The Bucks seemed destined for a breakout year in 2017-2018. Giannis Antetokounmpo started out stronger than anybody could have hoped, quickly inserting himself atop the MVP discussion. Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon looked to build upon his freshman campaign. Khris Middleton was healthy and ready to provide dead-eye shooting. Milwaukee made the deal to bring in Eric Bledsoe, who was believed to be the missing piece. And all of this with a former second overall pick and offensive wizard in Jabari Parker aiming for a return around the All-Star break.
Now looking on the outside of a suddenly competitive Eastern Conference playoff picture, this season isn’t exactly going how Jason Kidd and the Bucks’ front office envisioned.
In just a one-week span, the Bucks have suffered possibly the two worst losses for any team this season. Last week, they got steamrolled by the Mavericks by 32 points. Dallas played Devin Harris, J.J. Barea, and Yogi Ferrell for 76 minutes in the game, and the trio were a combined plus-66 in that time.
Their most recent woeful loss came to the Rudy Gobert-less Utah Jazz. It was a confidence booster for Quin Snyder’s offensively-inept club as they lit up the scoreboards while shooting 57-percent from the field.
Frustrations toward their poor performance caused this episode between Giannis and a Bucks assistant coach:
Giannis to an assistant coach: “I’ll f--k you up.” 😳 (NSFW) pic.twitter.com/0PkPULLJgN
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 26, 2017
A recurring trend in those two games has been the Bucks' inability to defend the three-point line. Dallas and Utah combined for 37 made threes on 70 attempts in the victories over Milwaukee. The Bucks are allowing opponents to shoot a league-leading 41.4-percent from beyond the arc. It’s a stat that becomes even more unbelievable given Milwaukee’s athleticism and range.
Guys like Giannis, Middleton, Bledsoe, and Thon Maker are all capable defenders with length -- opponents have just been able to find spots on the floor and knock down open looks.
(Still unsure who Bledsoe was attempting to guard here)
The games in-between those two mishaps weren’t all that great either. Milwaukee scored 88 points in a loss at home against the Wizards and needed herculean efforts from Middleton and Bledsoe (70 combined points) to fend off the Suns in overtime.
Milwaukee’s dependency on big games from their top players is beginning to become routine. Antetokounmpo is shooting a blistering 59-percent in wins versus 51-percent in losses. Middleton’s three point percentage dips substantially as well from wins (38.1-percent) to losses (25.5). Teams that have found success against the Bucks have forced others to beat them. Tony Snell has been lights out this year, but the rest of the role players have been iffy (Thon Maker, especially).
Numbers across the board will normalize throughout the year. Bledsoe will get more comfortable, and Parker’s eventual return will help ease some of the burden on Giannis. However, it’s tough to win in the NBA when teams know exactly what you want to do.
Giannis’ lack of three-point range is no secret, but his otherworldly ability to get to the basket makes placing shooters all around him that much more important. With Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova on the shelf, they’ve had no reliable source of outside shooting other than Snell. Bledsoe has been frigid from beyond the arc since joining the team (7-of-34), and Middleton is firing at career-low numbers (31.2-percent). Kidd will have his hands full shuffling around lineups that can acceptably space the floor with Giannis in the game.
At 9-9, the Bucks' record doesn’t accurately depict their overall talent level. The injury bug has been unkind, but every team is forced to deal with ailments throughout the year. It’s a great test for Kidd, Giannis and the rest of the club to see how they navigate this stretch. Even though there is plenty of basketball left to play, sharing the same record as the New York Knicks a quarter of the way through the season is never a great sign.
Sources: Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports, Twitter/BleacherReport, Youtube/XimoPierto