It’s another undefeated week as the Bucks’ second nine-game winning streak of the year has them a game beneath the Celtics for the league’s best record. Still, I feel compelled to say again that I don’t think we’re seeing this unit’s peak performance yet. Part of that is due to roster considerations (Jae Crowder’s addition will only help) and injuries (Bobby Portis, of course, but Khris Middleton’s workload is only up to 25 minutes), but it’s other on-court elements too. We know this team’s ceiling from deep, but they haven’t approached it much during the past handful of contests, even as the offense continues improving. Defensively, they end up with stellar marks by the final buzzer, but there are times they look disengaged. These factors and a few others lead me to believe there still have more doors to unlock, a good sign for the months ahead.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A+ (last week: A+)
3 GP, 31.6 MPG, .643/.143/.649, 32.3 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 8.3 APG, 3.7 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Following up a 54-point night with a 35-15-11 triple-double two days later is impressive enough, but moreover, Giannis got hyper-efficient this week. In that Miami game, he needed just 19 shots, and last night just 23 to reach 38. Everything last night looked effortless, so while you’d hope the Bucks wouldn’t need their star go nearly go for 40 against the LeBron-less Lakers (that's what happens when you shoot 25.5% from deep), it’s not as if he was working very hard. Even when looking slightly off by his recent standards in Portland, it was 24 on 14. All the while he’s had one of his season’s most impressive weeks as a facilitator. Could he win Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the third week running with another big showing in Los Angeles tonight?
Khris Middleton: A (last week: A-)
3 GP, 22.2 MPG, .558/.231/1.000, 19.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.3 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
On Thursday especially, Middleton looked fully back as both a shotmaker and passer (even if his assist total wasn’t high), staving off any Laker attempts to separate in the first half by dipping into his usual bag of jumpers. Once his three-point stroke comes back—he’s just 12/38 from behind the arc since his return on January 23rd—and he rejoins the starting lineup, the sky is the limit for this offense. I have my doubts he’ll appear in tonight’s SEGABABA, but what a good sign that will be if he does, even with three off days ahead.
Jrue Holiday: A (last week: B+)
3 GP, 34.1 MPG, .511/.350/.000, 17.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.7 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Taking a backseat to Giannis in terms of initiation at times, Holiday made his presence felt as a scorer during big moments this week when the team needed shots to fall. While the Bucks’ defensive success on Damian Lillard was more of a team effort with the other backcourt stoppers, he also shares credit for holding Tyler Herro to four second-half points and Jimmy Butler scoreless in Saturday’s fourth quarter as they turned up the urgency for a W. All told, not a flashy week for the All-Star, but doubtlessly an effective one.
Brook Lopez: A (last week: B+)
3 GP, 32.5 MPG, .516/.273/.667, 15.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 2.0 BPG
A big scoring night against the tiny, Nurkic-less Blazers was just what the doctor ordered on Monday, heightened by the way Lopez got to the line. Teaming with Giannis to frustrate Anthony Davis into quite an off-night, I saw consternation about not enough plays being drawn up for him among certain voices. This is what happens when they’re running the offense through Giannis and he plays heavier minutes. In Portland, the roles were reversed.
Grayson Allen: B+ (last week: B+)
3 GP, 28.9 MPG, .480/.429/1.000, 11.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Working through some cold spells last night but ultimately coming out ok, you’d be forgiven if you forgot how important Allen was when facing Miami six days ago as their most effective backcourt scorer. His defensive work alongside Holiday and Wesley Matthews was appreciated too, coming up with steals in two key moments. Now that the deadline is past and he remains a Buck, let’s see if he can ride the mental high of feeling wanted.
Pat Connaughton: B+ (last week: B+)
3 GP, 27.0 MPG, .440/.400/.000, 10.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.3 TPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Though his production dialed back as the week went on, Connaughton came up big in the week’s first two matchups as one of Milwaukee’s best two deep threats. With how well he’s been rebounding, it was surprising to see him not pull as many down given how stellar the Bucks performed on the boards lately, but nearly five a game is nothing to sneeze at for a guard. Single-game plus-minus isn’t often telling, but both he and Carter were the only Bucks below even on Thursday, so he could use a bounceback.
