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Milwaukee Bucks Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up

All-Star Break is nearly here

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

In a post-trade deadline world, all the drama surrounding this Milwaukee Bucks team essentially comes down to two things for me:

  • Will Brook Lopez be healthy by the Playoffs?
  • Will we have to delete our nasty tweets about Goran Dragic?

Those seem to be the most consequential developments left to unfold this season, barring some other catastrophic injury (knock on wood). There are lots of kinks to iron out between now and mid-April, but the end of the season is far closer than it seems, as the 34 mark will nearly arrive by All-Star Break. In the meantime, we’re left to continue seeing if this team ramps it up as the regular season closes, or if they await the proverbial Playoff switch with plans to light up opponents come postseason play. Regardless, we’ve nearly arrived at our first substantial break of the season, that’s something worth celebrating. Let’s wrap-up.

The Week That Was

It’s easy (and I’ve already done it) to write off that Suns win given the Bucks were lacking Brook Lopez and Phoenix bullied them inside to the tune of 60-some paint points. That being said, the Bucks on paper still seem superior to me, but the Suns commitment to precision remains the deadliest regular season trait in the league. That Portland game was something else entirely, and in all the bad ways one can muster. Milwaukee’s transition defense looked as disjointed as I’ve seen it all season, in a relatively inexcusable manner even with running 10-days and two-ways as primary rotation pieces. Thankfully Giannis Antetokounmpo capped off the week with an absolutely stunning 50-piece that bullied the Pacers into submission by game’s end.

Weekly Wondering

One of the things I’ve been considering all year was the malleability of Milwaukee in last year’s playoffs. Not necessarily defensively, which was obvious and oft-discussed, but more frequently the ways in which they scored. Between the occasional offensive brain farts, anecdotally it felt as if the team was far more in tune with trying to avoid reliance on their three-point luck suddenly turning around as a panacea to their scoring woes. As those deep shots continued to clank, they didn’t start chucking more up, they started barreling either inside or searching for midrange jumpers as a salve. It felt like a level of team awareness we hadn’t seen from Bud’s “let it fly” Bucks in many years.

I can’t say I’ve seen as much of that this year. They’re relying on the three-point shot more than ever this regular season. At 41% of their shots coming from deep, that would be the highest percentage of the Bud era. As a comparison point, they were at 37.6% last regular season, 35.9% in the Playoffs. A tad more troubling to me has been the abandonment of the rim, where they rank 25th in the league in terms of frequency of shot attempts at 30.3%. The team was undeniably going to be shooting a bit less at the rim with Giannis Antetokounmpo focusing more on the midrange and swapping the dive-bombing offensive of Eric Bledsoe for the finesse game of Jrue Holiday. The latter was obviously a must-do move, but the team is finding fewer points than ever in the productive paint area. Here’s a breakdown of the percentage of the team’s points that came in the paint, and where that ranks, over Bud’s time in Milwaukee. (Note, these stats were pulled before the 2/15 game vs. Indiana)

% of Points Coming from the Paint

Season % of Points (Paint) Rank
Season % of Points (Paint) Rank
21-22 38.40% 30th
20-21 Playoffs 45.70% 4th
20-21 40.60% 22nd
19-20 41.50% 20th
18-19 45.10% 11th

As a reminder, there are 30 teams in the NBA folks. So yes, they’re dead last in terms of percentage of points coming from in there. Some of that is missing Brook Lopez, yes, but it’s not like he was barreling into the lane on an all that consistent basis. It’s little cuts up and down the roster that are contributing to fewer attempts at the basket. Here’s how some are stacking up on the team:

% of Shots at the Rim

Player 21-22 20-21 Playoffs 20-21
Player 21-22 20-21 Playoffs 20-21
Giannis 51% 56% 54%
Jrue 32% 30% 36%
Khris 15% 13% 18%
Portis 28% 34% 33%
Pat 18% 19% 25%

Look up and down and you’ll find slight dips. Giannis focusing on his midrange, Holiday finding more stepback pull-up triples (which have looked good this year), Middleton doing his normal non-rim thing, the loss of Donte and replacing with a more downtown-heavy Grayson, Bobby focusing on his perimeter attack and no other consistent big man who’s filling Brook’s shoes. Even Pat has dipped, which I thought a tad surprising given I have thought he’s been more successful on those downhill drives.

