First, a mea culpa for not running this last week after the Bucks’ first three. Like some of the players below, I’m still finding my sea legs in this new league year!
Tied for the best start in franchise history, there are very few real nits to pick in Milwaukee's 7-0 debut, at least among the team’s major forces (Giannis, Holiday, Lopez, Bud). Every result is instructive to some degree, so while wholesale criticisms of the offense given the short-term absences of Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton are premature, the Bucks already possess a defensive body of work they can be proud of. This initial slate of opponents wasn’t the toughest, and at least one win wasn’t inspiring, but no one’s complaining about banking these wins while their roster isn’t fully realized due to injury. Milwaukee appears poised to continue along those lines during this next stretch.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A+ (last year’s season grade: A+)
7 GP, 33.4 MPG, .569/.240/.663, 33.6 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 3.0 TPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.7 BPG
It’s far too early to seriously discuss the MVP, but Giannis is the clear early leader after helming the Bucks to a perfect record alongside eye-popping numbers. Every year we talk about what Giannis inevitably adds to his game or the skills he builds upon. After a career season from the midrange in 2021–22, I’m enjoying this increasingly reliable baseline jumper, and the opposition appears to respect it as well. The challenge this year might be to average 30+ PPG and these weeks without Middleton give him a boost that could last a while. As ever, we’d be fools to bet against Giannis’ efforts to expand his game, and I marvel at the myriad ways he does so year in and year out.
Jrue Holiday: A- (last year’s season grade: A)
7 GP, 34.3 MPG, .433/.383/.826, 20.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 7.6 APG, 2.6 TPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.9 BPG
After several anemic shooting nights to kick off the 2022–23 campaign, Holiday’s offensive production caught fire starting with Saturday’s Hawks tilt, boosting his outside shooting numbers a good ten percent. I don’t think Holiday expended postseason-caliber effort defensively outside of a few bursts, though he shares the blame for Trae Young’s big night with Carter. No matter: he can flip it on when needed, and the Bucks’ defensive prowess means he probably won’t need to all that often before the playoffs.
Brook Lopez: A+ (last year’s season grade: B)
7 GP, 30.9 MPG, .488/.341/.889, 14.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 3.0 BPG
Again, I know it’s early, but I’ll be surprised if Lopez isn’t on an All-Defensive team given his and the team’s start. He’s the current NBA leader in blocks per game, fourth in blocks per 36 minutes, and 2 off the lead in total rejections. As astute fans know, though, it cuts deeper than the counting stats. With the Bucks’ new emphasis on stifling foes at the three-point arc, opposing shot profiles are funneling toward the rim while Lopez himself sets several steps higher, in arm’s length of screeners rather than dropping back and waiting to receive them as they roll. Some rightfully worried about the increased pressure this places on him, but he has no problem using his wingspan to tag both drivers and rollers who enter his no-fly zone, then forces tons of misses with even a moderate contest. As improbable as this sounds after his back surgery 11 months ago, we might be seeing peak Lopez, even as he approaches his 35th birthday.
Grayson Allen: C (last year’s season grade: B)
7 GP, 26.0 MPG, .333/.314/.875, 8.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.3 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Unlike when Middleton and Holiday missed time during the first month of 2021–22, Allen isn’t contributing much offensively after rising a spot or two in the pecking order. He’s averaging nearly four fewer shot attempts per night than he did through seven games last year, reflecting the opportunities that the now-present Lopez finds as someone who’s more of a creator. Allen’s production trended downward after a big night against the Knicks as his minutes dipped too—even before he bruised his knee Monday night—but it’s not as if any bench player is currently pushing him for playing time. His workload is worth monitoring even before Middleton and Connaughton return.
Jevon Carter: C+ (last year’s season grade: B)
7 GP, 23.6 MPG, .286/.217/1.000, 3.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.0 TPG, 1.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Looking more like the player who couldn’t get off Phoenix’s bench during their Finals run before his brief Brooklyn tenure unceremoniously ended, the true Carter lies somewhere in between the 60% three-point shooter of 20 games plus a preseason since arriving in Milwaukee... and this version. Probably closer to the latter player than that perimeter tinder basket we watched before mid-October. To be clear, he critically spells Holiday on defense, who isn’t the type to pick up his man at halfcourt (or in the backcourt!) like Carter. He also can take the smaller backcourt assignments like Jaden Ivey and free up the bulkier Holiday for larger wings/guards like Cade Cunningham, so he’ll remain a useful piece in many matchups. I just doubt his long-term security in the rotation unless he starts hitting threes.
Bobby Portis: B+ (last year’s season grade: A)
7 GP, 24.7 MPG, .481/.320/.667, 12.9 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.9 TPG, 0.4 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Another player looking for his outside shooting stroke, Portis at least canned some treys in the first week while importantly buoying the Bucks through some early-game halfcourt scoring droughts. This recent output inside the arc is critical while the team isn’t fully healthy, plus he puts in good work on the glass. I could see him snatching a starting spot away temporarily from Carter or Allen in the right matchup—perhaps even as soon as tonight facing Minnesota’s big starting lineup—but his long-term home is obviously the bench, and maintaining double-digit averages on one of the league’s best teams by record will garner him Sixth Man of the Year consideration.
