After an extended holiday hiatus wherein I returned to my family’s farmstead back in Wisconsin, it’s finally time for the Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up to make its debut in 2022. The Milwaukee Bucks just wrapped up the most successful calendar year for the franchise in 50 years, with eyes toward an equally memorable year. Their latest forays have offered little insight into how this team stacks up when the chips are all in, but this latest slate of games was a staple of Mike Budenholzer’s tenure: taking care of business, at least, until Detroit gave them the business Monday night. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 136, Magic 118 (Bucks Stymie Magic Again)
- Milwaukee 136, Pelicans 113 (Laissez Les Buck Temps Roulez)
- Milwaukee 106, Pistons 115 (Running on Empty)
Those poOrlando (pronounced pour-lando) Magic, thankfully they won’t have to face the Bucks anymore this year. Even with some hairy moments, it’s always satisfying to stamp an L on Mo Wagner’s mug, one of the league’s most punchable faces. Meanwhile, the Pelicans were a shell of themselves, with no Zion, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, etc. Giannis dominated every aspect of that game with control aplomb. And the Pistons, well that looked like a Milwaukee team that couldn’t buy a triple and didn’t interrogate alternative offensive approaches. In the grand scheme of things, it matters little to not at all. Still smarts for that Central Division streak to snap though.
I’ll admit I wasn’t able to pay nearly as close of attention to Bucks games over the past two weeks by virtue of the holidays, plus Bally Sports broadcasts being unavailable on my parent’s YouTubeTV account at home. Still, every time I looked at the box score to catch up, I couldn’t help but notice a dip from the sizzling starts to the year for Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton. That’s to be expected, role players by nature have production that can wax and wane. During that time, players like DeMarcus Cousins and especially Wesley Matthews have filled occasional scoring void. With guarantee dates for the latter two quickly approaching, we’ll see whether they stick around, but it seemed more important to discuss the Allen falling from his heavenly start.
Grayson shot 36.6% overall in December, including just 35% on 5.7 3-point attempts per game, averaging just 8.8 points in those 13 games. I did see some discussion in our comments about whether it makes sense to continue having him in the starting lineup, and I tend to wholeheartedly disagree with any sentiment the Bucks should remove him. His core role is getting up shots, and he’s continued that in spades, even in a slightly diminished role with all the starters out there. He doesn’t require the ball to impact the game, nor does he really ever turn the ball over, with just 23 turnovers on the season.
I don’t see any value to having Matthews in the starting lineup and putting extra miles on him, not to mention the fact the Bucks already made a two-year commitment to Allen after this one. It behooves them to get him more reps with core players, not just for future years, but to prep for the Playoffs. Allen was never going to be a consistent, every night scorer, otherwise Jon Horst wouldn’t have got him for pennies and his agent never would’ve accepted $10M/year for his extension. Like all shooters, he’s going to be prone to slumps, just look at this handy trend line of his 3-point percentage from this year, per Cleaning The Glass. It’s similar to last year, albeit with a big longer dip at the moment.
It’s no surprise at all to see his dip in scoring coincided with his 3PT% submarining. Plus, with the return of Khris Middleton and a more stable rotation, fewer shot opportunities means fewer chances for him to re-find his groove. For this year, all that matters is Allen can hit shots in the Playoffs, and a slump now is purely part of any year-long narrative for all players. Case in point, here’s Stephen Curry’s 3PT% trend line from this year.
The shot will come around once Allen returns from his health and safety protocols absence, it’s just a matter of time. More pertinent to the Playoffs is how he’s playing defensively, which I’d say has been, at best, decent. He can be spacey off-ball (if I see him give up another backdoor cut, mamma mia), and doesn’t have the quickest feet, but he can get solid verticality at the rim and generally stay in front of dudes. So far the team has been fine defensively with him on the court, likely partially due to him playing so many minutes with the starters. Still, the team is allowing -2.3 points per 100 possessions fewer than their season average with him on the court. It’s the first year of Allen’s career that his team hasn’t been worse defensively with him out there.
Offensively, he’s not going to be asked to do much more than make triples though, which does validate some folks frustration given he’s failing the “you had one job” meme at the moment. We have seen him occasionally pester opponents for steals and find some assists off his drives, but those numbers are lower than in year’s past for him as the Bucks refine his game into a narrower focus. His biggest issue right now is Donte-itis, i.e., 54% shooting at the rim. He’s already taken as many shots (approx. 65) at the rim as last year, when he hit 64%. He needs to tick that number up for his driving threat off pump fakes to remain respectable for opponents.
