The Bucks Midseason Report Card: Giannis Continues to Take Charge
The Milwaukee Bucks recently hit the halfway point this season in terms of games played after suffering a loss at Houston to the Rockets in game 41. Under the leadership of emerging superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has been making headlines all season, the Bucks have found themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Most recently, the Greek Freak was officially announced as an Eastern Conference All-Star game starter, making him Milwaukee’s first All-Star since Michael Redd in 2004 and first starter since Sidney Moncrief last did it in 1986.
As the Bucks gear up for the second half of the season, it’s time to hand out the midseason report card with the All-Star break right around the corner. While Giannis and Jabari Parker have garnered a lot of success among others, there have been some guys who have struggled to follow suit.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A
This one was easy. Not only has he become the face of the franchise in his fourth season with Bucks, but he’s also making headlines on the national level as one of the top up and coming superstars in the league. I could go on forever with this guy but he’s been a Godsend to the organization. As mentioned above, the Greek Freak is the first Buck to be selected as an All-Star starter since 1986 and is the first Buck to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated since 1982. He’s tied for 13th in the league in scoring at 23.7 points per game to go along with 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.8 steals while playing 35 minutes per game. If he keeps it up, he’d be the first player in NBA history to average those kinds of numbers in all five categories over the course of a season. He’s also shooting a career-high 53.8% from the field and nearly 29% from three. While he still works to get his three-point percentage higher, he’s started to make defenders respect it enough to allow him to get more looks in the paint. From his triple-doubles to quarterly highlights and first game-winner back in New York on January 4th, the Greek Freak has become the star Milwaukee deserves. The scary thing is he’s still far from his prime years.
Jabari Parker: A-
Now in his third season, the former second overall pick has quietly become an All-Star caliber stud for the Bucks in the shadow of Giannis. He may not get to the All-Star game quite yet this season, but he’s picked up where he left late last season and averaged 20.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists with a PER of 19.59, all of which are career highs. His biggest improvement is outside shooting with his three-point percentage sky-rocketing up to 40.8% compared to just 25% his first two seasons. The chemistry he is developing alongside Giannis has been tremendous at just 21 years of age, but there are times he fails to match the energy of his All-Star teammate, which has resulted in losses in winnable games. That being said, he’s still basically in his second year and realizing what it takes to be a winner. He’s got all the tools to be a star and has made steady improvements to his game especially on the defensive end. His explosiveness is fun to watch in transition alongside Giannis as they continue to become one of the more unstoppable duos in the league. No question he still has a long way to go, but he’s definitely on the right path.
Greg Monroe: B+
After taking a lot of grief in his first season with the Bucks, the 6’11” prized free agent swallowed his pride and put in a lot of work during the summer. The 26-year-old PF/C slimmed down a bit and got in better shape in order to adjust his old school playing style to fit it in with the young Bucks. Despite coming off the bench, he has embraced his role as Milwaukee’s sixth man along with Beasley. Not only does he pose as a viable scoring threat, but he’s improved his defensive liabilities as well. He’s moving better and finding ways to be disruptive in the passing lane while running the floor in transition. He’s never been the most athletic big man but he’s smart and has great touch around the rim offensively. In 40 games with no starts, Monroe’s minutes have dipped from 29.3 to 21.2 per game with his scoring average dropping from 15.3 to 10.7. That being said, he’s still averaging nearly seven rebounds and 1.2 steals per game with an impressive PER of 21.46. Whether or not he’s playing hard to ensure he get’s a hefty contract next season if he were to opt out, Greg has looked much more motivated and a lot more like a team player in his second season with Milwaukee. His chemistry with guys like Malcolm Brogdon as part of the second unit has not gone unnoticed.
