Ringing in the new year, the Milwaukee Bucks trounced the Chicago Bulls by thirty points. Chicago led for a few moments to start the game, but the Bucks built a sizable lead in the second quarter and never had to look back. This is the sort of performance we’re used to seeing from Milwaukee, particularly against an outmatched opponent that doesn’t have the talent to match the Bucks’ NBA Finals aspirations. It wasn’t a question of if the Bucks would win, but how convincingly.
What Did We Learn?
Donte DiVincenzo is the Bucks’ best option at shooting guard, and it wasn’t ever close. After being included as the centerpiece of the failed Bogdan Bogdanovic transaction in the offseason, DiVincenzo has followed up his impressive sophomore season where the league saw his impact as a defender with a much improved shooting stroke and a better overall scoring skill set.
Six straight games in double-digits for Donte DiVincenzo. His previous best was five during the 2019-20 season. DiVincenzo continues to provide consistent scoring since moving into the starting unit to replace Wesley Matthews.
— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) January 2, 2021
DiVincenzo wasn’t necessarily the clear-cut choice to fill out the starting lineup during training camp, but he’s showing that his three-point shot is more than a flash in the pan. In six games, DiVincenzo is averaging 13.5 points, up from 9.2 per game last season, and those four-ish points are coming in roughly the same number of minutes but with much higher efficiency. Donte won’t stay above 60% from deep (or 50%, for that matter), but turning from a below-average shooter into a 40+% one would be a massive development for the Bucks…and for Donte’s next contract coming off his rookie deal, for which he’s eligible for an extension next offseason.
Beyond that, there just wasn’t very much to learn against an outgunned and outmanned Bulls squad. It’s unfortunate to put it that way, but it’s true.
The Bucks have made 20 or more 3-pointers in three of their first six games. They only did that twice last season.
Asked Mike Budenholzer what he believed the catalyst for their hot 3-point shooting has been. Here was his response: pic.twitter.com/MI1zBANSSJ
— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) January 2, 2021
Milwaukee continues to see dividends from their investment in shooting. Over the course of the regular season, we’ve been careful to not put too much stock into the performance of any one game, but the Bucks’ overall offensive performance has been much improved, both due to their acquisitions in the offseason and internal development. They hit 22 of 45 threes tonight, making it the third game in six attempts where Milwaukee has hit more than 20 threes. If this trend continues and becomes the norm, the Bucks will be well-positioned for postseason success.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo has a strong grip on his rotation spot. He might foul a ton, and he’s rarely able to be trusted with the ball if the game is competitive, but the energy that Giannis’ older brother brings has obviously launched him ahead of D.J. Wilson for the fourth big man slot in the rotation. He’s a far less skilled player than his counterparts, but few other Bucks play with a similar edge and level of physicality, a trait Wilson has never been known for. Is this a sign of things to come, or just a compensation for missing out on another defensive specialist…
I’m telling myself that Thanasis is getting minutes that would normally go to Torrey Craig
— Travis Schlepp (@travischlepp) January 2, 2021
Complaints about Giannis’ whistle are forever. There were admittedly a few plays where Giannis was clearly fouled but he didn’t receive a whistle, and it’s seemingly a nightly tradition for the Greek Freak to get muscled to the ground on a drive and have nothing coming from the officials but silence.
Giannis gets such a bad whistle.
— Camille D. (@CamilleMonae) January 2, 2021
At the same time…Giannis attempted 18 free throws tonight! At a certain point, especially in a blowout like tonight, the referees can’t be expected to call every bit of contact, and Giannis does himself no favors because he doesn’t exaggerate contact when he does get hit, and regardless of the defense Giannis’ default response is to plow ahead and overpower all challengers. He’s capable of the task against nearly any opponent, which is why he so often has drawn comparisons to Shaquille O’Neal over the last few seasons, and Shaq also suffered from a higher standard for foul calls. Contact is happening, no doubt about that, but at a certain point it is arguably misguided to expect the officials to slow the game down even further, particularly when the Bucks are up by more than twenty points. It is not in alignment with the letter of the law of the NBA rule book, but falls within the general guidelines of how the game actually works.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The Blogfather knows your pain, Bucks fans struggling with game availability:
Current Bucks viewing status: FS-Wisconsin on DirecTV not working because of snow, DirecTV app not working because ??, NBA LP not working because I’m blacked out. Not a good start, 2021.
— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) January 2, 2021
- During the broadcast, we were treated to yet another fantastic story from Marques Johnson from his playing days, including an allusion to “Billy the Ball Boy from the Bucks” who, according to Johnson, is the center of a story that “can’t be told on the air.”
- Khris Middleton hit Jrue Holiday on a full-court outlet pass in the second quarter that Jrue nimbly repositioned to catch, pivot around the defender, and drop in a reverse layup. It was a crafty sequence for a crafty vet.
- In the third, Jim and Marques were talking about Bulls rookie Patrick Williams, and how his parents met playing basketball in school. It turns out that Bucks broadcaster Zora Stephenson also met her husband at college through basketball, and we spent a fair amount of time hearing Marques playing matchmaker on the broadcast. It was that kind of game. (Edit: I actually wrote this recap on my phone, and Zora’s first name was written wrong. I normally wouldn’t worry about that sort of mistake but Zora deserves having her name corrected.)
- At one point in the second half, the Bulls (15) had attempted fewer threes than the Bucks had made (17). The disparity only grew from there.
- Mike Budenholzer tested out a small-ball lineup to start the 4th, probably both to test out combinations for playoff rotations and help Giannis hunt a triple-double.
Bucks going extremely small to start the fourth with Pat, DDV, Forbes and Augustin surrounding Giannis.
— Bucks Film Room (@BucksFilmRoom) January 2, 2021
- D.J. Augustin (0/4 from three, 2 assists and 2 turnovers) has had a rough start to his Bucks tenure. He’s probably taking the longest to fully acclimate to the Milwaukee system; he can operate a half-court pick and roll like nobody’s business, but everywhere else he just hasn’t found his groove yet. He’ll be valuable in games where his control of the floor is vital to the offense, but this was not that kind of game.
It’s been weird to see D.J. Augustin pass up catch-and-shoot corner 3s. He just doesn’t have the rhythm of the offense down quite yet.
— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) January 2, 2021
- Sam Merrill had his pocket picked at half court during garbage time, giving up a layup, then rolled his ankle on the very next possession. He stayed in the game, but ended up missing a three for the first time of the season. Tough night for the rookie from Utah State.
- Two Antetokounmpo plays ended up under official review due to inadvertent elbows; Giannis hit Wendell Carter Jr. in the nose, and Thanasis caught Denzel Valentine in the jaw. Valentine ended up going to the locker room for examination.
- Speaking of Thanasis, he wasn’t just running point in the closing minutes of the game, he was running it. Calling plays, gesticulating wildly, barking orders, it was a master class in on-court leadership.