A light week for the Bucks will hopefully do them some good now that they’re embarking on seven games in five nights... in five different cities. Based on their performances, this seems to have Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez pretty fresh; huge given how much they’ve carried the team over the last two months. Similarly, Khris Middleton has found his groove, at long last. It hasn’t helped Pat Connaughton shake off his shooting woes and Jrue Holiday isn’t producing as much, but the latter is more a function of how the other stars are currently rolling. Neither of those two is drastically affecting team performance right now thanks to the frontcourt juggernaut, including big wings Joe Ingles and Middleton moonlighting at the 4.
With just two games over the past week, I’m doing away with the usual averages in favor of individual stat lines. In light of this, I’ll highlight some Wednesday evening garbage time contributions from a couple of lesser-used guys.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A)
vs. TOR: 36 MIN, 9/9 FG, 1/1 3P, 3/7 FT, 22 PTS, 12 REB, 10 AST, 3 TOV, 0 STL, 2 BLK
vs. SAS: 24 MIN, 14/23 FG, 1/4 3P, 2/5 FT, 31 PTS, 14 REB, 2 AST, 2 TOV, 0 STL, 1 BLK
Obviously, the Spurs had no hope of stopping Giannis, but you’d think the Raptors would have had more success between Jakob Pöltl, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam. As easy as he made it look against Toronto, whose defense notoriously troubled him over the years, it was fascinating to take a backseat offensively to Brook Lopez in order to get the win. Yes, the Raptors double-teamed the bejeezus out of him, but in that fourth quarter, he attempted zero shots and did not once get to the line. Instead, he passed out of them well once he drew in defenders and deferred to his frontcourt mate as Milwaukee rose up for a win. That gravity helped Lopez cook and kept Giannis from accumulating more wear.
Khris Middleton: A (last week: A-)
vs. TOR: 32 MIN, 7/13 FG, 5/8 3P, 1/2 FT, 20 PTS, 8 REB, 5 AST, 4 TOV, 0 STL, 1 BLK
vs. SAS: 29 MIN, 8/15 FG, 1/6 3P, 2/2 FT, 19 PTS, 3 REB, 10 AST, 6 TOV, 1 STL, 0 BLK
Playing a pretty standard minute load to go with typically-great numbers, with the exception of the turnover issues the other night, Middleton is clearly hitting his stride as a passer and shooter. Aside from some wayward threes, his jumper is absolutely pure, hitting eight of his nine attempts between the restricted area and the arc this week. Being in his element in isolation, especially as we saw on Wednesday, was a critical part of Milwaukee’s postseason triumph two years ago and was sorely missed during last year’s playoffs. It could do some good over the next week in the seeding chase too.
Jrue Holiday: B (last week: B)
vs. TOR: 30 MIN, 3/8 FG, 1/3 3P, 4/4 FT, 11 PTS, 1 REB, 7 AST, 3 TOV, 1 STL, 1 BLK
vs. SAS: 23 MIN, 3/7 FG, 0/2 3P, 1/1 FT, 7 PTS, 2 REB, 8 AST, 2 TOV, 1 STL, 0 BLK
Holiday’s output has been pretty muted lately as the Bucks have worked Middleton into the starting lineup. This is no real issue because his track record as a featured guard is more than secure, so there isn’t any lack of confidence in him when he’s needed. He was very effective switching between Siakam and Fred VanVleet on Sunday, proving that he’s not dogging it at all during the higher-profile matchups.
Brook Lopez: A+ (last week: A)
vs. TOR: 32 MIN, 9/15 FG, 1/6 3P, 7/7 FT, 26 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 1 TOV, 1 STL, 2 BLK
vs. SAS: 25 MIN, 3/6 FG, 1/3 3P, 4/4 FT, 11 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 2 TOV, 0 STL, 2 BLK
Sunday’s 17-point fourth quarter was nothing short of outstanding, nearly single-handedly delivering Milwaukee a victory. He cut and drove through the lane prolifically, making key finish after key finish. Lopez is doing most of his damage in the paint lately rather than strictly from deep, throwing in a floater here and there, exemplifying his offensive renaissance this year. I’m curious to see if he’ll be relied on to such a degree as a scoring option in certain postseason matchups because his stock is at its highest point since his Brooklyn days. While he didn’t have the gaudy block numbers this week, his rim protection got palpably better through Sunday’s second half. That’s some insane two-way impact.
