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Roundtable: Midseason Check-In

Milwaukee Bucks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Welcome back to yet another installment of the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the pugs from the table, thanks. The Milwaukee Bucks just hit the halfway point of the 2022–23 NBA season and sport a pretty dang good 27-15 record, third in the East and 2.5 back of Boston. How do we feel about our preseason predictions, and how do we feel moving ahead? Belly up with us to the 42nd Game Roundtable Spectacular!

Looking back at our last edition of the roundtable, anything you would take back from the start of the season?

Van: Welp, I certainly whiffed when estimating how their offense would rank. I feel somewhat vindicated in my prediction of a 7th-ranked defense—which appears to be bearish!—after Morgan and Riley thought they’d hew closer to average. I didn’t think Middleton would miss this much time after his wrist rehab was interrupted by the tragic death of his father, then coming down with an unrelated injury after just seven games. Still, I probably shouldn’t have just assumed that they’d stay top five after consecutive finishes in that group, even when I was operating under the (reasonable) assumption that Middleton would return by Thanksgiving. Today they sit at 23rd and getting to 15th by April would be a huge W.

Kyle: Joe Ingles is definitely not washed and might be the x-factor for Milwaukee’s offense come playoff time.

Mitchell: I feel pretty comfortable with most of my stances from the beginning of the season, even though the extended absence of Khris Middleton has made the offense look even worse than expected. We knew it would be bad, but not this bad and not for this long. One curious thought I had while reviewing the last post was the likelihood of Giannis Antetokounmpo winning his third MVP this season and the juxtaposition of the overall reputation of his play (not anywhere near his full capability!) and the fact that he’s averaging a career-high in scoring. Who else could average 31.0 points and have it be considered a “down year?!”

Morgan: I stand by my predictions that the offseason would render us healthier (imagine how much worse it would be with a shorter, Olympics-infused offseason!) and Brook is cooked (he hasn’t been as seismic as of late, and it even rhymes!).

Adam: I said Giannis would be most improved on the roster. Get your tomatoes ready to toss.

Gabe: I wouldn’t really rescind much. I’m content with a majority of my predictions and some are bound to be wrong. However, while I did know that the absence of Khris Middleton would impact the Bucks, I do think it’s imperative for him to have a strong impact if they want to make it out of the East.

The trade deadline is one month away. What, if anything, does GM Jon Horst need to do for the Bucks to have their best shot at another ring?

Van: I’ve been somewhat encouraged by the modest offensive progress in recent games, but that sample size is too small for resting on laurels. Another shooter would certainly be welcome, preferably one who can bring something else to the table; be it shot creation, facilitation, defense, or a combination thereof. They need this mostly on the wing, so that player needs to work alongside various permutations of Giannis/Middleton/Ingles, meaning someone who can play both the 2 and 3 if needed. This will cut into minutes for Beauchamp and perhaps even Connaughton, though.

Kyle: A guard who can be the primary ball handler if Jrue is on the bench.

Mitchell: Please, no defense-first wings. The defense isn’t the problem this team will face in the playoffs: it’s the offense. Ball handling and offensive creation are where the Bucks need the most help, which is why Joe Ingles’ acclimation has been such a pleasant development. Unless the team is convinced that a healthy Khris Middleton, plus Ingles off the bench, plus a dash of competent George Hill minutes are all going to be enough, then Kyle has the right take here. We’ve got size, strength, and even shooting, but we need some skill in the backcourt.

Morgan: Honestly, I’m less concerned about the present than the (immediate) future. We’re the oldest team in the league, it shows, and we’re not getting any younger due to our dearth of draft picks. If Horst can spin some quasi-assets for draft picks without making a dent into our playoff stable, I think that’s the best path to another ring—just in a future year.

Adam: Maybe lobby Peter Feigin to hire even more trainers for Suki’s staff to focus exclusively on Khris. I know Horst probably will make a move given his nature, but I haven’t been enamored by any names bandied about. To me, this team is fine as constituted and I’d be most curious if, as Morgan suggests, it’s possible to get some fringe assets or a young flyer. This team’s biggest issues have been self-inflicted—turnovers, lack of intensity getting back on defense, Giannis being less efficient—I think that’s more important than another piece.

Gabe: A guard would be the route to go. However, I really think it’ll be a quiet trade deadline, just due to the sheer overpays some teams have committed (looking at you, Minnesota). However, Horst has surprised us when his back has seemingly been up against the wall before, so I won’t be surprised if he makes a big splash of some sort.

