Undoubtedly, the Bucks made some progress this week. The offense is still not much to look at and the defense still has moments that make you scrunch up your face. But! Everything is working decently enough to string together wins, thanks in part to a steady procession of free throw attempts buoying an otherwise mediocre halfcourt offense. Credit where it’s due at the top for a much more respectable week defensively too. Ideally, these last few games get them into a rhythm and they can work out smaller kinks against middling teams before their first bout with the Celtics in two weeks. If they can fire on most cylinders by then, they might surprise us relative to the predictions we had for a Milwaukee/Boston clash a week ago.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A- (last week: B)
3 GP, 31.0 MPG, .509/.333/.600, 24.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 3.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 2.0 BPG
We’ll give him a pass for what was the weakest technical foul I can remember last night. Giannis’ other two efforts weren’t sterling, but highly efficient inside the arc (with an outlier three-point shooting night last Friday). Shifting to the drop zone more often means he’s a weakside help menace again and his block totals are up accordingly. No huge strides in his two-man game with Dame yet, but we see signs every night and they’re working on it off the court.
Damian Lillard: B+ (last week: B)
3 GP, 34.7 MPG, .400/.296/.943, 28.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.0 TPG, 1.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
After Giannis’ ejection, Lillard had to carry a starless team to a slim victory with a huge fourth, Trail Blazers-style. While he finally had a great night from deep on Friday, it’s time to start talking about his shooting and wondering when it will come around. At .400/.293/.929, this is the second-worst start of his career from the field through seven games, topped only by .349/.231/.926 in 2021–22. That was coming off a shortened offseason, however. By game ten, he was finding nylon more often.
Khris Middleton: B+ (last week: B+)
2 GP, 21.1 MPG, .555/.429/1.000, 13.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
His counting stats jump off the page more than last week, and it’s clear that the offense moves better in the halfcourt with Middleton on the floor as a connector. By his sixth game back after last season’s knee malady, he was playing 20 minutes per evening, so hopefully this is the week he ticks up to 25ish since they’re moving him along slightly faster. He looks better in this comeback than that of back in winter.
Brook Lopez: A- (last week: B)
3 GP, 29.7 MPG, .379/.421/.500, 10.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 4.0 BPG
Assuming the C.J. McCollum role next to Dame last night for the biggest shot of this season to date, Lopez’s jumper is already in tip-top form. Plus, Brook blocks are back now that he’s being used properly. Monday in Brooklyn was a poor matchup for him since the Nets went uber-small without Nic Claxton, so he shouldn’t be judged too harshly for that one.
Malik Beasley: C+ (last week: A-)
3 GP, 20.4 MPG, .385/.250/1.000, 4.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
I was all ready to recant my previous compliments of Beasley from this column last week, noting that while his best performances of the first four games came in losses, “he’ll make his mark in a victory before long because he fits the offensive role they need from the off-ball guard.” Then I gave him some props for at least trying on defense, and to be fair, he did come up with several steals. Well, after two very forgettable performances, he actually came up big last night with a couple late stops, surprisingly. Not much work from outside, though.
Bobby Portis: B+ (last week: B)
3 GP, 21.8 MPG, .375/.250/1.000, 11.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 TPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Another player whose jumper is rounding into form (though not yet from deep), Portis looked hyper-confident last night spearheading the second unit. Though he’s yet to record a double-double after so many in prior years, Griffin is getting a better feel for how and when to use Bobby Buckets, so a bunch of double-figure scoring nights should be to come.
Pat Connaughton: (last week: C-)
3 GP, 20.8 MPG, .429/.250/.000, 4.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Of the Bucks’ reserves, Connaughton is the only one not shooting above 40% from distance, which would be fine if he wasn’t still below 30%. He did, however, flash some athletic moves to the rim and had a few nice finishes, so he might need to rely slightly more on dribble drives for now. Otherwise, he doesn’t provide much value amid a shooting slump
Jae Crowder: A (last week: B+)
3 GP, 30.4 MPG, .542/.526/.600, 13.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Clearly, Crowder has Griff’s trust early on and is paying it off in a big way. As many know, he’s been prone to streaky shooting throughout his career, but when he’s on one, this is what it looks like. Though he’s not standing out on D and like many Bucks is having trouble keeping opponents in front of him, his scoring is making up for it, surprisingly. Most importantly: he’s fitting well in closing lineups.
Cameron Payne: A- (last week: B)
3 GP, 17.4 MPG, .455/.571/1.000, 6.0 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Though not as much as I was hoping with Lopez, I wanted to see Griff utilize Payne better, especially as a second unit creator. Aside from a goose egg vs. the Knicks, he had more success this week after getting the keys. He might be the Bucks’ best creator off the bench since... I don’t know, Greg Monroe once he left the starting lineup? That one season of Michael Beasley?
MarJon Beauchamp: A- (last week: A-)
3 GP, 18.7 MPG, .588/.444/.667, 8.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
I’ve really liked Beauchamp’s contributions on offense this year, shooting well from various points on the floor despite needing to learn how to jump off one foot when dunking. The main reservation I have about him in the starting and/or closing lineups is the number of whistles he’s getting while checking key opposing wings. Also, he’s having the same issue keeping his man in front of him, getting blown by a bit too much for a young guy. This seems more instinctual than physical, so maybe he’ll sharpen up over the coming months.
Adrian Griffin: B+ (last week: C-)
3-0 W-L, 116.2 ORtg (10th), 111.5 DRtg (13th), 4.6 NetRtg (8th)
No one can accuse Griffin of not trying to adjust right now, even on the fly. Obvious kudos for listening to his players’ advocacy for the drop scheme, but he probably needs to drill zone much more if he wants to run it this often. It sometimes looks solid, so it might be more about running it with the right personnel. Speaking of, I think he’s getting some decent rotations together, and even Payne + Lillard—who were both on the floor for the final ten minutes yesterday—lineups or bench-heavy groups are working out alright.
Incomplete: Andre Jackson Jr. (1 GP, 4 MIN), A.J. Green (DNP), Robin Lopez (DNP), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (DNP), Chris Livingston (DNP), TyTy Washington Jr. (DNP), Lindell Wigginton (DNP), Marquese Bolden (DNP)
I’m hopeful this will be the week the Bucks stop being outscored; they currently have the ignominy of being the association’s only team with a winning record and negative point differential. For the team to make appreciable defensive progress, wings like Beauchamp and Crowder simply have to be better about not getting blown by, and everyone has to be better in the fast break. The effort and speed just aren't there currently, but the first one can be more easily addressed. We’ll head to week three of waiting on the first big Dame + Giannis halfcourt outbreak.
How would you grade the Bucks’ performance this past week?
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What are some of your individual grades? Let me know in the comments below.