On this merriest of Groundhogs Days, the Weekly Wednesday wrap-up is back. Fitting that on a celebratory day of rodents, this column should return after a rodent-related delay last week. Extermination complete, along with a parade of sanitizing, this Milwaukee Bucks season is starting to feel as if there’s something slinking along the walls of the team preventing it from finding its typical groove. For every step forward, there seems to be a step back. How you view these losses is largely dependent upon your view of the regular season import — I’m of the opinion little of this matters — but that doesn’t make a 36-point blasting at home any less demoralizing in the moment. Anyway, let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 99, Cleveland 115 (Bucks Die By the Sword)
- Milwaukee 123, New York 108 (Bucks Close Out Knicks)
- Milwaukee 100, Denver 136 (Nuggets Obliterate Bucks)
- Milwaukee 112, Washington 98 (Bucks Make Wizards Vanish)
Fitting that this week started off on a dispiriting tone with the Cleveland Cavaliers big-balling their way past the Bucks. FWIW, I’m not sure Milwaukee’s offense has looked better all season than it did in the first 15 minutes or so of that Cavs game. Credit to them for keeping it close and overtaking Bud’s team. The Knicks sans Derrick Rose are sad, but the final score is a little out of whack with how close it was most of that game. As for Denver, everybody say it with me...”O-U-T-L-I-E-R.” Ah, the fanbase’s favorite word, but in actuality it was a hot shooting night for everyone across the Denver roster, fueled by a plethora of Jokic passes, and Milwaukee didn’t come close to winning the math game. What was nearly a dispiriting Wizards loss turned into a virtuoso Giannis performance, punctuated with a mammoth fourth quarter that bolted his team to the lead in the waning minutes.
As we inch closer to Playoff basketball, I’m trying to keep my eye on the larger prize to avoid frustration on a nightly basis with this relatively uneven season thus far. One of the key developments in progress this season has been Giannis Antetokounmpo’s increased commitment to a viable midrange jumper game. It served him well in the latter stages of last season’s Playoff run, and his Game Six performance feels etched into my mind with all those eek-inducing jumpers rolling through nylon.
Given increased focus on regular season reps in hopes it benefits him come April, May and (hopefully) June, I thought it pertinent to check in on how he’s performing this season. As a baseline for how his shot chart has evolved the past few years under Bud, here are shot charts taken from Cleaning The Glass. The top of the image is the rim, the bottom is the three point arc.
As you can see, he’s expanded upon his range from the “rim and threes” adage he employed to great success during his first MVP season. This year in particular he’s added jumpers, on the left side of the floor especially, to his repertoire. Here are his shot charts from NBA.com to compare how he’s performed in relation to last season.
*Stats do not include the February 1 game vs. Washington
I have to admit, I’m surprised by how decent he’s been shooting from many of the long midrange areas, and especially along that left baseline. I’ve generally scoffed when Giannis goes to that baseline turnaround jumper rather than bully his way into the paint, but he’s shot above league average from that area so I can’t fault him too much. He added a few more to the numbers above in that Wizards win too. That being said, the sample sizes are so small that even four more misses (like he had last year) dip the percentages pretty dramatically downward. Still, I’ll take an upward trend from a player who generally has trended upward across the board as his career has gone on.
On top of that baseline area, he’s also looked increasingly comfortable pulling up from the left side along the free throw line and atop the key. He’s right about at league average in those places, but it’s really more how comfortable he’s looked pulling up in those areas this season that gives me optimism. We’ve seen a lot of variations of the “Giannis pull-up jumper” over the course of his career, and his current iteration certainly has the least hesitancy I can recall.
Confidence is key when it comes to the postseason, and those reps will hopefully pay off for him. I can’t defend his continued proclivity to launch it from three, beyond the fact if it happens to go in the home crowd certainly gets right fired up. I still wince when I see him pull-up from beyond the arc though.
In broad strokes, the interesting thing about Giannis’s year is just how similar it is to last year. He’s shooting in a few different places per the shot chart above, but in terms of frequency he’s only diverted about 2% of his shots from at the rim to the midrange. And his accuracy (see table below) is nearly identical across the board, although his dip in rim percentage is a teensy bit notable.
