The Milwaukee Bucks performed above expectations in the fifth week of the regular season. They went 1-1 and looked good in the process. Three Bucks played better than the rest and deserve a bit of recognition.
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Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Not a single fan of the Milwaukee Bucks can complain after this week. The team played just two games and performed admirably in both. They beat the Orlando Magic in a game they were expected to win. Then they played hard against the superior Toronto Raptors and lost by just six in a game they had no business competing in.
Through the two games, Milwaukee showed flashes of excellence mixed with flashes of ineptitude. The good outweighed the bad, but the bad just won’t go away. The Bucks might be 6-8 but they could just as easily be 4-10. Luckily, projections of success for the team this season have always been modest.
Those modest projections lend itself to focusing on individual contributions. That helps pass the time in a season where the best case scenario for your team is the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs and a likely date with LeBron James‘ Cleveland.
This piece is always about which individuals on the team standout and shine in any given week. This week is really just more of the same. The same two players who have topped the rankings for most of this season are back at it again in week 5. And like usual, the third ranked player is shrouded in mystery.
B-Easy played in both games this week and averaged 17.7 minutes, 8.0 points (on 38.1 percent shooting), 5.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. He was third on the team in rebounds.
The third player in the rankings, like it has been the past few weeks, has been by far the least remarkable of the bunch. Last season, the third player was often one or two missed plays away from being the second or even first player in the rankings.
Even if Michael Beasley had bumped up his scoring and rebounding significantly this week he still would remain in third, though. So that begs the question of why is Beasley in third to begin with? It has a lot to do with his performance in the win over Orlando and his teammates lack of doing anything worth noting.
Two game weeks make it hard to draw real concrete conclusions and pull out trends. Because of that there was a higher emphasis on contributing to winning basketball. Beasley played better in this week’s win than any of his peers who were fighting for the third spot.
In the W, Beasley played 20 minutes and scored 14 points on 7-14 from the field. He chipped in three rebounds and zero turnovers while maintaining a plus/minus of +5. It wasn’t the best performance of his career but it was a useful scoring output that got the job done.
The Milwaukee Bucks really need Khris Middleton back to give this piece some juice, oh and to help out the team too. Until then it appears this season will be marked by the top two doing top two things and the rest of the team fighting for the third spot. So far, earning the third spot in the rankings has not been hard.
Major Cat played in both games this week and averaged 34.4 minutes, 18.0 points (on 45.2 percent shooting from the field), 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.5 steals. He was second on the team in both points and steals.
Jabari Parker was pretty unremarkable this week as well. The only difference between him, Beasley and the rest of the Bucks supporting cast was that an unremarkable Jabari is still pretty solid, especially on the offensive end.
The biggest contribution Parker provided the team was in the form of floor spacing. Jabari was lights out in the win (going 5-7 from three) but he was competent in the loss as well. Overall, he shot 50 percent from three on six attempts per game. Certainly, a small sample size, being just a two game week, but it is impressive nonetheless.
The only other standout element of Parker’s game was the way in which he played the passing lanes and stopped dribble penetration to collect steals. Parker was a real ball hawk this week. When he positions himself correctly his size and athleticism become a problem for the offensive player.
That ends all the good Jabari brought to the floor in week 5. It’s crazy to think that a week of averaging 18 points per game is underachieving for a 21 year old, but that’s what Parker has done with some of his recent play. He has set an expectation and now he needs to consistently meet it.
It seems that shooting a bunch of threes this week impacted some of Parker’s usual aggressiveness. He needs to find a balance between shooting from deep, attacking the hoop, and getting his teammates involved. He can do it all, now he just needs to find the right recipe that works for him on a regular basis.
The Greek Freak played in both games this week and averaged 37.0 minutes, 25.0 points (on 60 percent shooting from the field), 8.0 rebounds, 10.5 assists, 3.0 steals, and 1.5 blocks. He led the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals and was second in blocks. Additionally, his plus/minus of +5.5 paced the team.
A 1-1 week is a cause for celebration more often than not for the Milwaukee Bucks and Bucks fans. If that wasn’t enough of a reason to celebrate then take a good look at what Giannis Antetokounmpo was able to accomplish.
The Alphabet continued to show the world the incredible range of his game. He produced his first triple-double of the season in the win against Orlando and put up a nice points-assists double-double in the narrow loss to Toronto.
The assists, defense, and ability to get to the free throw line were the main highlights for Antetokounmpo in week five. He put up 21 assists over two games this week. His 2.6 assist to turnover ratio was the second best on the team, behind Beasley who did not record a turnover. When given the reins to the offense Giannis is absolutely masterful.
He is arguably one of the best passers in the league at this point. At his height, that might be the most impressive of the many attributes of his young career. When Giannis runs the point, opposing defenses cower in fear.
Defensively, his combined nine steals and blocks were instrumental to beating the Magic and keeping the game close against the Raptors. There are a select few elite defenders in the NBA who also impact the game offensively. Even fewer can do both at an elite clip. Giannis has cemented himself as an elite player on both ends of the floor.
Finally, we come to the free throw line. Unlike Giannis, we aren’t going to spend a whole week here. Antetokounmpo seemed to be at the line all the time in both games, averaging 7.5 attempts per game. But the time spent at the line is poppycock compared to the percentage he shot from it. Giannis made a staggering 93.3 percent of his free throws.
Beasley and the supporting cast were okay, at best, and Parker was good, at best, but Antetokounmpo was great, at worst. He was so far ahead of his teammates this week it almost looked like he was playing a different sport. Giannis is the best player on the Bucks without question. He is an All-Star without question. Is he worthy of an All-NBA team selection? That may be a question more worthy of our time.
The Milwaukee Bucks played hard this week. No one can question their effort. And the results show it. Winning when you are supposed to win and competing with a top two team in your conference make for an admirable two game stretch.
The Bucks are fighting hard for a 0.500 record. That might be enough for one of the last two seeds in the Eastern Conference. Last season you needed to be above 0.500 to make it to the dance in the East, however.
A lot can happen between now and April but the Bucks are doing a fine job of staying in the hunt. If they can continue competing then 2017 is going to be a very successful campaign. All anyone wants to see right now is for Parker and Antetokounmpo to grow and mature and for the supporting cast to, well, support.
Milwaukee has a major test upcoming next week against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. This game will be a great litmus test for Giannis and company. If they are competitive once again it will be good and if they can secure a victory it will be great.