Milwaukee has come a long way since the All-Star Break. After dropping out of the playoff race and residing seven games under .500 in February, it appeared the Bucks’ season may be over.
A 14-4 record in the month of March (including wins over the Clippers, Raptors, and Celtics) not only got the Bucks back into the playoff race, but it set them up to take (possibly) the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference.
While Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jason Kidd may have gotten the national recognition with the honors of Player of the Month and Coach of the Month, there were a few Bucks players who went under the radar that deserve a lot more credit for Milwaukee’s success.
Check out how each player has developed over the last two months, and how their play has impacted the Bucks push to the playoffs:
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A
The aforementioned Player of the Month has been one assist away from a triple-double in both of Milwaukee’s last two games. He is currently top 20 in the league in four categories: points, rebounds, steals and blocks. If he can just get his assist numbers up by about a half of an assist per game, he could be the first player in NBA history to be top 20 in all five major categories. That would be an accomplishment that suits Giannis perfectly, as he does virtually everything for Milwaukee.
His only major flaws recently have been his scoring abilities against the top teams in the league. He recorded single digit outings against both Cleveland and Golden State, leading to losses in both games for Milwaukee. The Bucks won’t necessarily need him to take all the clutch shots down the stretch in the near future, as Middleton and Brogdon have proved they can step up when needed, but Milwaukee will need Giannis to show up in the playoffs for them to have any sort of chance.
Previous grade: A-
Michael Beasley: B+
After thriving in the absence of Jabari Parker, Beasley suffered a knee injury of his own, which kept him out for almost an entire month.
Prior to his injury, Beasley averaged about 15 points per game in the seven game stretch where he was in the starting lineup. While his shot selection is sometimes questionable, he provides the Bucks with a much needed veteran on the court, and a vocal leader in the locker room.
As he slowly returns into the Bucks’ rotation, it is highly unlikely that Kidd will put him back in the starting lineup, as Middleton and Giannis at the forward spots has seemed to work better than expected. However, he will be a key asset to Milwaukee’s bench, who has had its ups and downs this season in terms of scoring.
Previous Grade: B-
Malcolm Brogdon: A-
Brogdon single-handedly led the Bucks to victory in one of Milwaukee’s best wins of the season against the Celtics. Between a clutch pick-and-roll play with Greg Monroe and his game-clinching shot over Avery Bradley, Brogdon caught the attention of the nation.
In the month of March, he averaged 12.7 points and 4.4 assists per game, and made a clear case for his candidacy for Rookie of the Year. He fits in perfectly with Middleton and Giannis, as he is unselfish, a great defender and is a leader on the court despite his rookie status.
Milwaukee has clearly missed him in the last three games, as Brogdon has been out day-to-day with tightness in his back, but he should be back and ready for playoff time.
Previous grade: B+
Matthew Dellavedova: B-
In the first half of March, Delly put up seven double-digit scoring performances, including a game against the Clippers where he hit two clutch threes down the stretch. He shot over 45 percent from three as well in March, giving the Bucks a much needed scoring boost of the bench.
However, his assist numbers continue to fall, as he averaged over one assist less per game last month than his season average, and his defensive prowess is not where the Bucks need it to be.
The one aspect he brings to the Bucks is leadership and accountability, but as long as Brogdon is out, Milwaukee will need Dellavedova to step into a more prominent role. Once Brogdon is available to play extended minutes, the Bucks will be fine having Delly play 15-20 minutes off the bench, and be relied on to stop opponents back-up point guards.
Previous grade: C+
Spencer Hawes: C+
Hawes’ biggest contribution to the Bucks has nothing to do with his playing ability. By replacing Miles Plumlee, Hawes already deserves a nod of appreciation.
Not only was Plumlee set to make $52 million over four years, but he was having arguably the worst year of his career, making the Bucks trade for Hawes a blessing in disguise.
Now to assess his playing ability. Hawes is known for his shooting capabilities, and that’s about it. He’s not a great athlete, and he has never been a dominant rebounding player. However, he is a very shifty player, similar to Greg Monroe, which allows him to keep up defensively.
He doesn’t play big minutes, but he was the Bucks saving-grace against Toronto a few weeks back where he scored 16 points in 17 minutes. It’s unlikely that Hawes will be moved into the full time rotation, but if he is, he provides a solid shooting option, and a veteran presence on the court.
Previous Grade: N/A
John Henson: C-
Henson has been out for a short time with a thumb injury, but not many fans have even noticed his absence, as he has been replaced by Thon Maker in the starting lineup, and only played more than 20 minutes in a game twice in the last month and a half.