What’s been the biggest surprise—positive or negative—for you about this team so far?

Van: Sadly I have to bring up the three-point shooting. A very similar cast of Bucks finished last season with the fifth-highest 3P% in the NBA at 36.6%, a year after finishing fourth with 38.9% during the mostly crowd-less (hence a better shooting background) COVID year. Given their playoff struggles, perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised with the downtick, but I generally find their looks to be pretty high quality, so some positive regression should (hopefully) come. More surprising I guess are the turnover issues, but I’ll expand on that below.

Kyle: Brook Lopez likely being the non-Giannis MVP wasn’t what I expected mainly due to lingering concerns about his back surgery would be my answer.

Mitchell: Jevon Carter is not the same player he was at the beginning of the year, and not in the way we all hoped. The Bucks’ resident Bulldog started hot, but his cooling off has led to a crisis of confidence that seeps into the whole offense when he’s handling initiating duties. We wanted him to be the backup point guard that Milwaukee needs to give Jrue Holiday a break, either a breather on the bench or moving off-ball when on the court; he’s too small for his skill regression to make playing him worthwhile. Here’s hoping that Jevon rediscovers himself.

Morgan: I’m glad that the Third Quarter Hijinks have been put to rest. It’s really psychologically refreshing to not have a quarter of play associated with doom.

Adam: The turnovers. My god the turnovers! They’ve never ranked worse than 11th during Bud’s tenure in terms of TOV%. At 24th this year, the miscues have been by far the most infuriating part of this season for me.

Gabe: I was expecting Brook Lopez to have an impact with a full season under his belt, but never did I think he’d perform this well. He truly is the glue that holds this team together. He’s so clutch on the defensive side of the ball and at the rim. It seems like his teammates and coaching staff are always talking about his importance at every availability — and rightfully so.

All-Star voting ends on January 21. Will the Bucks have another representative aside from Giannis? Should they?

Van: Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought Lopez’s chances were pretty good. He’s had a slight dip defensively lately, but his scoring numbers remain good and the East is pretty thin at center. Yes, I know centers get grouped in with forwards to create the “frontcourt” category, but coaches still often select an actual backup center. How else would Nikola Vucevic and Rudy Gobert make multiple All-Star games? Lopez’s main competition behind Embiid is Bam Adebayo, whose case is stronger and might be the Heat’s only representative, though has had injury issues lately. However, if the Bucks skyrocket to the top of the standings in the coming weeks—always a possibility with their talent, even with recent inconsistency—then I think they’ll be rewarded with a second selection. Holiday’s been on a tear lately, but I think coaches will be more likely to nominate Lopez based on his season-long performance.

Kyle: Unless there’s a massive list of injury replacements, no.

Mitchell: Khris hasn’t played, there are too many worthy guards for Jrue to earn a nod, and Brook Lopez isn’t going to lobby for it so he’ll be left off despite an entirely All-Star (and perhaps All-NBA) worthy campaign.

Morgan: Brook missing the All-Star nod would make me feel better about my preseason prediction of him being cooked, but I hope he makes it. I think he should. He probably won’t. No one cares about defense.

Adam: I’d love to see Brook or Jrue get in, but like most of the other staff, I think Milwaukee’s going to miss out on it. Their best chance is to go on a run in the next few weeks and I think Holiday could squeeze onto the end of the bench.

Gabe: Would it be fun to have Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez join Giannis? Yes. Will it happen? No. However, as Morgan said, stars in this league lead by their offensive play, making it a tough battle for Lopez to earn the nod.

With Middleton’s return seemingly close and Allen’s ankle sprain not appearing serious, what concerns you more than anything else about this team today?

Van: It’s gotta be the turnovers. Under Bud, the Bucks have long taken good care of the ball: though they finished 10th one season at 15.1 per game, they otherwise were league average or better. Their TOV%—adjusted for pace—was always in the upper half of the league, though. This year they’ve coughed it up 15.5 times, or on 13.5% of every hundred plays, both among the league’s worst. While pretty similar on paper to last year’s better-than-average roster in terms of ball control, players like Carter are in different roles due to the Middleton injury, and Giannis’ passing seems to have regressed a skosh. More reliable ballhandling could come from better availability, but many players have been pretty careless with the rock in the early goings this year. I partially chalk that up to a laissez-faire attitude to early-season games, but I do think that as the games mean more, Giannis and Holiday need to work on their court vision.

