In this edition of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Best and Worst, we look at Tony Snell’s shot, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s All-Star bid, and the Bucks’ performance in the clutch.
Welcome to the Milwaukee Bucks’ Best and Worst, a semi-regular column that will look back on some of the most encouraging and discouraging events we’ve seen in recent games.
We will focus on more overarching trends and statistical positives and negatives than simple game-by-game analysis. The hope here is that by taking a step back, we can avoid short-term overreaction and focus on more encompassing issues.
The Bucks faced a three-game slate over the week of Christmas, featuring yet another two-game series, this one against the Washington Wizards, and a clash with the divisional rival Detroit Pistons.
These games will most likely have some form of playoff implications; both the Wizards and the Pistons figure to be fighting for a lower playoff seed just like the Bucks. Taking that into consideration, it was a fairly positive week for Milwaukee, taking two games convincingly and nearly winning a third.
Of course, there’s much more beyond the results to cover, so without further ado, let’s get into it!
The Bucks’ back-to-back against the Cleveland Cavaliers will be remembered for some star performances from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker as well as their thrilling (or crushing, depending on your view) defeat in the first game.
However, we may look back on this series as the point when the Bucks gained some leaguewide notoriety and clout. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James made headlines by calling out the Bucks following their meeting with the team, specifically the aforementioned young duo.
Then, after the Bucks’ dismantling of the Wizards in their first matchup, a disgruntled Washington team responded with more than just a close victory at home, adding some extracurricular contact and on-court disputes to the second game.
Before you worry that the Bucks are turning into a dirty or disrespected team, don’t – both instances come more out of frustration than anything else. The Cavs couldn’t stop Giannis from getting to the free throw line, and his miss at the charity stripe was the only thing that kept Giannis from putting 40 on the Wizards.
Let’s frame this in another way: no one complained after facing the 2015-16 Bucks. Bad teams without star talent simply don’t get in the heads of their opponents, and certainly not the likes of Lebron.
Right now, it’s hard to describe the Bucks as anything but pesky in relation to the league’s elite, but considering where we were to start the season, pesky works.
During his first two months with the team, Tony Snell looked much like the fringe-caliber wing he was advertised to be before being traded to Milwaukee.
As we previously noted, Snell had some curious shooting splits to start the year. Although he wasn’t hitting them at a high rate, he wasn’t shy about shooting the three, so it was easy to imagine that his stroke would find him.
Find him it has, as Snell has caught fire recently. Highlighted by a six three-point outing in the Wizards loss, he’s shooting 45.2 percent from behind the arc in his last 10 games and a blistering 54.2 in his last five.
As I mentioned last week, the Bucks offense needs a complimentary scorer to function at a high level. Some times it can be Michael Beasley, other times it’s Snell, ultimately it should be Khris Middleton.
Snell was already looking like a steal for what the Bucks gave up for him. If he develops a deadly three-pointer? It could be one of the better trades in recent Bucks history.
Given that one of my first “Worsts” of the year was simply “Inconsistency”, it’s safe to say that this section could look very, very bad depending on what the Bucks do over the next few weeks.
Even so, I’m including it anyway after a seven-game stretch that finally felt like we were watching a team with a defined sense of success. There haven’t been many games during the last two weeks that fell flat from what was expected of the Bucks prior to the contest, although at times they may have surprised us in a good sense.
Much of this newfound identity has come from the exploits of Giannis and Jabari, or more specifically, the consistently good exploits of Giannis and Jabari. It’s hard to point to a game in which both of the Bucks’ duo has a bad outing, and if that game exists, it’s almost assured that the Bucks lost.
Man, I loathed this Bucks team the first two weeks but when they figured out their identity and that skirmish defensive scheme, it’s great.
With Antetokounmpo and Parker carrying the scoring load while doing much more in the process, Greg Monroe providing a bench spark, Malcolm Brogdon contributing veteran/rookie leadership, and Thon Maker ensuring that no fans leave early, the Bucks are a much more easily understood team than they have been earlier this season and for much of last.
Finding an identity, and by the same token some consistency, is one of the best developments we could have seen out of the Bucks this season. Let’s just hope they keep it up.
As the Bucks’ most prized signings in free agency, Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova were brought in mostly because of their outside shooting talents.
Both had established themselves as deep threats in their relatively short careers, and both fit in seamlessly with the Point Giannis agenda. However, while they’ve posted respectable percentages overall, both players have struggled from deep recently.
Teletovic has missed the last two games due to a concussion, but in his last five played, he’s shot just 26 percent from behind the arc, which is particularly upsetting considering he’s taken almost five-and-a-half attempts per game.
Dellavedova has gone through a more extended slump, shooting 27 percent over his last 10 games, although his two-for-two performance against the Pistons might show signs of a resurgence.
As far as whose slump affects them the most, Teletovic’s game is much more specialized than Dellavedova’s, so a regression in his shooting is more detrimental to his on-court value. Luckily, Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon (53 percent from deep in his last 15 games) have picked up their own performance recently, so it doesn’t look like these slumps have hurt the Bucks too much.
Although it hasn’t really become a recurring issue yet, the Bucks have been decidedly less-than-stellar in “the clutch” this season.
Defined as any point in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime in which the margin sits at five points or less, the Bucks rank dead last with a negative-27.2 net rating. This mark is a result of their putrid crunch-time offense, as their offensive rating of 83.6 puts them nearly seven points behind the 29th place Miami Heat.
Some of this can be chalked up to their youth; veteran teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Memphis Grizzlies sit atop the list, but it’s definitely a problem that needs addressing.
We’ve seen Milwaukee blow several late leads in very winnable games, most recently against the Wizards on December 26. In this game, the Bucks held a 98-94 lead with over four minutes left before giving up a 13-4 run that would leave the contest at its final score of 107-102.
It’s no secret that the Bucks are built around Giannis and Jabari, and it’s equally obvious that these two are at their best in transition, where they can push the pace off rebounds or steals. When the pace slows down, as it tends to do late in games, Milwaukee’s halfcourt offense leaves much to be desired.
Look how congested the paint becomes on this possession. Delly has little option but to force up a contested jumper with a small chance of going in. This is why going small at the end of games has been effective for the Bucks – Giannis and Jabari can attack the paint with the freedom of having another shooter on the floor.
Going small won’t be a quick fix, as there are clearly problems beyond simply spacing, and some improvement should come with experience, but the coaching staff may have to take a hard look at the team’s end-of-game strategy.