Hard not to be pleased with the Bucks’ 4-0 record since our last report card, vanquishing a range of teams in a manner befitting of a title contender. Similarly, I’m personally pleased with how the guys sanded off some of their rough edges. Jrue Holiday’s turnover issues subsided. The Big Three as a whole kept up their offensive production, and how! There was little room for it to slip against tougher opponents like Chicago and Phoenix, but their combined scoring averages were actually 8.1 PPG higher than the already outstanding 72.7 PPG they put up in the week prior to our previous installment. On top of that, the reserve corps scored much more prolifically thanks to Serge Ibaka’s rediscovered shot. Put those two together and you have the league’s top offense in the last seven days. Schematically, coach Mike Budenholzer has his defense largely doing the right things, mixing in zone where appropriate and not relying too heavily on switching. Perhaps most importantly, his long-held value of minimizing fouls really paid off in Chicago last Friday and again two days later. For me at least, this instills a lot of confidence for probable playoff matchups Philly.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A+ (last week: A)
4 GP, 33.7 MPG, 33.8 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.5 TPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG, .632/.417/.618
Credit to Giannis for mitigating his recent slippage at the free-throw line by draining some threes, but more credit for his sensational offensive week on the whole. Those numbers came even after a near-scoreless second half on Sunday, in which foul trouble (on some weak whistles) more than underperformance or stout opposing defense dampened a near-perfect first half. In the span of 27 hours, the man scored a whopping 82 points and is currently tied for the league lead in scoring. With some more massive numbers tomorrow evening, you’d be hard-pressed not to award him Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Khris Middleton: A+ (last week: A)
4 GP, 35.1 MPG, 28.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 7.3 APG, 2.8 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .566/.462/.941
It’s worth asking: did Middleton have a better week than Giannis? If Adam still ran a Player of the Week vote in his Wednesday piece, this may have been Middleton’s week on the heels of his other-worldly onslaught of buckets that put away the Suns. That 44-point line on 16/27 from the floor and 5/9 from three is certainly his best game of the year, and one easily comparable to his 40-point effort in the pivotal Game 4 of the NBA Finals when facing those same Suns.
Jrue Holiday: A+ (last week: A-)
4 GP, 34.9 MPG, 18.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 7.0 APG, 2.8 TPG, 2.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .452/.450/.900
Again, Holiday found another level in the fourth quarter in those high-profile tilts, teaming with Middleton to bury daggers into the hearts of the Bulls and Suns when either of those foes thought they had a chance to pull away with a lead (the two triples around the 6–7 minute mark on Sunday) or reduce their deficit (the last 5 minutes on Friday). This all negates a more uneven night against the Hawks, though he did quite well on Trae Young, especially in the first half. Turnovers weren’t nearly as big of a problem this week: not coughing the ball up at all in Chicago made him even more lethal.
Bobby Portis: A (last week: A)
4 GP, 31.1 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.0 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .511/.455/.857
I mentioned after the Bulls win that lately, Portis tends to fade away in second halves after big opening quarters, like after his 19 first-half points on Wednesday. This isn’t a huge problem, but it would be nice to see him knock down more catch-and-shoot opportunities that he often opens up for himself. As we all know, third quarters remain an issue for the Bucks, and the way to counteract that isn’t strictly defensively. More consistent output from Portis throughout all four quarters might make a difference. Still, these are very productive outings overall in most every appearance, highlighted this week by a 23-15 double-double against Atlanta (when he actually did hit a couple of important buckets after half).
Grayson Allen: A- (last week: A)
3 GP, 30.3 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.3 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .450/.400/1.000
During this long stretch where the Big Three have asserted themselves as top-flight scoring options, Allen settled into a new role where his numbers aren’t as gaudy as they were in November but jives pretty well in the starting lineup. Beyond his customary sharpshooting, he pitched in as a secondary creator on Sunday with 6 dimes in addition to some solid work on the glass, where he uses his athleticism well in skying for loose balls.
Serge Ibaka: A- (last week: B+)
4 GP, 17.4 MPG, 7.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.3 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, .522/.500/.600
With good reason, we worried about Ibaka’s absent offense for much of his first few weeks in Milwaukee. Though he was absent last Friday and on Wednesday night in that regard, his double-double on Sunday was very promising, and he managed to follow it up with a similar outing back in OKC. Double-digit statistics might still be scarce for him but I’m happy to keep him in this role with his continued strong interior defense (we finally saw some big blocks this week) and boxing out: the Bucks rank third leaguewide in DREB% since he debuted (up 4.7% from before the trade), and as Adam noted on Wednesday, the team collect a similar 4.2% more defensive rebounds when Ibaka is on the court.