In the aggregate, I wouldn’t say the offense has been as large a culprit this season for the team’s “meh” overall first 60-odd games. That blame lies more on the defense, which has been hamstrung by the lack of a steady bass drum beat of drop coverage, but also shuffling personnel and, if we’re being honest, a likely lack of...wait for it...energy and effort on a night to night basis. I can’t say I blame them all that much for the last point given the grueling nature of their past year and the inevitable Playoff march ahead of them, but it’s stood out.

Still, there’s about 20 games left to see this team ratchet into shape for another chance at a championship. They’ve introduced more variance than ever into these games by allowing more threes and attempting more of their own. IMO, the recognition of when it was time to start pummeling in the paint was a central part of their ability to blast past opponents of many colors in the Playoffs. We’ll see whether they start to pay more attention to that pivotal area of the floor in these coming weeks, or if a once wet paint stays dry leading into April.

Play of the Week

Hat tip to Mike Budenholzer to start, as he got two set plays into this week’s selection. The latter two are purely highlighting the utter ridiculousness of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Serge First Bucket

Bud wanted to get Serge involved early in his first showing for Milwaukee, and opted to start this play with Khris running past a Bobby screen to get the ball atop the key from Jrue. Holiday heads in a straight line to the left side to collect the ball from Middleton, who sets his own screen for the point guard. Ibaka lingers behind for a stagger screen, but slips it. Subtly, Allen is sprinting on the left side of the floor, distracting his defender (Elleby) in the paint enough that he vacates the basket. Ibaka is wide open, and a contorted body high-arcing pass over Jusuf Nurkic by Jrue gives the freshest Buck his first basket in Fiserv Forum.

Grayson Deals a Triple

This is a neat little trick from Grayson Allen here, pulling the ripcord from the paint to launch himself towards the perimeter for a slick triple. It starts with Serge coming atop the key to get the rotation from Wigginton while Grayson trots to take up residence in the dunker spot. Khris Middleton starts his spring from the left corner to grab the DHO from Serge. The second Khris turns to face the basket, Allen plants his foot and sprints above the arc. Ibaka casually saunters out of the screen he sets for Middleton and sets one of his own against Allen’s defender, who recognizes he’s lost sight of the Duke product. Bucket.

Full Steam Ahead

Look, we can’t go all x’s and o’s here, sometimes a little razzle dazzle is needed to spice things up. Well, how about Giannis seemingly blocking Jalen Smith not once, but twice upon the baseline in a truly insulting fashion. From there, he screams down teh court, grabbing the ball off Bobby’s boo-boo dribble before taking exactly one dribble of his own and launching from the dotted line for a hellacious slam. Giannis is fun.

Double Stagger Slam

Milwaukee takes a page out of Bud’s “opponents run this set to screw up our defense” playbook on this one, with Giannis sprinting to the free throw line to free up Middleton for the ball from Jrue along the left arc. Holiday immediately turns to set his own screen for Khris, with Giannis waiting patiently behind to “set” another against Haliburton. Instead, he wedges his way through the two defenders on a slip to the rim. Spacers stay in the corner, Bitadze makes a prudent business decision, and Antetokounmpo gives the ball a one-way ticket to netsville.


All right, that’ll do it for this week’s wrap-up, and we’re taking next week off for the All-Star Break. Enjoy your time off everyone (after we slam the Sixers), and vote in the poll below.

Poll

Feb. 16: My Play of the Week is...

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Serge First Bucket
    (20 votes)
  • 7%
    Grayson Deals a Triple
    (9 votes)
  • 54%
    Full Steam Ahead
    (66 votes)
  • 22%
    Double Stagger Slam
    (27 votes)
122 votes total Vote Now