Alas, the win streak’s end was a bummer, but it seems not to have taken much wind out of the Bucks’ sails since. Many of their role players are riding waves of high production, reintegrating guys who missed time pretty seamlessly—mainly Bobby Portis and Jae Crowder. Right now, the middle of the roster is doing some heavy lifting and taking some pressure off the stars, who frankly need to be a bit better. Each of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday struggled with something this week, but Milwaukee nearly won all four because the likes of Brook Lopez, Joe Ingles, Portis, and Crowder picked up their slack.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A- (last week: A)
2 GP, 35.8 MPG, .469/.000/.818, 28.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 8.5 APG, 5.0 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 2.0 BPG
On the one hand, these counting stats and free throw numbers (on 33 attempts) are excellent, not just by Giannis’ standards. On the other, the efficiency and turnovers were a real problem as last Saturday’s contest concluded. Like we’ve seen a few other times this year, Giannis can have an outstanding game in whatever aspects, yet still cost them a victory late. The larger concerns of his lingering wrist soreness—which coach Mike Budenholzer says are unconnected to the sprain before the All-Star break, for what it’s worth—probably aren’t to blame here, especially since he’s lacked touch from the short-midrange all year. He’ll likely be back to start this road trip, and as he’s done after each short break he’s taken from the court, will look to quickly reestablish his MVP case.
Khris Middleton: B (last week: A-)
3 GP, 29.1 MPG, .333/.222/.938, 13.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Tuesday’s line of 24 on just nine attempts is a picture of efficiency, thanks to all those free throws, followed up by last night’s rough outing back at Fiserv. However, Middleton’s ancillary offensive contributions can’t be overlooked, even after sandwiching duds around the best game of his interrupted season. Even against Brooklyn, he was a major orchestrator in Milwaukee’s recently flowing offense, where enhanced ball movement routinely finds plum shot opportunities. His efficiency has always waxed and waned—5/19 nights were never uncommon in years past—so he’ll remain a key component now that he’s back in the starting lineup. The room for improvement has to come defensively; he still possesses the strength to be effective, but a couple of his lapses helped seal the Bucks’ fate late versus the Sixers.
Jrue Holiday: A- (last week: A+)
3 GP, 34.2 MPG, .594/.526/.889, 18.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 9.0 APG, 2.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Bud mentioned that Holiday’s neck issue is a bit ongoing and not serious, but perhaps it led to the point guard’s relative invisibility an evening ago. Uncharacteristically, he rarely hunted his own shot and have his typical defensive impact. In that regard, I also thought he really struggled to contain Bradley Beal on Sunday too, though he made up for it on the other end. Moreover, this was still a good week overall for him thanks to his huge night in the Philly loss as Milwaukee’s most potent offensive weapon. Even during the defensive collapse in the fourth quarter, he had some important moments on both ends. Until I see more from Middleton and Giannis, right now he appears to be the Bucks’ best closer.
Brook Lopez: A+ (last week: A)
4 GP, 32.7 MPG, .547/.474/.750, 22.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.5 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 4.0 BPG
Falling one block shy of the NBA’s first points/rebounds/blocks triple-double in over two years, Lopez might just have catapulted himself back on top of the Defensive Player of the Year odds after last night. Amid his most productive scoring and shooting stretch of the year, he was Milwaukee’s primary option with their leading scorers scratched, harkening back to his New Jersey/Brooklyn days. It was wild to see Net defenders glom onto him last night whenever he received an entry pass inside the arc, essentially in the same manner that opponents deal with Giannis. The mothership has more on Lopez’s refound offensive versatility, with tons of great footage of him operating in the pick and roll—where he’s increasingly effective when pairing with Ingles—or as a driver.
Grayson Allen: A- (last week: A-)
4 GP, 30.9 MPG, .500/.462/1.000, 14.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Outside of ho-hum efforts in the last two, Allen was a lethal off-ball shooter for stretches this week, notably in the third quarterback on Saturday. Given that, it was perplexing to see the Bucks—namely Giannis and Middleton—barely feed him the ball as he played nearly the entire ensuing quarter as the lead slipped away. He added another clutch three late in a close game the next night after some sensational ball movement from that closing lineup, so perhaps the stars took note. While he may not partake in most late-game situations in the playoffs depending on the opponent, his recent work in those scenarios means he can’t just be tossed aside when things get tight come postseason.
