The Milwaukee Bucks have surpassed the halfway mark of the NBA season, winning 27 of their first 42 games. That’s good enough for third place in the Eastern Conference, but it’s safe to say there’s work to be done.
The Bucks are less concerned about their positioning in the standings and more worried about their lack of consistent play. The offense has been a cluster all season long (more on that later). Their defence, on the other hand, has rediscovered how to be elite.
It’s been a tumultuous first half with lots of ups and downs, so here are five takeaways with 40 games remaining.
Brook Lopez’s Shooting
After spending the first eight years of his career as an exclusive back-to-the-basket post player, Brook Lopez began the transition to a perimeter-oriented big two years before landing in Milwaukee.
His first four years with the Bucks saw him launch a ton of threes (he averaged at least four three-point attempts per game) with varying degrees of success; his percentage vacillated between 31 and 36 percent which puts him around a league-average shooter from deep.
He reinvented his stroke over the offseason, focusing on finding the perfect amount of arc. It seems to have done wonders: He’s shooting 38.6 percent from behind the arc which would be a career-high if it holds. He hasn’t been connecting as often since December, a cause for concern, but the percentage has continued to remain above league average.
It would be a huge boost for the Bucks’ offense if he can carry this level of success into the postseason. He made just one of his 13 attempts in the Bucks’ second-round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics last year. That can’t happen again.
Bobby Portis’s Defense
Portis and the Bucks agreed to a long-term deal in the offseason, cementing his spot on the roster for the foreseeable future. He’s endured himself to fans thanks to his hard work, grit and toughness.
Unfortunately, those traits have been limited to the offensive end of the court this season. He works as hard as anyone to earn post position and while banging on the boards to track down rebounds. Stopping someone from scoring? Eh, not so much.
His effort level hasn’t translated to defense where he’s been a complete liability this season. Don’t get me wrong: He’s always been a limited defender, but it’s reached a new low. Portis is extremely leaky while trying to defend the rim, often allowing guys to slither right past him for easy buckets.
Offense Misses Khris Middleton
After ranking in the top seven in offensive efficiency during Mike Budenholzer’s first four seasons, they’ve taken a gigantic step backwards this season, ranking 25th according to Cleaning the Glass. There are several reasons for that and one of them is the loss of Chris Middleton.
After offseason wrist and knee surgeries, Middleton missed the first 20 games of the season. He wasn’t the same guy we remembered when he returned either, as he struggled to hit shots with any consistency. In the seven games he’s played this season, he’s averaged just 11.1 points per game while posting an awful 26.8 three-point percentage and 39.6 effective field goal percentage.
Some of his struggles are to be expected when someone first returns, but the upsetting part is that he’s now missed the last 14 games and counting with knee soreness. Hopefully, Milwaukee is taking it easy on him and letting him get to 100 percent before allowing him back on the basketball court (which could be soon). It’s clear they miss his playmaking and tough-shot making.
You get the ball! You get the ball! YOU get the ball! The Bucks’ offense feels like an Oprah Winfrey special this season, as they can’t stop giving away the ball to the defense.
The Bucks have been one of the better teams at protecting the rock under Budenholzer, but have plummeted near the bottom of the basketball world in this aspect: They rank 23rd in turnover percentage. It’s been a season-log plague that has given opponents easy fastbreak opportunities (another area they’ve struggled). They can’t give away so many possessions and expect to compete with the top teams on a regular basis.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Shooting Struggles
It can be sinful to criticize Giannis Antetkounmpo so I’ll simply stick with facts: His shooting percentages are down this season. His effective field goal percentage is his lowest since 2015-16, his success rate at the rim the lowest since 2017-18, mid-range the lowest since his rookie year, and his three-point and free throw connection rates are the second- lowest of his career.
He’s particularly struggled in the four-to-14 foot range where he’s made only 28 of his 131 attempts (21 percent). Furthermore, of the 272 players who’ve taken at least 20 attempts in the paint, but outside the non-restricted area, Antetokounmpo ranks last at 19.6 percent.
I don’t say all of this to bury the man, simply to point out his lack of touch this season. There are plenty of reasons for his slide: Missing Middleton, his usage percentage and minutes are sky-high, lack of shotmaking from his teammates, and more. Antetokounmpo is still great and impacting the game in myriad ways. He’s just not as great as we’ve gotten used to.