Kyle: The team continues to be closer to being called the Cream City Bricks.

Mitchell: Can I get a consistent post entry pass? Please? The number of turnovers that come from piss-poor passing is astounding. Van has all the stats above, but honest to goodness, I just want the offense to be able to move the ball without getting a case of the butter-fingers.

Morgan: We’ve looked old. We’ve been an old team for a while, but it has never been more apparent than in blowouts at the hands of lesser, younger teams. Perhaps even more concerning than the blowouts is that it seems to require more bone-creaking effort to manufacture wins than in previous years. I don’t like what that portends for the playoffs. Also: shout out to my colleagues for teaching me a new word (“skosh”) and pointing out the irony of repping Cream City when we are called that for literal bricks.

Adam: I already harped on the turnovers, so I’d say it’s Giannis’s inability to hit a shot outside the restricted area. He’s hitting 28% in the midrange (4–14 feet & out to the arc) and 25% from deep. The Bucks won’t win a title if he can’t find his rhythm from there again.

Gabe: It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster this season and he’s shown improvement, but I’m still sort of curious about Giannis’ free throws come the postseason. He’s gotten called multiple times for ten-second violations, and I’m wondering if the raucous environments will impact him.

Is anyone on this roster cooked? Is it who you thought it would be?

Van: Hill apparently dropped over ten pounds with his recent illness and Matthews seems to be wrapped in plastic until the playoffs, but both have looked decent enough at points this year for me to say it’s not them. I think it’s Ibaka, which I didn’t expect since he’s younger than that duo. He’s played two games since Thanksgiving and miiiiiight be unhappy about his role, but with how poor he’s looked during most of his action this year, I can’t blame Bud for benching him.

Kyle: After having two rookies surpass him in the pecking order on the wing, Jordan Nwora’s career is definitely cooked. Like you made a steak and someone said congratulations level cooked.

Mitchell: The only player on the current roster who can do less on the court than Serge Ibaka is Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and even then his sideline celebrations are worth the price of admission.

Morgan: I called Brook cooked and that went real well, so I’ll call Khris cooked and look forward to him averaging 50 per game once he’s back.

Adam: Serge the chef is cooked.

Gabe: I agree with Adam. Serge has been a total non-factor.

Has your preseason prediction for how the Bucks will finish changed at all? If so, how?

Van: Regular season-wise, I forecasted 54-28 with the second seed, and both are still well within reach. In fact, they’re bang on pace for that record with a 27-14 first half. East champs was my postseason expectation and it will take more than a .500 record in the last month to change that. Let’s try not to make “more” happen, ok Bucks?

Kyle: I predicted 52-30 and third in the east so I think I’ll stick with the record but the Bucks finish as the 2 seed. Durant’s injury will allow Milwaukee to jump ahead of Brooklyn.

Mitchell: I guessed 52-30 with the East’s 2-seed, and I’m comfortable with that prediction. As long as they shake out of this lengthy slump by April, they’ll be fine.

Morgan: My prediction of 53-29 is a touch south of our current win percentage, but we are indeed sitting pretty in third. In the three games that Khris actually plays, I think he’ll be good for one win, which will scooch us to 53 wins, and what better way to reach the finals by beating the Nets and Celtics on the road?

Adam: I had 50-32 and the third seed. I still feel pretty good about that given the ups and downs of this team.

Gabe: I guessed 51-31 as the third seed in the East. That’s where the Bucks are currently slated as I type this article, and I feel pretty content with that response.

We’ll circle back to these takes again as the regular season concludes and reconvene once again as the deadline nears. Until then, what are your thoughts on the above? Copy/paste the questions below and us know in the comments:

  • What takes do you wish you could rescind from the start of the season?
  • What, if anything, does GM Jon Horst need to do for the Bucks to have their best shot at another ring?
  • What’s been the biggest surprise—positive or negative—for you about this team so far?
  • All-Star voting ends on January 21. Will the Bucks have another representative aside from Giannis? Should they?
  • With Middleton close and Allen’s ankle sprain appearing minor, what concerns you more than anything else about this team today?
  • Is anyone on this roster cooked? Is it who you thought it would be?
  • Has your preseason prediction for how the Bucks will finish changed at all? If so, how?