Michael Beasley: B
When Khris Middleton went down with the torn hamstring in training camp, the Bucks acted swiftly as they acquired Beas from the Rockets in exchange for young PG Tyler Ennis. It turned out to be a steal for Milwaukee with Beasley making an immediate impact on the offensive end. He got off to a solid start through November but missed a couple of weeks due to injury in December. He’s done everything Kidd and the organization has asked him to do as a pure scorer off the bench with the second unit. While sometimes forcing his hand a bit much, Beas has been consistent in understanding his role. Sure he may shoot a lot but he provides a spark off the bench when they need it most. Most notably, he scored a season-high 28 points in the 109-107 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio while Giannis was sick and unable to give it a full go. There’s no denying that he still has a ton of talent, but he has not always been fully motivated. Regardless, he seems to have matured a lot after spending a year in China and has embraced his role at this stage of his career. With Kidd’s weird rotations, it’s been hard for him to get in and keep a good rhythm all season long. His numbers through 35 games have been respectable, though, as he’s averaged 9.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game with a PER of 17.25 while playing nearly 17 minutes per contest for Milwaukee.
John Henson: B-
After starting the season at the end of bench, Henson was inserted into the starting lineup due to lack of production from Miles Plumlee. Henson has been steady starting 32 of 39 games he’s played in with averages of 6.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in just over 20 minutes per game. Playing in the first year of his 4-year, $44 million dollar extension, J-Hook has been effective with his length and ability to be disruptive on the defensive end but still lacks the strength to hang with elite centers in the league. Despite being the starter, he splits time pretty evenly with Greg Monroe, who has been the more productive center on the offensive end. One thing that he has improved dramatically is his free throw shooting. Through his first four seasons, Henson was always between 51 and 59% and gotten his percentage up to nearly 70% this season.
Mirza Teletovic: C-
When the Bucks signed Mirza to a three-year deal over the summer, I admit I was a fan due to his prior relationship with Kidd in Brooklyn and his ability to be a stretch forward who can fill it up from deep. He definitely filled a need for the Bucks, who were lacking three-point shooting last season. He has given them a boost in that area but has been inconsistent, to say the least, with his three-point percentage down to 36% compared to nearly 40% last season. Also, his scoring average this season is down to 7.3 points from 12.2 points last season in 79 games with the Phoenix Suns. He has had his moments where he catches fire but his inconsistency can be pointed to Kidd’s unpredictable rotation. There will be stretches where Telly will play five games in a row and then sit for five games in a row. His shot selection is questionable a lot of the time, but it seems Kidd throws him in there and tells him to shoot whenever he gets it.
Miles Plumlee: F
After receiving what seemed to be a warranted 4-year, $52 million dollar extension in the offseason to remain with the Bucks, Kidd had high hopes that Plumlee would turn into his athletic high-motoring and floor-running starting center. Not only did he lose his starting spot just nine games into the season, but has fallen completely out of the rotation and into Kidd’s dog house. He’s averaged just 2.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 28 games. To his defense, it’s hard for Kidd to give minutes to three centers on a nightly basis. Nonetheless, Plumlee has been a huge disappointment this season and has put the Bucks in a tough spot with his trade value pretty much plummeted. Who knows what happened to him over the course of the summer leading into the season, but it seemed he was playing for a contract and is now coasting. Milwaukee would obviously love to move him by the deadline if they can, but that may almost be impossible at this point unless he can miraculously turn it around.
Thon Maker: C+ (Wanted to go higher but we just haven’t seen enough)
The jury is still out on the Bucks 2016 10th overall pick out of Australia. The 7’1” forward has seen limited time in his rookie season playing in 18 total games while mostly seeing the floor in garbage time. There have been a couple instances where coach Jason Kidd has given him meaningful minutes most notably in the Bucks 109-107 victory over the Spurs back on January 10th in San Antonio. Maker scored five points off a three and a transition dunk while playing a season-high 13 minutes. Along with his long and lanky frame, the 19-year-old offers an extremely unique skill set that should be able to translate well to the NBA. His relentless energy along with his willingness to learn and get better are what make him arguably the most intriguing rookie prospect from last year's draft. Only time will tell if he can reach his ceiling and become a key part of the rotation.
