A blah week unbefitting of the holiday spirit is mostly what the Milwaukee Bucks provided during this latest stretch of games. So while I enjoyed the time off with family and friends, so did this weekly wrap-up. But the new year is here, and we’re just a shade more than a month away from the NBA trade deadline. Will this team make a move? Will they finally get some healthy time on-court with everyone involved? Only time will tell, but for now, let’s wrap-up a rotten week capped by 55 sweet notes courtesy of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 118, Boston 139 (The Ghost of Playoffs Past)
- Milwaukee 113, Chicago 119 (Giannis Comes Up Big, Then Way Short)
- Milwaukee 123, Minnesota 114 (No KAT Brings Bucks Catharsis)
- Milwaukee 95, Washington 118 (No Sorcery Needed to Defeat Bucks B-Team)
- Milwaukee 123, Washington 113 (Giannis Dominates Wizards with New Career-High 55 Points)
Boston beat us almost exactly as we saw in last year’s Playoffs. They got off threes, Jayson Tatum took advantage of smaller defenders; rinse and repeat. Chicago was a comedy of errors late, Minnesota gave us signs of life from Jingles, and the Big Three sat out against Washington the first time. Thankfully, we got a career-high scoring output against the Wizards to close this out, with one of the more dominating physical performances we’ve seen from Giannis.
I did my fair share of complaining about this team on our latest episode of The Brew Hoop Podcast, so if you’re looking for a pessimism dose, I direct you there. For the TL;DL crowd, my biggest concern is the one this season is all about: the offense stinks. For a team that’s routinely posted a top-ten to top-five offense in the regular season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league since December 1st. Extrapolate out to the whole season and they’re merely 23rd, a dismal mark for a team where any dynastic aspirations rest upon figuring out creating better offense in the postseason. No Khris Middleton and injuries are valid excuses, but I don’t think for this level of inefficiency.
But here comes the positivity I promised. Last Friday against Minnesota, we finally got a glimpse at the one notable piece this team envisions as a fixer: Joe Ingles. Granted, Ingles against Minnesota isn’t exactly the same test as carving up the Boston Celtics, but they’re an average team so far this season. I could even see an argument that without KAT and Rudy Gobert, they might’ve been even more switchable, rangy and well-equipped to hinder Ingles ability to read the defense.
Instead, he delivered the kind of floor general performance I feel like we’ve almost never seen in the Budenholzer era. Maybe more than any other play from that game, this one stood out.
Bobby Portis has made a living this season of getting to his spot on the elbow and bailing this team out of possessions with his shotmaking. With six seconds left on the shot clock, nobody would’ve thought twice about him pulling-up. This time, he found another way though.
Or how about this off-target pass to Brook that came right after another attempted pass to a rolling Brook.
It’s almost as if Lopez doesn’t know what to do with a pass designed to let him catch moving on the roll so his momentum can carry him to an easy bucket. Instead, it looks like he’s preparing for the ball at the free throw line on a stop and then he can try to figure out his next move. Yes, Jingles had some atrocious passing in the fourth quarter of that game, but timing and entry points is still clearly a work in progress with his teammates.
Most times when I watch this team’s offensive execution, I can’t stop thinking how effortful everything feels. Giannis crashing through opponents like a tackling dummy (sometimes that works to perfection!). Jrue bullying bodies in the post. Bobby attacking the offensive boards like a madman. So many times it feels like each individual player is punishing themselves for the sake of points. And there is some validity to that approach! This team is big, strong, and can overpower lesser opponents to the point that’s a large part of how they won their title.
I don’t think that needs to disappear, but what if occasionally there was an easier way to reach that same conclusion? Enter set-up man, Joe Ingles. Watching him against Minnesota, he seems to know how to reset the floor in critical moments. And when he can manipulate defenses, it turns Bud’s blue squares from a checkers board to chess, creating possibilities beyond stagnancy and set movements forward, backward or to the side. With all respect to Giannis (who has made clear strides as a passer and anticipates defenses better than ever), Jrue (who is underrated as an assist man in Milwaukee) and Khris (their previous best passer and reader of defenses on the PnR), Ingles sees the floor better than anyone out of those sets.
One reason I find Ingles so intriguing is the potential it wields for this team’s smallball lineups, especially against a team like Boston. In that ideal group, so often they have to spam the Khris-Giannis PnR because it’s lethal and Khris is their best PnR ball handler. Now imagine a world where instead of PJ Tucker spacing the floor, or Grayson Allen with his defensive deficiencies, it’s Ingles handling the ball, Giannis setting and rolling, Middleton spacing, Holiday in the dunker or cutting and Connaughton in the corner. I, for one, would like to see how that functions.
His 3-point shot finally came to life against Minnesota, opening up the possibility of punishing teams that go under screens against him. Defensively, it’s a testament to him that I saw Deni Avdija blow by him baseline on Monday and I took notice of it rather than resigning myself to it as par for the course.
It was one game. He’s 35, coming off an ACL tear and has been a non-factor for the majority of his time on the floor. He’s shooting 27% from three. The on/off numbers are at -3.8. His turnover percentage is a team-worst 24.1%. But in a season where it’s looking more and more like all we’ll get is glimpses of the team we hope will turn it on in the Playoffs, for one night we saw Jon Horst’s vision. Now we wait to see how it all ends.
Plays of the Week
I’ll admit it, I wanted to see a lot of Giannis dunks in this section, so that’s what I did. Plus a little MarJon sauce sprinkled in.
How could we not highlight this one? From the suave one-handed pass to the authoritative throw-down, this is a beauty I hope we see a lot more of.
The Rook Learning New Moves
The best part of this one might be that you can clearly see Connaughton communicating cross-court, pointing his fingers at MarJon telling him to go up and set a screen for Joe. But then, quick learner that he is, he sees Ingles dish it back up to Portis atop the key instead of use his screen. Identifying an open lane, he pushes his way off Kuzma flashing his hands up for Porits to make the entry pass and keeps his defender on his hip en route to a routine dunk. Savvy stuff we didn’t see early this season.
There’s nothing too fancy about this one, it’s just intelligent, fluid offensive basketball, the kind of plays Bud probably wants to see more of. Portis starts it off by flashing through the arc (with a faux-screen) to give Giannis an outlet on the left side. He swings it over when Portis’s man commits to him on a double, forcing the defense into the spin cycle as Bobby flips it to Pat in the corner. He uses a quick ripthrough and dribble to get past an off-balance Porzingis recovering. As he approaches the rim, Giannis sees Gafford dig down, taking his opportunity to pounce and fly to the rim. One drop-off from Pat and it’s another dunk for Giannis.
Yup, Another (Near) Giannis Dunk
Giannis near poster pic.twitter.com/8WJcUeWntB— That's a highlight (@ClipIt_NBA) January 4, 2023
It’s a bit of an uninspired week for me in terms of plays, but Giannis’s hellacious stretch of play right now is giving me enough chills I figured it’s okay to still highlight what would’ve been one unbelievable puncturing of a man’s spirit and the Fiserv rims simultaneously.
Jan. 4: The Play of the week is...
This poll is closed
The Rook Learning New Moves
Yup, Another (Near) Giannis Dunk
That’ll do it for another wrap-up! Let me know if you’re as bullish as I am on the Ingles fit in the comments below.