George Hill: B (last year’s season grade: C)
7 GP, 21.9 MPG, .448/.294/.750, 6.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.4 TPG, 0.1 SPG, 0.0 BPG
In our season preview roundtable, I identified Hill’s modest comeback potential based on a solid preseason that proved his health. The misguided Hill haters likely scoff at this then and now, but if they still want to deny his usefulness to their favorite team... then enjoy sulking, I guess? His shooting numbers dropped from week one, but he looks spry defensively and comfortable in an on-ball role. To maintain his effectiveness on those two fronts, he could use some DNP-CDs in the month ahead as the rotation rounds into form.
Wesley Matthews: B- (last year’s season grade: B+)
7 GP, 16.0 MPG, .333/.318/.750, 4.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Matthews is the only veteran whose minutes are being more visibly managed thus far, but he seems to be settling into what many envisioned for him: a defensive stopper who’s third off the pine at the soonest. In that respect, he’s fulfilling expectations and still handles opposing scorers of various sizes pretty well, but he’s just not sinking enough buckets outside of that big one in Philly. Like Hill, I think he’s already filling the role the team requires and needn’t necessarily do anything more, but this feels underwhelming when really no one else from the bench mob is outperforming him.
Jordan Nwora: C (last year’s season grade: C+)
7 GP, 16.6 MPG, .368/.400/1.000, 5.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.4 APG, 1.3 TPG, 0.4 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Some better scoring efforts this week boosted Nwora’s grade, but he’s still not doing enough to justify playing time on a fully-healthy Bucks squad. That’s identical to what I mostly wrote about Nwora in this column last year, and I don’t anticipate that changing. With better days ahead injury-wise, we may forget how much he played these first few weeks.
Serge Ibaka: B (last year’s season grade: C+)
6 GP, 8.3 MPG, .462/.600/.500, 2.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG
That’s also how one could feel about Ibaka, but at least he made more obvious contributions in his limited appearances. As a break-in-case-of-foul-trouble option behind Lopez, you can do a lot worse than a guy who can defend the Embiids and Allens of the world while hitting the odd three-point basket. Lopez’s minutes are presently a bit higher than some fans want them (an opinion Bud likely shares), and I won’t mind seeing more of him once the more scoring-oriented Bucks return.
MarJon Beauchamp: C- (last year: in G League)
4 GP, 7.3 MPG, .286/.200/.750, 2.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Like most rookies, Beauchamp has one moment during every stretch he appears that reminds you of his potential, but it’s usually after some sort of unforced error. It would be unreasonable to expect him to seize on the opportunity that ineffective play from Milwaukee’s other role players is starting to net him by scoring, mainly because he can’t seem to enter the offense’s flow. He’ll need to learn how to finish inside too: at his size, his NBA career won’t last without that ability. I can’t recall any palpable stops on defense yet either, so while the coaching staff certainly likes him, his path to playing time is dimming.
Mike Budenholzer: A (last year’s season grade: B+)
7-0 W-L, 113.2 ORtg (13th), 101.9 DRtg (1st), +11.3 NetRtg (2nd)
Bud has his offense trending up (from 24th to 13th in the last four outings) as the Bucks are starting to move the ball better in halfcourt sets, but the story thus far is the defense. Schematically and personnel-wise, this team seems capable of a top-five finish in defensive rating, and I don’t doubt they could hold the top spot all year long. While adjustments weren’t anywhere near as necessary after 2022’s second-round exit as they were for the same result in 2020, it should hearten observers to see Bud making them, transforming his unit into one of the league’s best at discouraging the three while maintaining elite at the rim. Maybe the Pistons—especially Bojan Bogdanovic—and Hawks found a few chinks in the armor this past week with the right P&R actions, but not enough for me to suggest there’s a problem that needs fixing.
Incomplete: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (2 GP, 6 MIN), Sandro Mamukelashvili (1 GP, 2 MIN), A.J. Green (1 GP, 2 MIN), Khris Middleton (injured), Pat Connaughton (injured), Joe Ingles (injured)
This week, Minnesota will test Milwaukee’s usual size advantage first off as contests transition away from Fiserv Forum, but honing a perfect record seven days from now is certainly in the cards. We could see another true test of the Bucks’ mettle in Atlanta, barely a week after they narrowly edged pesky Hawks thanks to some late-game star-driven heroics. I anticipate we’ll learn a bit more about the team in the next four than we did from the last, even with the Thunder mixed in twice.
How would you grade the Bucks’ performance this past week?
This poll is closed
What are your individual grades? Let me know in the comments below.