Grayson Allen: B- (last week: B-)
vs. TOR: 26 MIN, 1/7 FG, 0/6 3P, 0/0 FT, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 0 TOV, 0 STL, 1 BLK
vs. SAS: 19 MIN, 3/5 FG, 2/4 3P, 0/0 FT, 8 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 TOV, 4 STL, 1 BLK
Poor Allen couldn’t buy a bucket on Sunday despite finding many high-quality shots. The past two weeks represent something of a three-point slump for him at 28.1% on 5.6 attempts per night, but he’s still firing away and that’s what Milwaukee needs. He’s too good of a shooter for this to last much longer. He contributed well on the other end, not just by jumping the hapless and turnover-prone Spurs’ passing lanes, but as an on-ball guy too.
Bobby Portis: A- (last week: B)
vs. TOR: 24 MIN, 6/13 FG, 2/6 3P, 0/0 FT, 14 PTS, 9 REB, 1 AST, 1 TOV, 0 STL, 0 BLK
vs. SAS: 25 MIN, 7/14 FG, 3/6 3P, 2/8 FT, 19 PTS, 10 REB, 0 AST, 0 TOV, 1 STL, 0 BLK
It was a pretty rough first half for Portis on Wednesday, who finished with a pretty ghastly night at the line, but he really found his stroke as the Bucks turned that one into a laugher. He’s really struggling with putbacks and tips this year, so he’ll need to keep knocking down threes if he’s having such issues with his touch. His hands aren’t made of iron to the degree that John Henson’s were, but I get flashbacks to their rebounding issues of the Kidd years when I see Portis batting the ball around so often inside. This seems to rarely lead to an offensive rebound for any Buck, including him, let alone a tip-in. On the defensive glass, it can be a problem too, as his volleyball moves find opponents' hands at times. For his strong rebounding numbers, I’d like to see him more authoritatively grab errant shots.
Joe Ingles: A (last week: A)
vs. TOR: 21 MIN, 2/4 FG, 2/4 3P, 0/0 FT, 6 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 0 TOV, 1 STL, 0 BLK
vs. SAS: 22 MIN, 5/7 FG, 4/6 3P, 0/0 FT, 14 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 TOV, 2 STL, 0 BLK
Stuffing the box score some nights and continuing his absolute heater from deep, I keep thinking about how employing this version of Ingles likely would have been enough to defeat the Celtics last May in Middleton’s absence. His pick-and-roll chemistry with Lopez is sublime when he’s in connector mode, but he knows the right moments when he needs to finish the possession with a clean look. I wish he wouldn’t be assigned to the more FVV-like opposing point guards, even with how well he fares with Chris Paul-style older dudes, but that’s not really Ingles’ fault.
Pat Connaughton: C (last week: D+)
vs. TOR: 18 MIN, 3/4 FG, 1/2 3P, 1/1 FT, 8 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 0 TOV, 0 STL, 0 BLK
vs. SAS: 27 MIN, 2/7 FG, 1/5 3P, 0/0 FT, 5 PTS, 10 REB, 1 AST, 0 TOV, 1 STL, 0 BLK
I liked seeing Milwaukee go back to Connaughton as a roller on Sunday evening, where he’s been very good this year setting high screens. That permits him driving opportunities, an underused part of his game that could stand to see more play calls when he’s mired in shooting droughts like this. Unlike Allen, who seems like a safer bet to shoot himself out of a slump with the kind of looks he gets, Connaughton might need to be more selective and refrain from lower-quality looks until he gets right. His only make on Wednesday, occurring late in the second quarter while things were still close, was one I didn’t expect to fall.
