The last time I published a Milwaukee Bucks Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up was February 1st. Sure, they had won five straight at that point, but five straight is piddly in NBA terms. Now, as I write this opening paragraph (before the Nets game), they have won 14 straight and dominated in my absence. And so it is with a heavy heart that I start in on this column once more after a much-needed break, knowing full well it will likely be the harbringer of a jinx to come, thus clipping the win streak short...
Thank goodness that didn’t work. Let’s wrap-up!
The Week that Was
- Milwaukee 128, Miami 99 (Bucks Rout Heat)
- Milwaukee 104, Phoenix 101 (Giannis-less Bucks Put Out Suns)
- Milwaukee 118, Brooklyn 104 (Super Second Half Fuels Bucks Comeback)
I’m skipping the whole host of games the past few weeks, but all I’ll say is that the 106-105 Clippers win and Heat win on February 4 should not be forgotten as some of the most impressive wins of the year. Miami really wanted to win that game, and the Bucks just took it to them late to close it out. As for this past Heat contest, well, I can’t remember a time I’ve seen this Bucks team (which plays fast) look that much like hares compared to Spo’s tortoises. I’m not sure if Miami was collectively hungover from All-Star Break or what, but it looked like two teams playing completely different games.
To follow that up with a bit of Finals deja vu against Phoenix, with Jrue Holiday coming up clutch on the defensive end once more and Brook putting it to them inside, oh how sweet that was. Those teams consistently deliver exciting games; I’d be down for a Finals rematch. Milwaukee was discombobulated early against Brooklyn, but their talent won out in the end with the Nets going cold from deep.
There’s not as much to wonder about a team that is consistently pulling out clutch victories, occasionally blowing the doors off teams, finding their groove on offense (their Pts/Poss. mark during this win streak would be nearly tops in the league over the course of the full season) and remains an absolute horror defensively. About the only thing to wonder about right now is health, which Mitchell already covered.
Another question remains playoff rotations, but early returns on Jae Crowder have answered some of those queries already. If you peek past this winning streak, one note in particular stands out compared to Bucks of the past: Khris Middleton. Once a marathoner who boasted some of the highest minute totals in the league (thanks J-Kidd!), he’s been put on an incredibly slow process back to full health.
I’m trying to think of other scenarios around the league where a star player of Khris’s ilk has taken this long of a ramp-up period while remaining as a bench player. Kawhi Leonard was coming off it for awhile, but that didn’t last nearly this long from what I recall. In theory, I can understand it. Bud let’s Giannis and Jrue dominate the early minutes, even subbing in Joe Ingles before Khris at points, giving Middleton a chance to truly run the show while those two are going through their rest periods. OR has been making this point for a few weeks, but Middleton’s 30% usage is indicative of him having a heavier hand on the wheel during his time on the court.
I bet few Bucks fans would guess that Khris is actually posting the highest usage percentage of his career (29.5%) per Cleaning The Glass. (Editor’s note: I pulled this data before the Brooklyn game) He’s also at his greatest assist percentage, not too surprising given he’s being asked to be such a heavy playmaker during his time on the court. While I remain concerned about him being able to reach 40+ minutes per game consistently in the Playoffs at this pace (he averaged 39.5 in 2020-21), he’s carrying a heavy burden while on the court at the moment. Is that enough of a stand-in for endurance? Probably not, but it could be a glimpse at how Bud is planning rotations in the playoffs, with Middleton potentially subbed out early in the first so he can swap back in late in the quarter to run with the subs he’s used to playing with.
At the same time, when paring down to 2-man lineups on NBA.com, you can see that Middleton’s played the most minutes alongside Jrue (250), Brook (230) and Giannis (223). The net ratings of each of those (salt required given 2-man lineups miss a lot of context), 10.2, 19.0, 7.8 respectively.
If you look exclusively at lineups where Khris, Giannis and Jrue have been on the court together, they are +9.9 pts/possession differential, per Cleaning The Glass. So, ya, I’m dubious that Khris will remain any sort of supersub when those three stir the drink.
However, I remain curious how this ever-inflating usage rate parade will turn out when the postseason comes. Here’s the player’s current marks this year and what they had in the Championship run in parentheses.
- Giannis: 39.3% usage (31.7% in 2020-21 postseason)
- Khris: 29.5% usage (27.5%)
- Jrue: 28.4% usage (25.7%)
At some point, something’s gotta give, and I still want to see what it looks like for Giannis to have his usage tamped down over an extended period of time.
Plays of the Week
The Heat game was such a disaster for them I actually didn’t find all that much that stood out — the Bucks just enforced their will and couldn’t miss from deep. Here are the plays that stuck out to my untrained eyes this week.
I’ve really enjoyed some of the actions Milwaukee’s used with its best players flying in from the opposite corner to collect the ball. Usually it’s Giannis fleeing into the lane, but here the Bucks do something real obvious and simple. Just set a ball screen for Khris and add some misdirection. Holiday feeds Crowder on the right side of the arc, then starts his cut directly into the lane past an off-ball screen by Brook. Simultaneously, Khris starts his run up from the corner and Booker already is lagging behind him. When Booker calls for help and takes a split second to cut in and lightly tag a cutting Holiday, he’s already too far behind to catch up. Brook blocks him with a screen and Middleton has a wide open three that just doesn’t fall.
The Block (Brook’s Version)
Remember when Giannis guarded the Alley and the Oop back in Game Four of the NBA Finals? Well, Lopez did his own cover of that play in the Phoenix game. With Chris Paul getting more than a few steps on Ingles after a high screen by Ayton, Brook has to move up to meet him on the floor and prevent him walking into an easy floater. The second he does, Paul identifies it and flips a bounce pass to Ayton as he rolls into the lane. Unfortunately, as with two years ago, Ayton can’t even get the shot off as Lopez somehow recovers to the other side of the lane and straight-up blocks a 7-FOOTER jump shot.
You get a pass...and YOU get a pass
With Milwaukee down 94-86 at one point, they clawed back behind defensive intensity and two corner triples from Crowder. But sometimes, that last bucket to tie the game or take the lead is the hardest to get. Here, they had to work for it, but we got some beautiful basketball en route to the two. It starts with Middleton on the left block holding his normal office hours, but he dimes up Jrue with a behind the back pass. Holiday corrals it on the move with his left hand, and without skipping a beat whirls it to Crowder in the corner. He immediately swings it to a wide-open Ingles, who uses the scrambling Suns defense to pump fake and pass Okogie and Paul en route to the rim. After a gather and Ayton commits, Holiday makes himself available on the other side of the lane in the dunker spot and flips it in for the tying bucket.
I’ve been most surprised by Crowder’s passing so far out of his game, particularly a pass to Brook Lopez in the post against the Suns. But this pitch-perfect dish from the Nets game to Giannis in transition was another example of a basic skill he can bring on the offensive end. We can’t take perfect lob passes to Giannis for granted.
You see guys like Pat Connaughton here frequently do a sort of cursory screen at halfcourt for the ball handler to make it easier for them to get it up the floor. It’s not as often I see that immediately turn into an action at that level of the court. The play works because Brook brings his man to the 3-point arc as well, but the Nets defenders never really communicate about who has Pat. Suddenly, Khris has three players in his face and delivers a beautiful bounce pass through traffic for Connaughton in stride. By that point, Dorian Finney-Smith is too late to recover and it’s See Pat Dunk from there on out.
Mar. 1: The Play of the week is...
This poll is closed
The Block (Brook’s Version)
You get a pass...and YOU get a pass
That’ll do it for another wrap-up.