This past week, a terrifying thought entered my head for the first time this season: What if the Milwaukee Bucks offense is incapable of translating to the playoffs?
Maybe it's a case of once burned (thrice burned? five times burned?), twice shy, but with the Bucks posting the league’s 18th-ranked offense in the past five games of play, something like flashbacks flew through my mind. What I saw this week was unremarkable in one way and worrisome in another. The defense remains a travesty almost assuredly beyond fixing no matter the personnel or a radical scheme change halfway through the season. That is something I’m (unfortunately) used to at this point. What I wasn’t used to was the long stretches of truly uninspired and ineffectual play on the offensive end of the floor.
What I’m starting to realize is that, at the heart of things, this Bucks offense reminds me a lot of Bucks offenses of recent vintage. Let’s start with the lead guards: Jrue Holiday v. Damian Lillard:
- Jrue Holiday (2022-2023): 32.6 MPG, 19.3 points (.479/.384/.859), 7.4 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 2.9 turnovers, an AST% of 34.4%
- Damian Lillard (2023-2024): 35.4 MPG, 25.1 points (.428/.352/.916), 6.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.6 turnovers, an AST% of 27.0%
Has anyone else had a nagging feeling that for all the changes in dynamic, the Bucks remain the same offense they’ve been for years, stylistically? AKA something more akin to my turn, your turn ball than we’d ever feel all that comfortable with? Yes, Lillard is scoring more than Holiday, but there is something very noteworthy in that drop of AST% to me — it represents Lillard’s lowest number since his sophomore season.
Part of the issue has to do, I think, with how Lillard is used off-ball (i.e. not at all, either by design or because he doesn’t care to do much); and if Lillard is off-ball more than he’s used to, that ties in to the way Giannis Antetokounmpo and (to a much lesser extent) Khris Middleton are used to playing. Giannis expects the ball to be in his hands to initiate in the open court, to read defenses from the top of the key before attacking and/or passing, and he expects everyone to move around him. But Dame doesn’t do much movement, nor is he doing a noteworthy amount of creating for others, either. In fact, we somehow have the worst of both worlds at times wherein he waits around the perimeter and looks on while possessions sometimes go bust.
This is not a declaration that the offense is as doomed as the defense, but merely the planting of seeds of worry. There is enough talent on offense to beat anyone. Yet talent, when left unconnected, is far more worthless than it appears on the surface. For the first time all season, I’ve started to question whether our prior assumptions that the offense will prove our salvation have any real merit in the playoffs. Just more questions to answer.
Milwaukee Bucks Links
If the health of a season can be measured by the number of times the media is notified or finds out about discord within the locker room, I’d say this year is markedly less healthy than ones that came before. At least Giannis was equitable with the blame handed around to players and coaching staff (and, in some sense, the front office).
The Wemby Vs. Giannis Clash Just Blew Our Minds (The Ringer) & Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t believe Victor Wembanyama’s billed height: ‘He’s way taller’ (CBS Sports)
It was a matchup that lived up to a lot of the hype which the basketball-watching world is grateful for. Regardless of how good their respective teams are, big man clashes like this continue to be some of the NBA’s prestige TV. Here’s to many more years of health to both guys so we can properly enjoy the narrative arc.
Bucks’ Malik Beasley says it will ‘not be pretty’ for Pacers if the two teams meet in the playoffs & Bucks vs. Pacers: How this season’s feud has turned matchup into one of NBA’s best budding rivalries (CBS Sports)
While Beasley did literally say “it will not be pretty” for the Pacers, I think the pull quote there does a disservice to his wider thoughts. He was complimentary of the unique skillset Indiana has and mentioned that the Bucks still need to figure out why they got housed in four out of five games. Especially as the standings shape up to make a first-round matchup between the two a real possibility.
Sounds about right.
Know Your NBA Enemy
Utah Jazz - SLC Dunk - The Utah Jazz should trade for Trae Young
Ironically enough, had I known Dame’s defense would be as nonexistent as it is (playoffs pending, he may turn it up) I may have thought advocating for Trae Young as our future PG was not the craziest idea in the world. Whether Atlanta ever pulls the plug and the Jazz end up a real suitor is TBD.
Boston Celtics - Celtics Blog - Al Horford’s value as a leader continues to shine
This frickin guy again. 37 years old and he’s still going to average double-digit scoring while holding Giannis in check largely on his own come June. Infuriating.
Golden State Warriors - Golden State of Mind - Can Steph Curry’s Warriors rekindle their championship magic?
Kind of like the Bucks except with far more championship success to justify their choices/revel in, the Warriors probably held their title-winning rosters together for too long to now overcome. Injuries and Draymond’s particular brand of ass-hattery had their role to play as well, but now they’re combined with big contracts that may prove difficult to move. But hey, maybe they can pull one more rabbit out of the hat out of nowhere.
Sacramento Kings - The Kings Herald - Does a Pascal Siakam trade make sense for the Kings?
If I were Kings fans I wouldn’t worry too much about trading for Siakam and then watching him walk in free agency. Any deal agreed to would almost assuredly include promises from both sides to get Pascal the max contract he desires. My biggest concern would be placing another mediocre three-point shooter on the floor with a big who doesn’t shoot much in Sabonis, but can understand that on-ball creation may overcome that hurdle a bit.
Comment of the Week
We’re heading back to the Rockets game for this one and giving Akindinoss the nod for wondering aloud who besides Giannis cares on the roster:
I would leave Giannis out for a couple of games just to see who else is going to stand up for this team. The level of urgency some guys play is obnoxious. Sometimes I have this feeling this team can’t be any better, missing some of the fundamentals of being a good solid contender. On the other hand this is a team with a pretty good record and some top level veterans that, hopefully, could change the odds during playoffs. Still a pretty interesting roller coaster of a season.
There is a difference between “not caring” because it is a long season and we are old, and “not caring” because you want to be a malcontent to force something to happen (your getting traded, coach getting canned, etc.). I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that we’re suffering from more of the latter than we’ve seen in a very long time.
The Social Media Section
Insta embeds are back
Save us, Jae. Save the season.
Very glad to have Robin using a roster spot to do ads with his brother
Breaking: The comments of every Giannis post is flooded with people asking why we can’t beat the Pacers
God getting the PS shoutout here
Love Dame’s Adidas fit here even knowing I could never pull it off myself
Riley’s 2023-2024 Regular Season Prediction Record: 20-16
Milwaukee Bucks 2023-2024 Actual Regular Season Record: 25-11
My predictions are actually frighteningly within striking distance of how the Bucks have performed. That’s a bad omen for the team. Anyways, at least they’re back at home for the next four this week:
- v. Utah Jazz, Monday — 7:00 PM CT
- v. Boston Celtics, Thursday — 6:30 PM CT
- v. Golden State Warriors, Saturday — 7:00 PM CT
- v. Sacramento Kings, Sunday — 6:00 PM CT
On the latest recording of Deer Diaries (A Milwaukee Bucks Podcast!) I predicted a 2-2 record, but looking at the schedule and the team’s play again, I’ll say 1-3 is in the cards with the sole win being over the Warriors. We’re down both guards against Utah tonight, Boston remains a step ahead of the Bucks, and the Kings are good/facing Milwaukee on a back-to-back. That’s a tough row to hoe. Here’s hoping my predictions prove false yet again.