We’re back to something of the chicken and the egg in the short tenure of Doc Rivers. Well, more like a bunch of different chickens and a bunch of different eggs we’re trying to untangle to get to the bottom of what ails the team.
Are they too reliant upon the stars/starters to carry productivity for the full 48 minutes? Name me an NBA team that isn't to some extent, Yet it is also true that outside of games where Bobby Portis is given (or gives himself) the green light, much of the bench crew may be lacking when it comes to anything resembling shot creation outside of occasional catch-and-shoot opportunities. Lay too much on the starting five either out of pique or necessity and you risk results based on their stamina and capability alone.
Are they a bad defensive team? If yes, is it still personnel that undermine their efforts, or scheme? The team did a decent job against Nikola Jokic last week and were able to trap Luka Dončić into oblivion since he had nobody around him to help, so that is good. There remain mistakes and the need to figure out the puzzle not so much of preventing any perimeter penetration by guards, but how to navigate the court once opposing guards step inside the three-point line. Against recent upticks in DRTG, there remain huge questions on that end of the court.
Are the results of 2024 a true reflection of their limits as a team, or are we seeing them come back to Earth with a much tougher schedule than they had to start the season? I don’t envy any team having to be on the road for over a week with a back-to-back put in there. Denver is obviously an extremely tough out, the Portland loss was inexplicable when zoomed out, Dallas had one true guy available, and the Jazz already knocked us around once this year. Other losses this young year include drubbings by in-division opponents the Pacers and Cavaliers. Good teams (and some extremely borderline playoff ones) sure, but you’d also like to see the Bucks will themselves to better results against repeat competition.
For all intents and purposes, there are roughly five “gimme” games left this year: Three against Charlotte, one against Washington, and one against Toronto. It is a good test to see if the Bucks can come together when it counts, or if the wishy-washy sense of the team will continue to be the norm into the post-season.
Milwaukee Bucks Links
The surest mark that Giannis has achieved true superstardom is his consistency of output. While those around him (including Lillard) come and go with contributions most nights, you can routinely pencil Giannis in for at least 25, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists as a baseline. Part of that has to do with how much more adept he has become at dealing with paint defenses — made even more impressive because opponents know that is the sole area they need to shut him down in (to no true avail thus far this year).
The Bucks needed to recombobulate (Milwaukee Record)
A good overview of everything that led up to and now leads away from the Adrian Griffin situation from friend of Bucks internet, Dan Shafer. The 78D chess master in me wants to give credit to Jon Horst for having lowered coaching expectations so much with the Griffin hire that we can now greet a Doc Rivers-esque hire with (more) open arms. But maybe that’s trying too hard to find a method to the madness.
Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers prove NBA divorces can still be amicable (Washington Post)
I suppose I find it surprising that the Bucks have so quickly moved from cool and collected title contenders to a team whose most notable feature is desperation to win. Fair enough, especially getting a player of Lillard’s caliber. Just a far cry from the days of yore (see: like 12 months ago) where confidence and a lack of drama were all that marked the Bucks compared to the field. The team has finally reached Ringz Nirvana, I guess.
If Giannis demanded a trade, I’d hope he would say the same thing no matter how unlikely the event. Even a one day signing so you can retire a member of the team your name is mostly closely associated with would be nice. You’d expect nothing less of Lillard.
As with anything involving the players, while being part of a union does not exempt them from holding opinions that differ from whatever the union agrees to, they are bound to whatever was hammered out between themselves and the league. Also, we’re probably reaching the tipping point where general sympathy for the players is starting to head the other way (i.e. folks generally want to see them play if they can). As in all things, we’re constantly searching for the balance.
Of the challenges listed here by The Ringer, my personal favorites (if that’s the right term) are gambling and whatever the future holds for media rights. On the former, I’m just opposed to it as an industry and tend to assume the worst outcomes will follow vice industries. For the latter, nobody has a clue how media network spending will change over the coming decade. Can the league get another great deal or two out of the legacy partners before a collapse in equity? Is the NBA just going to place everything in-house, produce all the broadcasts, and distribute with a partner like Apple (a la Major League Soccer)? Only time will tell if a true crunch is coming.
Know Your NBA Enemy
Phoenix Suns - Bright Side of the Sun - Suns should continue to maximize the two-year contract strategy
Easier said than done for teams like the Suns and Bucks who are really up against it when it comes to the cap. There are certain contract options that allow teams to do the two-year shuffle, but the simpler route is to acquire guys with early Bird or outright Bird rights. It often feels like title contenders are burning the candle at both ends as far as roster construction goes; that’s because they are.
