A tale of two cities.
Memphis is in the mood to riot after a 5-game losing streak. A losing streak with no silver linings. The average margin of defeat in those games is a whopping 13 points per game.
Milwaukee is having a much better go of it, lately. The Bucks have won 6 in a row and propelled themselves into the 8th seed of the Eastern Conference. A young team, the Bucks have already showed flashes of huge potential. The Milwaukee Bucks have already become primetime watching because of one particular Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo, but now their team is rallying as we head into the final month of the season.
On Monday night, the Bucks and Grizzlies meet up at exact opposite points of their seasons. The Bucks are clicking and the Grizzlies are in a tailspin. This could be a defining game for both teams.
To get a better understanding of the Milwaukee Bucks, I’ve asked Adam Paris, Co-Site Manager of Brew Hoop, five questions about the state of the franchise.
How has Giannis Antetokounmpo’ rise as a superstar this season changed expectations for the Milwaukee Bucks franchise as a whole?
The name of the game is to get a superstar, and Milwaukee hasn’t had one in a long time. Giannis was the Bucks’ first All-Star since 2004, and with a potential top-ten player in place, the idea of making a deep postseason run feels far more attainable than at any time in the last 15-plus years. I think lots of fans hoped he could reach this level, but I for one wasn’t sure he would reach it this quickly or provide the consistent scoring threat he is already without any semblance of a consistent jumper. Few franchises feel better positioned for the future with Giannis already locked into an attractive 4-year, $25 Million dollar per year contract starting next season.
The last time these two teams played the Grizzlies lost an 11 point game. That was in November, though. How have the Bucks changed since then?
Milwaukee’s defense regressed mightily since some of their early season success, partially due to teams starting to hit three-pointers against them, and partially because their effort and rotations seemed to wane in their hyper-aggressive scheme. Thon Maker is now getting spot starter minutes since rarely playing, although Jason Kidd has replaced him in the starting lineup to start the second half the last two games. The biggest change though has been the loss of Jabari Parker to an ACL injury, and the return of Khris Middleton from a torn hamstring. Losing Parker means the absence of an adept scoring punch, but Middleton is providing similar per-36 point totals with added play-making ability and defensive acumen far exceeding the lackadaisical play of Parker on that end.
What’s the fan morale concerning Jabari Parker, considering he underwent a second season-ending surgery in three years?
Distressed, to be sure. The track record of players returning from two ACL injuries on the same knee in the NBA is limited, with Davis Bertans of the Spurs as the only one that comes to mind. Even then, he’s merely a role player. The potential of Parker ever becoming the superstar many hoped for when he was selected number two overall is minute. However, Parker spoke to the media for the first time since his injury this past week and espoused supreme optimism in his ability to come back from this. He’s an impassioned, thoughtful individual with a strong work ethic though, so Bucks fans probably couldn’t ask for a better example of someone to believe in when he says he’ll overcome this.
The Bucks are a lot more athletic than the Grizzlies and a lot of other teams. How do the Bucks use that athleticism as an in-game advantage?
Milwaukee utilizes transition plays at the sixth-most frequency in the league (16.0%) and scores at the sixth-best clip on those plays (1.16 points per possession). Their athleticism and length helps them outrun the opponent, and Giannis in particular is adept at contorting his body through defenders to create any number of the highlight finishes he’s had this year. That length is also an integral part of their defensive scheme, which relies on sending extra defenders and overloading portions of the floor to force teams to try and make tough passes that the Bucks’ stretch-armstrong defenders can pick off. That’s helped them force opponents into the third-highest turnover percentage in the league (15.3%), although it hasn’t necessarily translated to an effective defense given they’re ranked near the bottom-ten in terms of defensive efficiency.
With Joel Embiid only racking up 31 games for his Rookie of the Year campaign, does Malcolm Brogdon deserve consideration for the award?
He assuredly deserves consideration. This year’s relatively weak crop of rookies is giving Brogdon a decent chance at the actual award, and he’s been a steady hand for a team whose pricey point guard signing, Matthew Dellavedova, has been erratic at best. Among rookies, he’s fourth in points per game and number one in assists. Not to mention the narrative of a second round pick overachieving and becoming the first one to win the award may prove enticing to some voters. He has been out the last two games though, and Dario Saric’s surging performance in the absence of Joel Embiid may eclipse the unsexy, consistent play of Brogdon if Embiid doesn’t win it regardless.
Thank you to Adam Paris for joining us! Follow @adamrparis