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Milwaukee Bucks Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up

A largely star-less week makes for less impactful musings

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

With the Milwaukee Bucks already entering the year behind the 8-ball with their 8-man rotation missing three key pieces, it doesn’t take much for a once loss-less team to turn into a junkyard of old parts. We saw some valuables within the rubble of this past week’s contests, but the trash piled plenty high too. Such is life when you rely upon three ball-dominant star players and all three of them are strapped to the pine. This is a long-winded way of saying this past week’s games aren’t all that important (to me) in the grand scheme of things. Anywho, let’s wrap-up!

The Week That Was

Ask any Bucks fan who experienced last Wednesday’s late-into-the-night tilt and they may say it’s possible that was merely a dream. Jevon Carter morphing into Allen Iverson and carrying the team to a win? Sounds like fanfic. Trudging into San Antonio with a skeleton crew and shooting 32.7% from the field? Sounds like a Bucks-trip of old into the Alamo, where Milwaukee didn’t win for years. Lastly, yet another sad Atlanta contest for this weekly wrap-up. Giannis continues to struggle against them, but the marvelous Mr. MarJon kept the game watchable with his continued friskiness.

Weekly Wondering

When arguably only two or three players you expect to be Milwaukee’s playoff rotation appear in all three games, there’s not a ton in the microcosm to evaluate (MarJon aside). So, I want to talk a bit about the Bucks roster construction, which was put under the microscope. One of the benefits of having dual-purpose stars atop your roster is that it alleviates some of the need to have the complementary pieces with diverse skillsets.

But in the darkest moments against postseason defenses, we’ve seen the downfall of that strategy. We’ve seen lots of teams try to shift towards a 2019 Toronto-esque model, loading up the floor with dudes who can pass, dribble and shoot in a pinch. Milwaukee has made inroads in that department, but even on their championship team, you could say P.J. Tucker, Brook Lopez and maybe Bobby Portis were missing several of that offensive skillset trifecta.

In watching the strugglebus that was the first three quarters of Milwaukee’s offense against OKC last Wednesday, it was incredible futile even a breakneck passing pace on some possessions resulted in stonewalls and bailout shots. Oldresorter made a fitting callout to this effect in the comments of last week’s recap.

2 - with no jrue / giannis, I’d have guessed the bucks would have more than their season avg 275 passes last nite (they had in the 290’s the other no giannis game). But this number knocked my socks off, last nite (it was 2OT though), bucks had a whopping 370 passes made. bucks are now 13th in the league at 284.

The fourth quarter was really the only time I felt that mop-up crew found any rhythm. Regardless, this is a team built around three high usage individuals and a group of low usage players who can hit shots when called upon. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen the shortcomings of relying on players whose sole offensive possibility is hitting shots — sometimes they just don’t.

Here are the usage rates of Milwaukee’s top ten players so far versus the season-long rates of last year.

Bucks by Usage Rate

Season Giannis Jrue Khris Bobby Brook MarJon Nwora Grayson Jevon Pat C. Serge George Hill Wes
Season Giannis Jrue Khris Bobby Brook MarJon Nwora Grayson Jevon Pat C. Serge George Hill Wes
2021 34.90% 23.50% 26.70% 21.30% 21.90% N/A 19.40% 15.20% 10.90% 14.00% 15.20% 11.70% 10.70%
2022 38.90% 26.20% N/A 22.00% 19.30% 18.70% 18.30% 15.90% 15.60% N/A 14.60% 10.80% 11.10%

I was surprised to see that Pat Connaughton was only at 14% last season, particularly given some of the players above him. He, to me, epitomizes the idea of someone who, were he healthy now, would be moving up the usage leaderboards. Developing into a knockdown shooter has come with also working in a smidge of off-the-dribble work. Anyway, the 40% usage hole that no Khris or Pat have left for Milwaukee paints an interesting picture of who is filling that void.

A marginal amount is simply more Giannis and Jrue, but the surprise of the season has to be MarJon Beauchamp at 18.7% usage. Some of that is due to turnovers, but the silver lining is that he certainly hasn’t been afraid to fling it or try and find his shot in the early going. Monday’s game against Atlanta was really a best case scenario for him in terms of anyone with optimism over his long-term potential. In order of importance (to me), here’s what stood out:

  • He provided enough defensive stability that he was a viable option against DeJounte Murray & DeAndre Hunter in Bud’s eyes. More importantly, he didn’t foul out; which has been an issue for him early with 4.2 fouls averaged per-36.
  • Viability on the glass at both ends, and he showed pop with this offensive board he immediately turned into a basket late in the contest. This might’ve been the play that impressed me most given Okongwu’s damage to Milwaukee on the offensive glass.
  • The drive in our plays of the week section below is the finest of his young career. With little to no handle and a constant threat to be stripped, showing this level of control not just flying through the lane but also to ward off his defender is something you’ve seen plenty of other driving role players (Pat, Grayson, Jevon, etc.) struggle with. (Related, this is a turnover but the fact he was reading this play to pass rather than just settling for a pull-up is a step forward)

Beauchamp has already outstripped any expectations I had for his rookie year; the hope is that these early minutes pave the way for him being able to contribute quickly in the smaller role he’s likely to have when the injury ranks thin out. He needs to string together consistency now though.