Matthew Dellavedova: C+
It’s hard to go any higher here for Delly considering the value he had coming in as a free agent getting a 4-year, $38 million dollar deal. Yes, he has continued to be the scrappy and annoying defensive point guard the Bucks hoped he’d be, but has been anything but spectacular on the offensive end. While averaging a career-high 5.4 assists per game, he’s shooting a career-low 32% from three compared to over 40% the last two seasons. He began the season as the starter but has since lost that spot to rookie Malcolm Brogdon over the last couple of weeks. It may have been a blessing in disguise as a bench role may just be where he’s most comfortable after having done that in Cleveland behind Kyrie Irving. He’s a great energy guy to have on the team and works well in the pick and role game with Giannis and Jabari. He will need to be able to knock down the outside shot more consistently if he wants to get back in the starting lineup.
Malcolm Brogdon: A-
He’s a rookie beyond his years, that’s for sure. At 24 years old, the second round pick has come in and exceeded expectations already in just half a season. His five-year experience in college proved wonders as his maturity and basketball IQ are off the charts. He understands the game as if he were a 10-year veteran already in the NBA. He wasn’t the flashiest guy in college as far as his athleticism, but his work ethic is second to none and he’s fit in perfectly alongside Giannis and Jabari. After winning NCAA defensive player and ACC player of the year as a senior, Brogdon has proven it wasn’t a fluke. He comes from a good program and great family. The Bucks got the steal of the draft as the 6’5” guard ranks in the top five among rookies in most categories. In all 41 games, he’s averaged 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.0 steal per game while seeing nearly 25 minutes per game. In 11 games as a starter, he’s been even more impressive with averages of 12.9 points, 5.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per game while even recording his first career triple-double against the Chicago Bulls back on New Year's Eve with 15 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. If he keeps this play up, Kidd will have no choice but to keep in the starting lineup moving forward.
Tony Snell: B-
Milwaukee acquired Snell in a trade with the Chicago Bulls for Michael Carter-Williams during the preseason and he’s become a reliable stopgap for the Bucks at shooting guard until Khris Middleton is set to return. While he doesn’t offer the same production as Khris, Tony has served his role well as a “3 and D” threat by knocking down open shots and playing lockdown defense on opposing teams best players. He’s averaging career-highs in points (8.3), rebounds (3.5), assists (1.3), and field goal percentage (44.1%) while shooting a respectable 36% from three, which is right around his career average. When Middleton’s comes back, his role should be similar off the bench as a guy who can come in and hit some open shots without the pressure of being a starter.
Jason Terry: B+
At 39, it’s hard to expect much from the 18-year veteran. He’s only averaging 3.2 points per game while playing just over 17 minutes in 36 contests but has done all you can ask of him at his age. He’s a guy who’s played with Jason Kidd and is the perfect veteran leader on and off the floor for these young guys especially Giannis and Jabari. He’s been around the block and then some including winning a championship with Kidd in Dallas during the 2011 season. He struggled to begin the season shooting the three but has steadily increased his production up to 38%. He brings a winning attitude and is a valuable presence that guys feed off of.
Rashad Vaughn: F
The former first-round pick in his second season and seems to not have made much improvement from year one to year two. He got a pass from me in his rookie season, but he continues to struggle to find his place on the roster. He’s bounced back and forth from the D-League and hasn’t shown Jason Kidd and the staff much at all to warrant him more playing time. He’s only 20 years old but if he doesn’t start to make any dramatic improvements anytime soon, he may be another wasted first round pick.
Jason Kidd’s tenure has been up and down in Milwaukee as we hit the halfway point this season. He’s a great basketball mind but he tends to mess with his rotations too much and experiment with too many different lineups that have caused inconsistencies from his players. The future hall of fame point guard has been valuable as a mentor to his young guards, but his ability as an overall head coach is suspect at times. He seems to be liked a lot by the players, which is important, but he needs to find a way to get Milwaukee to make the jump to the next level as a true playoff contender.
Overall Grade: B-
With all the hype that Milwaukee has gotten, their record is still a mere 20-21 and they are one spot out of the playoffs at the time of writing this. There is still plenty of time left, but they need to be better about showing for every opponent rather than just the elite teams. Too many times they get a signature win but then fail to validate it against lower tier teams. It will help when Middleton returns to the lineup, but until then, they need to be better about finding energy each and every night.