With all the hype behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s All-Star season and Jabari Parker’s rise into the spotlight (hopefully he plays again this season after going down hard on Wednesday night), it’s easy to forget that last season Khris Middleton was the leader of this team just last year.
After tearing his hamstring during a freak accident in practice, Middleton was expected to be sitting out for up to six months. However, after a speedy recovery, he was cleared to play last weekend, and has been practicing all week.
Coming off a new five-year $70 million contract, Middleton led the team in scoring last season, averaging 18.2 points per game, and made 39.6 percent of his three-point shots.
Middleton was not only one of the Bucks’ best two-way players, but took the majority of the shots in late-game situations, which is something the Bucks have relied on Antetokounmpo for this season.
On the bright side, Middleton’s injury allowed Antetokounmpo and Parker to expand their game and step into the role of leaders on the team. Last season, Antetokounmpo averaged 16.9 points per game on just 12.7 shots per game, while Parker averaged 14.1 on 11.8 shots per game. Middleton took more shots than both of them, averaging 14.5 shots per game, and handled a lot more of the isolation and ball-handling responsibilities.
With Middleton out, Parker and Antetokounmpo both average 16.1 shots per game, and both players’ scoring has improved immensely. They both serve the role as the primary ball handler on the court, and have proven that they are effective with isolation offense.
Now, with Middleton returning, the question is, how will he fit in with a completely new team around him?
He may no longer be needed to dominate the Bucks offense, but a player that can effectively knock down shots and create his own offense, along with guarding the three ball (which the Bucks have been horrendous at doing) should be able to fit in with any team.
Coming off a tough injury, Middleton will be limited in playing time for at least a few weeks. Jason Kidd said that he would come off the bench and be held to around 20 minutes per game.
That held true in the Bucks’ home loss to Miami, where Middleton made his debut. Middleton came off the bench and scored five points in 15 minutes.
Middleton made a few nice moves at the basket, but made a limited impact outside of his two buckets.
In the short term future, Khris Middleton will focus on getting back into a rhythm and finding his new role on the team. The one key area he will be able to assist the Bucks with even in limited minutes will be simply stretching the floor for Antetokounmpo and Parker.
Bucks fans need to be patient with Middleton, and hopefully after the All-Star Break he will be back into the starting lineup and help the Bucks make a push for the playoffs.