While we wait to see if the Bucks will ever lose again, one of the main talking points—at least among fans, not really the national media—around this team hasn’t necessarily been its dominance or inevitability, unlike those teams of 2019–20 who also peeled off long winning streaks. This time, the conversation revolves more around depth. To be sure, prior incarnations of the Bud-era Bucks were also comparably deep, but was the depth this versatile? Were there this many players whose skill sets were this diverse, or merely just consisted of more than simply shooting? Nevertheless, there still exists a clear hierarchy on this roster and the malleability each Milwaukee star has makes for endless lineup combos. This is the happy challenge for the coaching staff and for fans: who works best with whom, and when?
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (two weeks ago: A)
3 GP, 20.9 MPG, .600/.667/.625, 227. PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG
On the heels of a Simmons-esque 4/4/4 (in 6 minutes, though, not 30) before exiting with a quad contusion, a spectacular couple of performances of 30 plus in under 30 minutes followed in a back-to-back, a duet I didn’t expect given how banged up Giannis has been lately. Even between elite defenders like Nic Claxton, Mikal Bridges, and Dorian Finney-Smith, the Nets had zero answers for him inside. An 8/10 night at the line—including eight consecutive—on Wednesday was his best work there in over a month. His Dirk fadeways, left-hand finishes, and threes were a lot of fun too. After these last two takedowns, he seemingly is no worse for the wear in the area of his oft-bothersome knees or his sprained wrist ligament, and the light effort he expended in each of them is relieving.
Khris Middleton: A- (two weeks ago: B+)
3 GP, 21.8 MPG, .441/.357/.750, 13.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.7 APG, 3.0 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Though he’s still not ready for back-to-backs (which is fine—those don’t happen in the postseason anyway), Middleton was a crucial facilitator for both the first and second units all week. A solid shooting night from all areas of the floor (2/2 at the rim, 3/7 from deep, 2/4 in between) in Brooklyn portends well after missing 13 of his previous 17 triples before the break. He looks increasingly able on defense too. With how well things are going right now, there’s little reason to significantly jack up his workload to over 30 minutes, especially over a month out from the postseason. If you think about it, Bud can really play the long game with Middleton here. For one, their first-round matchup likely won’t be competitive, so big deal if he’s playing under 30 MPG against a seven or eight seed. Depending on how the seedings and bracket break, he might not need to be in that 35 to 40 minute range until the East Finals.
Jrue Holiday: A+ (two weeks ago: A)
4 GP, 30.6 MPG, .591/.370/.750, 23.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG
A rough first half on Tuesday (4 turnovers and -18 despite 3/6 shooting with 6 assists) wasn’t enough for me to knock him down to an A given how outstanding he was otherwise, quite obviously on Sunday. One of the finest two-way efforts of his Bucks career, he kept Devin Booker honest once the Phoenix star broke through in that second half, helping force him into critical errors as the clock ticked down. Sound familiar? The most impressive and perhaps under-discussed aspect of his week, though, is his outrageous 14/16 mark in the restricted area across this set of four. Driving and finishing enough to rival Giannis, who was 16/27 (slacker, am I right or am I right?) at the rim, playing essentially just twice.
Brook Lopez: A (two weeks ago: A)
4 GP, 29.5 MPG, .549/.421/.667, 17.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.5 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 1.5 BPG
Prior to his 33-point outburst in Chicago two weeks ago, February was an up-and-down month for Lopez’s shooting, so the All-Star break might have done the big fella some good judging by this week’s numbers. Though it wasn’t quite enough to change any outcomes, interior defense (Orlando outscored Milwaukee 56-38 in the paint) and defensive rebounding (the first half of the Phoenix contest) were mild issues for stretches this week. I don’t think it’s his fault by any means, and this was of little consequence given how consistently outstanding the Bucks have been all year on the glass and protecting the rim, so I’m probably reading too much into small aberrations.
Grayson Allen: A- (two weeks ago: B+)
4 GP, 27.3 MPG, .417/.407/.667, 10.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 TPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Two big shooting nights went a long way toward blowing out two Floridian teams at Fiserv, negating less impactful offensive outings sandwiched between them. Allen had some great defensive moments throughout the week, though, flashing some ball-hawking by jumping passing lanes along with good on-ball work. At times, he even outdid Holiday—who doesn’t always have his foot on the gas—on opposing perimeter players. Even with the Bucks’ newfound depth, he’s working well in a variety of lineups.
Bobby Portis: B (two weeks ago: injured)
4 GP, 19.0 MPG, .400/.286/.800, 8.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG
It was surprising to see him struggle so much with the Magic and the new-look, no-longer-Portis-stymying Nets, but it’s tough to be worried given how he fared versus the Heat. He certainly did not appear to be rusty after missing a month with 18 on 11 shots in just 22 minutes, even if he didn’t have the touch in the trio of games since. Expectedly in his return from the MCL sprain, his minutes are down from close to 30 per in January, though I wonder if those will ebb and flow a bit more now that the Bucks are more loaded at the 4.
Jae Crowder: A (two weeks ago: incomplete)
4 GP, 19.2 MPG, .500/.500/.500, 6.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Speaking of being loaded at the 4 and not looking rusty, this man hadn’t played since last May but fits like a glove despite only having two weeks to ramp up... with a completely new team. Crowder’s shooting is famously streaky, but it’s worth pointing out that after his midseason trade to Miami in 2020, he shot 44.5% on high volume and rode that for a couple of playoff rounds (sorry to obliquely bring up that bubble series). As Adam highlighted on Wednesday, the coolest and maybe most unexpected boon since joining the Bucks is his passing. Count me as surprised he could function this well as a connector; I was so accustomed to watching him bomb away as a catch-and-shoot guy in Miami and Phoenix. Props to him for keeping his conditioning up enough to be able to go 25 minutes in just his second game back. He didn’t have any real defensive tests this week, but they’re coming.
