In Wednesday night’s road loss to the Orlando Magic, a 21-48 team, the Bucks allowed 18 made three-pointers, while letting a team coming off back-to-back games and a sizable road trip abuse them in all facets of the ballgame. Milwaukee’s defense has stunk, inside and out. Even with trade-deadline acquisition Tyler Zeller bodying the paint, the team, entering Mar. 14, has allowed the fifth-most points in the paint since Jan. 22. Hype around Joe Prunty and his job security has cooled considerably because of stats like these, and talks regarding an extension will only recharge if the Bucks themselves do.
Sure, being called on by the Bucks’ front office with over half of the season already played pitted the odds against Prunty, from the jump. One also has to keep in mind, too, that his current staff is composed of former coaches Jason Kidd brought with him from Brooklyn, sans Vin Baker. Still, general manager Jon Horst has a lot to analyze over the next few months.
Perhaps they keep Prunty — instead of pilfering San Antonio Spurs’ assistant Ettore Messina, who could very well wait until Greg Popovich retires and supplant him as head coach, or current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy — and wind up dealing Khris Middleton. Eric Bledsoe, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019, could also be dealt for a playmaking point. Second-year big Thon Maker has been dog-housed, finding his way out of the rotation, while one of his backcourt mates, John Henson, is still averaging 25 minutes per night.
Zeller, who has been rebounding the ball better than Henson on the offensive end, needs minutes, as the team has fallen toward the bottom of the league in opponent second-chance points. He’s also the guy who can set the most effective screens on the team. Prunty should also have no qualms about turning to rookie Sterling Brown to eat more minutes, as his quick hands and defensive awareness are admirable, as well as his 6.8 boards per 36 minutes. Maybe Prunty will begin to insert either Zeller or Brown into the starting lineup from here on out, in hopes of preventing second-chance points and saving possessions.
If the Bucks could play consistent basketball, mostly against playoff-caliber teams, the fourth seed would be theirs. Instead, they needed to pull off a 30-5 run to finish the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this month, and they allowed a 21-4 run against the Indiana Pacers just days later. In the latest game against the Magic, the Bucks surrendered a 14-2 run late in the third quarter. The truth is, Milwaukee won’t plunder anybody, as they prefer close games to blowouts, as evidence by their 11-15 record in games decided by 10 points or more. But this is where rotations play an integral part in navigating through these scenarios. Sure, it’s playoff season, and teams are going with eight- or nine-man rosters, essentially, as everyone bears down, while only tanking teams are flirting with the idea of using their full team.
Brandon Jennings, though he may have only caught lightning in a bottle Monday night against Memphis, looked promising as a facilitator. He was willing to keep his head up, take care of the ball and find open teammates, working in a fluid, yet controlled offense. As a result, the Bucks exhibited some of their best spacing of the year, and it proved big. Of course, the Grizzlies are tanking titans, but that strays from the point. Bledsoe’s brand of basketball is pure caffeine, which is fine, though a counterpoint would be better Perhaps the team turns around once Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova come back, providing backcourt depth and tough perimeter mettle.
Until then, with little stability around him, let us not forget that Giannis is in an elite class of players who can dominate isolation ball, but the load has to be taken off the man’s shoulders, if the front office and coaching staff plan on saving his otherworldly energies for meaningful playoff basketball. He leads the league in minutes, as of Mar. 14, and he shouldn’t be playing in the last handful of minutes during games that are already wrapped up. (With the Bucks up 14 against the 76ers with three minutes left in the game, The Greek Freak checked in and proceeded to finish the game.)
It is my belief that if the Bucks don’t make it out of the first round, which is almost conclusive given that they’re currently slated to either face the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors, yet another coaching search will commence.