Twelve straight and a half-game back of the league’s best record at the All-Star break, with 24 games remaining is probably better than most Bucks fans (and myself) expected to this point of the regular season, and certainly better than what most saw a month or so ago. However, health remains an issue for this squad, but hopefully not with the same long-term concerns that previously swelled around Middleton before his most recent return. To that end, coach Mike Budenholzer didn’t refer to Middleton as someone experiencing a setback and is “overall not concerned,” but it bears watching over the break since Bud didn’t expect it. Middleton himself seemed unconcerned too, telling The Athletic’s Eric Nehm that this didn’t feel like the previous soreness he experienced into the new year. In the meantime, the Bucks are gett
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A+)
3 GP, 28.6 MPG, .473/.333/.633, 24.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 6.0 APG, 3.7 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG
As we wait for more news regarding his sprained wrist, let’s marvel at the casual nature of Giannis’ 36 and 35 in the week’s other two outings. Sure, his free throw shooting versus Boston (and missing a key layup up one with 23.8 seconds left) hurt a bit, yet he hit seven of his final eight attempts, including all four in OT. Before exiting last night, he managed to claim the Bucks’ all-time assist record too. Ideally, this injury isn’t serious but he enjoys a full week away from game action.
Khris Middleton: B+ (last week: A)
1 GP, 25 MIN, .438/.250/1.000, 16 PTS, 11 REB, 4 AST, 1 TOV, 0 STL, 0 BLK
Sitting out a SEGABABA last Friday and again last night with some more knee soreness—though Bud didn’t seem very concerned about it pre-game—Middleton was typically important in facing the Celtics, if not to the Boston Strangler standards of years gone by. Before hearing he’d be held out, I thought he’d reassume a spot in the starting lineup with Pat Connaughton’s scratch, announced the night before. Perhaps after the break.
Jrue Holiday: A (last week: A)
3 GP, 24.7 MPG, .481/.481/1.000, 24.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 7.3 APG, 3.0 TPG, 1.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
My goodness, Holiday went off on Tuesday. Though he shot well from the jump, he struggled a fair bit with turnovers and even defensively in that one, blowing multiple rotations and helping off shooters far too much, especially on switches. After a couple of bad possessions to start the second half, however, he went full flamethrower with 17 in the fourth and OT while putting the clamps on the previously-hot Derrick White (3/10 in the second half). In the less competitive settings facing the Bulls and Kawhi-less Clippers, he was much more muted as a shooter, instead taking on a big distributor role without the other two stars. Of further note: he had Zach LaVine in jail all night, holding him to 18 on 5/16 shooting. He also bullied Dalen Terry twice inside, his well-known strength likely encouraging the rook to go harder in the weight room.
Brook Lopez: A (last week: A)
3 GP, 30.1 MPG, .647/.467/.727, 19.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 2.3 BPG
Very quickly in LA and Chicago, Lopez asserted himself as a featured scorer both inside and out. After a few down weeks from deep—including an 0/12 stretch over the transition from January to February—he bounced back in a big way, highlighted by a few kill shots last night. However, his struggles in Boston are worth discussing. Primarily this was due to some frustrating foul calls (he seemed a bit targeted by officials at times), but when the Celtics sit Horford and only play Robert Williams 13 minutes, Lopez doesn’t have much of a place in those undersized environs. A fuller-strength matchup between these two teams will be a lot more telling when it comes to his playability in a potential playoff series.
Grayson Allen: B+ (last week: B+)
3 GP, 30.7 MPG, .429/.429/1.000, 10.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
A solid, if reserved week from Allen, who looks increasingly comfortable in defensive matchups even with a height disadvantage. Case in point: Bud trusted him enough to play him all but three minutes of the fourth quarter and OT on Tuesday, a nice vote of confidence after his much-maligned series against the (admittedly more healthy) Celtics last May. Though he took zero shots from the field, his on-ball defense and key steal late were palpable reasons the Bucks held on to win.
Pat Connaughton: B (last week: B+)
2 GP, 29.5 MPG, .500/.375/.000, 6.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.5 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Perhaps feeling it a bit too much in his left calf, Connaughton’s muted shooting and scoring numbers this week are mitigated by huge efforts on the boards. We’re used to this from one of the league’s better backcourt defensive rebounders, and while it didn’t break the bank last night, the Bucks could have used the help: the Bulls nearly outrebounded them, and finished with a 15-9 edge on the offensive glass.
