As the short West Coast road trip beckoned, I highlighted a few eventualities that could result in a successful trip, many of which came to fruition—except Pat Connaughton’s deepening struggles. Khris Middleton found some actual consistency. even posting a line in Sacramento that harkened back to last season and before. Brook Lopez wasn’t as critical in their wins as he’s often been lately, mostly because Giannis Antetokounmpo played, and reverted to high-scoring form. Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder were coming off strong weeks but managed to improve on them. All of these combined to net the Bucks victories in a tough back-to-back earlier this week. Without some of the above guys on the court versus Indiana, though, Milwaukee’s win streak will have to restart again.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A-)
3 GP, 31.9 MPG, .588/.400/.610, 35.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 5.7 APG, 3.7 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Such amazing efficiency numbers were bogged down a bit by two poor nights at the line, to say nothing of the foul trouble he encountered on Thursday, but Giannis could absolutely toy with every defense he saw this week. Even with by favoring his left hand due to his still-troublesome right wrist, no team had anyone with any semblance of answers for him inside, which was expected from these mediocre (at best) units these three teams trotted out. It was a shame to see him so handcuffed by officiating, especially given how well the Pacers scored inside as that one wore on. It’s clear that George Hill knows enough ins and outs in his game to use the refs to his team’s advantage; look no further than the play Mike Budenholzer unsuccessfully challenged.
Khris Middleton: A- (last week: B)
3 GP, 33.4 MPG, .500/.471/.875, 22.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.7 TPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG
For the first time all season, it appeared Middleton’s deep stroke was finally working on the road before an 0-for upon returning home. In vintage form on Monday, it’s a breath of fresh air—and a load off of many minds—that he’s still this capable. He also seems in peak form as a distributor, dropping dimes even while he hunts his own shots. Just a few more of those falling wasn’t the difference between victory and defeat last night, but they could have used a bit more defensive effort; that closeout onto Aaron Nesmith in the corner was solid, but not even putting a hand up was a bit lazy. He was hardly the only problem on that end, though. Also, because people dragged Middleton for this: when he slipped at the Chase Center and coughed it up late, he was fouled by Klay Thompson but the refs missed it. Check the two-minute report.
Jrue Holiday: B (last week: A-)
4 GP, 35.2 MPG, .404/.280/.778, 15.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 8.0 APG, 2.0 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
While Holiday’s secondary contributions (passing and rebounding, mostly) look nice in the box score, this wasn’t a typically strong week for him. Beyond the late turnover on Saturday that almost certainly cost the Bucks a win—a mistake he readily acknowledged—and hit-or-miss shooting, he was a bit careless with the ball throughout these four contests. His defensive engagement on Devin Booker was outstanding, as we’re well accustomed to by now, but it simply wasn’t there on the likes of T.J. McConnell, Buddy Hield, and Andrew Nembhard. While Holiday isn’t known for his foot speed and those Pacers move quickly, it was perplexing to see him routinely get beat or for ballhandlers to so easily turn the corner. That meant he couldn’t slow down De’Aaron Fox either, especially in Fox’s favorite quarter.
Brook Lopez: A (last week: A+)
3 GP, 36.3 MPG, .614/.353/.600, 21.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 3.0 BPG
Lopez may not have helped cool Indiana that much, especially given their white-hot performance from long-range, though he certainly wouldn’t have hurt. Their 70% shooting in the second half was fueled by drives, not just triples. Perhaps that debacle strengthens his now-leading case for Defensive Player of the Year. On to what he did when actually on the court, where he was a strong secondary or tertiary option after shouldering a larger load with Giannis out. He did struggle a bit with Sabonis and he shared some blame for some significant issues on the defensive glass in California. Still, even that type of mediocre effort (by his standard) was missed as he got some needed rest.
Grayson Allen: B- (last week: A-)
2 GP, 29.8 MPG, .421/.308/.000, 10.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 2.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Earlier in the season, plantar fasciitis kept Allen out briefly, so this bears some attention. Otherwise, he didn’t get mired in a slump that could have arisen from a couple of high-volume off nights recently, and he too would have come in handy during the cold spells that the Pacers capitalized on. I even think he’d have helped defensively with that fast backcourt; he’s quicker than Connaughton right now, and his instincts might be better.
Bobby Portis: B (last week: A-)
4 GP, 25.8 MPG, .500/.375/.833, 11.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.8 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Sometimes I’m a little surprised to see Portis’ shooting numbers look as good as they do game-by-game, mainly because he sometimes lacks touch, especially on tipped balls. Unsurprisingly, the Kings weren’t a good matchup for him, but he should have fared better with the Pacers’ few bigs in a spot start. As the Warriors snatched away a W in the closing minutes and OT, he might have been a better choice over one of the starters, given how well he fared even with Draymond Green around.
Joe Ingles: A (last week: A)
3 GP, 29.0 MPG, .611/.611/1.000, 11.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.0 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
That’s right, Ingles only took threes this week, and even with a 2/7 evening in Phoenix, still shot this well. Beyond not being able to miss on Saturday and Thursday, he was a critical initiator throughout, his uncanny chemistry with Lopez on the pick-and-roll on full display. The all-around statistical line this week is superb for a backup. I’ll stop there with the plaudits to discuss his D: with slower (i.e. older) guards like Chris Paul, he’s a great fit. With the opposite (i.e. every Pacer who’s shorter than him), less so. His best assets on that end are his peskiness and instincts, but even with his size advantage, he’s an imperfect defender on motion-oriented perimeter players. That’s a big reason he was a team-worst -20 on Thursday.
