Just two weeks ago, the Milwaukee Bucks had a 20-18 record and were standing strong at fifth in the Eastern Conference. Currently, the Bucks have lost eight of their last nine games and have fell a game and a half out of playoff contention.
Anyone who doesn’t watch the Bucks on a regular basis might think this slump would be fueled by a significant injury or a coaching change, but outside of Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon missing part of a game due to disciplinary issues, the Bucks are the same team they were two weeks ago.
So why can’t they win a game?
While they have had some tough games in the nine game stretch, such as an OT loss to Boston and a devastating performance against Toronto, Milwaukee went up against four teams under .500 and lost to all of them, including a 76ers team without Joel Embiid.
The sole victory in the stretch was an impressive performance against James Harden and the Houston Rockets, where the Bucks scored 127 points and shot 59 percent from the field including eleven three pointers. The question is, why can’t the Bucks play like this every game?
Answering that question is difficult, but the best explanation is their lack of recent consistent offensive production, coupled with horrendous defensive execution.
Despite averaging 104.7 points per game, over the last nine games the Bucks only scored over 100 points four times, and one of those games included overtime. In their eight losses over the stretch, Milwaukee has averaged just 98.7 points per game, which is the second-least points per game in the league ahead of only Dallas.
At the same time, the Bucks haven’t given up less than 100 points since January 2nd, so relying on their defense to get through these offensive struggles is not an option. The Bucks point differential over the last nine games has been -9.0, while their average on the season is still +.1.
Milwaukee’s problems over this slump have been the same issues that most people predicted would limit them at the beginning of the season: three point shooting, bench scoring, and an offensive threat outside of the Greek Freak and Jabari Parker.
In the eight losses over the nine game period, the Bucks shot just 33 percent from the three point line, which is the third worse shooting percentage in the league. On the other hand, their opponents over this stretch shot 39 percent from the field, meaning the Bucks are not only failing to hit the three pointer, but also failing to defend it.
Now take into account the one game they won over this period against Houston, where Milwaukee shot 47.8 percent from three and 58.8 percent from the field. For Milwaukee to get back to where they were two weeks ago in terms of productivity, they will need to find a way to connect on more threes. Jason Kidd has tried out new rotations off the bench, giving Mirza Teletovic and Rashad Vaughn a chance to prove their worth, but Teletovic has shot just 15 percent from deep over that stretch of time. Vaughn has shot 30 percent from three over the last nine games, but the game against Toronto was the only time he played more than eleven minutes, and he only managed to make one three pointer on six attempts.
Teletovic and Vaughn are not the only ones struggling off the bench. The Bucks’ top bench scorer, Greg Monroe, has had his own issues in the Bucks losing streak. In the eight losses over the last nine games, Monroe has only put up double digit points twice, despite being the team’s third-leading scorer.
Kidd has moved Malcolm Brogdon to the bench in order to provide bench production, but his numbers have diminished since leaving the starting lineup. Neither John Henson or Miles Plumlee have been consistent options. In the month of January, Henson and Plumlee have a combined three games scoring in double figures, meaning outside of Parker and Giannis, the starting lineup has very limited scoring options. Micheal Beasley has had spurts of success of the bench this season, but Jason Kidd has struggled to get him into a solid rotation with both Jabari Parker and Antetokounmpo playing extended minutes. The one bright side of this losing skid has been the appearance of Thon Maker. While he clearly a work in progress, it is relieving for Bucks fans to see that their first round draft pick has potential, with his ability to block shots from a mile away, and the fact that he had the highest three point percentage in the month, shooting 50 percent from deep.
Finally, the Bucks don’t have a third option to turn to when Parker or Giannis fail to light up the stat sheets. In their last eight losses, Parker has averaged just 16.5 points per game, shooting just 41.1 percent from the field and 24 percent from three. Compare this to the month of December, where Parker shot 54.3 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from deep, and averaged 22.4 points per game and you will understand why Milwaukee is struggling. On occasion, Greg Monroe steps into the spotlight and puts on an eye-opening performance, but not nearly on a consistent enough basis to make up for the Bucks lack of scoring. The return of Khris Middleton is much anticipated, but coming off a serious injury will limit his playing time, and likely his ability to score.
Don’t be surprised if Kidd tries to insert Michael Beasley into the lineup more often, as he provides a veteran scoring option and a surge of energy off the Bucks bench.
In a way, this losing streak was a blessing in disguise as long as Milwaukee is able to fix the issues. The Bucks are only a game and a half behind Chicago at this point, and in fact are only four games behind the the Pacers for the sixth spot in the East. If this stretch of losses would have come toward the end of the season, it could have been devastating for the Bucks potential to make a playoff run.
Luckily, they still have 35 games to get it together, and their future looks bright with their next ten games being against sub-.500 teams, and, hopefully, last season’s leading scorer returning in a few weeks.