Year-End Grades for Every Key Milwaukee Bucks Player
It's hard to believe any team is looking forward to ringing in the new year more than the Milwaukee Bucks. But before the celebration begins and resolutions are made, taking a look at how each of the team's key players fared through the early season is crucial.
And the early season has certainly had its share of surprises and disappointments.
From the unexpected emergence of a player like Khris Middleton to the frustrating antics of Larry Sanders, the start to 2013-14 for the Bucks has been less than ideal.
Due to the constant barrage of injuries, it's difficult to get a grasp of just exactly where this team is heading in 2014.
A month ago, I dished out some initial grades. How do they stack up with where players currently stand?
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference and accurate through Dec. 24, 2013
Key Stats: 6.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 49.1 FG%
Many didn't expect Giannis Antetokounmpo to make his presence felt very much during his rookie season. However, because of injuries to Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino, the youngster has seen plenty of playing time.
And, so far, he's made a very solid impression.
While his overall numbers don't jump off the screen, The Greek Freak—or The Alphabet, take your pick—has played in 23 of the team's 28 games and, as of late, is logging important minutes.
In fact, over his past seven outings, he's averaging 10.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 32.4 minutes. Additionally, he's connecting on a very solid 48.8 percent of his field-goal attempts.
That's not to say the youngster doesn't have learning to do.
With his freakish length, Antetokounmpo needs to learn how to do a better job of defending without fouling and rotating in a timely fashion. Offensively, there are times when he just needs to slow down and play within himself.
All in all, though, he's showing signs of becoming a very good player.
Key Stats: 13.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 37.7 FG%
If Butler was being graded strictly on his influence as a veteran teammate or what he meant to the community, he'd score perfect.
However, his play has to be factored in.
While his play has been a far cry from what it was during his All-Star years with the Washington Wizards, Butler has been able to provide the Bucks with consistent scoring at small forward.
Not only that, but one cannot dismiss his value as a leader and calming locker room presence.
For a team with as many young pieces as the Bucks have, it's vital to have someone who has been around awhile providing guidance along the way.
It seems that no matter what, Butler is always one of the first players up off the bench encouraging teammates during breaks in action.
And though he isn't scoring as efficiently as many would have hoped, he's still out on the floor providing valuable minutes while giving it his best effort.
Key Stats: 12.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 2.3 BPG, 52.2 FG%
When he's been given consistent minutes, John Henson is the best thing the Bucks have going for them and is quickly making fellow power forward Ersan Ilyasova very expendable.
Henson, in his second season, is picking up right where he left off in 2012-13.
Whether it's scoring, rebounding or swatting shots around the rim, he has been doing it all for the Bucks so far this season.
On a team struggling to score with any kind of respectable efficiency, Henson is there to score easy points around the basket.
And now that he's finally becoming more aggressive on offense, he's only going to shine more.
Defensively, his length and shot-blocking ability give most opponents fits, and his ability to alter shots is a huge benefit.
Not to mention, there's a certain joy gotten out of watching Henson play. Theoretically, someone as skinny as he is should get manhandled by the game's stronger power forward.
But that simply doesn't happen.
He almost always manages to hold his own and knows how to use his awkward length to his advantage.
Key Stats: 8.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 38.3 FG%, 21.6 3P%
One of the biggest disappointments on the roster thus far in 2013-14 has been Ersan Ilyasova.
The 26-year-old Turk has not only had trouble staying on the floor because of injury, but he's also had trouble providing any value while he is on it.
In seasons past, Ilyasova proved to be a valuable commodity by shooting efficiently from the floor, connecting at an excellent clip from three-point range and grabbing a solid number of rebounds.
Injuries can set players back, there's no doubt about it, but when he's been on the court this season, he hasn't looked himself.
He seems to be a step slow, and the 1.7 turnovers per game he's committing is a career high.
With the emergence of Henson, Ilyasova has become more vulnerable than ever in terms of being on the trade block. However, if he continues to play like he has, his value on the market won't be nearly as high as it once was.
Key Stats: 13.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 38.6 FG%, 34.2 3P%
Since recovering from a hamstring injury that forced him to miss eight games early on, Brandon Knight is really starting to hit his stride.
For the season, Knight is posting career highs in points, rebounds and assists despite struggling to find consistency with his jump shot.
However, over his past five games, he's showing Bucks fans he can be their point guard of the future.
