Donte DiVincenzo’s Return to Action for the Milwaukee Bucks Comes at the Expense of the Surprising Grayson Allen

The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks have overcome early-season struggles to re-emerge as championship contenders. And now they’re getting a familiar face back in Donte DiVincenzo, who made his season debut on Christmas Day in a win over the Boston Celtics. DiVincenzo’s return is good news for all involved, but it might spell trouble for Grayson Allen — Milwaukee’s biggest surprise of the 2021-22 season.

Donte DiVincenzo is back in action for the Milwaukee Bucks

Last summer, the Bucks won their first NBA championship in 50 years. And they did so without DiVincenzo, a key starter who was lost before Milwaukee even won its first playoff series.

The 24-year-old shooting guard started 66 games for the Bucks in 2020-21, averaging a career-high 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. But his postseason was short-lived, as the former Villanova standout tore a ligament in his left ankle in Game 3 of Milwaukee’s first-round series against the Miami Heat. The injury would end his season and keep him on the bench during the Bucks’ improbable run toward a title.

DiVincenzo’s rehab extended into the 2021-22 campaign. He wound up missing Milwaukee’s first 34 games of the season, in which it went 21-13 without him.

At long last, DiVincenzo checked into the game on Christmas against Boston to a hearty ovation from the home crowd. The fourth-year shooter saw 16 minutes of court time, scoring just three points but finishing third on the team in plus-minus at +13. It was a similar line Tuesday night in a win over the Orlando Magic, as the Delaware native scored eight points but finished at +20 in 16 minutes.

“Obviously, it’s going to take a while,” DiVincenzo told The Athletic after his first game back. “I haven’t touched a ball in a little while and just trying to get a rhythm. I’m just happy that I’m back. You can’t do anything unless you have your health on the court, so that’s all I’m thankful for, and I’ll keep building off of that.”

DiVincenzo’s return could spell the end of Grayson Allen’s surprising season

Lost in the midst of Milwaukee’s season is Allen. Now on his third team in four years, the former Duke Blue Devil has been a saving grace during DiVincenzo’s prolonged absence.

The 26-year-old has suited up in 33 games for the Bucks this year and started 32 of them. From the jump, he’s been an effective scorer with double-digit points in 13 of his first 14 games. He’s become a consistent 3-point shooter, taking over seven attempts a game while hitting two or more threes in all but six total outings.

With a couple of 25-point performances including one as recently as December 17, it stands to reason that Allen has secured a spot in the starting lineup. But with DiVincenzo back in the mix, head coach Mike Budenholzer is faced with an interesting dilemma.

Given his shooting excellence, one can make the case for Allen staying in the lineup even if DiVincenzo returns to full strength. But if his shots aren’t falling, he’s not as much of an impact player. Meanwhile, Donte has above-average defense and rebounding to fall back on if his offense isn’t up to snuff. For a coach, that likely means a little bit more.

It also doesn’t help that Allen is experiencing his worse shooting stretch of the season just as DiVincenzo works his way back into the rotation. Milwaukee’s starting shooting guard has scored six or fewer points in four of his last five games, going 3-of-18 from beyond the arc.

The DiVincenzo-Allen decision is ultimately a good problem to have for the Milwaukee Bucks

Whether Budenholzer decides to stick with Allen or switch to the more-proven DiVincenzo, one thing is for certain. The Bucks are now deeper than they have been all season and poised to ascend up the Eastern Conference standings.

Entering Tuesday, Milwaukee sat ninth in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating, one of just five teams in the top-10 for both. This comes after stretches in which DiVincenzo, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez all missed time with various ailments. Even Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed eight games, five of which came this month due to health and safety protocols.

Now, Giannis leads a mostly-healthy group in Milwaukee that just won its fourth game in a row. With a 23-13 record, the three-seed Bucks trail the top-seed Brooklyn Nets by just two games. Expect fireworks when the two teams meet in Brooklyn on January 7 in what could be a battle for first place.

Until then, it will be interesting to see whether Allen or DiVincenzo gets the starting nod. But neither option looks like a bad one for the Bucks.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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