Bucks Must Find Balance and Consistency
Heading into this week, the Milwaukee Bucks were 5-4 and coming off a solid 106-96 win over a tough Memphis Grizzlies team last Saturday. It was a great way to end the week after brutal losses to two previously winless teams in the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans. In that win, Giannis Antetokounmpo turned in an inspiring performance of 27 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals, and four blocks to lead the Bucks. Not to mention, Milwaukee got 42 points from its bench and shot 52% from the field including 7-of-18 from three. Michael Beasley was instrumental to that effort with 19 points on 6-8 shooting in 19 minutes with rookie Malcolm Brogdon adding 12 points on 5-9 shooting to go along with three assists in 22 minutes. The Grizzlies on the other hand, finished the game at 44% shooting and just 20% from three (6-30).
While it may seem most teams would appreciate multiple days off in between games, it didn’t exactly work out in the Bucks favor as they just dropped back-to-back road games to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday and the Miami Heat on Thursday, respectively. Despite 26 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists from the Greek Freak, the Bucks couldn’t complete their dramatic second half comeback by falling 107-100. That loss to Atlanta was understandable considering the Hawks are still one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference at 9-2. On Thursday night in Miami, the Bucks came out with good energy by jumping out to a 20-6 lead in the first quarter but fizzled out and ultimately lost by 23 points. Thursday night’s loss is harder to take considering the Heat had been off to an abysmal start at just 2-8 in their first season without Dwyane Wade.
As I said before in my season preview, this season hinges on the continued development of 21-year-olds Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker more than anything. At the same time, it’s no secret that the Bucks added some talent around them in hopes to get this team back to the playoffs. Heading into Wednesday night’s matchup verse Atlanta, Milwaukee boasted the NBA’s third highest scoring bench at 43 points per game. As of today, the Bucks are now fourth behind the L.A. Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers after dropping their average to 40.3 points per game. In their last two losses, Milwaukee scored just 25 bench points against the Hawks and a whopping 22 against the Heat on Thursday.
In Milwaukee’s five wins this season, they have averaged 50.2 bench points per game including a season-high 62 against the Sacramento Kings back on November 5th. The ironic thing is that it’s been a different player each night that leads the bench in scoring in those five wins from Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Greg Monroe, Malcolm Brogdon, and even Rashad Vaughn. It doesn’t really matter who steps up night in and night out as long as the second unit comes in and brings the energy to put the Bucks in the best position to win games. That’s the special thing about this team. They don’t have to lean on just one guy to come in and fill up the stat sheet. Once they figure out who has the hot hand on any given night, they must ride that wave until it settles.
Speaking of Greg Monroe, the Bucks $17 million dollar prized free agent from last offseason did not see the court Thursday night and played just a total of seven minutes on Wednesday night. There has been no indication that the 6’11” center has been hurt, which begs the question as to why wasn’t he out there? Jason Kidd eluded before the season that not all three centers will see minutes every night and that whoever plays will play based on the certain matchups. I understand Kidd’s logic, but when you look at the stats this season, the Moose has been the Bucks most productive center thus far this season compared to John Henson and Miles Plumlee, who received a four-year, $52 million dollar extension this offseason. In 10 games, Monroe is averaging 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in just 20 minutes per game. Not to mention his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is at a career high 24.35, which is three points higher than last years rating.
Fourth year center John Henson, who in the first year of his four-year, $44 million dollar extension, is averaging just 4.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game in 10 games with a player efficiency rating of just 11.58. The real head scratcher this season has been Miles Plumlee, who everyone raved about late last season due to his high-energy athleticism he showed on both ends of the court. Many might now be second guessing resigning him after he has gotten off to a poor start of just 2.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks per game with a 6.98 PER. What’s wrong with Plumlee you may be thinking? Well, that’s the $52 million dollar question at this point. Something has got to change on that front. The Bucks were not expecting this kind of play to start the season. Kidd has even been forced to take Plumlee out of the starting lineup in favor of Henson.
The only good thing is that’s its still early and there’s still time to turn it around. No need to panic so much at this point, but if things don’t change soon, somebody may very well be on there way out. For a while, the Bucks have been trying to find a trade partner for Monroe, but teams seem to think that he will just bolt for free agency at the end of the season. Milwaukee has also made it known that John Henson is available, but he’s also been hard to move now that his extension has kicked in. Many teams including the Minnesota Timberwolves expressed interest in Miles Plumlee during the offseason, but his lack of production might have just scared teams away as well.
I can see why it may be frustrating for the Bucks considering they are now invested and locked in to four-year deals with Henson and Plumlee while Monroe has the potential to be a free agent at seasons end. Monroe dedicated himself during the offseason by getting in better shape and committed to being better defensively. Kidd feels pressured to see what he has in Plumlee and Henson because Monroe’s future with the team is in doubt beyond this season. If things continue to go the way they are, the likelihood of Monroe opting in for next season is extremely low and understandably so. Before the season started, most though it was a blessing to have three talented guys at the center position, but at this point the Bucks have created quite a logjam of a problem. Let’s hope Kidd and the staff can either find a trade for one of these guys soon or find a more consistent rotation moving forward.
Can history repeat itself? Well that’s what the Bucks are hoping tonight as they host the 10-2 Golden State Warriors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Unless you live under a rock, Milwaukee had the upset of the year last season as they ended the Warriors historic 24-0 start by defeating them 108-95 back on December 12, 2015.
It’s almost like déjà vu when you dive deeper into the matchup. Just like last season, the Warriors come to Milwaukee on a Saturday night for the second game of a back-to-back after playing in Boston the night before against the Celtics. Last season, Boston gave Golden State all they had, but ultimately lost in overtime. Last night, the Warriors took care of business and cruised to a 20-point win. There was a report yesterday from Chris Haynes of ESPN that Kerr might sit some players tonight in Milwaukee due to the back-to-back setting, but Stephen Curry and newest Warrior Kevin Durant debunked those rumors and said they will be available and ready to go tonight. It’s a new year and both teams each have a few new players, but if you don’t think that last year’s matchup isn’t on anybody’s minds then you are mistaken. One can bet that the BMO Harris Bradley Center will have a ruckus sold out crowd with another upset on their minds. Things got chippy last year when Draymond Green wasn’t happy with the Bucks and how they celebrated the win, which could also make things more interesting tonight.
Milwaukee will have their hands full, but they do present a difficult matchup for Golden State due their length and athleticism. Despite a lack of energy in the Bucks last two games; there is a high chance that won’t be the case tonight. Greg Monroe led the charge last season with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists while Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists. Jabari Parker added 19 points and put on an impressive dunk show in the process. In order for the Bucks to yet again pull of the upset, it’s going to take a full team effort. Of course they will need Giannis and Jabari to bring their A games, but they will need other guys to step up as well. Most importantly, they must feed off the energy from the fans and jump on them from the opening tip. This may be just another regular season game, but it’s sure to have the feeling of a playoff atmosphere. Tip-off will be at 7:30 p.m. CT and can be found on Fox Sports Wisconsin.