Initial Report Card Grades for Every Key Milwaukee Bucks Player
Due in large part to injuries, the Milwaukee Bucks haven't kicked off the 2013-14 campaign with the bang that they had hoped to.
However, considering the lack of personnel and talent, the team has made the most of the early season schedule and has, for the most part, remained relatively competitive.
The team's 2-12 record—second-worst in the NBA—certainly speaks for itself. However, as for the players, there have been bright spots along with some disappointing starts. And while handing out grades is never an easy task, it almost always helps identify the weaknesses.
Keep in mind, these are only initial rankings and there's a lot of basketball left.
Hopefully, for the sake of Bucks fans, most key players will see an improvement in their grade by season's end.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and up to date through Nov. 27.
Asking a 33-year-old veteran to shoulder a heavy portion of the offensive weight isn't something a lot of teams are going to do. However, the Bucks have little choice.
While it's hard to be thrilled with the play of Butler through the early portion of the season, it's hard to be disappointed.
The 11-year veteran is averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting just 38.5 percent from the floor. And while that latter number is the second lowest of his career, he's provided the team with much-needed offense.
It's certainly reasonable to wonder how long he'll keep that type of production up, though, especially when almost half of the shots he takes are coming from behind the three-point line.
His 5.4 three-point attempts per game show that he's not nearly as aggressive as he was during his youth, and when his legs get tired, the scoring could plummet.
Still, without Butler, the team would be worse off than where they currently are—if that's even imaginable.
So far, though, the 22-year-old hasn't quite lived up to them.
Through the early portion of the season, he's averaging 10.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.9 blocks in 24.1 minutes of playing time.
Certainly, these numbers aren't bad for someone coming off the bench. However, with Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders both missing time early on, Henson had a major opportunity in front of him.
And while he's be solid, he hasn't used the misfortunes of others enough to make fans or management think he could be the team's future at power forward.
With Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings no longer on the roster, 2013-14 provided Ersan Ilyasova with the chance to increase his role in Milwaukee's offense.
However, an early injury has prevented him from doing just that.
That's not to say he has been stellar in the game's he has played, though. In eight appearances, Ilyasova is averaging just 9.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists and is seeing the floor for just 25.6 minutes each night.
Some of that likely has to do with slowly working him back into the mix, but if he doesn't start producing better, head coach Larry Drew may distribute his allotment of minutes elsewhere.
Ilyasova is still connecting on a very efficient 51.5 percent of his shots from the field, but his three-point percentage is down to 31.3 percent, and he's not being as aggressive offensively as he could, averaging just 8.3 field-goal attempts each night.
We'll see if that is him just slowly getting back into the grind but, for now, his start has been very disappointing.
Much like Ilyasova, Brandon Knight hasn't been able to get up to speed due to a pesky hamstring injury that has forced him to miss time early on.
Expected to come in and take over the point guard position, health issues have set back Knight's start as a member of the Bucks.
In the games he has played, it's clear that Drew is trying to ease him back into things and has him playing just 19.5 minutes per game.
During his time on the court, Knight is averaging 5.0 points and 3.8 assists while struggling woefully with his shot. He's connecting on a terrible 22.2 percent of his field goals and an even more paltry 16.7 percent of his threes.
Hamstring injuries can be nagging, so his grade may be a bit on the harsh side. However, staying healthy is part of a player's success, so Knight will have to first prove he can stay on the court.
After that, he'll have to show he was a worthy acquisition by posting solid numbers.
Finding positives on a team that's struggling in a big way isn't easy, but Milwaukee's biggest offseason acquisition is off to a pretty solid start.
And despite some bouts with inconsistency, O.J. Mayo has easily been the best player for the Bucks early on.
The former third-overall pick in the 2008 draft is shooting an excellent 45.2 percent from three-point land—trailing only Gary Neal in that category—and averaging a respectable 15.3 points.
However, the noticeable inconsistencies offensively have prevent Mayo from earning an even higher grade.
To go along with his six games of 20 or more points, he also has failed to score in double figures six times. Not only that, but the 2.9 turnovers he's averaging are a career-high, and he's struggling immensely from inside the arc by hitting just 38.8 percent of his two-point attempts.
If he can adapt to becoming the go-to guy on the roster and become a little more consistent, Mayo could end up having a big season.
Khris Middleton seemed like an afterthought in the trade that brought Knight to Milwaukee, but he's not playing like it.
The 22-year-old small forward has surprised fans early on by averaging 10.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists while converting on an impressive 47.9 percent of his field goals and 41.9 percent of his threes.
Middleton's emergence is especially important given Butler's age, and the fact that Carlos Delfino is expected to miss the entire season according to Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel.
With consistent minutes likely in his future, there's no reason why he cannot continue to expand on his early success and possibly snag the starting position away from Butler by season's end.
If he can, the Bucks will have gotten themselves a steal.
Gary Neal became known as a solid role player for the San Antonio Spurs, and he continues to fill that role for the Bucks early in 2013-14.
Even though he can get slightly trigger happy, Neal has provided the team with excellent three-point shooting and a quality scoring spark off the bench.
Ideally, he would connect on a higher percentage of the two-point attempts he takes—he's hitting just 33.3 percent of them, and be a little bit more selective in terms of when and where he shoots from. Often times he'll force up an unnecessary shot and end a possession before it starts.
Still, Neal's acquisition has been a positive so far.
The only reason it may not seem that way is because of the team's struggles out of the gate.
It will be impossible to forget the three-year, $15.6 million contract the Bucks gave Zaza Pachulia over the summer, but so far he's helping relieve the sting of it a bit.
Averaging 7.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists, Pachulia is providing decent production while Larry Sanders continues to recover from an injured thumb.
He's not shooting it well from the floor, and he doesn't have the incredible presence on defense that Sanders does, but he's a gritty veteran who isn't afraid of mixing things up down low. Thus far, that's been important for Milwaukee.
So far, he's providing them with exactly what he was expected to.
In late August, Larry Sanders signed a four-year, $44 million extension.
In late November, he has played three games, averaging 2.7 points and 3.7 rebounds and is currently recovering from an injured thumb, which he allegedly suffered in a bar brawl (per Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel).
After breaking out in 2012-13 and signing the new contract over the summer, big things were expected of Sanders heading into this season.
However, nothing has gone right for the big man so far.
Prior to the injury, Sanders—as reported by Steve Aschburner of NBA.com—was unhappy with the limited minutes Drew was giving him. Fair point? Probably not.
In reality, a big reason as to why he was limited to 17.3 minutes per game in the three games he has played so far in 2013-14 are the three fouls he's averaging in that time.
Whenever he returns to the lineup, Sanders has a lot to prove. Hopefully he'll be able to do so.
The award for biggest surprise on the roster through the early portion of 2013-14 may belong to rookie point guard, Nate Wolters.
With Knight and Luke Ridnour slotted on the depth chart in front of him prior to the regular season , many didn't think Wolters would see the court a whole lot.
That changed when Knight went down with in injury in the season opener and Ridnour battled ailments of his own.
Since then, the 22-year-old South Dakota State standout has provided the Bucks with solid point-guard play.
Through the early games, Wolters is averaging 7.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 27.0 minutes of action.
And even though his shooting numbers—40.6 percent from the field, 10.0 percent from three—are less than ideal, it's his calm demeanor and ability to hold onto the ball which have meant the most.
He's averaging just 1.2 turnovers and has done a remarkable job of not costing the team too many possessions by making silly mistakes.
The starting job is Knight's if he remains healthy but, for now, Wolters is a very solid backup.
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