Grading Every Key Milwaukee Bucks Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break

James DavisAnalyst IFebruary 12, 2014

Grading Every Key Milwaukee Bucks Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    The first half of the 2013-14 campaign has been underwhelming for the Milwaukee Bucks, but it is still important to evaluate the squad’s essential contributors as a means of gauging hope for the future.

    These player ratings are an independent assessment of each player and are based on their regular-season performance starting from the beginning of the year and continuing up to the intermission.

    Growing pains were to be expected with this team, given the number of new faces that were added before the start of this season.

    Talent turnover aside, the Bucks' 9-42 record going into All-Star weekend is a far cry from the 26-25 mark that they had at the same time last year.

    Languishing at the bottom of the horrid East was probably the farthest thing from every fan’s mind when this incarnation of young talent and savvy veterans was assembled. Bad breaks and disappointing performances from would-be key players have put this franchise on the lowest rung of the lesser conference.

    Surprises and disappointments continue to teem in Brew Town; here is how each vital Bucks player measures up at the break.

    Note: Players will be listed in alphabetical order by last name. All statistics accurate as of February 11, 2014 via NBA.com.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Statistics: 7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.7 APG

    Grade: B

    Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken advantage of the playing opportunities afforded to him.

    Injuries to Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino have unclogged the wing player logjam and allowed the Greek standout to get an early sampling of NBA action.

    While he hasn’t blown anyone away, he has had some solid outings that suggest a high ceiling as he gains experience.

    He has scored in double digits in eight of his last 20 games and pulled down at least five rebounds in nine contests over that same stretch.

    The young wing has also been averaging 2.3 assists in 2014 and has become so confident in his facilitating abilities that he intends to show them off in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

    His ability to produce has been impressive, but there have been some drawbacks.

    For someone whose position requires him to spend most his time on the perimeter, he hasn’t shot very well.

    He is shooting 42.8 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from behind the three-point line. For someone who drives and passes as well has he does, a reliable jump shot could make him almost impossible to stop.

    The good news is that he is only 19 and years away from playing his best basketball. As long as the youngster keeps getting minutes, everything should work out.

Caron Butler

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Statistics: 10.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.7 APG

    Grade: C-

    At a glance, Caron Butler’s averages are not the kind of numbers that would make anyone do a double take, although they are respectable.

    What makes his contributions notable is the fact that he is 33 years old and playing in his 12th NBA season. This might leave one to wonder why his grade is low, considering the context of his production.

    The truth is he hasn’t been on the floor enough this season to have earned a higher mark.

    Granted, athletes have no control over injuries, but of the 51 games played, the Racine, Wisconsin native has missed 19. Being out of the lineup that frequently curbs any chance of getting a higher mark.

    Butler is also shooting his second-worse field-goal percentage of his career at 38.2 percent.

    If not for his intangibles, his grade would have been lower.

    His homecoming has not gone as well as he would have liked; luckily Butler is a fighter who will continue to give his all when he is in the lineup.

John Henson

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Statistics: 11.9 PPG, 8 RPG, 2.17 BPG

    Grade: B+

    What a difference a year makes.

    Last season, John Henson started out as a seldom used rookie who finished the run with a strong showing. For anyone who was wondering if the closeout was a fluke, look no further than his current campaign.

    He is getting it done on both ends of the floor.

    He has the third-highest scoring average on the team and leads the Bucks in rebounds and blocks per game. The best part about his season is that he has responded well to the increased demands.

    Henderson’s minutes per game have more than doubled from last year, and rather than give in to the pressure of a bigger workload, he has blossomed into one of the premier young forwards in the league.

    Given that he is only 23, this current run of productivity bodes well for the future of the franchise.

    There have been some disappointments from other frontcourt players, but Henderson has been a consistent bright spot.

Ersan Ilyasova

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Statistics: 10 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.3 APG

    Grade: F

    It may seem unfair to issue such a low grade to Ersan Ilyasova since he has had an injury-riddled season much like Butler, but the difference has been that Ilyasova has contributed very little this year.

    He is shooting career lows in field-goal and three-point percentage, and although his 5.8 rebounds-per-game average looks respectable, it his nethermost output since his rookie season.

    There were high hopes for him coming into this season.

    His 2012-13 campaign was productive, and since he was one of only four Milwaukee players returning from last year, he was expected to anchor the offense. But the Turkish sharpshooter stumbled out of the regular-season gate and never regained his footing.

    Hope was beginning to flicker back on January 25 at home against the Atlanta Hawks. That contest was the start of a six-game streak where he scored double figures.

    Traces of his former self were beginning to emerge; then it was suddenly over when he went down again with back problems on February 5 in Denver.

    The abrupt end to that hot stretch will probably throw him off his rhythm. There is no telling which player will come back once he is healthy enough to play again.

    If there is an upside to all of this, it's that if he comes back cold, the fans will be used to it.

Brandon Knight

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Statistics: 16.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.8 APG

    Grade: B+

    Brandon Knight kicked his game into another gear back in December and has not looked back since.

    His 2014 stretch has been even more impressive.

    Since ringing in the New Year, Knight has been averaging 18.5 points and 5.3 assists per game, and his defense has also improved. He has been getting one steal and committing only 1.8 personal fouls per game.