Pat Connaughton: C (two weeks ago: B)
3 GP, 19.6 MPG, .278/.250/.500, 5.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Possibly owing to the calf injury that kept him out of each matchup surrounding the recess, Connaughton was mired in a bit of a cold streak at 1 for his previous 11 from three-point land until breaking out of it in a big way during Wednesday’s 3/3 second quarter. His thirteen empty minutes on Sunday were the most invisible he’s been in years. With Portis back and Crowder on the team, he won’t be counted on as a key rebounder as much as he was during January, hopefully saving his legs for shooting. I also wonder what his playing time will be like in the weeks ahead, even though his calf issue seemed short-term.
Joe Ingles: B+ (two weeks ago: B-)
4 GP, 21.6 MPG, .524/.438/.500, 7.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Ingles also hit a slump from downtown that ended this week, during the first back-to-back he’s appeared in since returning from last January’s ACL tear. Wednesday was his first night in double figures since January 17th and the first time he sank more than two treys in a month. Ever the contributor even when his shot isn’t falling, the Aussie put in commendable work on Chris Paul down the stretch on Sunday. That assignment had some scratching their heads, but it works when you think about it. For what he lacks in footspeed, he’s rugged and built enough to deal with an older point guard who’s also lost a few steps.
Jevon Carter: B (two weeks ago: A)
4 GP, 23.7 MPG, .371/.333/.714, 9.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Though he flipped on chucker mode as the Bucks started blowing out the Heat, Carter showed up against his two former employers, making the Nets rue waiving him just over a year ago with his newfound shotmaking. He’s working hard lately on the boards too, reflected in his numbers and palpable by the eye test. I wouldn’t mind him sliding back into the starting lineup alongside Allen in place of Connaughton—assuming Middleton keeps coming off the bench—just as Milwaukee did for much of the season. Though Tyrese Maxey isn’t starting for Philly, their small backcourt of James Harden and De’Anthony Melton still seems like a perfect time to make that move. Carter figures to be a key Buck in a potential playoff series with the Sixers, if that ever finally happens.
Meyers Leonard: B (two weeks ago: not on team)
4 GP, 6.7 MPG, .375/.429/1.000, 2.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Back for his first NBA action in over two calendar years, Leonard appears decently capable of contributing, to my surprise. The knock on him—at least on the court—was always defense and unlike Carter, he looked a bit overmatched on a few occasions while facing his old team. Still, he works in a pinch as a screen setter and spacer, with a nice re-debut overall last Friday. His minutes were necessarily extended after Giannis’ early exit in that one, so his garbage time workload since then is more what we should expect. His ten-day will be renewed today, and while I feel there are better options out there for what Milwaukee needs most from a deep bench center (rim protection—Nerlens Noel comes to mind), I’m content with him getting another.
A.J. Green: A- (two weeks ago: A)
3 GP, 13.2 MPG, .429/.500/.500, 6.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Can this guy shoot it or what? As deep as the Bucks are rolling these days, I wonder if Bud will continue finding time for Green, who fits in better and better each instance he appears in the actual rotation. Dare I say, but he might be one of the best three outside shooters on the team, depending on how you feel about Connaughton or Middleton given their performances this season. He won’t be able to play in the postseason on this two-way deal, but he’s proving deserving of a standard contract at some point prior to next year, and you don’t have to squint to see him raining threes on the heads of a weak first-round opponent.
Mike Budenholzer: A (two weeks ago: A-)
4-0 W-L, 118.1 ORtg (9th), 102.2 DRtg (2nd), 15.9 NetRtg (3rd)
Don’t look now, but the Bucks are now 16th in offense (17th when factoring out garbage time, per Cleaning The Glass) just .3 points per 100 possessions below league average, both with and without garbage time. No matter how you slice it, they’re a top-two defense and top-six in net rating (they’re first and fourth in CTG’s eyes) too. All this is to say that the advanced numbers are now more closely matching the Bucks’ league-best record and the talent present on their roster, even if it’s still not fully healthy. Bud won Eastern Conference Coach of the Month yesterday as his squad ran roughshod over the league, and none of what the Bucks are doing is in spite of him. There simply is no better defense right now, in all senses: opponents are taking just 33.8 3PA/game during the streak and shooting a pretty average 36.2% on them, so that bugaboo is well in the rearview. He has endless lineup permutations to toy with and over a month to find the best ones, in what could be an embarrassment of riches against any playoff foe.
Incomplete: MarJon Beauchamp (3 GP, 13 MIN), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (3 GP, 10 MIN), Sandro Mamukelashvili (DNP, waived), Wesley Matthews (injured)
Milwaukee may indeed fill its final roster spot with another ball-handling guard, fortifying the roster even further by replacing what they lost in trading George Hill. While a 36-year-old point guard won’t present major alterations to the current rotation, Dragic could be another small puzzle piece to integrate with reserve lineups, given Carter’s inconsistencies as an offensive initiator. Or he could take an even lesser than Jeff Teague role, which would be fine too. For the guys actually getting minutes, there has been a preponderance of shooting fouls lately that you can blame mostly (or even entirely) on officiating, but contesting without getting whistled is something the Bucks have long shown deftness. I don’t think it’s a pattern yet, but it’s worth watching. Can Connaughton and Portis find their grooves again, especially if the former is no longer starting?
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.