Other than Beauchamp, the only player who has made any sort of considerable jump from last year to this is Jevon Carter, increasing his usage by nearly 5% year-over-year. Let’s circle back to where this all started. Milwaukee has consistently relied upon players with specified skillsets rather than generalists. Such is life when you’re mostly digging for bargains on the scrap heap; it’s hard to find a player who can defend, shoot threes, playmake, etc. for that price. Sacrifices have to be made.

The usage rate changes are a helpful example of how that construction has played out. Wes Matthews is essentially filling the same offensive role at Tony Snell-levels of bare bones usage. George Hill is the same way despite the fact he’s ostensibly the “in a pinch” lead ball handler. Serge’s usage hasn’t changed, Nwora’s has gone down (phew!), Brook’s is a tad up from the 16.7 mark he posted back in his last full season (2020-21).

So who’s up? Bobby, by a bit. Grayson Allen, who I’m sure the Bucks want to try and take on more of an offensive load in the absence of their primary playmakers. There have been mixed results thus far, particularly in the driving/playmaking category. It seems he’s getting a beat too far into his drives before making a decision, often resulting in catapulting his body into the mush of men beneath the hoop only to turn it over. Carter is another who’s clearly been vaulted into a role that isn’t sustainable for him these past few games, but the Bucks likely hope the confidence carries over to when he’s back in bit player mode and perhaps he won’t post quite as piddly a usage rate moving forward.

What’s similar about those three? They’re the mid-career bets with some slight potential to still improve on this team in the coming years. We saw Horst gamble on two similar players, albeit at smaller salaries, in Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood last year and strike out fantastically. Still, I understood the theory behind it, and you saw teams like the Warriors last year find success with undervalued, mid-career free agents who you hope will be able to grow and blossom. There may not be unlimited skill development left with them, but at least there’s some. And during periods of intense injuries, those are the prime times to flash what you’ve been working on during practice in a game setting.

For Carter, can he take the aggression from this past week and harness it in a controlled way when the Big Three get back?

For Allen, can his deeper triples bend defenses further? Or when he doesn’t have to drive as much, can he be more successful now in those limited opportunities?

For Beauchamp, how can he stay aggressive while not overstepping within the ecosystem of more high-usage players?

For the veterans, we know what they are. There is comfort in stability and not having questions about who they are on the floor. But that also means there’s no real chance for a question to result in surprising answers.

Play of the Week

With the team lacking cohesion and playmaking this past week, I have to say the number of “wow, the intricacy of that play design blew me away” plays was...uh, gone. In its place, I chose a number of individual pump-up plays that had me “Let’s go”-ing on the couch to try and lift some spirits after these losses.

Brook Bulldozer Dunk

We so rarely get to see Brook utilize his incredible footwork in the post to finish with a dunk, but this is a ludicrous play for a man of his size to make look so smooth. First, he comes up to Carter to establish position at the elbow, and the second he senses Poku trying to front him he asks Jevon for the ball in the perfect place for him to turn. By the time he’s fully corralled the pass, he’s already shifted his body weight to face the basket. Even with a help defender screaming down, he makes one smooth dribble, gathers and slams it home. Few things are more satisfying to me than a truly hellacious Lopez slam.

Jevon Flies & Dumps Off

We haven’t had to see much of Jevon Carter, pick-and-roll maestro this season so far, but he showed off a few chops against OKC. We had to give him a bit of shine from that performance, and while the shots were great, this was a nifty little two-man game with Serge Ibaka. It starts with him flying around the corner and penetrating deep enough to draw the eyes of basically every OKC defender. He navigates past the defender digging in and skies up (usually a no-no) but gets himself out of trouble by threading a picturesque pass between the wickets for Ibaka to get the slam.

No-Look Over Shoulder

These are routine for him. That’s ridiculous. We had to get one Giannis clip in this week at least.

MarJon Making Drive Strides

So, SO many times this season already when MarJon has put the ball on the floor it ends in a strip. This one is a step forward on so many levels, from utilizing the ripthrough after he notices his defender is a teensy bit off balance recovering to him, to using his body to shield the off defender as he goes up for the lay-in.

The Steal and Audacious Pass

Okay, I’m doubling up on MarJon clips because his performance was the highlight of the past week for me (and the most consequential for this team). It’s fitting since this showcase starts with his defensive chops, as he snags a strip on Hunter as he’s driving to the basket. After he gets the ball back, he leads the break and patiently waits for his teammates to arrive before having the audacity to try a behind-the-back-pass to George Hill despite showing little to no preternatural passing ability to this point. He doesn’t get the assist in the box score, but he gets it in our hearts.


Poll

Nov. 16: The Play of the Week is...

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Brook Bulldozer Dunk
    (6 votes)
  • 3%
    Jevon Flies & Dumps Off
    (2 votes)
  • 35%
    No-Look Over Shoulder
    (20 votes)
  • 14%
    MarJon Making Drive Strides
    (8 votes)
  • 36%
    The Steal and Audacious Pass
    (21 votes)
57 votes total Vote Now

That’ll do it for another wrap-up. Until next week!