Allen was never going to be the perfect solution as a fifth starter. I imagine that spot could end up a revolving door through the next few years, even with Allen in the driver’s seat. He has flaws, but his potential as an off-ball motion shooter (the best the Bucks have had in years IMO) who doesn’t need as many diagrammed screens and hand-offs to get jumpers like the Tony Snells, Bryn Forbes and late-stage Kyle Korvers of the world did. He tiptoes, plods, and prepares, with more potent off-the-dribble pull-up game than any other prospective two on the Bucks roster. Long story short, just give Allen the chance to shake this off. In a month, I imagine we’ll have forgotten this midseason narrative ever happened (until he inevitably slumps again next year).
One other quick check-in, let’s focus our attention on who has had Bud’s favor when it comes to clutch time lineups. That remains an intriguing subplot all season with the departure of PJ Tucker. Here’s the minute distribution thus far, and I’ll avoid including any actual basketball stats given the minuscule sample sizes:
- Connaughton: 45 minutes
- Hill: 35 minutes
- Allen: 26 minutes
- Nwora: 11 minutes
- Semi: 5 minutes
- Wes: 4 minutes
- Hood: 2 minutes
- Cousins: 1 minute
I don’t think that tells us anything we didn’t already know — the players we don’t trust in clutch time tend to have not gotten any minutes in those instances. Pat obviously showed last year he can be trusted in late-game lineups, but Allen is clearly someone that might still have a bit of work to go before he would be considered a staple. George Hill playing more than him isn’t surprising given Bud’s tendencies and predilection for the old vet, but I am curious if he’d be the choice vs. Allen in downsized postseason clutch lineups featuring the Big Three + Pat. This will be a good stat to check back on at the All-Star break.
Play of the Week
I have to be honest, I didn’t see all that many plays from the Magic game that caught my eye, and the Pistons game was, well, the Pistons game, so we’re a little Pelicans-centric below. I also tried to snag a few more defensive plays this time around. Here’s what caught my eye.
Jrue Deflection, Allen 3-Point Fastbreak
This one isn’t all that complicated, but it’s a testament to two core tenets of the Bucks. First, Jrue Holiday’s eternal peskiness, with his massive mit deflecting Josh Hart’s pass to cause a tip drill. Second, transition scoring. An opportune Grayson Allen snags the ball and smartly identifies that he doesn’t have a numbers advantage if he drives to the hoop. Instead, he rushes to the left wing, where he does have a two-on-one along the perimeter with a trailing Pat Connaughton. From there, it’s a simple passing sequence designed to get Devonte Graham to commit to one of them, eventually ending in the Allen triple. It’s core fastbreak principles, just modernized to take place along the 3-point arc.
Bobby Buckets Locks Down
Bobby Portis’s defense remains one of the trends most worth monitoring to me all season, and it was at its best here in tandem with a full team effort. It starts with him flat hedging against a screen atop the arc, before Graham flips the ball through the double team to Hernangomez at the free throw line. Connaughton helps in from his man in the corner, with Giannis shading over to protect the rim. It’s flipped to the left corner, where Allen covers for Giannis, Holiday covers for Allen, and the scramble begins until Giannis confronts Herb Jones at the rim and everyone retreats back to their respective man.
Then, the Pelicans reset with the exact action they started the possession with: Portis defending in the pick-and-roll. This time, Graham tries to take Portis off the dribble after Holiday blocks the angle for a bounce pass to Hernangomez. Portis recovers back, returning to the lane for one last effort as Bobby gets a contest against Connaughton’s man, who whirled around another screen by Hernangomez. That’s about as solid a scrambling possession as one could expect, and it stemmed from 22 seconds of outstanding effort from Bobby.
Tag of the Year
I wanted to include this one not only for the always hilarious “...of the year” joke, (don’t lie, I know you rolled your eyes at it), but also because it’s a testament to 35-year-old George Hill that he can still get up on plays like this. It starts with him having to navigate a really soft pick-and-pop by Garrett Temple, but he quickly identifies Nickeil Alexander-Walker is eyeing the lob to Jaxson Hayes all the way. Hayes abused Cousins in the pick-and-roll most of the night, but Hill abandons his perimeter man and helps out his groundbound teammate by rushing over for a perfectly timed deflection at the rim. Kudos to the elder statesman.
The Ultimate English
I try not to include too many “obvious twitter highlight” pieces in this poll, but it was a down week, and Jrue Holiday was outstanding enough against to Detroit that he warrants some plaudits. He had his old man post game going all night against the Pistons, and this daring dance of a layup against old friend Justin Robinson was too sweet not to show.
And there you have all our nominees. Vote in the poll below and thanks, as always, for reading!
Jan 5: The Play of the Week is...
This poll is closed
New Orleans - Jrue Deflection, Allen 3-Point Fastbreak
New Orleans - Bobby Buckets Locks Down
New Orleans - Tag of the Year
Detroit - The Ultimate English