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Milwaukee Bucks Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up

The first Utah win in over 20 years? *Arches eyebrow*

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Is that the scent of a contender wafting through your monitor? The Milwaukee Bucks are surely starting to pass the smell test, with the notable exception of the continued third quarter doldrums. Brook Lopez, the mighty mountain in the middle looked like his particular brand of nimble. George Hill, well, he’s back on the court. And Pat Connaughton is shooting sans cast. Piece by piece, last year’s champions are looking more and more like their Voltronic selves of yesteryear. Maybe celebrating a 21-year gap between wins in a particular location should cause some sad reflection about franchise malaise rather than sheer joy... but it’s good vibes only around Bucks parts these days. Let’s wrap-up.

The Week That Was

For as poor as the Hawks have played this year, Trae Young traipsing downhill in a pick-and-roll remains one of the most precarious defensive positions you can be in. Thankfully, Milwaukee took down their EC Final foes last year for the first time this regular season by neutering Young for the first half. The good vibes featured a momentary blip on Saturday evening, but even then, I suppose there was some happiness to glean for the Klay comeback story. It would’ve been nice for it to come against the Wizards two days later, but alas. The Bucks defense wasn’t crisp that night and they were pounded on the offensive boards by a team that had no business giving them the business there. Utah provided a calming salve, especially after Milwaukee trailed by merely two following 10 3-pointers from the Jazz through quarter one. Jrue Holiday took control in the late third and fourth to get that historic win for the franchise.

Weekly Wondering

On the heels of the Utah win, one of the frequent discussion points was providing Jevon Carter his flowers for some clutch free throws, and more interestingly, that Bud wanted to give the freshly acquired point guard those meaningful minutes at all. Throughout the season, we haven’t really seen Bud settle on a “preferred” closing five.

I notice a lot of national coverage tends to focus on this specific aspect of team-building. Does a coach have five core players they trust that can take the team across the finish line? In reality, I think it often shortchanges the fact that it’s really difficult to find five players who you can trust to not hinder you on the defensive end, but still offer enough offense to avoid bogging down at a time when the game gets boggy as hell.

What we’re really discussing here is how will Bud replace PJ Tucker in closing lineups, and who does he trust. For this exercise, we’re going to avoid looking too deeply into the actual performance of clutch lineups, since those small sample sizes are so prone to variance. You could also argue that we should be looking at the totality of fourth quarters instead of clutch (last five minutes; game within five points), since someone like Giannis usually does most of his league-leading scoring work in the leadup to these minutes. But, I’m most concerned with lineups in the highest of high-stress situations, the types that swing championships a la Games 4 and 5 of the Finals.

As a starting point to see what the Bucks are trying to replace, here are percentage of minutes each Bucks player was on the floor in the clutch for last postseason. Out of 44 total clutch minutes:

% of Time on Floor in the Clutch (20-21 Playoffs)

player minutes % of time on floor
player minutes % of time on floor
Giannis Antetokounmpo 44 100.00%
Jrue Holiday 44 100.00%
Khris Middleton 44 100.00%
Brook Lopez 30 68.18%
Pat Connaughton 23 52.27%
PJ Tucker 22 50.00%
Donte DiVincenzo 10 22.73%
Bobby Portis 2 4.55%
Bryn Forbes 1 2.27%

What stands out first is that Bud passed the obvious test, keeping his core three on the floor for every clutch minute. More surprising to me is Lopez ranking fourth in minutes. I knew he was vital, but for some reason my memory remembers more smallball than there was in actuality during those pivotal moments. It’s an important reminder about the importance of Brook getting back up to speed for this postseason. The other old faithful is Pat Connaughton, who more than proved himself last year and is beyond reproach, to my mind, as a key part of closing groups. I’d expect him out there closer to 75% of the time these Playoffs.

While 44 clutch minutes may seem small, if you look at the top team in terms of clutch Playoff minutes for the last decade, it averages out to 49.8. Ergo, if the Bucks were to make another run, it’s not out of the question to expect a similar amount of clutch minutes.

So, how would they go about filling them? 44 minutes per player = 220 total clutch playoff minutes to allocate around. Between PJ’s 22 minutes and Donte’s 10, that’s 32 minutes to re-allocate elsewhere, or roughly 14.5%, with the caveat there are probably a few more minutes needed as well between Brook’s back and that Pat likely won’t play 100% of clutch minutes.

But let’s go with that 14.5% figure, which isn’t all that much, and see how Bud has filled out the clutch rotation this regular season. They’ve played the 4th fewest regular season clutch minutes this year, out of 99 total clutch minutes:

% of Time on the Floor in Clutch (21-22 season)

player minutes % of time on floor
player minutes % of time on floor
Jrue Holiday 79 79.80%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 74 74.75%
Khris Middleton 74 74.75%
Pat Connaughton 58 58.59%
Bobby Portis 52 52.53%
George Hill 44 44.44%
Grayson Allen 35 35.35%
Wesley Matthews 27 27.27%
Jordan Nwora 25 25.25%
Donte DiVincenzo 5 5.05%
Serge Ibaka 5 5.05%
Jevon Carter 4 4.04%

The most hilarious part of this list is, of course, Jordan Nwora, but credit to him for sticking through the clutch minutes of that (team) win last week. The only reason the big three aren’t at 100% is missed games this regular season, of course. Out of this group though, a few obvious candidates emerge to potentially fill out the closing five:

Bobby Portis

Portis has taken a leap for this team this season, and offers clutch three-point shooting, some OREB skill and a general gravitas that could meet the moment. He’s also a target defensively in the pick-and-roll, so I’d expect switching aplenty if he were taking Brook’s place. I’m doubtful Bud would put him in with Brook and Giannis for a jumbo lineup in these high-leverage minutes.