*Stats per Cleaning The Glass
What does this all mean in the grand scheme of the season? Well, we’re on track for Giannis to take more midrange shots than ever in his career. One place that would be encouraging for some improvement is the short midrange area (4-14 feet from basket) or where I call his “hook shot zone.” He was 43% (43/101) in last year’s Playoff run, and it’d be nice to see that improve. However, his long midrange accuracy is quite positive, and he’s now got a decent sample size of success across the last few years. Over the past three seasons, he’s at 39.5% on 286 attempts from long midrange. That’s not a shot analytics will love of course, but that’s a solid enough percentage to make it a weapon when opponents sag off of him in the Playoffs.
The numbers may show similar results to past years thus far, but when I say he has more confidence, what do I mean? I suppose plays like this, I can’t recall many pump fakes to pull-ups through his history.
Play of the Week
We’ve got a couple of nice offensive sets, a pet favorite around these parts and a defensive sequence featuring the mini Milwaukee Bucks able to corral the mammoth Mitchell Robinson and force a tough shot.
Passing Makes Perfect
Here’s our requisite “move the ball around, good things happen” entry for the week. It opens with a quick ballet between Donte and Khris, who exchange a pocket pass for a behind-the-back dish that leaves the Cavs a bit off-kilter while their fellow Bucks space the floor along the three other blue squares along the arc. Donte takes Mobley off the bounce, and the weakside Cavs are caught rubbernecking. Garland and Osman would’ve been better off sticking to their men, Holiday and Connaughton, respectively given Donte’s penchant for mucking up at the rim and Mobley’s length. Instead, DiVincenzo makes a swift pass that’s well-timed to catch the Cavs off guard. Holiday makes one more rotation and Connaughton delivers.
A fan favorite, the Khris-Giannis pick and roll taking place outside the final few minutes of a contest is always a welcome sight for sore eyes. We’re used to it delivering a lob attempt for Giannis, a pocket bounce pass to Giannis for a lay-in (i.e. this beaut from against Denver), or Middleton getting an open shot as defenders sag off to disrupt Antetokounmpo. Instead, we get some weakside creation here from George Hill to make this play work. Middleton works around the screen, and Kemba digs over to ensure Khris can’t pull up, leaving a passing lane open to Hill on the left arc. He drives immediately, splitting Walker and Fournier who helps up from the corner. All the while, Giannis is lurking, tip-toeing into the lane with hands to the ready. Hill finds him, and Randle effectively makes a business decision making it appear like he was handling the guy in the dunker spot. Antetokounmpo makes quick work of that emmentaler interior.
This is a masterclass in communication between the Bucks most switchable trio of guards and wings in Matthews, Holiday and Middleton. Bud opts to go extra small here, letting Wesley Matthews get the matchup against Mammoth Mitchell Robinson. After the inbounds, some DHO action atop the key enacts our first switch while Allen sticks with the inbounder. Matthews and Holiday switch, leaving the point guard to deny Robinson, and fight through a screen set by Grimes at the free throw line.
Middleton sags in generously while Matthews monitors quickly on the perimeter. Khris tags Robinson on his drive while Holiday fights around the screen, then quickly fronts to prevent the pass in from Quickley for an easy dunk. Holiday switches onto Middleton’s man (Toppin) in the corner, but mostly helps double the backside of Robinson. As Quickley probes the interior, Middleton moseys up to meet him, denying his drive while Matthwes switches back onto his original man — Robinson — down low. Quickley has to bail out of the drive, Holiday prevents an easy pass to Toppin in the corner, and Allen contests a deep grimes shot for a miss.
Wonderful communication across the floor for this smallball crew to bide time until Bud could sub Giannis or Portis back into the game.
Giannis Magic Pass
Another wizard-like Giannis pass as he catches off the pick-and-roll with Jrue and somehow, someway uses the eyes in the back of his head to deliver a fairly on target bounce pass all the way to the perimeter for a Middleton triple. I can’t imagine the hand strength required to dish that.
That’ll do it for this week’s wrap-up. As always, thanks for reading and vote in the poll below for your favorite play of the week.
Feb. 2: The Play of the Week is...
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Passing Makes Perfect
Giannis Magic Pass