Joe Ingles: B- (last week: C+)
3 GP, 25.9 MPG, .286/.235/.000, 5.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Though he’s in a bit of a shooting slump recently, Ingles also is helping out a lot corralling opposing misses during Portis’ and Giannis’ absences. Despite his five personals, including a bad one in transition, I actually thought he held up solidly against Boston thanks to his instincts and size. Those helped him with Chicago’s younger, more athletic perimeter players too, including when switched onto guards.
Jevon Carter: A (last week: B)
3 GP, 21.1 MPG, .654/.625/.000, 14.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Geez, Carter was absolutely roasting the Bulls in the second half, likely before plenty of family and friends in his hometown. His supreme confidence in his jumper found its way inside the arc too, as he created multiple shots finding separation from Chicago defenders. He struggled mightily with the bigger Malcolm Brogdon on Tuesday, though, and I still have my doubts about his playability in a Celtics series given their size. I asked Bud what he thought of Carter’s potential postseason role as a rotation guard vis-a-vis having the ball in his hands or working off-ball to find open looks, and the coach believes Carter will have to exist in both roles.
Wesley Matthews: B- (last week: B+)
3 GP, 16.2 MPG, .200/.200/1.000, 1.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Perhaps Bud wanted to avoid overexposing the reserve-heavy Boston lineups on Tuesday to Matthews, who likely will see plenty of minutes on those players if the two squads face off in the playoffs. He’s a decent connector and still has enough gravity to keep opposing defenses honest, so even one bucket in three games feels sufficient given his work on the other end.
MarJon Beauchamp: B (last week: D+)
2 GP, 18.5 MPG, .400/.250/.750, 6.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.0 TPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG
After some quality minutes in LA late last week and a sweet dunk that earned a weak T, Beauchamp saw early action last night. While he only notched two free throws, I thought he had several nice defensive possessions. His on-ball work was great, switched well, plus picked up a block and a steal.
Sandro Mamukelashvili: C+ (last week: B+)
2 GP, 15.5 MPG, .125/.000/1.000, 2.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Also pressed into early action, Mamu’s -16 didn’t seem too merited, perhaps colored by a strong effort on the glass. He tangled with Andre Drummond down low and avoided getting bodied by the larger vet, surprisingly holding his own throughout. He even worked well enough alongside Lopez at points.
A.J. Green: A (last week: incomplete)
2 GP, 12.8 MPG, .625/.714/.000, 7.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
In perhaps the finest game of his career, Green teamed with Carter to torment Chicago and its fans by torching the nets from downtown. It’s always nice to have that random bench guy who owns your favorite team and drives you mad, much like Gabe Vincent or Sam Hauser has for Bucks fans lately. More than any other of Milwaukee’s deep bench options, he buoyed their offensive production when it was most critical.
Mike Budenholzer: A- (last week: A)
3-0 W-L, 117.5 ORtg (15th), 107.8 DRtg (3rd), 9.7 NetRtg (4th)
As ever, there’s little to quibble about in another undefeated week, but some fans I took issue with Bud’s decision not to foul on Boston’s final possession of regulation with his team up three. I did initially too, but looking at the situation closer, it’s important to note that the Bucks had multiple fouls to give. Fouling Hauser once he put it on the floor would initially have resulted in a side-out with under seven seconds left on the clock and another chance to draw up an inbounds play. From there, Milwaukee would have had to foul once again to put whomever at the line, where it’s likely they’d have tried for an intentional miss. The safe route might have been to foul twice, but a putback off a missed free throw is a higher-percentage look than an above-the-break three, even from a great shooter like Hauser. That assumes the first free throw is made, but I can see the logic in not fouling twice. And though the Bucks executed an inbounds play flawlessly with 14 seconds remaining, taking seven seconds off before Holiday picked up free throws, we know what trouble they can have entering the ball from the baseline. Ultimately, and thankfully, this sequence didn’t matter.
Incomplete: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (2 GP, 6 MIN), Jae Crowder (DNP), Bobby Portis (injured)
Bud anticipates Connaughton to be able to play once the season resumes, and Portis has been going through workouts recently during his now eleven-game, three-plus week hiatus. With luck and a good prognosis on Giannis’ wrist, the Bucks team that takes the Fiserv Forum floor next Friday against the Heat could be in its most complete yet. Giannis’ participation—or lack thereof—in this weekend’s festivities in Salt Lake City could provide a clue. If he appears in anything, you’d figure that’s a good sign. If he doesn’t, there’s not much to be drawn from it.
One note: as you’d expect, this column will be off until two weeks from today.
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