Halfway through the 2016-17 season, after breaking a five-game losing streak, what have we learned about this Bucks roster?
At 21-23, the Bucks are stranded on the outside looking in at the 9th spot in the East – they’re a half game back of the 8th-seed Bulls. An athletic, versatile, unconventional style of play has characterized an inconsistent first half. There have been a litany of stats and performances that point towards great optimism surrounding the team, but consistent wins still evade the young squad.
Antetokounmpo at point guard has been an experiment that’s played out incredibly well statistically, but the team has still underachieved. Parker has shown consistently that he can be the budding star he was hyped to be. Brogdon and Vaughn have each shown flashes of palpable potential, a serendipitous outcome seeing that Brogdon was a second round pickup and Vaughn a late first round wildcard. The team has managed to win 21 of their first 44 without stud Middleton, but 21 just isn’t enough to stand out.
Let’s run through some reasons for optimism as well as some reasons for concern at the halfway point.
Reasons for Hope
The Greek Freak has upped his status to mutant. Physically, he’s an absolute beast. He leads the team in every major statistic: points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks. His shooting efficiency has risen to a steady 53% mark, with two-point shots at an even higher mark of 57.4%. He’s an all-star starter on a struggling, small market team, and that speaks volumes to the respect he’s garnered across the league seeing as popular vote generally influence the historic, but mediocre, names – like D-Wade and Carmelo. Antetokounmpo has shown no signs of slowing up, and if that pattern continues, there’s still reason to believe in the Bucks’ playoff hopes.
Malcolm Brogdon has overachieved dramatically. He’s averaging 9.3 PPG along with 4.0 APG, he converts at the charity stripe at a stellar 90% and is shooting a respectable 43.3% from three, an underrepresented statistic on a team that thrives in the paint. He was the first of the rookie class to post a triple-double. Needless to say, Brogdon has emerged as a diamond in the rough and his unanticipated success is nothing but positive.
According to Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer, the Bucks could have their key starter Khris Middleton back as early as three games prior to the All-Star break. If he does make his return soon, he will likely be put on a minutes restriction, but his presence will undoubtedly be felt. However, that return remains to be seen, per espn.com: “Middleton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that he always believed he’d be back at some point this season. ‘But the way this team is playing, I’m not going to rush,’ Middleton told the newspaper in January.” The Bucks could use their $70 million man back, and there’s no doubt he would provide a much-needed boost.
Reasons for Concern
Especially along this five game skid, second half play has been abysmal. Prior to a win on Monday vs. the Rockets, the Bucks had been outscored in the third and fourth quarter of four of the five games of their losing streak. The fifth game was a loss to Atlanta, in which they were outscored by eight in the fourth quarter. Closing out games is paramount for young teams trying to build momentum and learn along the way. Tough losses can be valuable lessons of growth for young rosters but when they coalesce into a troubling pattern, shaking the funk can be challenging.
Three point shooting has again been a void thus far. Milwaukee ranks 23rd in the league in three pointers made per game at 8.5 a game. While they are converting said threes at an improved 36.7% rate, enough for eighth in the league, the number of shots converted unfortunately minimizes this stat. Being reliable in the post is no weakness, but versatility is a luxury that the Bucks haven’t shown just yet.
At 21-23, if a playoff berth is on the horizon, the team will likely be a low seed. It’s highly unlikely, thus far, that the Bucks will be a contender and there are doubts they’ll even make the playoffs. With the potential of Middleton returning, the team’s identity will change for the better, but most likely won’t be enough to make the team a force in the playoffs, if they make it at all.
The perpetual message this season has been relatively the same: youth is rampant, inexperience ever present, but glistens of potential have turned into tangible production that could lead the Bucks into a new era of Wisconsin basketball.