When the Bucks drafted 6-foot-4 combo guard Donte DiVincenzo in 2018, he was a completely different player at the time playing a completely different role. Before the draft, The Big Ragu was coming off a 31-point explosion in the title-clinching game for the Villanova Wildcats as a super-sub capable of torching defenses off the bench. Draft scouts described him as a “sharpshooter [who] could score at will” and generally focused on his ability to “score at or away from the basket [and] do a bit of everything.”

Today, DiVincenzo is still very much a do-everything hustle guy for the Bucks. While the expectations for him pre-draft were neither incorrect nor unfounded, his evolution as a player has definitely gone a different direction than initially predicted. Starting next to the Bucks’ Big Three, Donte’s shooting and scoring have been secondary to everything else he provides on the basketball court. Instead of being the scoring ball-handler, he’s an elite defensive presence whose energy translates to winning basketball for the Bucks, who have largely benefited from his defense and energy more than anything else.

Much has been said about Donte’s place on the team of late, particularly when it comes to whether he starts or plays off the bench. This is, after all, not the same Bucks team he started for when he went down against the Miami Heat in the playoffs almost six months ago. And at this point, it’s likely a foregone conclusion that Grayson Allen fits better with the team’s starters due to his outside shooting.

But perhaps the more important question at this point in time is: Will Donte DiVincenzo be able to co-exist with this new team and its new context? Whether as a starter or off the bench, will he complement the team’s new pieces enough to deserve playing time over their newly-established pieces?

Here’s a look at how Donte’s skill set can contribute to this contending Milwaukee Bucks team (or wherever he ends up later on) as it currently stands.

Donte gives Bud options

You can never run out of versatility in this league. It’s why forwards like Connaughton and Tucker were crucial to the Bucks’ championship a few short months ago. For DiVincenzo, it’s his ability to play a myriad of roles that makes him an easy fit wherever he lands.

Per Cleaning the Glass, Donte spent seven percent of his minutes running the point and nine percent at small forward. He’s undersized at the three but sprightly enough to bother most matchups while his floor-spacing makes him a reliable choice as the wing in small ball lineups.

As the ball-handler, he’s already shown his promise: In the 1,005 possessions Donte played point in 2019-20, the Bucks outscored opponents by a net plus-10.6. He only played the point for 271 possessions the following season, but in those possessions, the Bucks registered an offensive rating of 121.4 points per 100 possessions, putting them in the 96th percentile among teams in the league.

The options that Donte affords the Bucks also come on the defensive end. Last year, he finished in the 81st percentile when defending isolation plays, where opposing scorers only racked up 0.72 points per possession with Donte as the closest defender. He’s not as hefty as Connaughton or Tucker, but he’s shown that his effort and agility are more than enough to make up for size in controlled spurts.

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“I think I can guard anybody. That’s what you want,” DiVincenzo was quoted as saying after his defensive stop on Jimmy Butler eventually sealed the win for the Bucks in overtime. He eventually went down with an injury in that series, but not before he held the entire Miami Heat roster to 4/13 (30.7%) field goal shooting as the closest defender through two and a half playoff games.

Defense and spacing win championships today

Given the end result of last season, fans often forget what the defending champions were missing when they lost their starting shooting guard en route to the title. One need not look far for proof of his value.

With DiVincenzo as their closest defender in the regular season last year, Brooklyn’s big three of James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant shot a collective 5/13 (38.4%), while Phoenix’s star-studded backcourt duo shot 6/16 (37.5%), and Atlanta’s Bogdan, Huerter, and Reddish shot 4/13 (30.7%), per NBA.com/stats. It’s simply a fact that the Villanova product would have absolutely made a difference had he played in the rest of his team’s title run.

Then there’s the matter of DiVincenzo’s effect on an offense. He’s always been a streaky scorer in his career, but that hit a new low throughout last season. Per Cleaning the Glass, DiVincenzo made just 54 percent of his shots at the rim, putting him in the 18th percentile among guards at finishing up close. His three-point shooting was respectable at 37.9 percent, which marked a significant jump from his 33.6 percent clip from the year before.

His first game back against the Boston Celtics showed the same double-edged sword we’ve come to expect from DiVincenzo. He made one of his two treys but whiffed two wide-open layups at the rim.

In the first clip here, though, Donte veers towards the top of the key after getting the entry pass to Khris Middleton in the post. The defense pays attention to Middleton, who’s always been an excellent scorer from that area. It’s only a slight relocation on Donte’s part, but those few steps, coupled with his readiness to pull the trigger almost immediately after the catch, are all he needs to sink a triple for his only points of the night.

Floor-spacing is not about the shooting clip at which you make your shots. After all, gravity has more to do with the respect that an opposing defender yields even before you’ve pulled the trigger. And despite DiVincenzo’s relatively streaky shooting, his nearly 38 percent shooting from distance to end the season means defenses still have to respect his stroke from deep.

When your interior minister has the All-World talents of Giannis Antetokounmpo, spacing alone can unlock your offense. Sometimes the spacing you provide is more about your reputation than it is about whether or not you actually make the defense pay when they’re forced to close out to the perimeter.

