Should We Be Worried About the Milwaukee Bucks?
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
An above five hundred start after the first couple weeks of the NBA season is a good accomplishment for most teams. But for a squad coming off a 60-win campaign that resulted in the league’s best record last season, 2019-20 has started a bit slow for the Milwaukee Bucks.
They had a nice comeback win in the season opener against James Harden and the Houston Rockets, but have since dropped a few games including the home opener to Miami, and an important road game in Boston. Even in some of their victories, the Bucks haven’t played as sharp as they are capable of.
Looked at as one of the clear contenders in the East, the Bucks have still played decently overall, but are showing cracks in their armor that were rarely seen last year. Just a few weeks into the season there is no reason to panic, but it is worth looking into the issues the team is having and how they can be corrected.
Reason one for the slow start would be the integration of their new additions into the system. Any team will have this challenge to begin the season, but the Bucks are still trying to figure out how to mask a significant loss in guard Malcolm Brogdon. New starter Wes Matthews has started out very slow, and after seeing around 30 minutes a game over his first four contests in the cream and green, he is now playing closer to just 20 minutes a game, and scoring significantly less, averaging just 2.5 points per game over the first week of November.
On a positive note, the Bucks have gotten good production from other backcourt members including Pat Connaughton, George Hill, and Kyle Korver, and even some surprising early season contributions from Donte DiVincenzo. They have enough guys to account for Brogdon’s missing production, but so far it has been a challenge for coach Mike Budenholzer to figure out a consistent rotation with these players. There is little doubt that eventually he will, but the team will need heightened production from the backcourt, especially Matthews as the season progresses.
A second issue the Bucks seem to be having is a lack of constant urgency. This team is one of the most talented in the league and can turn it on whenever they need to. But being up and ready to go for 48 minutes in every game has seemed to be a problem. However, this is a somewhat natural early season occurrence for a team coming off a deep playoff run. After playing in the biggest games of most of the players’ careers in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, it is now hard to get up for a regular season game on a Monday night against Cleveland for example, where the atmosphere and stakes just aren’t as high.
Jordan’s Bulls, Kobe’s Lakers, and LeBron’s Cavs teams very likely had those issues from time to time as well, so the Bucks are not alone; but staying focused through the grind of the regular season is very important. Luckily the Bucks have good leadership between star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Coach Bud that will not let this team relax any more than it has already this season.
The final issue is just general inconsistency across the board. Every team will have inconsistent play, but some of Milwaukee’s numbers have been quite drastic this year. It starts with putting four quarters together, as the Bucks have blown two big leads of 21 points against the Heat and 19 against the Celtics in two of their losses. At the same time, they have come back from deficits of 16 against the Rockets and 22 against the Jazz.
Big leads and blowing big leads are nothing new in the NBA, but with the Bucks amount of talent they really should never be facing these big deficits. While it is encouraging they can come back from them, it is playing with fire if the trend continues. If they can be a bit more consistent through 48 minutes the Bucks have enough talent where they may not lose many more games.
Inconsistencies from some of their starters have hurt so far as well. Obviously, Giannis is as consistent a player as there is in the league, and he has had just as much success if not more than he had early on in his MVP campaign last season. But it has been the secondary options in Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Brook Lopez that have been a bit up and down to start the year.
Middleton has had three games where he has scored 26 points or more this season, but also three games where he has scored 13 or less. With a deep roster the Bucks don’t need 25+ from Middleton every night, but it would be nice to get at least 15-20 each game from him. He also needs to be more consistent on the defensive end. Even just a brief lapse like this cannot happen from the second-best player on a team with championship aspirations.
Losing the forward for up to a month will make things even tougher for the Bucks to reach their peak form.
Like Middleton, Bledsoe has not been bad, and in fact has really come on in over the last few weeks, averaging 19/7/5 in November. However, he has had his fair share of ups and downs early on as well, and mistakes like this cannot happen in a close game against a big-time opponent on the road.
But the most maddening of the group so far might be Lopez. Splash Mountain is not always needed for big time scoring, but he has games this season with point totals of just 3, 5, and 9, while shooting just 27% from beyond the arc. More concerningly, Lopez has just one game so far where he has posted double digit rebounds. Last year the Bucks were first in the league in both defense and rebounding due in large part to their acquisition of Lopez. Combined with his deep shooting, Lopez was a spark for the team all season, and is a spark the Bucks need to somehow fire up sooner rather than later.
Overall, the Bucks are not looking at any major long-term problems. But there are some mistakes and issues which they will need to clean up to get back to the level they were at last year. It is clear the team is very talented, and despite some early flaws, there have also been many bright spots so far on the young season. If the Bucks can regain their focus and urgency, further acclimate their new additions, and get more consistent play from their starting lineup, there will be another 60-win team in Brew City come April.
Statistics Courtesy of Basketball Reference