Milwaukee Bucks: Third-year players continue to wait in the wings

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 6: (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 6: (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t had much of a place for either one of their third-year players, Sterling Brown and D.J. Wilson, resulting in their development being put on the back burner this season.

Hitting the halfway mark in style, the Milwaukee Bucks are fresh off a four-game road trip that ended on the highest of notes.

The Bucks punctuated their road trek out West with a convincing 122-101 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers and resembled the 35-6 squad they are, compared to the uncharacteristic start their trip got off to earlier in the week.

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It was perhaps their resilient win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night that continues to illustrate the best the Bucks have to offer, that being the depth of contributions they get more often than not. And no player embodied that better than third-year wing Sterling Brown.

Brown’s playing time and performance had recently fallen off a cliff, leading to him falling out of the rotation just before the turn of the year.

After a few DNP-CD’s and scant clean up crew minutes over the last couple of weeks, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer turned Brown loose as an in case of emergency option with the Bucks sliding into an early second half malaise as the Kings took advantage as a result.

Brown made most of the opportunity as his boundless energy on the defensive end and floor spacing played an integral part in the Bucks quickly rallying and weathering the storm after getting punched in the mouth from the Kings. And it led to the 24-year-old finishing with his first career double-double performance (11 points, 12 rebounds, 2-of-3 from three), which he did playing 18 minutes and 14 seconds through the second half.

Again, it’s the type of performance the Bucks have prided themselves on fashioning under Budenholzer and being able to turn to players that stay ready no matter the moment, something the reigning NBA Coach of the Year spoke to following the team’s win to Eric Nehm of The Athletic:

"“Just really impressive,” Budenholzer said of Brown’s performance. “He hadn’t played for a handful of games, but he’s always ready.“I think defensively getting on the glass and making things happen there and making a couple of 3-balls that were huge for us, and then also attacking the basket. Just really happy for him.”"

But staying ready is really the crux of the issue for both Brown and especially so for third-year Bucks forward, D.J. Wilson, as both seek consistent playing time to continue growing their respective games.

Steady opportunities have simply been hard to come by for both developing players as the season has gone along with the Bucks’ rotation being largely set in stone, save for injuries occurring. And it’s a rotation that favors the team’s veterans, such as Ersan Ilyasova, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews, that currently block the pathway for both Brown and Wilson to get consistent shine.

At the halfway mark in the year, Brown is averaging 15.8 minutes per contest through his 29 appearances on the season and that’s fallen off precipitously since the Bucks have gotten back to full strength with the return of guard Eric Bledsoe.

Wilson, meanwhile, is averaging 9.5 minutes per tilt through his 23 appearances and his sporadic minutes have prevented him from finding a rhythm as he’s averaging 3.3 points on .425/.250/.600 shooting splits, along with 2.0 rebounds and 0.7 assists.

The former Wolverine managed to surprise all Bucks fans last season with the defensive flashes he consistently showed when giving a shot to break through in the Bucks’ rotation under Budenholzer’s first year in charge. But it’s important to remember it was an opportunity that may have not come to Wilson if not for Ilyasova breaking his nose for the first of two occasions in December of last season.

It’s from that fact that leads to the cold, hard truth that with the Bucks’ experienced players making an impact, even with some ups and downs along the way, both Brown and Wilson are stuck on the outside looking in when it comes to the rotation.

And it also goes beyond veteran players as second-year guard Donte DiVincenzo has been able to make a reliable impact, especially on the defensive end, and has subsequently been the poster boy for the Bucks’ development pipeline this season.

Of course, by staying ready, there’s always the possibility that a similar situation that led to Brown seeing meaningful minutes over the weekend could arise on another rare off night for the Bucks. Rebounding from his concerning stretch will help Brown in that regard while that may be a harder proposition for Wilson, given his natural position is the same as the Bucks’ superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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But as it stands, neither Brown nor Wilson figure in the Bucks’ current plans and rotation and time will only tell whether that will change at some point in the second half of the Bucks’ campaign.