Minnesota Timberwolves - Canis Hoopus - Let’s Reflect: The First Half of the Season
Had you told me that Mike Conley would still be doing it at this high of a level at this age, I’d have been a far more vocal advocate of acquiring him to help organizing our shambolic playoff offenses. As it is, he appears to be the one thing standing between a high-achieving Timberwolves team and brash youthful abyss. That’s a lot for a franchise to put on one man’s shoulders.
Charlotte Hornets - At the Hive - Remembering the 10 Fateful Days in 2021 that Upended the Hornets Rebuild
A testament to just how unbelievably difficult it can be to move from rebuilding team to actual playoff fighters. Of course, the Hornets have always been blessed (read: cursed) with an organizational culture that has let front office after front office waste millions of dollars and years-worth of competition for the net result of nothing. And now they’re back in the NBA cellar. Meet the new Hornets; same as the old Hornets.
Comment(s) of the Week
Lot of good stuff this week. We’ve got badgerbrewer who cast a “get a stop and a three and a stop and a three and a stop and a three” spell during Bucks-Mavs:
Some Giannis screen takes from Sockpuppet11...:
Giannis just can’t sit still for even a second, it’s like in his mind he has already set the pick but he is not even close to doing it. Bobby can’t even let a player run into him, it’s so against his entire nature that he must extend his hands and push them before they get into his body or he avoids the contact entirely.
...and aklindner from separate games this week:
I agree with most of that - on giannis screens - part of the problem is that he rarely sets a screen that actually screens a man. He stands there and usually bails before ever actually making contact with the guy he’s trying to screen. It’s like screens for show only
A reminder that the Pistons truly are that bad from Xiao Biduen:
Who gets a win first, Milwaukee or Detroit ?
And how about the sibling psychoanalysis to end all sibling psychoanalysis from WyomingMuleDeer?
I suspect the biggest difference between Robin and Brook is their personality. Brook seems to be a lot more type a competitive and considers basketball a craft to be refined, and while Robin obviously inherited nearly identical physical traits he doesn’t seem to take the sport as seriously. I imagine that with age, their mentalities and physical stature have gradually diverged to the point we’re at now, where Brook at 35 has reinvented himself and is obviously a more muscular build and alpha personality, while Robin is content donning the guise of a somewhat spindly geek who especially at this point in his career doesn’t want to put in the monumental effort required to be a mere shadow of his brother.
Maybe if they played on the same team for their entire career, Brook could have helped push Robin to a slightly higher level of conditioning and play. But I’m not sure how much higher, they both seem content with who they are and not worried about what the outside world thinks of them. Robin seems to have had little desire to invest as much as his brother into the sport, enjoys getting payed to be a family/team member of one of the Bucks’ starters like Thanasis, and when their brothers help ensure a game is out-of-reach for opponents can have a few minutes of fun at the end of the game.
That’s a unique facet of Horst that I appreciate. He is willing to keep two guys on the roster who would maybe at best be on the bench in Europe or Asia because they help foster a sense of community within the team. It costs him two roster spots that could instead be used to increase the depth of their bench or to allow prospects greater developmental opportunities, but instead understands the importance of team chemistry and creating an environment where his best players feel they belong.
That said, I think one brother for two critical starters may be enough. Maybe in another 2-3 years a younger Antetokounmpo brother can take over for Thanasis, and by then I’m not sure Brook will still be playing (age-wise that seems very old, although he probably still has a few years left of playing as a starter and seems very physically resilient and not injury-prone. And we live in times where advanced sport science and higher global awareness of health and nutrition helps allow players to continue to compete at a high level into their late 30s and sometimes early to mid 40s).
The Social Media Section
Are you allowed to refer to yourself as “youngin”, even in the third person?
Pray to God Giannis never appears on Shark Tank for real
Shoutout to smiling Dame
Please get me in touch with your agent, because they have to be a maestro to have gotten you paid for this stuff
Riley’s 2023-2024 Regular Season Prediction Record: 26-24
Milwaukee Bucks 2023-2024 Actual Regular Season Record: 33-17
One last game on this western road trip before it is finally home sweet home again. Unfortunate that the Wolves and Hornets games are back-to-back, but the weekend should provide a port in the schedule storm.
@ Phoenix Suns, Tuesday - 9:00 PM CT
v. Minnesota Timberwolves, Thursday - 7:00 PM CT
v. Charlotte Hornets, Friday - 7:00 PM CT
Deeply against the grain, I will go for three wins this week. Brief as the flashes have been, I am putting renewed faith in the Giannis/Dame offensive pairing to get us through against the Suns and also feel good that we can survive the dual big lineups of Minnesota if back at full-health. Losing to the Hornets would be a joke, so I hope I’m not laughing next weekend!