This is why Donte’s minutes saw the Bucks’ offensive efficiency increase to 117.3 from the 112.2 with him on the bench. Overall, he was a net plus-4.4 in his on-court minutes in the regular season. This isn’t just a result of his scoring, but his movement within the team’s offense. In the later clips, Donte does a masterful job at using body language to confuse defenders. Before receiving the inbounds pass off the cut in this second clip, Donte signals to Jrue Holiday to get the pass to someone else, which throws Payton Pritchard off guard. He gets the daylight for the shot but just can’t finish. Right idea, wrong result.

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His impact also comes by way of hustle, movement, and rebounding. In these clips, it’s clear Donte’s motor raises the overall floor of his team. Whether by earning extra possessions with his hustle or boxing opponents out to get his teammates rebounds, Donte does it all. He moves with energy and aplomb on both ends of the court, and sometimes these things make up for misses in the grand scheme of things.

In the succeeding clips, even when he is beat by Pritchard, DiVincenzo scampers back into the play in an attempt to bother the shot. He doesn’t think twice before boxing out the taller Robert Williams with the ball still in the air.

The redundancies are obvious, but so is the potential

Even before his first game back, it was an established fact that DiVincenzo’s abilities would likely clash with what his teammates already brought to the table, even if they were upgrades in some areas.

Right now, Grayson seems to have a solid hold on the starting shooting guard spot owing to his prowess from beyond the arc which pairs better next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Unlike DiVincenzo, whose floor-spacing is only by way of his presence as a catch-and-shoot threat, Allen is an active operator within the team’s offense capable of shooting off screens, hand-offs, and creating his own shot.

Past him, Pat Connaughton seems to already bring all the hustle, grit, and rebounding the team needs for the time being, while Mike Budenholzer has always had a fondness for Wesley Matthews’ rugged defensive acumen. Beyond them still, Jordan Nwora is also making a solid case for himself as a backup wing after showing he can competently score the basketball in the face of a favorable matchup. This only means that the cards are stacked against DiVincenzo in the minutes department.

In his first game back, though, DiVincenzo held Boston’s scorers to a collective 1/6 (16.7 percent) shooting when he was the closest defender, including 0/2 by Marcus Smart and a missed jumper by Jayson Tatum. It was, of course, just one game, but the potential is there. A number of those lineups he played alongside included Allen and Connaughton.

If shooters never forget how to shoot, great defenders don’t lose their defensive brilliance either. Effort, IQ, and motor don’t disappear after injury, and the film backs this up in DiVincenzo’s case. In the very first defensive possession of his debut, Donte tirelessly showed and dug and bothered passing lanes to discourage offensive players from attempting a shot. Each time he did, Tatum and eventually Smart gave up the ball, eventually forcing Jaylen Brown to take a contested shot at the top of the key with time expiring.

The shot did go in, but put plainly, everything that went right about that defensive possession had something to do with Donte’s efforts. It’s clear his energy on defense won’t waver post-injury, while his solid fundamentals, as seen in his succeeding stops against Marcus Smart, are just as sharp as ever. Unlike other defensive hounds, Donte stays away from cheap fouls by keeping his arms up when bothering offensive players and navigating screens. He still tends to gamble on steals from time to time, but he also has the IQ and body control to avoid biting on pump-fakes.

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It was obviously just one game, but at the same time, this kind of dogged ball-hawking is nothing we haven’t seen from DiVincenzo before. As a result of his efforts, he logged a team-high defensive rating of 93.9 in just 15 minutes of play. He also finished with a game-high net plus-43.6 in a game the Bucks trailed through the first three quarters and only won by four points.

And though it was just his debut, glimpses of Donte’s ability to co-exist with this new squad are evident. In this first clip, Connaughton and Portis set double drag screens for Donte in the corner and Pritchard top-locks him in an effort to seal him off from the perimeter and prevent a three-pointer. Donte quickly recognizes this even before the screens are set and takes the opportunity to cut strong into the paint. Connaughton rolls along behind him shortly after, and Williams is forced to step back quickly to tag the two while Pritchard recovers. The Celtics big man falls asleep for a brief moment, but this lull gives the fading Portis all the time he needs to sink a triple.

The next clip shows Donte with yet another opportunistic cut that leads to the secondary assist to get Pat Connaughton a three. His initial back screen here affixes Jaylen Brown’s focus on Jrue Holiday with the ball. Middleton’s own screen on Brown opens the opportunity for DiVincenzo to cut, which he does. He makes the right play here by dumping it off to Portis in the dunker area, which has been a staple of the Bucks offense of late. Counting the extra pass, it’s clear Donte had everything to do with the make in this possession.

Later on, Donte trots the floor on the fastbreak for a decent transition opportunity — a play that made up 21.4 percent of his offensive diet a year ago — only for the possible assist to fall through off a bad pass from Holiday.

After all the changes the Bucks have gone through, Donte’s defense, agility, floor-spacing, and opportunistic cutting still give him a subtle inward gravity and near-elite defensive impact that can make all the difference for the contending Bucks. Contract situation aside, the fact that Donte is still a slight upgrade over his counterparts should mean he’ll always be an option for Mike Budenholzer albeit in limited minutes. It’s clear to this writer that Donte still knows how to excel within his role as seen in his season debut.

Franco is a Manila-based journalist and freelance sportswriter who likes to obsess over the Milwaukee Bucks in his spare time. He's still patiently waiting for Donte DiVincenzo's breakout season.

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