Jevon Carter: A- (last week: B)
4 GP, 17.4 MPG, 5.8 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .471/.538/.000
It’s really pleasing to see how well Carter fit in recently. He may not provide much scoring most nights, but he hounds opposing ballhandlers with both intensity and skill, the exact combination you want from a bench stopper. Look no further than how much he frustrated Young in Wednesday’s first half. Bud already trusts him in late-game situations and maybe (just maybe) that’s not only because of his defense: I can’t say enough about his wherewithal to leak out quickly in transition to receive a pinpoint pass from Middleton beneath the rim, putting the Bucks back up 4 with 19.5 remaining in the Bulls W.
Jordan Nwora: B+ (last week: D+)
4 GP, 22.9 MPG, 7.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .444/.143/1.000
Bud was highly complimentary after Nwora’s fourth-quarter efforts on Sunday, and indeed it’s gratifying to see him help close out a top-tier opponent. What was unique about his work versus Phoenix was as much about what he didn’t do instead of what he did—and he did a fair bit, hitting all 5 of his attempts inside the arc. He’s deferring to better options among his teammates by passing up trickier shots, staying in motion by flashing to the rim often, and darting around screens. That’s led to meaningful minutes late into the fourth quarter of two close games. I doubt there’s much room for improvement from here, but that version of Nwora is useful enough while Connaughton and Lopez remain out.
Wesley Matthews: C- (last week: B)
3 GP, 16.2 MPG, 3.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .308/.143/1.000
Fortunately, Milwaukee didn’t miss his defense much in the Phoenix, which is about the only thing he brings to the table right now. Since February 1st, he’s shot a putrid 23.4% from the field plus 17.6% from outside, a far cry from the more sizzling 47.3% and 40.3% he notched over his first six weeks back in town. As a wing defender, he’s the Bucks’ best option currently not among the starters and playable in any game situation. While that role isn’t always necessary, he’s actually 100% more productive than the other option...
DeAndre Bembry: D (last week: B)
4 GP, 7.9 MPG, 0.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .000/.000/.000
At some point, we need to see something more from Milwaukee’s other buyout pickup. Yes, he was not brought here for his offense, but his reputation at the rim (76.7% in the restricted area last season) suggests he should be capable of more. He seems intent on not mucking anything up for the other four players whenever he’s in, which is always respectable when that group always includes at least one of the Bucks’ top 4 scorers, but he needs to find some way to contribute in the minutes he’s seeing. As with the Bulls and Hawks contests, he sometimes sees very few, but after a real stinker against the Suns (-11 in 9 minutes, only 1 rebound and 1 foul away from a Tony Snell) it’s hard to justify any, because he currently isn’t providing much—even sometimes hurting the Bucks’—defense.
Mike Budenholzer: A (last week: A)
4-0 W-L, 127.1 ORtg (1st), 113.5 DRtg (13th), 13.6 NetRtg (3rd)
We can nitpick stretches in almost every game recently where the defense was not up to snuff, and sometimes it’s due more to a faulty scheme than it is to poor execution. We’re still waiting for a week that features a great deal of lockdown defense, as we know they’re capable of. Ultimately, though, the offense is papering over everything so well. Bud’s half-court sets worked like a charm and were especially terrific in Phoenix: against one of the NBA’s best two defenses, they sported an ORtg of 112.9 in half-court possessions, in the 91st percentile league-wide. In all four victories, the Bucks generated quality looks from start to finish. Getting the defense to follow suit all the way until the final buzzer is something we may not see until the postseason, but until then, Bud is making the right calls to that end.
Incomplete: Sandro Mamukelashvili (1 GP, 9 MIN), Lindell Wigginton (3 GP, 6 MIN), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (1 GP, 4 MIN), Pat Connaughton (injured), George Hill (injured), Brook Lopez (injured)
Earlier I mentioned Portis’ disappearing act as games wear on. A commenter last week (apologies, I forget who!) compared his current offensive role on the team to Brook Lopez’s last season, which aside from the obvious fact that Portis assumed Lopez’s spot in the starting lineup, is pretty spot-on. Milwaukee often went to Lopez for early sources of scoring in years past to establish some dominance in the paint. The difference is that the Bucks could also rely on Lopez’s trademark dino-speed drives to the hoop, followed up by his crafty array of hooks or floaters, when the half-court offense stalled later in the game and they needed a bucket. Portis needs to involve himself in the offense more during such cold snaps instead of strictly camping out on the arc: he has a similar skillset inside with credible mid-post weapons of his own. I’m also looking to see how well Nwora, Carter, and Ibaka can keep scoring off the bench while the Bucks still lack their usual role players. Among the principals, I guess the only question is if they can somehow score even more?
How would you grade the Bucks’ performance this past week?
This poll is closed
What are your individual grades? Let me know in the comments below.