Since absences from Giannis and Khris Middleton meant we didn’t quite see a playoff rotation, we’re still not close to determining Milwaukee’s pecking order for that group. That’s just fine and dandy because the five or six reserves in contention for those minutes continue playing outstanding basketball, joined by same-as-he-ever-was Pat Connaughton. As expected, Jevon Carter didn’t shoot over 70% from the field and from three this week... but he came close! Brook Lopez also had some nice scoring evenings, establishing some rhythm with his shot. Bobby Portis has still yet to do that, though. Expectation-wise, those three players are in similar spots to last week. Defensively, the Bucks continue to trend upward largely thanks to the efforts of those two big men and Serge Ibaka inside. It’s a good time to be hitting their stride on both ends, with high-level opponents ahead.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: B+ (last week: A)
1 GP, 30 MIN, 25 PTS, .750/.500/.667, 17 REB, 5 AST, 9 TOV, 1 STL, 3 BLK
We’ll start this week by looking at two isolated performances from Giannis and Middleton. One cannot look past the nine turnovers, even if they were in a bit of a blowout, which knocks down a solid A. More concerning, though, is the real chance he could miss tomorrow night’s tilt in Memphis. While Bud says it’s nothing serious, recent comments from Giannis suggest we should keep an eye on it.
Khris Middleton: B+ (last week: A)
1 GP, 26 MIN, 15 PTS, .462/.429/.000, 7 REB, 5 AST, 3 TOV, 1 STL, 0 BLK
Better news on Middleton’s availability after the All-Star missed the past two games with wrist soreness. His 15 points on 13 shots is less efficient than we’re used to from him, but by no means bad. There were more reasons the Bucks got smoked by the Wolves than Middleton’s muted night, though he could have checked Anthony Edwards better.
Jrue Holiday: A (last week: A)
3 GP, 29.4 MPG, .563/.400/.714, 21.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 8.0 APG, 3.3 TPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
In that Wolves matchup, Holiday did merely ok on D’Angelo Russell and was similarly underwhelming on offense, but his next two made up for it. Aside from 6 turnovers on Wednesday evening (his fourth quarer was a bit too sloppy, even for playing the toothless Wizards), this was more of the high-impact play we continue to enjoy during to this regular season. There are many deserving guards for All-NBA spots, but Holiday is at least worth a mention in that conversation too, though he won’t make the cut. Once more, though, he appears destined for a spot on one of the All-Defense teams.
Brook Lopez: A (last week: B)
3 GP, 24.2 MPG, .500/.200/.857, 12.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.7 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 1.7 BPG
He’s baaa-ack! That’s what I’ve been waiting to say, rather than “his back!” For all the hemming and hawing about Lopez’s injury, I long felt optimistic that not only would he return this season, but also to form pretty quickly. At no point was there any indication that his malady was nerve-related (a more worrisome back problem, like Ibaka’s last season) but given how long he’s worn that lower back brace/heating pad upon being subbed out of games, it looked like nothing new. Indeed, Lopez himself attested that he feels much better now, likely after playing with similar soreness for years. Perhaps this isn’t visible yet in his outside shot, but everywhere else on the court, he’s the Lopez we’re accustomed to. As a rim protector he’s still elite. His usual array of post maneuverabilty and crafty 6–8 foot shots are certainly no less effective either. Maybe his shot selection last night wasn’t great, but moreover, he’s a reliable third or fourth option.
Grayson Allen: A+ (last week: A)
3 GP, 24.3 MPG, .667/.615/1.000, 14.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.7 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Much like earlier in the season while the Big Three each missed time, Allen moonlighted as a featured scorer twice this week, posting the kind of production we recall so fondly from late 2021. Naturally, his shooting was lethal from outside, but on Tuesday he attempted not one shot outside the arc. Instead, he attacked the paint with aplomb after getting Bulls defenders to bite on ball fakes, converting once he got to the hoop. This is the kind of versatile offense that Allen can more reliably provide than Donte DiVincenzo ever could, and though he needn’t do much more than shoot or move off-ball when the Big Three is intact, it’s great to know it’s there. I’d like to see more of it during minutes where two of Gianns, Middleton, or Holiday sit.
Bobby Portis: C+ (last week: C-)
3 GP, 25.7 MPG, .370/.167/.000, 7.0 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Obviously the shooting is still an issue, but Portis showed signs of breaking out of his swoon on Wednesday. He sank his only three point attempt after missing 15 of his prior 16, but had plenty of success in the paint against his two former teams as well. Benefitting from Lopez’s return, he was prolific on the boards in each contest. Lopez is famously superb at boxing out—an area where Portis struggles—which always props up team rebounding numbers,and it’s a lot better to have Portis corralling rebounds than trying to tip misses to teammates.