Over that stretch, he's averaging 23.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point territory. He's also doing a decent job of holding onto the ball, turning it over 2.2 times per game.
Five games is certainly a small sample size, but Knight is showing what kind of player he can be.
He has shown—especially as of late—that he can score, rebound and effectively run an offense.
If he can continue developing into a point guard who can be that well-rounded, the Bucks will have made a very wise decision in trading Brandon Jennings for him.
Key Stats: 13.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 39.2 FG%, 37.1 3P%
It's not that O.J. Mayo has been bad for the Bucks. In fact, he's doing a pretty good job of filling his role as a shooter.
That being said, it's still hard to watch him without wondering when he's really going to break out.
In 2013-14, he's either filled it up or been virtually nonexistent. In fact, looking at his game log is quite intriguing and really shows his ups and downs.
Playing in 27 games, he's scored over 20 points on nine occasions. In contrast, he's scored in single digits 12 times. That means he has only been somewhere in between six times.
After signing him to a three-year, $24 million contract, management was probably expecting him to produce a little more than what he has to this point.
Still, it's hard to knock the team's leading scorer and a guy who is always willing to step up to take the final shot with the clock winding down.
Key Stats: 12.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 46.4 FG%, 45.9 3P%
Through the first month or so of the season, Khris Middleton was the biggest surprise on the roster.
Now, he's turning into one of the team's best and most consistent offensive options.
While his numbers for the season indicate tremendous efficiency and growth from where he was a year ago with the Detroit Pistons, it's just recently that he has really begun showing his capabilities.
Over his past five games, Middleton is averaging 18.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists while connecting on 46.6 percent of his field goals and 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
All of the production he has provided has been unexpected, but it has also been necessary with the struggles of Ilyasova.
Obviously the Bucks will continue to benefit from any production similar to what Middleton has been posting. Additionally, though, his stellar play will also continue opening room to explore trading Ilyasova by the time the trade deadline rolls around.
Key Stats: 10.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 38.5 FG%, 44.6 3P%
If anyone thought Gary Neal would evolve into something other than what he was during his days with the San Antonio Spurs, they'd probably be disappointed with the start he's had to his Bucks career.
Across the board, his numbers are almost identical to what they were during his first three seasons.
And that's not really a bad thing.
Neal is a solid spark off the bench and can knock down threes when called upon as evidenced by his very solid 44.6 shooting percentage from three-point range.
Outside of that, though, he doesn't really add much to the rotation. That, coupled with the fact he has missed some time due to injury, takes away from his overall grade.
Still, on a team with a stagnant offense, his shooting off the bench is always welcome.
Key Stats: 2.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 25.0 FG%
To put it politely, the beginning to 2013-14 for Larry Sanders has been the nightmare Bucks fans were hoping to avoid.
And maybe including him on this list is just piling on, but it has to be done.
The fourth-year man out of Virginia Commonwealth University was supposed to build upon his breakout 2012-13 campaign, but that has not been the case so far.
After signing a four-year, $44 million extension during the summer, Sanders has appeared in just three games.
Why? Because, according to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the 6'11" center injured his thumb in a bar brawl.
Partaking in late-night antics, no less getting hurt to the point of requiring surgery, probably isn't the best idea after signing a huge extension.
Additionally, Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio reported that the team may be open to trading the shot-blocking extraordinaire:
The Bucks are beginning to really like their young core of big men. While Sanders is in that group, the Bucks feel he can bring something decent in return, and they don't really want to move anyone else.
Trade speculation aside, the longer it takes for Sanders to get back on the court, the more devastating the decision to extend his deal in the offseason becomes.
Key Stats: 6.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.6 APG, 40.0 FG%
His numbers aren't going to blow you away, but Nate Wolters is showing the league why he probably should have been a first-round draft pick.
In fact, he's become a very solid backup at point guard to Brandon Knight and, assuming he can keep playing at this level or higher, is making Luke Ridnour an expendable piece.
While he has struggled shooting the ball, he's done an excellent job running the second-unit offense and is doing so without turning the ball over.
He seems poised well beyond his years and is already proving he can distribute the ball without making some of the silly mistakes other point guards have a tendency to commit.
And really, the efficiency woes shouldn't be too much of a concern.
For now, though, the Bucks will happily take Wolters providing them with more unexpected production from a young player.