Milwaukee Bucks Notebook: Giannis Antetokounmpo Three-Point Attempts and More

Nov 8, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks coach Adrian Griffin low fives Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during a time out in the first half at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks coach Adrian Griffin low fives Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during a time out in the first half at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports /

The Milwaukee Bucks are off to a complicated start to the season. On one hand, they’re 5-2 and a half-game behind the Philadelphia 76ers (who they beat in the season-opener). On the other, they have a -4.1 point differential, according to Cleaning the Glass, only the 18th-best mark in the NBA.

It’s been hard to discern what’s happening in Milwaukee as they sort through a plethora of offseason changes, including a new head coach, the addition of superstar Damian Lillard and an overhaul of schematic changes on both ends of the court.

The good news is there is plenty of time to sort it all out. For now, let’s check in with the Bucks’ notebook to discuss five observations from the first seven games.

Let’s check in on the Milwaukee Bucks, including Giannis Antetokounmpo’s three-point attempts, his screens, the old Khris Middleton and more.

Malik Beasley Dying on Screens

My eyebrows immediately raised when Beasley was tagged as the Bucks’ primary perimeter defender and fifth Bucks’ starter. He’s a fine player who is a great floor spacer and three-point shooter. However, his skill set has never been synonymous with a shutdown defender.

It makes sense that the Bucks want to hide Lillard on defense–he’s a below-average defender. However, pairing him with another below-average defender is not the way. To his credit, Beasley has competed. He’s working hard and taking his role seriously. However, he just doesn’t have the skills to be an elite perimeter defender.

One of his biggest areas for improvement comes on ball screens. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing a generous 187 pounds on the Bucks’ official roster, he lacks the strength to fight over the top of picks when he’s guarding the ball-handler. This leads to him getting caught on the screens and putting the Bucks’ big man, who was guarding the screener, on an island with a much faster and more dangerous offensive player. That advantage has often played out for opposing offenses in a very beneficial way for them.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Setting Screens

When Lillard was acquired, many analysts lauded the move because of their ability to play off one another instead of taking turns with the rock. It was assumed Milwaukee could pair their individual talents to create one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll duos the NBA has ever seen.

It turns out they have a lot of work to do.

Antetokounmpo hasn’t set nearly as many ball screens as we expected. And when he does set them, they are primarily light touches before he escapes toward the paint. He doesn’t get his body on Lillard’s man and force him to fight over or through the pick. This makes it easy for defenses to prepare for the action and gives them an advantage. It’s the little things like this that Adrian Griffin and Lillard will need to coach Antetokounmpo on.

Antetokounmpo’s Three-Point Attempts

I don’t mean to harp on Antetokounmpo, but there are small things I’m seeing from him that could be better. Outside of one game against the Brooklyn Nets, where he took seven three-point attempts, he’s mostly limited his outside shots. However, it’s the alternative to his three that drives me crazy.

There have been several occasions this year where Antetokounmpo is loading up for a shot behind the arc, but Lillard is open one pass away for a similar shot. He has to recognize this and get it to one of the best shooters, not named Steph Curry, the NBA has ever seen. Despite Lillard’s early-season struggles from behind the arc, he should get that shot ten times out of ten.

The Old Khris Middleton

Khris Middleton is working his way back from offseason surgery. He’s still on a minutes restriction–the most he’s played this season is 21. He’s also still sitting out the first game of a back-to-back (who knows if he’ll play both games at all this season).

The good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel. Middleton’s minutes are trending in the right direction. More importantly, he’s showing signs of his old self that are becoming more and more common.

The most glaring example was down the stretch against the Nets. Three plays over the game’s last 3 minutes and 30 seconds showed what kind of weapon he can be. With the Bucks and Nets tied each time, he worked a two-man game with Antetokounmpo to perfection. The series of plays includes a shooting foul drawn by Middleton, where he knocked down both free throws, a step-back jumper, and an assist to Antetokounmpo for a point-blank shot at the rim. He’s the gasoline that could ignite the Bucks’ fire and take them to another level.

Bucks Starting Two?

Perhaps, the Bucks’ winning ways have kicked the can down the road regarding their starting two guard. Griffin can continue to use that as the reason he’s starting Beasley. However, there will come a time when he’ll have to take a long, hard look at the best way to optimize the Bucks for the postseason.

Milwaukee doesn’t have a ready-made option for the starting spot. Many fans will point to second-year pro MarJon Beauchamp. Beauchamp has made strides this year and has the defensive mentality. As of now, that’s too tall of a task for him at this point in his career. They should continue to develop him off the bench and in a more limited role.

Jae Crowder might be the best option. He’s definitely not a two-guard at this point in his career, but he is one of their best perimeter defenders. He and Middleton would provide great size and strength on the wing.

Next. Bucks Film Room Podcast: Drop Coverage and Defense. dark

The other option is to use their minimal trade assets to acquire the final starting piece before the deadline. Milwaukee’s cupboard is very bare, but they do hold the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2024 second-round selection. Could they use that to trade for a better fit in their backcourt?