At 15-7, the Milwaukee Bucks currently rank second overall in the Eastern Conference. Surely, this is a success so far. A great start to the season. One, that most fans, myself included, would not have expected. We will certainly take it though.
With success, however, comes scrutiny. After all, if you can be good, why can’t you be great? What is holding you back? What, if anything, needs to be done to turn a team from great, to elite? I asked myself these questions, and a few more, as I thought about how to grade the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks season so far, a quarter of the way in. Let’s get right to it.
*Please note, these grades do not reflect the career of the player, but THIS SEASON and what their role has been, for the team.
*Also, I will be going from INCOMPLETE grades up to the “A” grades regarding players, finishing with the team grades. We started from the bottom and now we’re here, indeed.
DJ Wilson: INCOMPLETE Not much to say, he REALLY doesn’t play. And when he does, it’s not good. Looking like a bust. Big Time. Can’t believe the Bucks picked up his option for next year. Not much more I can really add. He seems to be fine in the G League, gets called up, immediately gets hurt and then waves a towel around on the bench until he gets sent back down to the Herd. I’ve seen enough in his two years already.
Christian Wood: INCOMPLETE I’m super happy he made the team, as he deserved it and hustled his ass off all summer. He hasn’t been given much run, other than garbage time, though. Also, he’s another player who may turn into a roster spot with more time in the G League. Could be a serviceable, third, athletic big off the bench in today’s NBA; could not be, hence, the incomplete grade.
Matthew Dellavedova: F Always hurt. Barely plays. Overpaid. There, that’s about “Delly” in a nutshell. He was originally brought in for veteran leadership and was quickly anointed Giannis’ favorite teammate, by the Greak Freak himself no less, but that has worn off. He can run an offense at times, but he plays less than Brown, so that’s never good. There’s just no spot on this roster for him, I’m afraid. If there’s a taker for him at the trade deadline, you snap accept what’s being offered. Thanks for signing in Milwaukee, but it’s time to move on.
Sterling Brown: F A player who just doesn’t seem to get it. Is he athletic? Yes. Is he worth being on an NBA roster? Right now, that’s debatable. By all means, I would not cut him outright, but send him to the Bucks G League team, the Wisconsin Herd, for some seasoning. He looks as lost as Thon out there, and doesn’t really have anything to call on skill wise other than dunking the ball or filling in during garbage time. Worth a stash on the team, but if he isn’t contributing to a contending team, send him down, let him learn the game a little more.
Thon Maker: D+ At this point in his career, Thon should have one skill nailed down. He should be able to hang his hat on something, or at the very least, be showing improvement. He hasn’t and I’m afraid he never will. He looks lost on defense, which is mind boggling, given his length and athleticism. Then, on offense, he looks to just jack threes when he does get the ball. He should be the perfect Bucks player, but he’s not. For every night he shows flashes (or playoff series, see: Celtics, Boston) there’s a bunch he doesn’t. Hell, there’s nights he literally doesn’t even see the court, picking up a DNP-CD (did not play- coaches decision). A top ten pick (the year Malcolm Brogdon was a second round pick) who has now become a bust. I’d say this is his make or break year, but the Bucks went and picked up his option for next year already.
Donte DiVincenzo: C- A pretty good start by the rookie from Villanova turned a little sour in the last month. His calling card, three point shooting, fell off a cliff and then he got hurt, missing a bunch of games. Still, he looks better than the last couple of draft picks (see: Maker, Thon and Wilson, DJ). Once he fills out his role and adjusts to the NBA game, he should be exactly what this team needs… say it with me now: SHOOTERS.
Tony Snell: C- It’s not that he hasn’t been good. It’s that he can’t really get the playing time to get into a rhythm. The best thing for this team is for him to come off the bench. He has always been a “3 and D” specialist, which again, is great for this team. His contract of making 10 million per year, however, it the downside. There are games he barely plays, and when he does, if he’s missing his three point attempts or not locking down on defense, he becomes useless as he doesn’t really provide much more than that, unfortunately.
John Henson: C Ugh. So frustrating, because he was having a decent year. Henson went out and got hurt, then had surgery recently on his wrist, projecting to be out of action for a few months. Another floor spacing big who can rebound and block shots with the best of them. Coach Budenholzer also had him shooting threes… to which Henson responded by actually making them! Henson has always been an up and down player for the Bucks, but his role seemed defined this year and he was filling in adequately, even if his numbers were down overall. Nothing great, but not too shabby, either.
Pat Connaughton: C He’s been everything you want from a spark plug off the bench. He’s fun to watch, and has some immense hops for a player of his size. A little underrated, whose numbers don’t read too great in the stat sheet, but more so on the court. Has surpassed Tony Snell in the rotation (a detriment to Snell, no doubt). Another great value signing (2 years/3.3 million). He is what he is, in terms of Brogdon, where there’s nothing wrong with what he is, but limited in what he can provide in numbers for the team. He’s fast becoming a fan favorite, too.
