And finally, we begin to emerge from the forest of cognitive dissonance we had led willingly led ourselves into. Initial assumptions about everything from how good the defense would be to how quickly a new-look offense would come alive now like look illusions meant to be broken. The process of their demise led directly, and understandably, to a fair bit of hand wringing as our dreams and our reality drifted ever further apart.
But just because things didn’t play out the way we imagined doesn’t mean, thankfully, that there weren’t viable alternatives available. Look no further than Milwaukee’s 22-7 record, seven-game win streak, top-five offense, and (GASP) 16th-placed defense, all indicating that the ship of state is moving in the right direction.
While the whole operation isn’t exactly smooth yet, per se, I think the most encouraging thing about the first third of the Bucks season is that a roster which looked impressive on paper is proving to be just that in-person. No critical dynamo or dynamic has emerged to carry the operation, but that may prove a blessing in the future — if the Bucks lived and died on a single pairing or singular action they’d open themselves up to having that look blitzed relentlessly. Instead, a collective has stepped into the breach; disparate, but collective nonetheless. It can look aesthetically unpleasant at times and continues to be effective in spite of its warts.
So a new plan is coming together. At times it has looked like the Milwaukee Bucks had no plan at all. Thankfully, looks can be deceiving.
Milwaukee Bucks Links
I’m coming around to the idea that pick & roll may not be the end-all, be-all engine that will drive Milwaukee’s offense forward. It behooves the players to work on it from time to time just so they can competently run it when called upon in close games, but the whole idea of anchoring Giannis to a ball handler an inordinate number of possessions runs anathema to the way he has played for years. Giannis is a big man who has a penchant for avoiding “traditional” big man play; why wouldn’t that apply to being anything more than an occasional participant in traditional pick & roll looks, too?
Intangible things like time to spend with family belong in categories we can never quantify in terms of impact on how players play. The value of it is different for different players, but from everything I read it seems to be of extreme importance for Lillard. That he’s picked up stakes from the place he called home for over a decade and has to do it without his kids (and in the midst of a divorce) surely weighed and continues to weigh on him. Unsurprising, then, if all that hindered his adjustment to an entirely new professional setting on top of it all.
‘He’s been playing his role perfectly’: Why Khris Middleton is the Bucks’ third key to success (ESPN)
A nice article doing its best to encapsulate Khris Middleton’s season so far, including the early ups and downs that came with heavy minute management. That fourth quarter performance against the Rockets was refreshing not only because of the victory it led to, but simply as a reminder and evidence that Middleton can flip it on late when he’s most needed. Of all the “fit” troubles Milwaukee may have had, finding a place for Khris on offense shouldn’t be one of them.
I frankly have no idea why the above phrase was put in quotes because I don’t think I heard either analyst say those words. Still, it seems observers of the wider league are beginning to come around to what the Bucks are cooking. Winning seven straight and nine of the last 10 helps, but those wins didn’t just happen by accident. There is plenty to be positive about!
Know Your NBA Enemy
New York Knicks - Posting & Toasting - Quick shout out to Donte DiVincenzo
Donte is a classic conundrum player who can address many lineup problems without ever getting you to the point of thinking he’s “solved” a major issue. He fits in everywhere on both ends of the floor adequately and wows you occasionally enough to think he’s bound to take the next leap. A serviceable spot starter is a pretty good career outcome, all things considered.
Brooklyn Nets - Nets Daily - ANALYSIS: Which Nets are playing well with others?
Interesting data visualization work here, if nothing else. Unsurprising that Spencer Dinwiddie has been yet again cast in the role of a glue guy — he’s been filling that spot for years across multiple teams in spite of the few weaknesses in his game. Still, the Nets sit around .500 and on the margin of the playoff field. Are they a prime candidate to ship a few serviceable guys off come the trade deadline?
Cleveland Cavaliers - Fear the Sword - Making sense of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ puzzling offense
More charts for review, this time on shot quality/quantity across the league. The data is a little old since this article was published on Dec. 16th, but the shift in Cleveland’s approach is apparent. Former-Buck Sam Merrill has even carved himself a niche role as a three-point gunner, appearing in 16 games and shooting 45.3% from three. He just scored 27 points on Dec. 20th against the Jazz; proof positive that there’s always a place out there for dudes who just make threes.
Comment of the Week
Couple of winners this week. We’ll start with Wuzh who was responding to Blazers fan ratbastird with some Dame observations:
He seems to save his energy on the defensive end for most of the game but in close games 4th quarters he definitely ups his effort which is encouraging.
I think the biggest thing that I didn’t anticipate is the assists he is bringing to the team. Not only for others by being a great option to pass to, but also his passing ability to others. It’s been impressive the stat lines he has accumulated this year.
Truly, I love watching this guy cook. I think the most pressing thing that Bucks fans are watching is both the coaching and the defense. If we can improve the defense and have a system everyone knows and can execute, we have a shot at the title. I haven’t really worried about how Dame would fit in, he’s just too damn good for him not to.
And an honorable mention to Crew828 for so aptly breaking down why it is that there is less to say about the Bucks when they win seven straight v. when they lose two:
An unexpected thing about winning the title a few years ago is that it makes winning titles the only actual priority and the regular season is more something to casually enjoy and get through. People were a lot more active it seems prior to the team achieving that, but now winning is expected and there is not a lot to say. But dont worry, a two game losing streak will liven things up, I promise.
The addition of Dame has absolutely made the regular season more interesting. Hes been incredible to watch and has kept me 100% freshened up the interest of watching the team
The Social Media Section
Happy holidays, King
I will follow him to the gates of Hell
Under-discussed dimension of unity between Giannis and Dame: Motivational statements
Ben Stiller is a Bucks/Beasley fan, confirmed
Thank you for saving the season
Riley’s 2023-2024 Regular Season Prediction Record: 16-13
Milwaukee Bucks 2023-2024 Actual Regular Season Record: 22-7
We’ve reached Christmas Day which means more Bucks basketball on national TV:
- @ New York Knicks, Monday — 11:00 AM CT
- @ Brooklyn Nets, Wednesday — 6:30 PM CT
- @ Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday — 6:30 PM CT
I’m feeling pretty confident in another perfect week. The Knicks continue to have no practical answer to the Bucks, we’ve already beaten Brooklyn on the road back when the team had no clue what it was doing, and the Cavs have injury troubles out the ear. That would get the Bucks to a 25-7 record by the new year while keeping pace with the Celtics for first in the East. Not bad for a complete work-in-progress!