Please excuse my tardiness on this week’s column! It will hopefully make for good Saturday reading and the reduced basketball content in general (at least in terms of games that matter) for the next week.
Remember when third quarters were the Bucks’ bugaboo a few weeks ago? Around that time, second quarters weren’t much better, and now their defensive troubles are even more pronounced leading up to half. Their points allowed in second quarters this week (hold your nose): 40, 36, 45. It looks even worse with advanced metrics, with a 151.3 defensive rating and a -36.4 net rating. Last week I regarded Serge Ibaka’s debut with the team as the big storyline, and while I think he looks very solid defensively, he’s not correcting that. This is a team-wide issue that stems from schematic choices, so it’s hard for me to point the finger at any player below.
Meanwhile, Khris Middleton did not improve his outside shooting problems and the only player who sort of filled the Pat Connaughton-sized void in the offense was Jordan Nwora. Giannis did have a better week shooting from the stripe, so there’s one guy who corrected some shortcomings.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A+ (last week: A)
2 GP, 37.6 MPG, 41.0 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 6.5 APG, 3.0 TPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .682/.571/.783
It’s a shame that Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis missed so many threes last night: Giannis hung out on 9 assists for the last several minutes of the game while the Bucks bricked many great looks, many of which could have swung momentum in their favor, not to mention giving him a triple-double. With another big game against the Nets next Saturday, he’ll be a shoo-in for Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Khris Middleton: C- (last week: A-)
3 GP, 35.5 MPG, 18.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 2.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .340/.167/.900
I didn’t realize Middleton’s shooting splits were THAT bad, and it’s not all from the Philly loss because Monday was pretty ugly too. He also came up an assist shy of what would have been an ugly triple-double. Milwaukee’s defense struggled immensely these last four games, and Middleton’s efforts looked particularly bad to the eye test. His main saving grace was a knack for getting to the line an average 6.7 times per game.
Jrue Holiday: B+ (last week: A)
3 GP, 36.8 MPG, 20.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.7 APG, 3.0 TPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .535/.467/.667
That shooting line looks exceptional… until you get to Holiday’s free throws. He missed three of his eight (a high volume for him) on Thursday night and the Bucks lost by three. Even before the team mounted their second-half comeback, it felt like his misses would hurt them in the end. Further demerits for seven turnovers on Monday, including three in the fourth quarter which put the death knell on that comeback.
Bobby Portis: B (last week: A)
3 GP, 29.3 MPG, 13.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.0 TPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .405/.125/.571
Looking at the past three weeks, divided up by Fridays for the purposes of this column, Portis’ three point percentage is riding quite the roller coaster: 23.1%, 59.3%, and now 12.5%. For how much the Bucks are relying on the three this year—even more than in years past—sledding will be tough when Portis is firing blanks while Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton sit. On the flip side, I thought Portis did a solid job with Embiid, who the Bucks simply would not allow to enter the paint. Yes, he did loads of damage with his jumper, but I much prefer that to demolishing the Bucks’ interior.
Grayson Allen: B- (last week: A-)
2 GP, 24.2 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.0 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .375/.385/.000
While he wasn’t doing much before exiting in the Pacers game, Allen was one of the only Bucks with a decent—if not efficient—night against the Blazers. That hip kept him out of several other contests recently, so hopefully some rest over the next week nips it in the bud. While Connaughton remains out, Milwaukee needs his typical production from the 2.
Serge Ibaka: B (last week: on the Clippers)
2 GP, 26.2 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .471/.286/.667
Some worried about his mobility in the wake of last year’s back injuries, but Ibaka clearly still can play, at least on defense. Though he’s yet to rack up many blocks, he possesses the strength to deter the likes of Embiid inside and that’s super valuable to the Lopez-less Bucks. I don’t think he’s lost much of a step since his Toronto days. On the other end, he’s made a few mistakes that I’ll chalk up to being new. However, his shot rarely found nylon, especially from deep.
Wesley Matthews: C- (last week: C)
2 GP, 18.8 MPG, 1.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .167/.167/.000
Outside of several minutes of reliable defense, it’s becoming apparent that Mattews can’t be relied upon for anything more. He’s shot a putrid 19.2% from the field (14.3% from three) over his last nine games. It’d be nice if his shot stops escaping him after the All-Star break, with these backcourt depth issues.
Greg Monroe: C (last week: B)
1 GP, 11 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 1 TOV, 0 STL, 1 BLK, .500/.000/.500
Happy trails, Moose! Outside of a few glimmers of hope in his initial outings of 2022, there’s not much to suggest he’s an NBA rotation player right now. Though he wasn’t bad by any stretch, he became superfluous with the Ibaka addition and Milwaukee allowed his ten-day to expire.
Jordan Nwora: A- (last week: D)
3 GP, 28.3 MPG, 14.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .486/.471/1.000
Upon Connaughton’s injury, I assumed Nwora would see an uptick in minutes. Probably like some of you reading, I shuddered at this, but he’s proven me wrong. While he provided little else and often was a defensive liability, his scoring became more efficient as the week went on. He might have been the Bucks’ most reliable shooter aside from Giannis and Holiday.
Lindell Wigginton: A (last week: C+)
3 GP, 20.7 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .400/.444/.692
Count me as a passenger on the Wigginton bandwagon (Wigginwagon?) after the last three games. Even without counting stats to show for it last night, I could see his positive impact in game action and in his almost team-high +6. Some of that may be from his physical and effective brand of defense. He shot well mostly, but when he didn’t he drew fouls and hit free throws. Hard to ask for much more from a rookie on a two-way, thrust into duty as a backup point guard.
Sandro Mamukelashvili: B (last week: B)
3 GP, 4.7 MPG, 2.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, 1.000/.000/.000
Mamu makes the report card again with 10 pretty solid minutes in the Pacers matchup. Not much else to say, but if you’re a two-way guy seeing court time while a game is still up for grabs and mildly succeed, you deserve some praise.
Mike Budenholzer: C+ (last week: A-)
1-2 W-L, 112.7 ORtg (15th), 116.7 DRtg (23rd), -4.0 NetRtg (19th)
This grade may seem a little high for some, but I don’t think you can blame any offensive struggles this week on Bud, when poor late game execution by the stars ruined chances at Ws (not to mention missing three key rotation players). I thought the play calling was actually good in those situations: the Bucks generated a lot of clean looks. They just bricked all of them. Defensive problems are the key issue here. Milwaukee switched far too liberally against Portland, finding themselves in mismatches with Jusuf Nurkic often. By the time Bud had defenders sticking with their man, it was too late. I’m not sure if this is more in-season experimentation like we saw last year or the integration of new role players, but it’s tough to watch.
Incomplete: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (3 GP, 3 MIN), Pat Connaughton (injured), George Hill (injured), Brook Lopez (injured)
Where to go from here? I don’t think there’s anything bigger than Middleton getting back on the right track. He’ll get minutes in the All-Star Game, but I really hope he takes it easy the rest of next week. I also hope the break provides the mental and/or physical break that Portis and Matthews may need in order to improve their shooting. Ibaka can use this time to familiarize himself more with the playbook. Everyone needs to show better effort on defense when play resumes, and Bud needs to put Ibaka in drop coverage to maximize his effectiveness, plus up their chances of winning.
I’ll leave the poll open a little longer since I was a good 12 hours late in getting it up.
How would you grade the Bucks’ performance this past week?
This poll is closed
Note: this column will not run next week because the Bucks do not play again until Saturday. What are your individual grades? Let me know in the comments below.