If the entire NBA season were a single NBA game, we would’ve just finished the first quarter. The first 12 minutes. The intro. The appetizer before the four-course meal.
It’s strange to think that the season is already 25% finished, but that’s the truth - and that means it’s time for Brew Hoop’s Quarterly Report. Let’s take a look at how the first 22 games have gone for the Bucks, why they’ve gone that way, and who has stepped up in the name of winning.
FIRST QUARTER SUMMARY
22 games in, the Bucks are sitting at an impressive 16-6, and we’ve done it without Khris Middleton and offseason acquisition Joe Ingles (Khris did make his debut against the Lakers on Friday, and he looked great...too bad we couldn’t get the W). Bucks fans should be pleasantly surprised that things have gone so swimmingly, given that we’ve been without our consensus second-best player for 21 of the 22 games.
Sure, there’s an argument to be had that this was our easiest stretch of games, if only because we won’t ever see this many home games again during another quarter of the season. Let’s take a quick look at the four quarters:
Quarter 1: 14 home games, 8 away games (including a 6-game home stand)
Quarter 2: 7 home games, 13 away games (including a 5-game road trip)
Quarter 3: 11 home games, 9 away games
Quarter 4: 9 home games, 11 away games (including a 4-game road trip)
The schedule indeed gets tougher as we go, but we should appreciate the blessing of a slightly easier schedule to open things up while some longer-term injuries heal. In fact, we saw the effects of what would happen if we lost more of our starters right after our 9-0 start, when we played multiple games without Giannis and Jrue in the lineup. It got ugly, and it got ugly quick.
Thankfully neither Giannis or Jrue sat out for long, and both Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton have made their returns from injury. Let’s take a moment to look at three categories that tell the story of Milwaukee’s early success - The “GQ” Report, The X Factors, and The Standouts.
THE “GQ” REPORT
The Giannis Quarterly Report is a thing because it feels silly to include Giannis in the Standouts section. Let’s be honest with ourselves - the dude is not only one of the best basketball players hooping today, but he’s quite possibly one of the best ever. So it’s a given that he’s going to be a standout. It’s a given that he, all by himself, is an X factor. So Giannis will have his own section in our Quarterly Reports - because as he goes, so do the Bucks.
In 32.9 minutes/game the Greek Freak is averaging the following:
31.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 54.2 FG%, 61.4 FT%, 1.0 blocks, 3.7 TO’s
- He rested for 4 games during this quarter
- He ended the quarter on a 6-game streak of 30+ point games
- In 12 of the 18 games he played, he scored 30 or more points (3 games at 40+)
Mr. Consistency is at it again putting up very similar numbers to what he averaged at the end of last season. The one and only major difference is his charity stripe numbers. Even though he’s been solid at the line for the last few games, 61.4% is the worst mark of his career and over 10% less than what he averaged last season. He’s been tweaking his FT routine, but still continues to take way too much time centering himself - he even got hit with a 10-second violation at the line on Friday vs. the Lakers. Free throws will probably be a “focus area” for Giannis for the rest of his career, but if he can shoot above 70% at the line consistently enough, it will help prevent teams from Hack-a-Freak’ing.
Besides his dip in free throw efficiency, Giannis is doing what Giannis does. A perennial MVP candidate who will make you pay if you don’t respect him enough to double or triple team him in the paint, Antetokounmpo is soooo stinking good and we should count our lucky stars that he plays with us, instead of against us. I mean, who in their right mind want to guard this?
Oh, and he did his best Lebron impression...on the King himself!
THE X FACTORS
De-fense! De-fense! De-fense!
We can’t even begin to talk about team success in Milwaukee until we discuss their defense. Since the jump, the Bucks have boasted the league’s best defense, with a rating of 107.47. Wanna score against Milwaukee? You better come correct, because these players are locked in. In addition to having a center who is currently leading the league in blocks/game, we have two-time DPOY Giannis Antetokounmpo swarming the paint, and shoulda-been-in-contention-for-the-DPOY-award-a-long-time-ago Jrue Holiday hounding guards on the perimeter. Add in Jevon Carter and his #treadmillmentality, and you’ve got yourself a bonafide wall of problems…if you’re the opposing team.
The Bucks are also sporting the second-best mark in the league for Opponent Floor Shooting %, only allowing 44.8% of the other team’s shots to find the bottom of the net. I know it’s still early in the season and maintaining a sturdy defensive mindset all season long is not an easy feat, but if we can somehow manage to do it, we will set ourselves up for success when it’s time to feast at the playoff table.
Cleaning the glass is our speci-ality
The Milwaukee Bucks are second in the league in rebounds/game, with only the Memphis Grizzlies ahead of them (what’s good Steven Adams?). The Bucks also lead the league in defensive rebounds/game, which means we’re prioritizing the “one-and-done” rule, and not letting opponents get a second chance to score. We can afford to do that because we have one of the most terrifying transition tanks in the game, who can take 2.5 steps and already be in the act of dunking on you. We also sit at 9th in terms of offensive rebounds/game, with a lot of that work being done by Bobby Portis, who hunts those down like he has a sickness, for which the only cure is offensive boards.