Jevon Carter: C+ (last week: B)
vs. TOR: 20 MIN, 3/9 FG, 3/9 3P, 0/0 FT, 9 PTS, 1 REB, 3 AST, 0 TOV, 0 STL, 1 BLK
vs. SAS: 21 MIN, 2/8 FG, 0/3 3P, 0/0 FT, 4 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 1 TOV, 0 STL, 0 BLK
Speaking of shot selection, Carter’s usual exploits on the break are starting to cool off lately. In fairness, his trademark pull-up transition three has actually been a good weapon this year, and he’s still a great three-point shooter overall. The former’s success may be regressing to the mean a bit. I have no doubts this will not affect his confidence whatsoever, so if he’s going to keep blasting up those sometimes-infuriating looks, at what rate does it need to be falling to be acceptable in the postseason? Or should he knock it off entirely?
Wesley Matthews: A- (last week: B-)
vs. SAS: 12 MIN, 1/2 FG, 1/2 3P, 0/0 FT, 3 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 0 TOV, 0 STL, 0 BLK
Playing in just his third game since the All-Star break due to a calf injury that kept him out nearly a month and sitting out on Sunday, it was good to see Matthews play the entire fourth quarter on Wednesday. Besides hitting a three, he racked up a few boards and dimes alongside other reserves, stuff we don’t see much from him. Nice to know he remains ready.
MarJon Beauchamp: A- (last week: incomplete)
vs. SAS: 6 MIN, 2/2 FG, 1/1 3P, 2/4 FT, 7 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 0 TOV, 0 STL, 0 BLK
In other garbage-time news, Beauchamp subbed in at the fourth’s midpoint in the Spurs contest for his longest stretch of playing time since February 16th. The rook looked solid with two sweet jumpers that found nothing but nylon. He may not play much in the next week or so among the Bucks’ tough schedule and pursuit of the East’s top seed. Ideally, that’s wrapped up by a week from Sunday, and MJB gets some real minutes in the regular season’s final week.
Lindell Wigginton: B- (last week: incomplete)
vs. SAS: 6 MIN, 1/2 FG, 0/1 3P, 0/0 FT, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1 TOV, 0 STL, 0 BLK
The two-way guard also got in on the last chunk of Wednesday’s blowout with his most significant minutes since last April. I can’t say I noticed him much but was surprised that in their video package from the game, NBA.com has his “highlights!” So watch for yourself.
Mike Budenholzer: A (last week: B)
2-0 W-L, 119.2 ORtg (12th), 98.6 DRtg (1st), 20.7 NetRtg (1st)
Running the late-game offense through Lopez versus that Raptors frontcourt on Sunday, even in its improved state since their last meeting, was a total coup. It took a load off Giannis—who played barely half the fourth quarter—and actually got the ball moving pretty well. I also really liked his personnel choices to end the first half of the Spurs tilt, subbing in Middleton for Portis to go with a small-ball quartet of Giannis, Ingles, Connaughton, and Holiday. In that final two minutes and change, the Bucks reeled off a 10-2 run, including eight points in the half’s final 45 seconds, sparked by Ingles and Middleton’s steals. That certainly looks like a postseason lineup, one that could potentially close games or more likely, keep the ball moving to find open shots when the offense needs a jumpstart.
Incomplete: A.J. Green (DNP), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (DNP), Jae Crowder (injured), Goran Dragic (injured), Meyers Leonard (injured)
Heading to the Mountain Time Zone to kick off the most consequential stretch of this regular season, nearly every Buck is in a good place. It might be expecting too much to take even a scuffling Nuggets team at altitude—where they enjoy the league’s best home record—after a still-decent Jazz team the evening before. Similarly, beating the Celtics for a tiebreaker after dealing with the fleet-footed Pacers, who never cease giving the older Bucks trouble, the night before is a big ask. If one of Ingles (more likely) or Middleton (less likely) were to play on both ends of one of these back-to-backs, it could go a long way, and be an endorsement of their health at a good time. Getting anybody some blow on Monday in Detroit could help, but now is the time for Holiday and Connaughton to recapture their previous forms. They would likely benefit from a healthy Crowder too.
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.