stars for going off, and the starters for generally holding it together to keep Milwaukee in games, or bring them back from deficits.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A)

The only nit I’ll pick in Giannis’ week was his overwillingness to shoot 3s on Monday night, which killed possessions for an offense that was already sputtering. With that out of the way, let’s bask in his glory: a 59.7% FG%, a 18/20 night at the line, and his 28th career triple-double. In three games he had more points than minutes. Any other highlights I’m missing?

Khris Middleton: A (last week: C+)

An impressive .500/.586/1.000 line and a couple of near triple-doubles is one of Middleton’s best weeks of the year as his percentages trend up towards last season’s. With Jrue Holiday out, he’s the de facto starting point guard and his assist totals (8.0 APG) reflect that, but his turnovers (4.3 per night) sadly do too. The 7 and 6 in Charlotte stung a bit, but he was hardly the only Buck in turnover trouble. His handles have never been good, but you accept those risks in favor of playmaking and passing when he’s running the offense.

Bobby Portis: A- (last week: B)

Charlotte can be rough matchup for opposing bigs with their athleticism and speed, but while Portis was absent on Monday, he made up for that with a huge first half in Brooklyn a few days prior. Teams like the Nets and Warriors (when Draymond Green is out) that lack a dynamic rim protector are eminently exploitable by versatile scoring bigs like Portis. Unlike last year, I’d feel comfortable giving him big minutes against any team in the postseason.

Jordan Nwora: B (last week: A-)

Alternating solid outings with weaker ones (1/11 from the floor on Friday), Nwora’s 10.0 PPG and .381/.348/.000 line seems not only ugly, but surprisingly low. He was generally effective in all but the first Hornets game and found ways to contribute against the Warriors when his shot wasn’t falling (7 boards and 2 steals). Yo-yoing is to be expected from a second-year rotation player, whose spot in the rotation seems safe for now.

Wesley Matthews: A (last week: B)

It’s marvelous how quickly the Madison native established himself as an indispensable rotation player, maybe even more so than during his first stint as a Buck. Tasked with guarding the opponent’s best scorers each night in Holiday’s stead, Matthews was effective on stars both taller (Kevin Durant only scoring 29 and taking just 3 triples is a win in my book) and shorter (Curry is in a slump but Matthews kept him there with 12 on 11 shots) than him. He did struggle a bit with younger (Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball), though. He shot 47.6% from deep himself too, finishing in double figures twice.

Grayson Allen: A (last week: C)

Back at playing weight after bouts with illnesses of the COVID and non-COVID variety, Allen looked to be in early-season form against Golden State with 15 points on 6/10 shooting. On defense, he did a credible job when switched onto Curry and Thompson, so his return to health looks to have restored his typical athleticism.

Pat Connaughton: C- (last week: B-)

Returning from the COVID protocols was rough on Connaughton (0/6 in 23 minutes on Monday), but there was nothing wrong with his modest effort last night. It’s been a couple weeks since we’ve seen a prolific three-point shooting night from him, but I hardly think the high-volume, high-percentage performances we saw before 2022 began are past us.

Donte DiVincenzo: D+ (last week: injured)

Even when returning from a sprained ankle that was operated on 6 months ago, things should go better than DiVincenzo’s ugly Monday night (0/8, 2 points, 4 boards, and 3 fouls in 16 minutes). Against the Warriors he made a few nice deflections and managed to hit his first 2-point bucket of the year, converting at the rim no less. Still, until he can get his shot together (he’s shooting 18.8% this year) I’m hesitant to give him a bigger role than what he currently has off the bench, forget returning to the starting lineup. All he can do well currently is rebound, but that’s a small part of what Milwaukee needs out of him.

George Hill: C (last week: B)

Part of the committee approach that handled Golden State’s backcourt so well defensively, Hill’s return is a sight for sore eyes, just not from a scoring perspective. As usual, good things happen with him on the court (+12 in 16 minutes on Monday) and he sets up his teammates well, but it would be great to get more production out of him since the bench has been bad of late, frankly.

Rodney Hood: C (last week: B)

His scoring outputs against Brooklyn and in the second Charlotte contest were respectable, especially when he was pressed into heavier minutes with so many guards missing. Hood continues to receive opportunities to stick in the rotation, but he’s just not good enough to keep a spot when every guard is healthy, as they will be when Holiday returns.

Langston Galloway: D (last week: free agent)

I get it, it’s hard to immediately hop into serious rotation minutes on a brand new team without any practice time, so maybe I’m being too harsh on Galloway. Still, 1/13 shooting and no threes is hardly replacement-level. He’s in the health and safety protocols now and he’s not likely to parlay his hardship 10-day deal into anything more. It expires on Sunday too, so we’ve likely seen the last of him as a Buck.

Semi Ojeleye: D (last week: DNP)

Speaking of replacement-level, Ojeleye is still on the Bucks and managed to hit a three last night in garbage time. He’s banished to the end of the bench now that the roster is getting healthier and that shows no signs of changing.

Sandro Mamukelashvili: B+ (last week: A)

None of the counting stats were eye-catching, but Mamu was decently effective in legit rotation minutes against two East playoff teams. He continues to get pushed around underneath by stronger veterans; that will keep him out of most games until he puts on muscle, but on offense he’s fun to watch. While he only saw garbage time in the week’s fourth game, he threw a great pass underneath that gives me visions of a solid big man down the road.

Darvin Ham: B (last week: B+)

Milwaukee’s strategy against a very undersized Charlotte team—whose few 5s were in early foul trouble—mystified me. If I were Ham overseeing that matchup, I’d have kept pummeling the Hornets in the post, regardless of how many defenders they were sending at Giannis. Seems like a tailor-made situation for dunker spot success. It was a bigger deal that he notched his first career W over a pretty complete Nets squad, something that will head straight to the top of his resume. I feel confident that he’s finally going to land that elusive head coaching gig this summer, probably aided by that statement win.

Mike Budenholzer: A (last week: C-)

A statement win against Brooklyn, you say? Ham’s boss raises him a W against the national media darlings of the other conference, and a blowout at that. I like to think that with Bud healthy (how odd to say that about a coach), Milwaukee would have beat Charlotte by playing their more typical inside-focused game. Maybe that’s wishful thinking on the second night of a back-to-back against such a high-paced team. Still, the Bucks are at their best when their head coach calls the shots, even though his assistants go by the book.

Incomplete: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (17 minutes in blowouts), Lindell Wigginton (5 minutes), Javonte Smart (4 minutes, cut), Luke Kornet (3 minutes, 10-day expired), Jeff Dowtin (3 minutes), Jrue Holiday (health & safety protocols, injured), Mike Budenholzer (health & safety protocols), Brook Lopez (injured)

With revenge opportunities ahead against the Raptors and Hawks before a matchup with the impressive Grizzlies, the Bucks’ schedule is toughening as the roster becomes healthier. Improved outside shooting from Connaughton would go a long way toward better bench production, as will Matthews’ and Nwora’s return to the reserve corps, should they maintain their recent level of play. Defending Charlotte’s backcourt was a significant issue; with Trey Young and Ja Morant on the docket, this needs to be addressed by Holiday and DiVincenzo. I do think we’ll see Holiday in the coming several days, and with him I’ll look for Allen to achieve his early season form, something that’s escaped him when the big three have been healthy. Giannis and Middleton should feast against Atlanta, but the latter needs to prove he can perform against Toronto’s young and highly active defense. Giannis has yet to appear against the Raptors this year, so he needs to prove it too I guess. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.