What started as a stretch of purely good vibes took on a sour note after the Milwaukee Bucks perfect record fell against a Trae Young-less Atlanta Hawks team. But I’m trying not to get greedy, so I’ll live with a 9-1 start and one of the best net ratings in the league. Now it’s time to start another streak, so let’s wrap-up.
The Week that Was
- Milwaukee 116, Detroit 91 (Bucks Slam the Door on the Pistons)
- Milwaukee 115, Minnesota 102 (Land of 10,000 Makes)
- Milwaukee 108, Oklahoma City 94 (Giannis-less Bucks Wallop Thunder)
- Milwaukee 98, Atlanta 117 (Bucks Finally Fall to Trae-less Hawks)
The second of two straight matchups against the Pistons looked much more like a Bucks-Pistons match of old. That team has some young guns I look forward to watching. They also apparently dipper their hands in butter pregame. Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north went all-in this offseason and were summarily decimated by Milwaukee. They showed some mettle on the interior making life difficult for Giannis, but that only opened up highway-wide passing lanes for him. Rudy Gobert may be staring at Utah defense 2.0 here. Oklahoma City still seems so far away from contention, but they’re peskier than expected. Anyway, they played a bunch of long-ish dudes and got destroyed by a barrage of threes. As for the Atlanta game, well, the less said the better.
We’re three weeks into the season, and I’m not sure there’s a better story on this Bucks team than Brook Lopez. A player who was underrated and under-appreciated by many until his absence loomed large last season has turned in a late-career renaissance year thus far. I’ve been a Brook believer, declaring after his injury last year that the Bucks couldn’t win a title without him. For once, I said something that actually seemed smart in hindsight. As some of the league moves towards more pace and space with smaller switchy lineups, the thought was Brook and this Bucks defensive scheme may start to be untenable at the highest levels. Do you know what Mike Budenholzer had to say about that?
What if we double down on the importance of Brook in this defense? I’d argue there isn’t a more vital defender on the court right now for Milwaukee than Brook in terms of executing their plan of relying wholly on a two-man game to defend the pick-and-roll rather than a barrage of arms helping into the paint. He’s allowed just 53.4% shooting at the rim against 7.3 field goal attempts per game, one of the stingiest combinations of defensive efficiency and volume in the league. It helps to have Giannis there too allowing just 50% shooting on under five attempts, but Lopez is required to process almost every defensive play on so many levels for this team to succeed.
Imagine a pick-and-roll for a second. Brook has to digest how far he should play up based on the opposing player’s shooting quality, how close he needs to get to prevent an easy shot but can still recover to ensure they don’t lob for a dunk over his head, keep his feet moving in case the ball handler tries to scoot by him for a lay-up and have his hands up at all times to disrupt a potential floater. It’s a fitting evolution for this drop scheme and speaks to the years of trust he’s built with Budenholzer, as well as the high-level perimeter defenders that have taken on the task of fighting through screens at the point of attack.
His centrality to the team’s defensive evolution is what will matter most in the long run, but for now, he’s also been pivotal to their offense not cratering even further down the league’s standings. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a gradual increase in Milwaukee shifting Brook from a long-range bomber to dipping into his past for more shots inside. He went from 61% of his shots from three in Bud’s first year to just 41% in 2020-21. Thus far, he’s looked more like year one Brook Lopez, attempting 55% of his shots from the outside (and hitting 38%).
That’s been a necessary salve for an offense that can’t really hit shots from anywhere outside of the rim right now. If I had to guess though, I’m predicting this trend doesn’t continue for Brook. With no Pat Connaughton or Khris Middleton, the team is bereft of two of its most high-volume and efficient three-point gunners. They need someone to fill the void at the moment, and Lopez has rode his hot hand to keep the Bucks afloat at times. Could it also be a product of his increased defensive load? Not forcing him to traverse the paint or inside the arc on as many possessions helps save him for the other end. It’s worth monitoring, but Brook has been a ballast for this team in the early going.
Plays of the Week
So while this past week featured continued victories, I can’t say I found a vast number of standout possessions. I opted to skip the sloppy Atlanta game entirely, even with the sequences for threes at the start. But there were still some sweet scenes worth sharing. Here are the plays that stood out to me.
You may not know it, but Brook averages one assist per game this year. That’s kind of his MO, but almost any time I see him get the ball on the block or elbow, I presume he’ll either pass it out or go into his patented turnaround fadeaway jumper. Here though, we see his fleet feet as he’s turning baseline, spots the double coming his way and gets his arm lurched through two defenders to give Giannis a wide-open dunk. Nice read for someone who rarely ever has to execute one.
I could count on two hands the number of catch-and-shoot threes I remember Giannis making. This one is just a pretty ping-ping-ping that starts with two Wolves defenders committing to Grayson Allen (why?), both of whom fall for a pump-fake, and Edwards lets his man Jrue get immediately into the interior. The Wolves are scrambling at this point, and when Gobert tries to help in off the one-handed sling from Allen, Holiday has already read the play and passes out to an open Giannis.
MarJon Makes Baby Steps
MarJon with the tough bucket!! pic.twitter.com/svyWHd8GYB— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 5, 2022
This play won’t make any Sportscenter Top Tens, but it might’ve been the most important play of the past week. The reason being, it spoke directly to the progress MarJon has made as this young season has ticked on. If you watched the game before, Beauchamp blew a transition opportunity where he was running with Giannis. Sure, the pass may have been a bit off, but MarJon should’ve had it and gone up quickly. Here, one game later, he’s presented with the same sequence. And instead of shirking away, he confidently ensnares the ball and goes up for the finish through contact.
Around the World
I enjoy this one because it’s a true “Around the World” trip for Portis to complete it. He starts in the right corner with Holiday on the opposite side. He starts his run as Carter vacates space flashing down the lane. Beauchamp is in position to screen his man, but because they’re in zone the communication just isn’t all there. Carter keeps his trot going, Portis slowly flashes through the top of the zone and finds himself with a good look in the corner over an unprepared OKC defender. It was nice footwork by him to catch and backpedal into the corner before his attempt too.
Nov. 9: The Play of the Week is...
This poll is closed
MarJon Makes Baby Steps
Around the World
That’ll do it for another wrap-up!