Khris Middleton made his way back to the court this session for the Milwaukee Bucks. More than any win, play, or birthday wish, that was by far the most consequential development for this team’s long-term aspirations. Let’s wrap-up.
The Week that Was
- Milwaukee 109, New York 103 (Escape from NY, With a W)
- Milwaukee 129, Los Angeles Lakers 133 (Lakers Close The Door on Bucks)
- Milwaukee 105, Charlotte 96 (Bucks Take Care of Buzz-ness)
- Milwaukee 109, Orlando 102 (Bucks Squeak Past Magic)
A rockfight Knicks game turned into a boxing match beneath the boards for much of the evening, with a teeter-totter second half eventually landing the Bucks way. Not so much the following contest, with Anthony Davis bludgeoning Milwaukee’s interior defense while Giannis and company still put forth one of their best offensive showings of the season. Charlotte, meanwhile, looks very much like a team that, without LaMelo, is primed to tank for Wemby. They need some direction in the worst way. Orlando on the other hand is full of youth, length, and John Hammond grinning ear-to-ear watching Bol Bol pull off behind the back passes and striding on air past defenders. They got a lot to figure out, but there’s no shortage of talent in that locker room.
In this week’s podcast, I did one of my favorite semi-regular exercises with Kyle and Riley: picking an eight-man playoff rotation. There’s not all that much hand-wringing, but eight is just tight enough that for a team viewed as deep, you have to make a few tough calls.
There would obviously be variation from series to series, with some players possibly making more sense based on matchups than others. Bobby is the ideal example, going from generally unplayable against the Brooklyn Nets to citywide hero for his clutch shotmaking in Game Six against the Phoenix Suns. For this exercise, I’m trying to imagine the most difficult opponent for Milwaukee, which I’d say at this point is Boston. From there, it’s whittling it down the rotation to who Bud would go with in a Game Seven when everything’s on the line. Here’s where I landed at this point in the season:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Jrue Holiday
- Khris Middleton
- Brook Lopez
The Bucks big four are givens. Depending on how much Milwaukee has to rely on switching in the postseason (which I’d say would be less than their revamped drop scheme), I could see an argument that Brook is as integral to the Bucks potential success in the Playoffs as Khris or Jrue. Against a team like Boston that’s capable of going small, it’s possible he may not have as high a minute load, but I think his offensive efficiency could be just as vital against a stifling Celtics defense.
Role Players Getting Minutes
- Pat Connaughton
- Jevon Carter
- Joe Ingles
- Bobby Portis
Pat made the effectively six-man rotation for Bucks-Nets Game Seven. He is unimpeachable in my mind until proven otherwise.
As for Jevon Carter, I’ve seen enough. He’s too disruptive and works too well in tandem with Jrue Holiday to leave him on the bench during the Playoffs. He needs his shooting to hold up and not lose the itchy trigger finger that has waned occasionally when he starts from the bench. But Boston has lots of ball handlers, and Jevon’s height doesn’t worry me nearly as much as the defensive question marks lingering for other players like Allen, Ingles and Portis. I think he can do a reasonable facsimile of what Wes Matthews had to do last year defensively, and offer Bud an additional ball handler with Hill out of the rotation.
The last two selections were the most difficult. It’s totally plausible that Ingles flames out, looks creaky as a mausoleum on that knee and his shot is shot. I don’t think that’ll be the case though, and Milwaukee is too often gasping for air on the offensive end that Ingles offers one more capable ball handler and creator they desperately need. He spent years passing within a dynamic Jazz offense, and I’m hopeful his unselfish ways will prove infectious and inject much-needed fluidity into a stagnant offensive system.
Bobby Portis didn’t shoot well against the Celtics last year. He’ll need to hold up defensively when the Bucks go to switching. But Milwaukee has been crashing the offensive boards hard this year, and he’s a catalyst in that respect. I’m not trusting the Bucks postseason offense, so they need to win the math game. Bobby gives them a better chance of doing that than Wesley Matthews, and I think he has less defensive downside than Grayson Allen. So he eeks in.
Potential for Fringe Rotation Minutes
- Grayson Allen
- Wesley Matthews
I like Grayson Allen. I am bullish on his fit with this team and generally think he makes more sense for an offense-starved team than swapping for Jae Crowder. I also don’t think Boston is the series for him. Imagine for a second that Milwaukee loses against Brooklyn in the championship year. Bobby Portis would’ve entered that offseason with a similar narrative to what Allen has faced. There will be series Allen is required for the Bucks to win; I don’t believe the Celts are it.
