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Milwaukee Bucks Quarterly Report: Halftime

Taking stock of what’s working (or not) midway through the season

Washington Wizards v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

As we reach halftime of the 2022–23 NBA season, it’s time for Brew Hoop’s second quarterly report! The second quarter wasn’t nearly as pretty as the first, but remember—the season is long and there’s plenty of time for the players to remember how to find the downbeat as they establish a rhythm.

Let’s jump in!

Second Quarter Summary

We are 42 games into the season, and the Bucks have struggled to play consistently during this second stretch of games, coming in at 27-15. That record is good enough for 3rd place in the Eastern Conference.

During the second quarter, our record was 11-9. Not quite the gaudy record of our first quarter (16-6), but things could be worse. Let’s take a moment and look at the spread of games across the four quarters.

  • Quarter 1: 14 home games, 8 away games (including a 6-game home stand)
  • Quarter 2: 7 home games, 13 away games (including a 5-game road trip)
  • Quarter 3: 11 home games, 9 away games
  • Quarter 4: 9 home games, 11 away games (including a 4-game road trip)

It could be argued that Quarter 2 was our most difficult schedule of the four due to the sheer amount of away games and the caliber of our opponents, but Quarter 4 is also going to be a doozy. That being said, the Bucks have struggled to play at the level we all know they can play at on a night-in, night-out basis. They’ve appeared tired and old, not being able to keep pace with the younger, high-flying athletes in the league. They’ve also struggled in the effort department, seemingly not giving it their all every night… especially against opponents they assume they can destroy without lifting a finger. And we all know what happens when you…

Just take a look at what Coach Bud had to say after a horrific loss to Charlotte last week:

Let’s break down the biggest reasons why the Bucks haven’t played up to snuff during this stretch: what’s gone well, what’s gone not-so-well, and what the future may hold. It’s time for The Giannis Quarterly Report, the Notables, and the Standout performances.

The GQ Report

In 33.7 minutes, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging…
31 points, 11.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 52.4 FG%, 65.3 FT%, 0.9 blocks, 4 TO’s

  • He rested 3 games this quarter, bringing his total on the season to 7
  • He had 5 games where he scored 40+ points, bringing his total on the season to 8 times he’s completed that feat (he had ten 40+ point games all of last season)
  • He scored a career-high 55 points against the Wizards

The Giannis Quarterly report shows us that the Greek Freak is continuing to do his thing. When compared to his stat line from the first quarter, things are largely unchanged, with the only notable change happening to his FT% (which has gone up by nearly 4%)

So, let’s talk about something in regard to Antetokounmpo’s game that is an area of concern: his usage percentage. He currently has the third-highest usage percentage in the league (36.9%). This is an area of concern because we want to make sure our superstar stays healthy and well-rested. We’ve seen the results of what can happen when the big guy gets gassed: for the first time in nearly 2 years Giannis scored in single digits against the Charlotte Hornets. He only took 7 shots in that game (wait, seriously? Yes, seriously) He then scored in single digits against the Hawks a few days ago. There could be lots of reasons why he didn’t play up to par during these two games, but to the outside eye, it certainly feels like fatigue could’ve played a huge role.

The Notables

No Khris = Problems
We saw an incredibly brief return by Khash Money that was a massively mixed bag, and then he returned to the bench due to knee issues. The Bucks are playing his injury very close to the chest, but he did recently get assigned to the Herd, which is an encouraging sign. Our offense has ground to a straight-up stop without Middleton on the floor, but it has started showing a bit of life in the last week. Can this team make a deep playoff run and win a championship without Khris Middleton? I think when the Bucks lost to the Celtics in 7 games last post-season, we all got our answer to that question.

One of Brew Hoop’s readers, Burt Snipes, said something smart recently in the comments, “The NBA isn’t about roster spots 4–15. It’s about roster spots 1–3.” This is very true, and it’s the most glaring-est of the glaring problems the Bucks currently face. Our second-best player has only played in 7 games this season, and it’s been nearly a month since he last played. If we can’t get our big three on the court together on a consistent basis, things will not improve. Full stop.

Antetokounmpo & the Bricklayers
The offense has become offensive, and it’s high time we talked about it. During the last 20 games, our offense sits at 29th in the league (23rd overall for the whole season), which is obviously not where we want to be. The Bucks have an offense that’s largely built around the skill set of Giannis. The formula is incredibly simple and a little boring:

Giannis attacks the basket.
Players wait around the 3-point line in case Giannis needs to pass out of his drive.
When Giannis passes out, that player knocks down a three.
Wash, rinse, repeat.

“Simple and a little boring” isn’t the problem. Sometimes the most effective strategies are simple and boring. (hell, that strat won a chip two seasons ago) The problem arises when those players on the perimeter start laying bricks, instead of laying waste to our opponents. And they’ve been doing so much bricklaying lately that they’ve built an entire house out of bricks and are currently living in it. Just take a look at the percentages of these higher-volume three-point shooters compared to last season:

Bobby Portis: 32% (compared to 39.3% last season) -7.3%
Grayson Allen: 38.7% (compared to 40.9% last season) -2.2%
Jrue Holiday: 38.1% (compared to 41.1% last season) -3%
Pat Connaughton: 30.9% (compared to 39.5% last season) -8.6%

Those numbers paint an ugly picture. Those four players are collectively hitting less than over 20% of the threes they hit last season (with Pat and Bobby being the guiltiest parties). As a team, we’re hitting 34.7% of our shots from deep so far this season (20th in the league) which has fallen off from last season (36.2%). The good news is that the Bucks have started converting more of their 3-pointers recently, averaging a much sexier 38.3% over the last three games.

