Shorthanded Bucks Defy Skeptics in Sizzling Start


With the Milwaukee Bucks exceeding demanding expectations despite burdensome injuries, last season’s disappointment may rapidly ease into another championship stampede.

The Bucks are supposed to be title contenders at full strength, and yet they have been without one of its All-Stars in Khris Middleton and Mr. Role Star Pat Connaughton all season. The Bucks certainly have the skill to win shorthanded and haven’t just had success but are nearly unblemished at 10-2 and embarked on the best start in franchise history (9-0).

Milwaukee is also 2-1 with Giannis out of the lineup. On Monday, Jrue Holiday was also inactive with a sprained ankle. In the Bucks’ most-recent victory, Jevon Carter scored 36 points and 12 assists in a double-overtime win against OKC.

Simply put, the Bucks are doing everything it takes to win.

Despite losing on Monday to Atlanta and Friday in San Antonio — a challenging place for any visitor — the Deer are playing great basketball.

How have they done it?

The Obvious

With Middleton out, the Bucks needed Giannis to put up even better numbers.

Giannis delivered with averages of 31.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. He has always been insanely efficient, but this year his player efficiency rating is a career-best 32.3.

Counting on Giannis for 32 and 12 is a pretty nice luxury. Having a guy who can regularly get you 40 points makes things easier for everyone. It almost feels like fans take it for granted at times. That production is pivotal for the Bucks, particularly without Middleton.

Lopez’s Resurgence

Brook Lopez has been the defensive anchor for the Bucks since he arrived in Milwaukee.

Now a year removed from back surgery, Lopez seems like a new guy. The 34-year-old looks spry and is having his most productive season with the Bucks. He leads the league with 2.7 blocks per game, but offensively, he has been even more productive.

Lopez is averaging 15.8 points and 6.4 rebounds and has already scored 20+ points in four games this year after just two last year. He had not averaged more than 12.5 points per game in any year with the Bucks.

Defense Wins _______

Milwaukee has made a concerted effort to defend the three-point line while continuing to protect the rim.

They’ve outscored their opponents by a league-best 13.6 points per game in the restricted area, and that’s as much about their defense as it is about Giannis, who leads the league in restricted-area scoring.

The Bucks finished 14th in the league defensively without Lopez most of last year. This year, the Deer have the No. 1 defensive rating (103.8) in the NBA by a wide margin. With Lopez patrolling the paint and the Bucks’ perimeter players pressing up on shooters, Milwaukee is back to locking teams up.

Having Holiday, Carter, Wesley Matthews, Giannis and Lopez helps for sure. But Bud has also shown a willingness to adjust.

When Carter was in the starting lineup to start the year, it was a surprise to many. But having Holiday guard someone other than the opposing PG and having Jevon pick up full court instead helped Holiday have the legs to score more.

Carter is a bulldog. Holiday, Carter, Giannis and Lopez in the starting lineup has been dynamic defensively. The Bucks’ starters only allow a paltry 89.3 per 100 possessions in its 90 minutes, and the team is a league-best plus-24.1 per 100 in the first quarter entering the week of 11/14.

Holiday Season

After a bit of a slow start, Jrue found his stride.

Holiday is having a solid season and has played like a star. Holiday always brings his incredible defense, but Jrue also averages 19.6 points and 7.9 assists per game. He has only averaged over 20 points and over eight assists in one of his 12 NBA seasons. He knows the Bucks need him to score with Middleton out, and he’s doing it all.

Unfortunately, Holiday sprained his ankle in the loss to Atlanta and has missed the last two games with no definite timetable for return.

Going big

Some expected the Bucks to go big often in the regular season.

They have, and Milwaukee’s post players are battering and bruising teams inside at both ends of the floor. Giannis and Lopez are swatting shots. Giannis leads the league regularly in points in the restricted area. Add in Lopez and Bobby Portis, and the Bucks are punishing teams with their bigs. Portis is averaging a double-double with 13.3 points and 11 rebounds.

With these three averaging over 60 points and 30 rebounds, the Bucks have been decimating opponents inside on an obcene basis.

Wings Stepping Up as Needed

It seems like one Bucks role player scores double digits when needed or a Jrue Holiday or Brook Lopez score 20+ when the Bucks require a boost.

The other wings/combo guards haven’t been great. They aren’t wowing fans with stats. It sounds cliché, but the Bucks’ wings are stepping up at critical times. One game, it’s Grayson Allen. One game, it’s Jordan Nwora. Perhaps Matthews hits a big three like the season opener.

Or Wednesday, when Carter delivered 36 points and 12 assists (!). The team has gotten what it needs in a variety of areas.

Mission Fear The Deer

The Bucks bested their best unbeaten start to a season in franchise history, blowing past the 7-0 mark from 1971-72 and 2018-19.

Milwaukee benefitted a bit from an easy schedule, but we can’t discount their success without a number of key guys available. They have leaned on the defense at times, with Giannis and Jrue also stepping up their scoring. The Bucks seem on a mission again in 2022-23, and when they’re at full strength, opponents may have to truly Fear the Deer again this season.

[pickup_prop id=”25677″]

About Mitchell Skurzewski

    Recommended for you

    Powered by themekiller.com