Joe Ingles: C+ (last week: A-)
2 GP, 19.4 MPG, .200/.125/.000, 2.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
While Ingles’ efforts on Monday were acceptable, if low-output (5/4/2), he had his first real stinker since New Year's Day at Miami’s hands on Saturday. He’d previously been in a pretty nice groove, especially with his shot, but perhaps he needed the break given to him on this back-to-back. He’s 35, after all. Nevertheless, the offense moves well when he’s in and even better when he plays alongside Middleton, making things easier for every Buck.
Jevon Carter: B (last week: A-)
3 GP, 16.4 MPG, .400/.417/.000, 5.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Another Buck who will look to correct an off night against the Clippers after a forgettable -10 in 14 minutes versus their cross-arena rivals, Carter at least flashed his once-per-week brand of quasi-volume scoring on Monday. To put it mildly, his offensive game and shot don’t always pass the eye test, but recently it’s been helping the Bucks more than hurting. Given how reliant on transition his shot selection is, I have my druthers about it in the postseason, though.
Wesley Matthews: B+ (last week: A)
3 GP, 21.3 MPG, .250/.250/.500, 3.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG
I don’t know how much longer Matthews will stick in the rotation, because he seems to benefit a lot from getting a week or two of light-to-zero work. Without that extended break through most of January (just 21 minutes in three games between 12/28 and 1/25), I’m not sure he’d be rebounding or defending at his current level. The good news is he’ll have a fellow Marquette alum to share those responsibilities on the wing with pretty soon.
MarJon Beauchamp: D+ (last week: incomplete)
2 GP, 9.5 MPG, .375/.286/.000, 4.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.0 APG, 1.5 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
The rook looked a lot more playable against the smaller Blazers in his (sorta) homecoming before a rough stint in LA, but this is all part of the rookie experience. It’s worth noting that after a good month of rotation action (16.2 MPG from 12/15–1/15), he surpassed his previous season's minute total in the G League and based on those two Miami games (one was a SEGABABA), kind of hit the rookie wall. His downtime since probably helped, though he also dealt with knee tendinitis. It’s reasonable that Bud is being careful with his minutes lately.
Sandro Mamukelashvili: B+ (last week: incomplete)
2 GP, 8.2 MPG, .500/.500/.750, 4.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 1.5 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Dusted off to tangle with the Lakers’ length down low, Mamu had a lot of nice moments both early and late, sticking in the rotation even as Bud tightened it in the second half. His best work came on the glass, but he threw some nice passes and even made a fancy-ish drive to the rim. That may have been enough to earn him a few more minutes until Portis returns.
Mike Budenholzer: A (last week: A)
3-0 W-L, 118.5 ORtg (9th), 107.5 DRtg (6th), 11.0 NetRtg (3rd)
As he works Middleton back into lineups, particularly alongside the other two stars and in clutch/closing situations, everything naturally looks better. ClutchRhino raised a good point in the comments about how he’s utilizing Lopez offensively, choosing not to turn him into a battering ram against teams like LA, even when Anthony Davis sat with foul trouble. Like Holiday’s increased defensive effort saps his offense, Lopez is such a critical part of the Bucks’ defense that it makes sense to shield the big fella from overexertion in the post, especially when they employ a pretty amazing scorer down low.
Incomplete: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (1 GP, 4 MIN), George Hill (DNP, traded), Jordan Nwora (DNP, traded), Serge Ibaka (DNP, traded), A.J. Green (DNP), Bobby Portis (injured)
Approaching the All-Star break on a high, the Bucks have unfinished business with two of their top rivals (well, one of those two is more symbolic than record-based) once they come back east. With a three-day weekend ahead, maybe Bud isn’t too concerned with load management this evening, just as he shouldn’t be overly concerned with extending the winning streak to ten. There’s a legit chance Crowder appears in either of next week’s games now that he’s physically in Milwaukee, though after nearly nine months between NBA appearances, it would be silly to make big judgments on whatever limited minutes he’ll play. Otherwise, I’ll be eyeing the next steps in Middleton’s ramp-up, both from a playing time perspective and with his three-point shot.
How would you grade the Bucks’ performance this past week?
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What are your individual grades? Let me know in the comments below.