    Despite this being his first season in Milwaukee, he is establishing himself as a team leader who can make things happen when no one else can. If this team were healthier, the Bucks could be so much better, given Knight’s high level of play.

    There’s no way this can be labeled a fluke or a lucky streak; he has consistently led this team for the last two-and-a-half months and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

    The only thing that has stopped him from getting a higher mark is that his effort isn't rubbing off on his teammates. Knight’s next step to grabbing the leadership reins will hinge on his ability to motivate others around him.

    Even though things are gloomy for this club now, there could be better days ahead if everyone else would take a cue from the starting point guard.

O.J. Mayo

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Statistics: 12.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.4 APG

    Grade: F

    Inconsistency—thy name is O.J. Mayo.

    This marking may seem a little harsh, but let’s put those numbers into perspective.

    Mayo’s current field-goal and three-point percentages, along with his scoring average, are all career lows. The former USC Trojan hasn’t been this unproductive since he was a sixth man for the Memphis Grizzlies during 2011-12 season.

    Let’s further dissect his scoring.

    In the 41 games he has played, he has managed to put together double-digit scoring streaks of three or more games on four occasions. His longest run is four games.

    He has a total of 12 games where he’s scored 20 or more points, 17 single-digit scoring games and three scoreless outings.

    As a coach can only take so much inconsistency from a player, Mayo lost his starting job. For someone who was brought in to be a starter and a major offensive contributor, that demotion was the official stamp of failure on his first season as a Buck.

    Mayo has been out for a couple of weeks with the flu. Let’s hope in addition to bouncing back from illness, he has also broken free of the basketball doldrums.

Khris Middleton

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Statistics: 11.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG

    Grade: B+

    Given the way Henson finished last season, Bucks fans had high expectations for the big man this year and have not been disappointed.

    Knight was already a solid player in Detroit before the team traded for him in the summer of 2013, so his performance has been on point.

    But no one expected Khris Middleton to be the two-way threat he has become.

    On the offensive side of the ball, the former second-round pick has been a very reliable option. He has scored 10 points or more in all but one of the last 11 games. He's also never been shut out in any game for Milwaukee.

    His 42.9 percent three-point efficiency leads the team, and he is also tops in three-point field goals made.

    He can be overly aggressive when playing defense, as noted by the 2.8 personal fouls he gets each contest, but the 1.1 steals per game show that his tenacity can pay off.

    While the team was probably expecting big things from Carlos Delfino, his injury complications have exposed the hidden gem that is Middleton. This 22-year-old is another prospect who gives fans reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Gary Neal

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Statistics: 9.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.5 APG

    Grade: D

    If Gary Neal’s stat line was based on him playing at least 40 games this year, his grade would have been much higher.

    When comparing his output this year to the three prior seasons he spent with the San Antonio Spurs, there are a lot of similarities. He just hasn’t been able to stay on the floor enough for those numbers to have any impact.

    Granted, he has made good use of the games that he's player, but when that total only amounts to a little more than half of the team’s schedule, it’s not hard to see why the value is diminished.

    Neal has lot to offer to his teammates, especially the young guys. But even more than words of wisdom or other sagacious tidbits, his on-court example is what is needed the most.

    Here’s to hoping the worst is behind him.

Larry Sanders

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Statistics: 7.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.74 BPG

    Grade: F

    During the summer of 2013, Larry Sanders signed an extension with the Bucks organization worth $44 million over four years.

    This was coming off a 2012-13 season where the former VCU Ram averaged a humdrum 9.8 points, a respectable 9.5 rebounds and a phenomenal 2.8 blocks per game.

    After signing such a nice extension, it would stand to reason that he would want to immediately get on the court and prove that he was a wise investment; instead, he is building an early case for buyer’s remorse.

    Let’s leave the off-court issues out of this evaluation. Just looking at his production alone is enough to make fans wonder if a refund could be issued.

    The only solace in this situation is knowing that his new deal won’t kick in until next season.

    With the emergence of the other Milwaukee bigs, one might think that the team could trade Sanders for someone more beneficial to the team’s long-term plan, but his current level of play won’t net anything of equal value in return.

    So this franchise is stuck with an underperforming, soon-to-be overpaid center with a penchant for making questionable decisions in his free time. Unless Sanders can find and hit the reset button quickly, he may become one of the most expensive sixth men ever.

Ekpe Udoh

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Statistics: 3.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG

    Grade: C-

    Ekpe Udoh’s role of being a defensive anchor for the second unit has not changed; in fact, he is still pretty good at guarding the paint.

    His 1.1 blocks and 3.9 rebounds per game in just over 20 minutes of playing time show that he is an active rim protector and ball hawk.

    It might seem strange that such a low mark was given to someone who still executes his job so well. The reason for his grade is because he contributes so little outside of rebounding and shot blocking.

    Those skills do serve a team well; however, when the offensive skill set borders on ineptitude, the player in question becomes a liability who can negate anything gained through his defensive play.

    This is where solid coaching can play a tremendous role.

    Recognizing the correct game situations in which to insert Udoh can help mask his weaknesses while playing up his strengths. A coach can only pick up the slack for so long, though.

    Eventually Udoh will have to expand his game or find himself at the end of the bench.