Welcome to 2022, everyone. While it’s started off well for me personally and I hope for all of you as well, things went a bit sour in Milwaukee after a very fun New Year’s Day victory. With basically the entire league in the same boat, it’s hard to point to key players being in health and safety protocols as an excuse for poor showings anymore. Even in Giannis’ absence on Wednesday night with a non-COVID illness, the Toronto game was clearly winnable, as evidenced by their 77-point first half. Monday’s effort against Detroit was frankly inexcusable, though. There is no reason why a Bucks team featuring each of their three All-Star caliber players should lose to a Pistons team lacking its leading scorer and trotted out just 5 legitimate NBA players (and that might be generous). After a few weeks of high marks, I’m afraid I need to get out the red pen for this week’s report card.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A)
His 28th career triple-double was nothing short of sublime. The league leader in assists that lead to three-pointers had all ten of his dimes drop through from deep as he put up a stupefyingly-efficient 35 points on just 18 shots (plus 9/12 at the line). Monday’s numbers look nearly as good with 31/10/7 on 11/21 shooting and sinking another 9 of his 13 foul shots, but the second half was a struggle (only 2 points in the third) as the Bucks for some reason went with a shooting heavy approach despite having a massive size advantage. To Detroit’s credit, they defended Giannis very well for playing just one guy over 6’9”, but Giannis has to impose his will on a team with muscle, especially when his teammates are ice-cold from the outside and they’re playing from behind.
Khris Middleton: C+ (last week: A-)
If you think this is a bit harsh, let me know. Middleton put together a really nice stat line against the Raptors of 25 points on 9/16 from the floor, 6/8 at the charity stripe, 6 boards, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal. In the first half, he had some pretty nice stops at the rim too, denying layups to Toronto’s younger and more athletic wings. However, he struggled mightily with the stronger Pascal Siakam. Also, he jawed at the officials all night for missing calls on him (which there were a few of) and committed the cardinal sin of a technical foul with his team trailing in the last minute of a close game. He had his fair share of bad fouls, likely resulting from that of frustration. We won’t know why he missed Saturday’s game, but he was all kinds of absent on Monday, attempting just 10 shots and generally staying uninvolved offensively. He’d put together a nice few weeks, but these last two games typify his season so far: not bad, but certainly not good by his standards.
Jrue Holiday: A- (last week: A)
No one showed up more against the Pistons than Holiday and his performance against the Pelicans was the type of efficiency we’ve gotten used to lately. Unfortunately, his streak of 11 games shooting above 50% was broken by the Raptors, where he shot an uncharacteristic (by December’s standards at least) 5/15 from the field. This isn’t really what hurt the team, though. That would be his eight turnovers: his handles were very loose all evening and his dribble strayed much too far from his body on several occasions, not to mention getting stripped by the notoriously handsy Toronto defense. He chipped in 12 assists but a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio is unbecoming of his potentially All-Star year to date.
Grayson Allen: C (last week: D+)
Saturday was a slight bounceback from what Allen dubbed his “mini-slump” with 6/14 shooting, despite missing 8 triples. One of those buckets inside the arc sure was impressive too. Moreover, he’s getting all kinds of good looks—he estimated that 10 of them were wide open against New Orleans—but still isn’t converting at the rates we know he’s capable of. He was perhaps the most snakebitten Buck among their teamwide debacle from three on Monday. Now in the protocols after already having dealt with an illness last month (one which he said cost him 6 or 7 pounds), the best we can hope for is better health for Allen, because it seems like being sick recently has really hampered him.
Bobby Portis: B (last week: A-)
While he shot the three-ball very well this week (8/15), Portis is struggling from closer in (6/16) where he seems to have lost a bit of his usual soft touch. There were the fouls against Toronto, but what really was obvious to me in that game—as it has been in recent weeks—have been his struggles with tipping in missed shots. His FG% on putbacks is 47.2% and he’s scoring 0.94 points per possession on those opportunities, in the 23rd percentile league-wide. The eye test backs this up too: he plays a lot of volleyball down there, spiking balls upward and not particularly close to falling through the net. On defense, he often bats the ball into the other team’s hands; the Raptors got more than a few second-chance buckets on Wednesday when he (and other Bucks) tipped balls instead of corralling them, allowing Toronto some pretty easy points while everyone was still bouncing on their pogo sticks.
Pat Connaughton: B- (last week: B)
I hope we’re at the nadir of Connaughton’s season right now with his entrance into the health and safety protocols. He hasn’t strung together consecutive games with multiple made treys in 3 weeks and his volume has dropped significantly since getting 12 up on December 22nd. Part of that is due to reduced minutes, but the high volume sniper who I compared to Joe Harris and Duncan Robinson earlier this year seems far away right now.