Pat Connaughton: A+ (last week: injured)
3 GP, 22.0 MPG, .481/.458/.889, 15.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
How much did that fractured fourth metacarpal actually matter? Connaughton buried triples at his usual stupendous rate on a plentiful diet of 8 attempts per game. His minute load is quickly about where it was pre-injury too, meaning he unsurprisingly kept up his conditioning even without the use of his shooting hand. That also appears to have had no impact on his typically- great rebounding. He even got to the line nine times in two games after not attempting a free throw since January 21st.
Wesley Matthews: A- (last week: B)
3 GP, 22.9 MPG, .500/.500/.500, 6.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
A few items in the box score from a Tony Snell Game last night, but overall a very productive week from a rejuvenated Matthews, whose arrows are finally flying again with regularity. For the second time this month, he spearheaded the Bucks’ defense of Bulls scorer DeMar DeRozan, whose struggles with Milwaukee deepened. Lest we forget that DeRozan shot 18 free throws (equaling his 18 field goal attempts) in these teams’ first matchup in January. After the Bucks cut that total to 5 a few weeks ago, officials did not blow their whistles once for DeRozan’s benefit this week. Matthews deserves a lot of credit for this, plus for his help on Zach LaVine.
Jevon Carter: A (last week: A)
3 GP, 19.8 MPG, .667/.571/1.000, 8.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
It’s getting to the point where we have to talk about Carter as one of the league’s most impactful buyout additions. He certainly benefits the Bucks more than Goran Dragic does the Nets, and not just due to his insane shooting numbers. On/off numbers attest to the impact, where his net rating (small sample size alert) of +5.0 crushes Dragic’s +0.3. The box scores for Carter weren’t quite as gaudy this week, but he’s managing to contribute in varied ways even as his playing time ebbs: his rebounds and assists are rising.
Serge Ibaka: A- (last week: A)
3 GP, 18.9 MPG, .409/.364/1.000, 9.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Setting aside that stinker of his in Minneapolis, Ibaka’s ensuing outings were big parts of two of Milwaukee’s best bench games in months. Picking up the scoring (and shooting) slack from Portis in each, he and Connaughton both helped the Bucks outscore opponents by well into the double-digits while they played. Just putting this out there: Ibaka is both outshooting and outscoring Donte DiVincenzo (on a per-36 minute basis) since the two swapped teams at the deadline. It remains to be seen what he’ll mean to the team this postseason, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest it’ll be more than anything DiVincenzo could bring to the Bucks, as presently constructed.
George Hill: B+ (last week: B)
3 GP, 14.0 MPG, .566/.000/1.000, 4.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Thanks to Carter, Hill can take it nice and easy as he works back into the rotation, and the Bucks don’t need to rely on him for all that much. As per usual, Milwaukee continues outplaying foes while he’s on the floor, and he’s healthy enough to drive inside or work from the dunker spot. After playing long stretches of this season and last without much point guard help behind Holiday, the Bucks suddently have an embarrassment of riches there.
Jordan Nwora: C (last week: incomplete)
3 GP, 14.5 MPG, .286/.286/.000, 3.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
With injuries to the star forwards ahead of him on the depth chart, Nwora had the chance at meaningful minutes versus Minnesota and Washington, but couldn’t do much with them. What stats he did put up at the Target Center came mostly in the fourth quarter, with the game well out of reach for Milwaukee. On Wednesday he was a non-factor.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: B (last week: incomplete)
2 GP, 8.2 MPG, .800/.000/.500, 5.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Those garbage-time minutes that Nwora received? Thanasis was out there with him, and he did stuff! Two putbacks and a dunk! Here, have a B.
Mike Budenholzer: A (last week: B+)
2-1 W-L, 118.9 ORtg (9th), 111.6 DRtg (9th), 7.3 NetRtg (5th)
I thought Bud deftly used his depth (try saying that five times fast) while missing Giannis and Middleton to navigate two blowout Ws, trotting out some really effective lineups as he mixed newly-healthy reserves into and among the starting group. It’s nice to see that success reflected in their ratings, and note how they place them relative to the rest of the league, even after being mauled by the T-Wolves. With Lopez healthy, Bud regains his preferred defensive looks. With that comes both a massive paint and rebounding advantage, like we’re accustomed to. Will that special sauce still work against some big time opponents in the week ahead? It certainly looks like a recipe for success.
Incomplete: DeAndre’ Bembry (injured), Sandro Mamukelashvili (DNP), Lindell Wigginton (DNP)
I mentioned this last week: though he’ll lose one chance to prove this with Ja Morant’s injury keeping him out tomorrow night, but I’m looking to see if Holiday can have a signature two-way game while defending James Harden and Kyrie Irving this week. With Matthews and Carter around, plus a healthy Hill, the pressure won’t be completely on him to stop these dynamic scoring guards. That’s the individual progress I’m looking for most this week, aside from Portis getting his shot back. Now that he’s back in the starting lineup, I’d also like to see Lopez’s offensive fit among that group, when it’s whole. Along those lines, let’s first verify that Middleton and Giannis are both healthy.
How would you grade the Bucks’ performance this past week?
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What are your individual grades? Let me know in the comments below.