Spencer Hawes will likely continue to take his minutes, as he is a much better offensive player, and can hold his own defensively. Henson is a loveable guy and a great teammate, but it’s hard to see a situation where he makes it back into the Bucks full time rotation, especially if Maker continues to develop.
Previous grade: C+
Thon Maker: B
Up until the last few games, Thon Maker hadn’t played over 20 minutes at all in the month of March. However, his 23 point performance against Detroit caught a lot of people’s attention, and Bucks fans should be excited for the future. Maker is the 3rd best three point shooter among rookies, shooting just over 40 percent behind the arc. He has proven that he can run the court better than most other big men, and his length and athleticism fit in perfectly with the Bucks plan for the future.
His weaknesses have been exploited as he continues to put in extended minutes, but most of these problems can be easily fixed. Milwaukee’s training staff has made it clear that their goal is to get Thon to put on 20-30 pounds in the next year or two, which seems realistic after what they did with Giannis’ physique. This would make Maker’s rebounding and defensive capabilities improve, as he struggles in the low post area.
Previous grade: B-
Khris Middleton: B+
Many see Middleton as the Bucks’ savior, as his return sparked a drastic shift in the Bucks’ defensive capabilities, and frankly, he has turned their entire team dynamic around.
It would be foolish to argue with any of that, but Middleton is not even close to hitting his full potential. He is currently one of the top “three and d” players in the league, averaging just over 15 points per game, shooting around 45 percent from three, all well effectively guarding the opponents best wing player. However, Middleton has had a few outings in the last few weeks where his shot was simply not there. That is perfectly normal for a guy who shoots over four threes per game on average, but Middleton needs to find a solution for the games where the three point shot isn’t falling.
He shoots around 87 percent from the free throw line, and yet he only shoots around 3.5 free throws per game. Therefore, he could not only get a few more free points by driving to the basket more, but it could help him get his three point shot in groove. Middleton has plenty of potential to be an All-Star next season, and getting to the free throw line more could be his ticket there.
Previous Grade: N/A
Greg Monroe: A-
Despite averaging over three points less per game than his career average, Monroe may be having one of the best seasons of his career. This is in part due to his improvement on defense, as Monroe has drawn 20 charges this year, which is seventh in the league.
He has also been increasingly consistent off the bench, as he scored in double figures in every game but three in the month of March. While his low post play has been as effective as ever, there are three aspects of his game that are constantly under appreciated. His mid-range jump shot has been highly underrated this season, along with his ability to play in the pick and roll, which is one of the most abused offensive strategies in the NBA. However, his passing abilities from the high post have been extremely impressive, especially since the return of Middleton.
Outside of Giannis, it would be hard to argue that any other player on this team has been more consistent all year long.
Previous grade: A-
Gary Payton II: N/A
Payton II was recently acquired by the Bucks on a two year deal. Whether or not they’ll keep him for an extended period or not is yet to be known, but with Brogdon out for the time being he provides a solid boost of athleticism and shooting off the bench.
Tony Snell: B+
The Khris Middleton replacement not only panned out for his absence, but has continued to thrive in the starting lineup even with Middleton’s return.
While his shooting number fell off in March by about 10 percent, he scored almost ten points per game in that stretch, including a career-high 26 points against the Hornets. Similar to Middleton, Snell is a great free throw shooter, but he only shoots around two free throws per game. Milwaukee needs him to improve at getting to the line, which will help him in games where he can’t find his stroke.
Previous grade: B+
Mirza Teletovic: C+
While he has upped his three point shooting to around 34 percent on the year, which is just tenth on the team, Teletovic remains a failed free agent find for Milwaukee, who desperately needed a consistent three point shooter off the bench.
Previous grade: C+
Jason Terry: B
In his 17 years of experience in the NBA, Jason Terry hasn’t played on a team that finished under .500. It appears the former Sixth Man of the Year will continue that streak as the Bucks need just one more win to secure that mark. Terry averaged 22.4 minutes per game in the month of March, which is about five more minutes per game than he was averaging on the season. He will likely continue to see extended minutes as the Bucks head into the playoffs.
Previous grade: B
Rashad Vaughn: D
There isn’t a lot that has changed about Vaughn’s play style throughout the year. Jason Kidd will sporadically give him playing time, in which he will occasionally hit a three pointer or two, but usually will just put up a goose egg in the box score. Vaughn had one year remaining on his contract, and it would be very surprising if he remained on the Bucks, or signed a deal with any other team after that.
Previous Grade: D-