HUSTLE & HUNGER…or the lack there-of
Now, it’s not necessarily easy to objectively say if someone is trying their hardest on the court. Sure, we can read the “signs” like a Rorschach: poor body language, lack of productivity, not getting back on defense in transition quickly enough, etc… but also like a Rorschach, everyone’s going to see something different. The things that are more beneficial to point to when stating a team isn’t bringing enough snarl to their growl are patterns. And boy, oh boy do the Bucks have some disappointing patterns.

Pattern 1: Blow Outs
We lost 9 games this quarter… 5(!) of those games were lost by 18 or more points, and they’ve all happened in the last three weeks. The Bucks have been sent home with their tails between their legs to the scary tune of 18, 21, 23, 29, and 41 points. If we had only lost 2 or 3 games by such disgusting margins during this stretch, I wouldn’t be crying “wolf!” but 5 games is enough to call it a pattern in my book.

Pattern 2: Clocking Out Early…Or Not Clocking In On Time
Over the course of the past 20 games, the Bucks have continuously fallen asleep at the wheel in arguably the most critical parts of games: the beginning and the end. There have been 6 games where this has happened by double digits. You’ll notice that the teams this happened with also show a concerning pattern…can you tell what it is?

  • Houston outscored Bucks by 10 points in the 4th quarter, we lost by 7
  • Charlotte scored a season-high 51 points against a sleeping Bucks squad in the first quarter and we never recovered
  • We gave up double-digit leads in the final minutes of the games against Chicago and Toronto, sending each of those matchups to OT. We snuck away with the W against the Raptors, but the Bulls snatched the W out of our hands
  • The Wizards outscored us 34-17 in the first quarter of a matchup AT HOME
  • We were outscored by the Cavs 35-20 in the first quarter

Did you spot the pattern? Every single one of those teams, besides the Cleveland Cavaliers, has a losing record on the season so far, with the Rockets and Hornets sporting the worst and second-worst records in the NBA, respectively. It sure looks like the Bucks aren’t showing up for work against opponents they don’t deem worthy of their attention. That’s a mistake, and Milwaukee’s record during this stretch of games is all the proof we need to call this a pattern.

Who Ordered All These Turnovers?
The Milwaukee Bucks need to wash the butter off of their fingers because the amount of times we turn over the rock to our opponents is unacceptable. I imagine this is a serious focal point for the coaches, and it 100% needs to be if it’s not. Milwaukee currently ranks 24th in the league in TOs at the embarrassing clip of 15.4 giveaways per matchup. Whether it’s the ugliest inbound passes you’ve ever seen or risky crosscourt chucks, the TOs are piling up. That is not championship basketball.

The Standouts

Brook Lopez
Splash Mountain is continuing to play very well through the midway point of the season. He’s coming in at second in the league in terms of blocks/game (2.5), and although he’s not converting from deep at the extremely high rate he was during the first quarter, he’s still splashing down 38.6% of his 3-point shots. He’s also been one of our most consistent in terms of health and availability, starting and playing in 41 of the 42 games thus far. Let’s just remember this is a 34-year-old who had back surgery not that long ago. He is straight-up kicking ass.

Bobby Portis
To be perfectly honest, the other players on the Milwaukee Bucks should be asking Bobby Buckets to point them in the direction of the downbeat because homeboy has never fallen out of rhythm all season long. Not only has Mr. Milwaukee played in every single game this season, but he’s also still averaging a double-double with 14 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. His name is also starting to pop up as an early contender to claim the 6MOTY award, which is exciting. Perhaps most impressively, Bobby is currently 5th in double-doubles on the season, with 25. You have to wait until you get to 25th place in the double-double race to find another bench player in the running (Russell Westbrook); everyone else on that particular leaderboard is a starter.

Who Else?
I don’t think any other player has stepped up enough during the past 20 games to be considered a standout. The only player who gave me pause about this was Jrue Holiday, who’s averaging good numbers and had two massive games in our last two matchups. But he caught a non-COVID illness and ended up missing 6 of the last 20 games, adding to our injury woes. For a few stretches, we had to play multiple games without our second and third-best players. Here’s hoping the guys get healthy and stay healthy for the remainder of the season.

In Conclusion

Even though this Quarterly Report talked about the things the Bucks need to tighten up more than it discussed the things that are going well, we as a fanbase should take a moment to reflect on our record last season at this point. Last season, after 42 games, we had a record of 26-16. We ended last season 51-31 and third in the East. So, even though there are a few things the Bucks need to address, they’re actually still on the right track to have a successful regular season.

Breathe deep, Milwaukee fans. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.