Pat Connaughton: D+ (last week: C+)
4 GP, 25.3 MPG, .308/.211/.600, 5.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.3 TPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG
I’m sorry to do this on St. Patty’s Day, but Connaughton is in his roughest patch in quite some time, perhaps ever since joining the Bucks. Obviously, his three-point shot hasn’t been falling for weeks and weeks, which is too bad; before the All-Star break (and his calf issue), he’d shot pretty well since New Year’s. He takes tougher, less-open shots than the likes of Allen and Ingles, meaning he might need to back off the trigger a bit. Otherwise, he’s not doing too much else positively on the court, pretty much only shooting from deep. Despite three steals, primarily from poor Indiana decision-making, he got pretty wrecked by those guys. For this single game anyway, liability might not be too strong a word. It doesn’t seem to be a physical issue as much as an instinctual one. No one was overhelping more.
Jae Crowder: B+ (last week: A-)
3 GP, 19.6 MPG, .500/.429/1.000, 5.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
After seeing Crowder struggle to chase around Golden State’s smaller backcourt, plus getting caught up on screens a few times while assigned to Thompson, he may have struggled with Indy too. I don’t like him so much on fleeter-footed and/or more diminutive players who see lots of action run for them. Nevertheless, he adjusted well to Sacramento’s screens after again having difficulty in the first half of that one. Then he took his revenge back in The Valley, sealing the W with a dagger three. Part of me is waiting for mean regression from downtown, but as I’ve mentioned in this column before, there’s real precedent for him to keep this up for a series or two.
Jevon Carter: B (last week: A-)
4 GP, 18.1 MPG, .423/.444/.000, 7.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Ideally, Carter would be a great choice to deal with the likes of Fox, McConnell, and other young guards. Like Holiday, though, he couldn’t stop the Kings star and for the second time this year, couldn’t hang with the Pacers’ backcourt. Watching him get beat in each of those outings, it doesn’t seem for a lack of effort—it never is with Carter—so again, he’s simply getting outrun. He fared better with the Warriors’ guards at least, buoyed by a solid shooting effort. He finally had a true revenge game against the Suns too, after not seeing much court time when facing his old employer prior to this season.
Wesley Matthews: B- (last week: incomplete)
2 GP, 12.0 MPG, .571/.400/.000, 5.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
It’s good to see Matthews back and he made two key treys in their return to Fiserv Forum. The last time the Pacers visited, he combined with Hill to slow the game’s speed significantly, helping the Bucks wrestle control away and turn a double-digit deficit into a convincing win. No such luck last night, as Matthews’ reserve-laden lineups couldn’t do anything with their former compatriot on the opposing side, leading a prolific bench mob.
Meyers Leonard: B+ (last week: incomplete)
1 GP, 16 MIN, 1.000/1.000/.500, 10 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 TOV, 0 STL, 0 BLK
On the offensive end at least, Leonard did his best Lopez impression with some thunderous slams and a deep ball on Thursday. That didn’t carry over to the other end, though, as Indiana really started to make hay at the rim in the second half, while he was on the floor and Giannis was in foul trouble. He’s locked up for the rest of the season, but this was a good illustration of why I preferred a defensively-oriented player for that deep bench center role. If Lopez and Giannis are both unable to play stretches for whatever reason in the playoffs, Leonard and Portis just will not be able to cut it.
Mike Budenholzer: B (last week: A-)
2-2 W-L, 115.6 ORtg (13th), 116.0 DRtg (23rd), -0.4 NetRtg (18th)
All week long, the Bucks were pretty good in the half-court on both sides of the ball, even when it came to the Pacers. The transition problems certainly came down to player effort and perhaps fatigue. Gutsy late-game sequences in each of the prior three came in part from pulling the right strings lineup-wise (running the offense through Ingles, notably) or playcalling, and the execution was mostly there. Bud ran with the starters on Saturday for the fourth quarter and it nearly worked, but as I mentioned above with Portis, that’s the only real question I had about the rotation. Without Holiday’s error in the closing seconds, that decision looks better. The main defensive head-scratcher I had as Indiana ran away with things, from a schematic perspective, was why Milwaukee went under so many screens. As dialed in as they were, the Pacers often had plenty of room to bomb away. Offensively, 32 three-point attempts are uncharacteristically low for this squad, and too low in general for today’s NBA. Early on, Milwaukee had plenty of success inside early on, but with their opponents unabashedly firing away even in the first quarter, they needed to let it fly.
Incomplete: AJ Green (2 GP, 12 MIN), Lindell Wigginton (1 GP, 2 MIN), MarJon Beauchamp (1 GP, 2 MIN), Goran Dragic (injured), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (DNP)
Individually speaking, there is a lot of room for many of these guys to execute better on defense. You can point to fatigue since they’re coming off four games in six days and have two days off before facing Toronto on Sunday. They then have just one other matchup before heading out west next Friday. We’ll see how much good that rest does for Connaughton and Holiday, who might need it the most of any Bucks. Outside of those two, the patterns are pretty good up and down the rotation. Should Crowder and Ingles maintain their recent production, they may take more minutes away from Connaughton. With two days in between each tilt next week, there shouldn’t be much need to limit Middleton. Another strong showing or two from him to keep ratcheting up fan confidence in him as the postseason approaches would be nice.
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.