The Budenholzer Effect
We have to acknowledge the adjustment made by Mike Budenholzer before the start of the season here as well. Living and dying by letting the opponent have open 3-pointers so the paint can be protected was never going to last, at least not with how prevalent the deep shot has become in today’s game, and Coach Bud realized that and planned accordingly. We ended last season dead last in the “opponent 3P attempts/game” column (40.5 attempts) and so far this season we are in 5th, at 31.5 attempts/game.
That is an intentional, collective team effort that’s coming from the top-down. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. You don’t win an NBA championship while being a “meh” head coach. Budenholzer knows what he’s doing, even if he doesn’t always seem like it (ie. continuing to play Grayson Allen in the Boston playoff series last season was a real head-scratcher imo) Regardless, we should be placing our trust in Bud, because he’s shifted some of the tectonic plates in Milwaukee and has them starting the season as the most ferocious defensive squad in the league. Props to Coach Bud for making the adjustment, forcing teams to decide between taking a contested hail mary and driving into the paint where we have two defensive juggernauts who are wishing you would try some…
Splash Mountain. The Giant Eraser. The 86er.
Brooke Lopez has to headline our list of standouts so far this season because he’s playing out of his mind. At 34 years-old, he’s averaging the best marks of his career in both blocks/game (3.0!) and 3P% (41.7). I mean, just take a look.
Don't mess with Splash Mountain!! pic.twitter.com/KMqnhd0twp— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 28, 2022
The Giant Eraser strikes again!
Another game. Another Brook Block.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 28, 2022
His 4th of the night!! pic.twitter.com/A1H1zgRtpr
Talk about an unexpected and VERY welcome surprise. This is a man who missed the entirety of last season after undergoing back surgery. Imagine having back surgery at the ripe age of 33 and then not just returning to form, but surpassing it. He’s giving “f*ck outta here with that” energy on the defensive end of the court, while splish-splashing bombs from a distance at the other end.
Bobby Buckets. Bobby Board-is. Mr. Milwaukee.
The heart and soul of the Bench Mob, Bobby Portis is delivering a shot in the arm for the Bucks coming off the bench, and for the first time in his career is averaging a double-double. In 26.9 minutes/game, Bobby is averaging 13.7 points and 10.4 rebounds. Yes, we’re only a quarter of the way through the season, and keeping up those types of numbers is no easy task - but if he can, he’ll easily be in sixth-man-of-the-year contention. He’s currently tied for 4th place in terms of double-doubles on the season, and keep in mind - he’s doing all of this off the bench, which means he’s getting it done in less minutes than the others in that category. Fun fact: he has 1 more double-double than Giannis! May the chants of “BOBBY! BOBBY! BOBBY!” forever echo in the halls of the forum.
Jevon “Bulldog” Carter. The Treadmill. The Pest.
What a relief it has been to have Jevon playing for the Bucks! With the injuries we’ve been dealing with, the question on everyone’s mind before the season started was, “Who’s gonna step up?” Well, look no further my friends - Jevon Carter has answered that call. He’s doubled his minutes/game this season, and as a result has doubled his points/game (8.9) and is averaging 3.4 assists/game, another career high. Carter is also shooting extremely well, with a 43.7 / 41.0 / 84.2 split. As cool as that is, those aren’t the stats that really matter for his game. It’s about his energy, his hustle. Jevon must be incredibly annoying to play against, especially if you’re a point guard bringing the ball up the court. As soon as that ball is inbounded to you, the Pest is buzzzzing in your ear. He picks players up full-court for the full game and has been doing that for 22 games so far this season, at the intense clip of 27.1 minutes/game. He probably won’t continue to start now that Khris is back, but if anyone has made a case as to why they should be in the rotation thus far this season, it’s the Bulldog.
The Jrueth. Jrue That. Doc Holiday.
Jrue didn’t make the Standouts because he’s not in mid-season form quite yet, and dealt with a minor injury, missing 5 games during this stretch. He’s better than what he’s been putting out, and he’d probably be the first to admit it. He did, however, light up the Lakers for a cool 28 points, and looked more himself.
Jrue set a new season-high with six 3-pointers tonight.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 3, 2022
28 PTS | 6 REB | 9 AST pic.twitter.com/wg2fTyg0z7
Even though he’s averaging a respectable 18.4 points/game and 7.4 assists/game, his shooting percentages are down from previous seasons. That being said, he continues to be a lock-down defender, leading the team in steals/game (1.6). I’m sure as the season goes along we’ll see The Jrueth come out in full-force.
A 16-6 start to the season is nothing to turn your nose up at. Stay locked in, Milwaukee. The season is long and the path ahead is fraught with challengers, but once we reach a full bill of health as a team, we may see the Bucks morph into their final form. If we continue winning at this clip, we’re looking at a 60-win season. Don’t get me wrong, that would be exciting, but it’s not what’s important. What’s important is that the Bucks are building good habits, making it extremely difficult for their opponents to score, and protecting the perimeter from a barrage of threes. As long as they continue doing those things, their offense will eventually show up.
First quarter of the season is in the books. Three more to go.
Stay steady, stay ready, and above all else...let it fly, Milwaukee!