Matthews has barely played this season, a boon for Bud should he need the cagey defensive veteran come Playoff time. But with Khris back, I think it comes down to whether Bud wants to insert Matthews or Ingles in this scenario. I leaned toward the latter on a hunch.
Out of the Rotation
- Serge Ibaka
- MarJon Beauchamp
- George Hill
- Jordan Nwora
- Thanasis Antetokounmpo
- Sandro & AJ Green
The most “controversial” part of this selection may be George Hill axed entirely from consideration for cracking the eight-man rotation. It’s no slight on him, but he can’t move as cleanly as he used to, and without a consistent 3-point shot and a general allergy to shooting at all, he can’t be out there. MarJon Beauchamp is probably the other notable inclusion here, but I just can’t see Bud even considering him for a gut check time tight rotation. He’s shown promise, but not many rookies can reach “crunch-time playoff level” in their first year. Serge is too creaky, Jordan Nwora can’t be trusted defensively and Thanasis is too critical to the bench vibes to be on the court.
Sandro and AJ aren’t able to play since they’re on two-way contracts.
Plays of the Week
Heavy on highlights this week, but we also had a few old tricks making their return to the court, along with a few nifty sequences from role players rounding out my candidates for plays of the week.
Mr. Fantastic Finish
Yes, that’s Giannis getting played almost picture-perfectly by a 7-foot defender on his patented spin move to the basket. Only this time, he has one last ace up his sleeve, shimmying his length, gathering the ball and somehow shielding Mitchell Robinson enough to loop his OFF HAND over and finesse up the finish. I genuinely don’t understand how this one was possible.
Giannis-Khris PnR is Back
It’s nice to have this back in our lives. This one starts interestingly enough fairly similar to lots of plays we’ve seen run for Grayson Allen this season, with Giannis using a screen to get to the near elbow. But instead of waiting for Allen to fly above and execute a DHO, he immediately whirls it to Middleton in the corner and lets him start to go to work against Russell Westbrook. He feints the screen as Middleton starts to dribble inside the arc, and once Anteokounmpo’s man commits ever so slightly, Giannis slips down low and presents himself for the oop. Khris’s pass is high, but he knows the big fella can get it. Looking forward to plenty more where this came from.
Pat Flippin’ Angles
Pat Connaughton hasn’t looked nearly like himself as a shooter since he came back from injury, but he’s still doing enough dirty work to make himself valuable. This is a pretty small example, but with Milwaukee needing a bucket, he Antetokounmpo called on him to get him free on a pick-and-roll. Pat works himself free from below the basket and pushes off Reaves a bit to get some space. LeBron is trying to prepare himself for Connaughton’s screen to fight over it and stop Giannis from going right. Instead, just as Giannis starts to cross over, Connaughton immediately flips the screen to get on LeBron’s backside and clear runway for Giannis.
Even with the Lakers defenders digging in from the strong side and Westbrook trying to draw the charge, Giannis is too quick and gets the and-one finish thanks to Pat springing him free.
This block by Brook is too undeniable to not include on this list of plays of the week. The timing and strength to bludgeon it clean from Anthony Davis (coupled with Giannis finishing on the other end) makes this about as picturesque a two-way play as we’ll probably see all year.
The Mamu Flip
With apologies to Jrue Holiday, who had a few near-entries in this week’s plays, I wanted to give a little bit of shine to Sandro Mamukelashvili for his solid performance against the Magic. After Giannis’s drive is flummoxed, he kicks it out to Jrue who probes into a scrambling Orlando defense. Mamu slinks along the baseline, freeing himself for a pocket bounce pass from Holiday. As Orlando’s baseline defenders in the zone all collapse on Mamu, instead of forcing something up, he calmly quasi-pump-fakes once before flipping a pass in the blink of an eye around Banchero and into the awaiting arms of Giannis. It happens so fast, if you look closely I’m not even sure Giannis was expecting it to land in his hands.
Dec. 7: The play of the week is...
This poll is closed
Mr. Fantastic Finish
Giannis-Khris PnR is Back
Pat Flippin’ Angles
The Mamu Flip
That’ll do it for another wrap-up! Leave your observations and takeaways from the past week in the comments below.