Despite only being a rookie, Donte DiVincenzo has been given plenty of playing time to show Mike Budenholzer and the Milwaukee Bucks what he’s got.
On October 17th, the Milwaukee Bucks tipped-off against the Charlotte Hornets in the season opener. Bucks’ fans harbored a lot of anxiety over the impact of the coaching staff on the new season.
Those cynical thoughts fans had under Jason Kidd‘s previous leadership crept back as the team gave up a 71-56 lead to the Hornets. Eventually, Charlotte tied the game 101-101 with 6:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. The drought in the first game of the new season reminded fans of seasons past under Kidd. Suddenly, it seemed so palpable that the 2018-2019 season could amount to 40 wins season and an early playoff exit.
With the first game on the line, Charlotte had the ball with 23 seconds left on the clock and the Bucks up 113-112. Milwaukee needed a stop to ensure the win and set the tone for the rest of the year. So who are the players Coach Budenholzer trusted for this critical defensive possession?
Budenholzer subbed Brogdon out for DiVincenzo for the final defensive possession. Malik Monk, who had scored 18 points and helped power Charlotte’s comeback, was the rookie’s defensive assignment. Up to this point, Coach Bud had barely seen DiVincenzo play in an NBA game, but trusted him to defend when needed most.
Divincenzo’s defense has been impressive so far: he plays with intensity and awareness, in addition to his physical traits of quickness and verticality. He does some of the subtle, savvy maneuvers on defense needed for the modern NBA. DiVincenzo has tremendous quickness (lateral or otherwise) allowing him to recover off screens or in isolation. As we are going to see in the video below, he makes a great effort to get “skinny” and get low when an opponent sets a screen on him.
Instead of focusing on the made basket by J.J. Redick, understand he’s one of the most lethal shooters in the league and can make high-efficiency shots while in motion at difficult angles.
As we just saw, Redick practically sprints through the screen set for him, so we have to keep that in our minds as we consider DiVincenzo’s defense on him. While DiVincenzo allowed Redick to score, he forced a long two-point shot and the Bucks’ coaching staff is perfectly comfortable with that shot.
Another interesting aspect of DiVincenzo’s defensive play is his ability to stay on his man without using his hands. With the new “freedom of movement” rule, fouls will be called on defenders for grabbing the jersey of offensive players to slow them. DiVincenzo makes a distinct point to show his hands are not on Redick. Some of the veterans of the league have been struggling with this rule and complaining about it but the rookie already understands the nuances of the NBA rules.
DiVincenzo still has room to improve on the defensive end. The downside of limiting the use of his hands to guard is he can lose his man on cuts and other quick actions. For example, Kyle Lowry shakes off DiVincenzo on a back cut.
This defensive miscue is partially because DiVincenzo guessed what Lowry was going to do so he could get the steal. Oftentimes, that is how guys get beat. If DiVincenzo had stayed physically attached to Lowry, with just a hand on his hip or arm, he would have sensed Lowry’s cut. Despite this momentary lack of awareness, his defense is relatively polished for a rookie.
DiVincenzo projects to guard the two guard positions well with his quickness and intelligence. He is well-suited to take on the difficult task of defending shooting guards who run through screens all game like Redick or Danny Green. Due to his undersized frame for a shooting guard, it will be interesting to see how he matches up against forwards and other larger players.
Another concern is his short wingspan which could prevent him from excelling in help defense. Hopefully, he can make up for his limited wingspan with his quickness and IQ. As he continues to grow his basketball intelligence, it will be interesting to see how he guards some of the elite point guards in the league like Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving.
On the offensive end, DiVincenzo is averaging 7.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 turnover per game. He is shooting 46.4 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from the 3-point line, and 81.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Despite his low-efficiency, DiVincenzo is shooting confidently without hesitation. As a rookie, he has to adjust to the longer 3-point line and the quicker release needed to beat the pro-level athleticism on closeouts. However, DiVincenzo takes a diverse set of shots (some set shots, some in motion created from off-ball screens). Coming from Villanova’s pro-style offense, DiVincenzo had the unique advantage of coming out of college with an understanding of his role on an NBA roster. Here is a subtle example of DiVincenzo’s intelligence:
Brogdon assisted DiVincenzo, but DiVincenzo was actually the guy that helped out on that play. Brogdon’s initial drive ended up fruitless and he was running out of room on the baseline. DiVincenzo recognized this and took a couple steps to the left along the 3-point line to open up a passing angle for Brogdon. DiVincenzo’s man completely lost him, displaying the advantages of even the simplest off-ball movement.
Offensively, DiVincenzo still needs to gain a feel for the game with the ball in his hands, especially in transition.
DiVincenzo gave up the ball in semi-transition (transition off defensive rebound) even though Orlando’s defense is set up. He should have probably initiated the half-court offense as opposed to driving to the rim. The coaching staff is probably not encouraging him to exploit mismatches on drives and he doesn’t have the physical prowess of Antetokounmpo to create clear mismatches.
Despite only being a rookie, DiVincenzo has been given plenty of playing time to show Budenholzer what he’s got. Here, he showed some flashes of brilliance, reminiscent of his championship performance:
Overall, DiVincenzo’ energy and poise on both ends of the floor have been very impressive. He has excelled in his role on the Bucks’ roster so far, but it will be fun to watch him grow and shoulder greater responsibilities as the season progresses. It would be quite valuable to have a guy that can guard elite ball-handlers and initiate the offense with Antetokounmpo in the next few seasons, because Milwaukee’s two point guards, Brogdon and Bledsoe, are heading into free agency this summer.