Bobby Portis: A- (last week: B)
4 GP, 24.1 MPG, .632/.462/1.000, 14.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Back on the double-double train, Portis looked pretty out of sorts prior to joining the starting lineup as Giannis’ fill-in, lacking his typical touch until midway through Tuesday’s action. He also needed a little time to settle in with his shot two days later but after a week filled with mostly misfires, he seems to be back. Regaining that confidence will likely keep up when he slides back to the bench and see more limited minutes. His typical effectiveness on the boards is back too—obviously a big deal when Giannis sits.
Joe Ingles: A (last week: B+)
4 GP, 24.4 MPG, .542/.529/1.000, 9.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.0 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Really nice to see the threes start to fall again for Ingles, as he put up back-to-back double-digit scoring performances for the first time as a Buck earlier this week. Though he makes one or two head-scratching turnovers per night and occasionally commits a bad foul—sometimes of the take variety—he’s an outstanding distributor in the second unit and creates shots for both himself and for teammates. Stuffing the stat sheet with rebounds and a steal—he had one every time out this week—is a huge bonus too.
Jevon Carter: A- (last week: B)
4 GP, 21.7 MPG, .463/.522/1.000, 13.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Carter might have been due for a stinker (2/12 last night) after going off on Washington and Orlando. His vaunted pull-up three in transition wasn’t falling, but his confidence is so high in that look recently—and with good reason!—that there’s no way he’s going to stop. Still, 12 attempts in 16 minutes was a bit much. He could have held up better defensively last weekend when facing those backcourts, but in DC he was at least focused on scoring. Down in Florida, he poured in the most points since his career night in OKC back in early November, this time on better efficiency.
Pat Connaughton: C+ (last week: C)
4 GP, 19.9 MPG, .368/.267/1.000, 5.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Really needing to see the ball snap through the net a couple of times on Thursday after over a week of frigidness, Connaughton just hasn’t been good since the All-Star break. While dealing with calf soreness both going into and out of the recess, he hasn’t taken on a big minute load at all since. We’re going on a month since he’s really looked like himself, but fortunately, there’s still a month left in the regular season. It’s too early to worry about whether or not he can contribute during a postseason series up to his previous standards.
Jae Crowder: A- (last week: A)
4 GP, 17.6 MPG, .450/.286/1.000, 6.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Another guy who stepped up in Giannis’ absence, Crowder’s efforts on the glass and on the defensive end were characteristically big in the last two. I generally expect he won’t be a huge factor in a potential series with the Sixers given their lack of scoring wings, he looked good enough on Saturday that I’d be curious to see what more he could do as a helper on Harden or even Embiid. His three-point shooting is above his usual standards—38.5% since debuting as a Buck—but as I mentioned last week, there’s precedence that he’ll keep it up.
Mike Budenholzer: A- (last week: A)
3-1 W-L, 121.4 ORtg (8th), 117.4 DRtg (15th), 4.1 NetRtg (6th)
Bud was caught between a rock and a hard place with many of the officials’ calls in the Sixers’ favor, because none of them—yes, even the infamous Harden flop from Middleton’s outstretched foot—were going to be overturned. Since the NBA instituted this challenge system, Bud has often saved it for the right moment late in a game, often for a foul on Giannis or an out-of-bounds call. He usually comes out successful in these outcomes. The other gripes many had from that loss were the fourth-quarter lineups, which skewed heavily towards the Bucks’ best five-man group of Lopez, Giannis, Middleton, Allen, and Holiday. I’d argue that while perhaps Crowder or Portis would have fared better than Middleton, we’re at the point in the season where he needs to be finishing games alongside the Bucks’ three other top players. It’s hard to see Middleton burn them like that, but that’s the group they’ll need to hold on to late leads in the playoffs.
Incomplete: Meyers Leonard (1 GP, 8 MIN), AJ Green (1 GP, 6 MIN), Lindell Wigginton (1 GP, 1 MIN), MarJon Beauchamp (DNP), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (DNP), Wesley Matthews (injured), Goran Dragic (injured)
A difficult road trip through Golden State, Sacramento, and Phoenix beckons before the Bucks return home in six days, including a gnarly back-to-back with the latter two. Giannis is questionable for tomorrow and is the main guy who needs to revert to form for their voyage out west to go swimmingly, but Middleton finding consistency would go a long way too. I don’t know how long we can expect Lopez to maintain his recent output, but I’d feel better if he wasn’t the primary driving factor to their wins. Portis, Crowder, and Ingles have found a really nice groove lately... can Connaughton? He should be able to work seamlessly in reserve-heavy lineups with any of them, but he just isn’t since the bench became whole.
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.