Ersan Ilyasova: C+ He’s been solid all around. Great floor spacer, as he can hit the three. A great value signing (3 years/21 million) as well. He takes charges, literally, for the team, which shows veteran leadership and the ability to do the dirty work. His only issues have been foul trouble, as he averages 3 in the 20+ minutes a game he gets, which lead to stretches of him not playing as much, when the Bucks need him with John Henson being out awhile. His numbers aren’t the worst, but still the lowest of his career, which happens when physical players age. Hope he can stay upright for the season.
Eric Bledsoe: B- The Bled-Show giveth, the Bled-Show taketh away. You never know what you’re going to get with him. A slash line of 15/5/5 certainly looks great. He’ll be the most athletic one on the court outside of Giannis most nights and wow you, but then he’ll send a ball into the stands on an errant pass the next. A little bit of Russell Westbrook to him. He has settled into his role more so this year than last, however, and has that bulldog attitude you want in a point guard.
Brook Lopez: B Everything this Bucks team needs in a center, “BROLO” provides. He shoots the three really well for a big man and passes just as beautifully. This specific Bucks team needs spacers, as I’ve stated numerous times, and Lopez fits the bill perfectly. He isn’t what he once was, and is prone to having WTF moments (as evidenced by his 0-12 three point attempts game against the Suns), but overall he’s been a steal at 1 year/3.3 million. His minutes are limited though, because of his injury prone past, capping his effectiveness.
Malcolm Brogdon: A- I really wanted to give him the elusive “A+.” His numbers across the board are career highs. He can play multiple positions. He plays with confidence. He can lead the second team or fit right in with the starters. He rarely makes a mistake. He plays smart. He hits open shots. He hits his free throws. He does it all. The complete player… who is limited athletically (as far as NBA athletes go). He will never be a 25 PPG player or a guy who will lead his team in assists. He just plays his role to perfection, albeit with limitations. I just can’t grade him higher than Giannis or Khris based on that.
Khris Middleton: A He’s been nearly perfect as a second fiddle to Giannis. The Robin to his Batman. One could make the argument, the Pippen to his Jordan. You get it. This team has two bonafide All Stars this year, with Middleton being the other (Giannis, obviously, the first). I was actually considering giving Khris the illustrious “A+” grade, but then he went and took himself out of the game against the Knicks on Saturday night (a 136-134 OT loss) by his own admission, of not giving any effort and missing key defensive rotations. Just bizarre and not like him at all. Otherwise, he has been everything this team has needed as a secondary scorer and floor spacing forward.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A I know, I know. Giannis should be an “A+++++” am I right? The team goes as he goes. He is quite possibly the league MVP this year (those darn Raptors, see: Leonard, Kawhi). But… if an “A+” is the true pinnacle in all of grading, then we must point out the faults of future Hall of Famer Giannis. His free throw and 3 point percentages are down this year (69% and 11%). That 11% is not a typo. He’s averaging 4 turnovers a game. In a vacuum, not that bad, considering he handles the ball a ton, but still, not “A+” handling if you know what I mean. The fact remains though, it’s a two person race for MVP this year and it’s not even close. Giannis > Kawhi.
Coaching: A Mike Budenholzer has been brilliant. Just because it seemed so obvious, doesn’t mean it isn’t true: Surround Giannis Antetokounmpo with shooters and keep the lane clear. Former coach, Jason Kidd, was immune to using the length, shooting and athleticism this team had. He routinely slowed the game down and clogged the middle, completely deactivating any advantage the Bucks had in the Greek Freak. He also refused to adapt to today’s NBA world of shooting threes. “Bud” has been the complete opposite. Thank God. If not for the Toronto Raptors fast start as well, he would be my front runner for Coach of the Year.
Front Office: B+ I was about to give the front office an A, as the offseason moves have mostly been brilliant and have worked out (letting Jabari Parker walk, signing Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, etc.). But, digging a little deeper, as an “A” grade would basically mean near perfection, there are a couple of things I did not like. Picking up Thon Maker’s option and then, subsequently, DJ Wilson’s, kind of surprised me. Neither has shown anything up to this point to warrant keeping them around. Plus, I feel it’s only because of their draft status, so we’ll see what one more year can do. And teams love their rookie contracts, so I get it, I just wouldn’t have done it. I anticipate the Bucks making a few tweaks this year though, as they have shown to be contenders in the East, so there is room for improvement.
Overall Team: B A fast start, great front office maneuvers, all star level play and coaching has this team thriving in a LeBron-less Eastern Conference. But, coupled with a few losses to teams the Deer should not be losing to (Knicks, Hornets, Suns), and the room for improvement, I settled on a “B” grade. Which is fantastic, but if you want to beat the Raptors, or even the Sixers come playoff time, you need to be on your “A” game.
There you have it, Bucks fans. Thanks for sticking around so long. Fear the Deer.