Milwaukee Bucks: Rookies making a case for extended minutes

Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite their eight-game winning streak being snapped on Friday night, the Milwaukee Bucks seem to be finding their groove as the second half of the season progresses. With the team simply having fun and executing better game by game, there are many positives to take away from their post-All-Star break stretch.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has reestablished his dominant MVP form, Jrue Holiday is back healthy, Khris Middleton continues to prove why he’s an All-Star talent, and the team continues to work toward maximizing its schemes while improving the chemistry. Milwaukee’s stars are blossoming together at the right time, and general manager Jon Horst has done an excellent job surrounding them with efficient role players that understand their role.

After recently acquiring versatile forward P.J. Tucker from the Houston Rockets in a deal that sent away D.J. Wilson and short-term Buck D.J. Augustin, the Bucks have advanced their strong supporting cast as they aim to contend for a title. In addition, veteran combo guard Austin Rivers reportedly plans to sign with the Milwaukee Bucks once he clears waivers, which should help fill their current void at backup point guard.

The Bucks have developed a deep squad and while they continue to experiment with different defensive schemes and tactics, their rotation has been constantly changing and experimented with as well. Most recently, Milwaukee’s rookies have produced optimism when inserted into the rotation.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ rookies are making a case for extended minutes

Milwaukee’s rookies – Jordan Nwora, Sam Merrill, and Mamadi Diakite – have been taking advantage of the opportunities that they’ve been receiving on the floor lately, and all three of them have certainly made a case for earning extending minutes in the rotation moving forward.

Sam Merrill, the 60th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, isn’t your typical last pick in the draft. The sharpshooter out of Utah State has looked like a perfect fit with the Bucks with his ability to consistently score, move off the ball, and make an impact by utilizing his strengths.

On Friday against the Boston Celtics, Merrill dropped a career-high 15 points on 75 percent shooting across 20 minutes. He’s shown how capable of a contributor he can be while playing alongside the starters and looks very comfortable for a rookie.

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The 24-year-old guard is shooting 46.4 percent from beyond the arc in his debut season and is averaging 17.9 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference. Merrill’s maturity and consistent abilities have allowed him to flourish for the Bucks when given meaningful opportunities on the floor, and he’s made a case to head coach Mike Budenholzer that he’s worthy of earning increased minutes.

Although, Milwaukee has a wide range of options at his position, so Merrill has to compete for playing time with Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, Bryn Forbes, and likely Austin Rivers now as well. DiVincenzo should keep his starting spot while Connaughton seems locked in as a valued contributor off the bench, but Merrill could dig into the 19.1 minutes per game of Forbes at times. Forbes is the better shooter, but Sam is a better all-around scorer and defender for the most part.

It could be worth allocating more minutes to Sam Merrill throughout the remainder of the regular season to evaluate how effective he can be on a consistent basis. He’s no ordinary rookie, and has shown appealing flashes of what he can bring to the table.

Jordan Nwora, the 45th overall selection by the Milwaukee Bucks in the draft, is coming off a career-high performance in his first NBA start after posting 21 points and 10 rebounds throughout 36 minutes during the loss to the New York Knicks on Saturday evening.

Nwora was given a huge opportunity to showcase his talents following a massive injury spree to the Bucks in which they were missing Giannis, Middleton, Holiday, DiVincenzo, Tucker, and Bobby Portis that night. It’s safe to say that Jordan definitely took advantage.

Confidence has always been something that Nwora has embraced and isn’t shy of welcoming the spotlight. During his post-game press conference after his first NBA start, the 22-year-old wing stated, “The biggest thing for me was being confident, playing with my teammates, having fun and enjoying the moment.” He continues to stay ready when his name is called and it seems to be paying off.

The former collegiate star out of Louisville is shooting 48.0 percent from three in his rookie season and has identified himself as an efficient scorer and floor spacer for the Bucks. He needs to mature more defensively, but Jordan Nwora has made a case for earning more playing time down the road with his offensive firepower. If not this season, perhaps next season could be a breakout year for the young Buck.

Mamadi Diakite, who went undrafted and is on a two-way contract with the Bucks this season, has shown rawness as a rookie but has also shown legit potential.

The former NCAA champion with Virginia dominated the G League bubble earlier in the year by averaging 18.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.4 blocks on 58.0 percent field goals across 27.7 minutes per game in 12 appearances with the Lakeland Magic. He was later awarded to the All-NBA G League First Team, All-Rookie team, and All-Defensive team for his brilliant efforts.

Now, Diakite is beginning to receive little opportunities on the floor for the Bucks, and his growing potential at the NBA level can easily be identified from those glimpses on the court. Sooner rather than later, the lengthy forward could become a hot commodity as a young, intriguing prospect.

Diakite could emerge into a consistent rotational player further down the road, so it’ll be important for the Milwaukee Bucks to continue to develop him and maintain his services moving forward. The Bucks should sign him to a standard NBA contract next season. Hopefully, they don’t let him slip away like other prospects such as Christian Wood have in the past.

Milwaukee’s rookies are taking advantage of the opportunities that they’re receiving, and it certainly sheds light on the increasing impact that they could provide for the Bucks whether it’s earning extended minutes now or toward the long-term future.

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