Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ leading scorer last season, tore his his hamstring and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday, per reports. The injury is expected to sideline him for six months, meaning he may very well miss the entire season.
How will the Bucks deal with this injury?
“We’ll rely on our overall roster depth to help us while Khris is out for a significant period of the season,” Bucks general manager Jon Hammond said in the team’s release about Middleton’s injury.
Middleton’s absence will be felt most in three areas: scoring, perimeter defense, and team chemistry.
The scoring will be the most difficult to replace. Middleton was not only the team’s leading scorer, but also one of its most dynamic shooters. The Bucks’ Achilles heel last season was an inability to shoot from beyond the arc, but Middleton was one of the brightest spots. Middleton shot a shade under 40% from three-point range, despite shooting almost 100 more three’s than the previous season.
It’s not just that Middleton can put the ball through the net, it’s that he did it efficiently. Middleton made the most of his opportunities, which opened up the door for younger players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker to get more shots for themselves.
Middleton was good for 18 points per game on just 14.5 attempts per game last season, and the burden of replacing that will fall squarely on the two franchise cornerstones. Giannis and Jabari, are both good scorers, but will be forced to make a leap.
Parker’s scoring increased by nearly 8 points per game to just under 19 after the All-Star break, and he will have to not only match that, but build on it. Similarly, Giannis also averaged just under 19 points a game in the second half of the season. The problem is that neither is even an average level three-point shooter, so the Bucks will really struggle to stretch the floor.
Even if each of them can increase their scoring output by a realistic margin of four more points per game, the rest of the team would still need to find another 10 points, just to match Middleton’s production.
This is where some of their offseason moves could pay dividends. Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic should slot in as the team’s threats from beyond the arc. One silver lining of Middleton’s injury is that there will be nearly 15 more shots a game to go around. This means more shots for Delly and Teletovic, which can help both establish a rhythm early in the season.
However, the key to the Bucks’ scoring will be their latest addition, Michael Beasley. For his career, the former second overall pick has averaged 13 points per game. Beasley’s career has been dogged by questions about consistent effort, especially on defense, but as a combo forward he does create a number of scoring mismatches that he can take advantage of.
Defensively, it will be up to Dellavedova to fill in for Middleton. Middleton was in the upper echelon of NBA defenders, but Dellavedova has shown that he can be a frustrating matchup, most notably in the Finals against Stephen Curry. However, Dellavedova has never been a starter for an entire season, and will need to be able to maintain his defensive intensity in extended minutes.
Also, expect to see Giannis guard opposing shooting guards more, especially when Beasley is on the court. Giannis is a freak athlete, and his combination of length and speed means that he could be asked to guard the elite two guards much more often, while Delly handles the opposing point guard.
Lastly, Middleton’s absence could really affect the Point Giannis experiment. Part of the reason the team felt, so comfortable handing the reigns over to Giannis was that they felt that Middleton’s ability to stretch the floor could open up driving lanes for Giannis, especially in the pick and roll. In fact, Giannis and Khris passed the ball to each other 16 times a game with Middleton’s ability to sink threes a dangerous weapon, once the defense collapsed on Giannis.
Without Middleton in the mix, defenses may be able to really affect Giannis’ ability to finish at the rim, and it is incumbent on the combination of Dellavedova, Teletovic, and Rashad Vaughn to demonstrate an ability early in the season to punish defenses by hitting the long ball.
There’s no way to completely replace Middleton, but as Hammond said the team will have to rely on a number of players to help fill in the gaps. No single player is going to put up the 18-4-4 that Middleton provided last season, but a more diverse and flexible offensive attack could help the Bucks in the long run, as the core continues to develop.
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