Milwaukee Bucks: Disastrous road trip shows a work in progress

Jan 27, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA (Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports)
Jan 27, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA (Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports) /

It hasn’t been often, at least over the last couple of regular seasons, that the Milwaukee Bucks have stood in the position they are standing in right now.

After falling to the Charlotte Hornets 126-114 Saturday night, the Bucks stand at 11-8 on the season and losers of their last two. After their road trip down South had gotten off to a high note with a nice victory over the Toronto Raptors, the Bucks are set to return to a snowy Wisconsin with plenty to figure out while in the middle of a nasty losing skid.

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Over the Mike Budenholzer era, the Bucks haven’t fell victim to two straight games all that often during the last two regular seasons. In fact, the longest losing streak the Bucks have had over Budenholzer’s time in Milwaukee was three games that came midway through the eight seeding games in the bubble going into the Bucks’ short-lived playoff run.

While the Bucks proved their previous few slip ups in this regard were largely that, this current skid the Bucks are on hasn’t hit the same tone.

While much has changed for the Bucks from the end of last season to a quarter way into their 2020-21 run, they have succumbed to the same faults that have been illuminated over the Budenholzer era. There’s no better example of that than their shoddy 3-point defense, especially after the Raptors, New Orleans Pelicans and Hornets all connected on 20 or more triples when going against the Bucks this road trip.

Milwaukee’s defensive woes, however, haven’t just come from the 3-point line. Overall, the Bucks have drastically fallen off from the defensive standard they set just last season where they had a league-leading 102.5 defensive rating. This year, the Bucks currently have a 110.6 defensive rating, which is by far the lowest mark over the Budenholzer era.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ recent road trip displayed they’re a work in progress.

While we’re all getting used to the Bucks being prone to defensive struggles on a regular basis, their busy offseason reshuffling their roster has yet to yield the reward of a dependable bench unit. Far too often, the Bucks’ bench has struggled to step up when need or against the few contending teams the Bucks have played against.

That, in turn, has made the Bucks more reliant on their ‘Big 3’ and their starting lineup to lead them to success. The trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton hasn’t been a problem so far ands save for his 9-point outing against the Hornets, Brook Lopez has been much improved as of late.

Yet the extensive cold spell that Donte DiVincenzo has been in, especially after getting off to a hot start, has been concerning to say the least. That was reinforced after going scoreless against the Hornets where he was 0-for-6 from the field and 0-for-5 from three in nearly 27-and-a-half minutes of action.

Despite those niggling issues, the Bucks still stand at the top of the league with a 117.9 offensive rating and have a comfortable margin over the new-look Brooklyn Nets. Additionally, their +7/1 point differential is only bettered by the L.A. Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, as of this writing.

Whereas the Bucks used to rely on their defense to smother their opponents, it’s their offense that is what’s keeping them in these games, especially when things fall off sideways as the last two games showed specifically. Whether all of that continues remains to be seen. But the overarching question facing the Bucks at the moment is what do all these early season positives and concerns mean for them moving forward?

Right now, it shows a middling Bucks team that has yet to come together after fundamentally churning over their roster due to both desire to improve upon their playoff woes and out of necessity to Antetokounmpo’s since-resolved future.

In many ways, the Bucks are a victim of their regular season success over the Budenholzer era. They were left no choice but to reinvent the wheel and as we’re seeing 19 games into their season, they resemble a team split between their past identity and while struggling to forge a clear path towards success with more experimental changes and tactics being displayed.

With that in mind, some of the hiccups and growing pains the Bucks have encountered shouldn’t have come as a surprise, especially in a season as uncertain as this. The familiarity and continuity that once existed is gone and the Bucks are in search of finding new ground in this regard while trying to live up to their past success.

Next. 3 defensive trends worth monitoring at quarter mark. dark

For now, the Bucks will look to find solace by coming home to hopefully put an end to their current skid starting Monday night versus the Portland Trail Blazers. Yet as we all look around wondering what’s going on with this Bucks team, all players, Budenholzer and his coaching staff are wondering that very same thing themselves.