George Hill: B (last week: B+)
Also in the protocols is Hill, who had a very solid 20 minutes against New Orleans but then fell victim to the team’s cold snap against Detroit (0/5 from three). Naturally, he was a team-high +11 in his 25 minutes, also picking up 3 steals and a block to make that plus-minus a bit more obvious. Fun fact: Hill has the highest individual defensive rating in the NBA right now. He’s certainly better than your average defender, but such a stat doesn’t really quantify how he actually looks on defense, i.e. he’s not the league’s best.
Jordan Nwora: A- (last week: DNP)
They certainly could have used Nwora’s scoring against the Pistons. He was off for over a week before shooting 9/11 and 5/7 from three versus the Pelicans and was one of the more solid offensive performers on Wednesday. That first game was wildly better efficiency than we normally see from Nwora, despite not drawing any fouls.
DeMarcus Cousins: B+ (last week: B+)
After scoring 15 first-half points against the Raptors, Boogie was scoreless in a mere 5 second-half minutes and was then waived barely after the buzzer. He even only had one foul! His final Bucks appearance was a double-double with two triples made, and he was pretty solid against Detroit too. A job well-done in Milwaukee.
Wesley Matthews: B (last week: A)
He’s cooled off a bit from downtown, going 3/11 this week, but he didn’t miss any of his 3 shots inside. That’s worth pointing out: during his previous stint as a Buck, they still were adhering to the famous blue boxes five-out offense. Now that he can use the dunker spot for easy buckets, he’s impactful on offense even when the threes aren’t falling. Plus he’s still a defensive fiend with the strength to back it up. His footspeed can even still match up with younger and quicker wings.
Rodney Hood: B (last week: DNP)
Bud dusted off Hood for some rotation minutes once Donte DiVincenzo reinjured his ankle. While you may not have noticed him after he hit two threes in the first quarter, he played 25 serviceable minutes on Sunday and even got to the free-throw line once.
Sandro Mamukelashvili: A (last week: DNP)
It’s a bummer that he shot 0/5 in the second half on Wednesday because man, did Mamu look good in that first quarter. His first sequence featured a corner three and some great post defense on Pascal Siakam, who couldn’t back the big Georgian down. Wonder if he’s been hitting the weight room? He compiled 8 points in just 7 first-half minutes, shooting four free throws. Now that Cousins is gone, his path to minutes is more visible.
Javonte Smart: C+ (last week: DNP)
Largely invisible in his 14 minutes this week, he finished +9 in 11 mostly first-half minutes on Wednesday, so I’ll give him slightly above satisfactory for keeping the good times rolling.
Mike Budenholzer: C- (last week: A)
I’m averaging out the score of Bud’s two coached games before entering the health and safety protocols because the effort against Detroit wasn’t just a failure by the players. As Adam discussed in his recaps of that embarrassment, not seizing on their huge size advantage and (mis)firing away from deep was a flawed strategy. Typically when the Bucks struggle to hit three-pointers, they pound the rock inside with Giannis and they can make up for that disparity, even if the opponent is hot. The Pistons certainly were just that—they sank their three-point attempts at a 10.9% higher rate than their regular-season average—but no hotter than many other teams the Bucks have dispatched with interior scoring since Bud took over. It’s beyond me why he went away from what works to battle back against a vastly inferior team, talent-wise. That win was there for the taking all game long down low; Luka Garza and Trey Lyles weren’t going to prevent it.
Darvin Ham: B+ (last week: assistant coach)
Unfortunately, the Bucks mustered a pathetic 34 second-half points after putting up 77 in Ham’s first half as a head coach, denying him his first career win. Hard to hang any of the 19 turnovers and 13.6% shooting (not a typo) in the third quarter on Ham Slamwich, who stuck to a pretty good gameplan and nearly knocked off a solid Eastern Conference foe without his team’s star.
Incomplete: Javin DeLaurier (3 minutes), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (DNP), Semi Ojeleye (DNP), Luke Kornet (DNP), Donte DiVincenzo (DNP), Brook Lopez (injured)
Now that the league’s health and safety protocols can be exited in fewer than ten days, it’s anyone’s guess which Bucks will be playing when. Rodney Hood and Jrue Holiday are the only Bucks who haven’t found themselves in the protocols yet this season, but as we’ve seen with others around the league, players like Holiday who contracted the virus last year definitely can still get reinfected. With the exception of DiVincenzo, who will be out for at least another couple of weeks nursing his surgically repaired and reinjured ankle, we can probably expect a full complement of Bucks in the week ahead. We can also expect a vastly tougher schedule, compared to the really easy one Milwaukee has had to this point, starting with Brooklyn tonight. Two road games in Charlotte follow—one as the second half of a back-to-back tomorrow night—before returning home to play Golden State in one of their marquee matchups so far this year. We all thought they’d have no trouble dispatching the Pistons for the 17th straight time, especially in its depleted state, so what wins are guaranteed anymore? I’m a bit pessimistic about tonight’s game but I’ll pick a 2-2 week, with a win on Monday and an upset on Thursday to get us feeling better about the season again. If there’s anyone who needs reminding who the defending champs are, it’s the Warriors.
What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.