George Hill

One of Bud’s most trusted soldiers, Hill offers dependability and a semi-consistent 3-point shot. You don’t expect him to create offense, but he shouldn’t cost you possessions and he’s one of the more passable guard defenders on the roster, plus a more solid option than Grayson. I think Bud will lean into him, and the Bucks have played well with him in the court. He gives you some length at the guard spot if you want to stay small; and I could also see Bud opting for him to fill Connaughton minutes if Pat doesn’t have it one night.

Grayson Allen

Next on the list in terms of clutch minutes, Allen has seemed like the player most often tossed aside by Bud when it gets to nut-cuttin’ time in a game. Allen offers much in the way of offensive gravity, keeping weakside defenders occupied and honest as he moves around the arc according to whichever playmaker is penetrating inside. He’s the most potent offensive option among these backcourt pieces, but he also brings the most questions defensively. He’s prone to mental lapses either losing his man, not navigating screens with reckless abandon and getting blown or bullied by. I wouldn’t mind a bit more trust in hm from Bud.

Wes Matthews

Wes hit two triples against the Jazz and it seemed like an outburst. His offensive stock is at its nadir, and if he can’t hit deep shots in the Playoffs, teams are going to generously sag off him to the detriment of Milwaukee’s late game halfcourt offense, which is often quite clogged enough. He is a veteran though, with big game experience, so maybe the shot will come back to him. He’s their finest defensive stopper though, the closest approximation to PJ Tucker in that he would allow them to switch pretty capably 1-5. Can that tenacity offset offensive ineptitude? Tucker only shot 32% from deep in last year’s Playoffs...can Wes?

Jevon Carter or Serge Ibaka

The newcomers, I wouldn’t expect Serge in these minutes unless something happened to Lopez. Carter obviously got run against the Jazz, and his full-court pressure and ability to slither around screens and rear-contest is an asset. I don’t fully trust his 3-point shot though and he’s also quite, quite small, making it harder to switch when teams start hunting him with anyone around Kevin Huerter-sized offensively. I’d lean more towards the options above.

We’ve run through everyone, so now I leave it to you…who do you trust come clutch playoff minutes this year?

Plays of the Week

As Kyle noted, I thought the best course of action was to discard the Warriors tape. So instead we’re going through a few plays I enjoyed from the Hawks and Utah W’s. We’ve got a highlight slam, the return of Brook Lopez and a couple of Grayson triples that came out of his persistent movement to the arc.

Giannis Left-Handed Oop

This one won’t make any X’s and O’s hall of fames, but it does feature a truly hard to comprehend level of athleticism and hand control from Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s aided by equally uninspiring defense from the Hwaks, but the set is simple. Giannis dishes the ball to Khris, while Holiday and Portis space on the weakside to keep Huerter and Collins honest. From there, Giannis feints like he’s going to follow Allen’s screen on Okongwu directly into the paint, but instead puts on the stutter step as Allen gets a forearm into Okongwu’s back. Already, it’s too late. Trae Young is too small. John Collins is too late. And Giannis’s arm length is just right to slam it home.

Grayson Emerges from the Muck

One of the reasons I like this play is it features a mosh pit in the paint. Khris inbounds to Giannis, who promptly hands it back off to Khris atop the arc. As that exchange is happening, Carter presses play on The Menzingers by bringing his man as close as possible to Grayson Allen. He sets a screen on Okongwu, who’s sagging liberally off Giannis, and Gayson adds to the melee by blocking Okongwu with a screen of his own while Giannis tries to flash along the baseline and give Khris a target down in the paint.

As Middleton swings around the screening action, Allen’s man (Huerter) is now so preoccupied with Giannis flashing and Khris potentially going downhill, he completely forgets to communicate with Okongwu who is still in pursuit of Giannis. Allen takes full advantage of the mental lapse, sprinting atop the arc for an open trey from Middleton. Ibaka even gets one more screen in for good measure.

Unselfish Jrue

Another solid opening game set from Mike Budenholzer here, which starts with Holiday cycling the ball to Giannis, then it goes onto Khris along the left arc. Right after Holiday passes, Bud’s blue square dance starts, with Jrue flying down to the dunker (through an Allen backscreen), while Bobby cycles up from the corner. Holiday is wide open under the basket on the catch, but senses Mitchell (and more likely Gobert) approaching, so he gathers as Allen backpedals to the arc. Allen’s man, Conley, has already abandoned him, and Holiday finds Grayson for the triple.

First look didn’t work, improvise and find something even better.

Brook Back

Man it feels good to have Brook’s massive frame doing the both arms octopus dance as he backpedals in pick-and-roll coverage. We couldn’t get through the week without highlighting the big man’s return, and this play was a perfect encapsulation of how he plays the drop versus the other moonlighters this season. His man sets the screen for Conley above the arc, and Conley has plenty of momentum and space to go downhill.

Holiday is in pursuit but Brook gets his frame low, starts shuffling parellel to the lane lines facing Conley directly, forcing him to keep dribbling until the last second when he dishes to Gobert. From there, Brook is right beneath the basket, in perfect position to contest and retreat to his man. With Giannis helping from the weakside, one of the league’s leaders in field goal percentage misses a bunny. Brook back.


Once again, that’ll do it for this week’s wrap-up. Only a few more editions of this to go before we call it quits for the Playoffs. Vote in the poll below for your preferred play of the week.

Poll

March 16: My play of the week is...

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Giannis Left-Handed Oop
    (19 votes)
  • 7%
    Grayson Emerges from the Muck
    (6 votes)
  • 3%
    Unselfish Jrue
    (3 votes)
  • 64%
    Brook Back
    (51 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now