Amongst all the early season excitement and national tv exposure, one thing needs to be made clear. The Bucks are yet to beat a good team outside of a shell shocked Celtics unit on a back-to-back. Comprehensive losses and all-around poor performances to that Celtics team in the return bout, plus Cleveland and now OKC, show that we aren’t quite as good as we’ve been made out to be, yet.
Khris Middleton, the smooth moving, sweet shooting wing, expected to be the clear number two on offense behind Giannis, has had a brutal start to the season shooting the ball. His poor start has been picked apart by Bucks fans online (and probably rightfully so) but let’s look into this a little deeper.
Whilst trying to sit back and take in Middleton’s early season play, I am well aware this isn’t a new thing. He is a notoriously bad starter; every season i shake my head as shot after shot clangs off the rim in the early going.
I formulated a graph that exposes this rough start as a ongoing trend:
(2016-17 numbers are a little different given he didn’t return until Feb., but the trend remains the same)
Through 7 games, Khris is averaging 16 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists, decent numbers you might say if you are just looking at the totals. Inside those numbers are the ugly 39.3% field goal percentage and horrific 20.7% from three. The concerning thing for Milwaukee fans, is that based on Middleton’s history, this slump may only just be getting started with November being a typically frosty month in years past.
Middleton, since the 14/15 season, shoots at 39% from the field in the the early months before finding the range and raising that to 47% the rest of the way. How can this happen every year? What are some of the potential causes? Let’s walk through two of the possibilities:
Conditioning: I’ll start with what would be the most insulting reason for Khris’ slow starts to us as fans: he starts the season out of shape. I find it hard to believe, knowing he is a slow starter and missing more then half the season last year that he would be unprofessional enough to turn up unfit. But, it would certainly make some sense, struggling in the early months while rounding into game form and then finally finding his legs around December. Middleton has a smooth (some would say laconic) style, and a flat jump shot that even when he is in the hottest of runs feels it only just makes it over the rim. His feet barely leave the floor and right now, nothing feels like it is going in as it leaves his hands.
In games where the Bucks have had two days rest (two so far) Middleton is averaging 21ppg on 45.7% shooting from the field. In games with one day or less (four so far) this plummets to 15.5ppg on 39.7% shooting. An indicator of fatigue, though the sample size is small.
Pressing too hard: This has been commonly used reasoning for explaining Middleton’s early season woes. Simply trying to do to much. During the Atlanta game, I praised coach Jason Kidd (a rare moment) for leaving Khris in the game to try and work through his slump. Middleton was simply awful in the first, going 0-7 while everyone else seemed to be making everything. He remarkably bounced back to finish with 27 points and looked visibly relieved in the last quarter as his three ball started to drop, a great sign. Unfortunately, this was followed up with a 3-13 outing against OKC, although he wasn’t alone in having a rough night, it must be said.
Middleton’s usage rate through 7 games is at 25.4%, a career high mark. Increased ball handling has seen more attempts in the paint come from Middleton who has shot 7-17 (41%) on layup attempts, many with defenders all over him while he tries to find a way to the line. Khris is far better curling off screens and catch and shoot opportunities, expending too much energy ball-handling and pushing through contact is not what he needs.
The season is only young, the month of November only just beginning, so there is plenty of time for this trend to be halted. But Bucks fans should be aware that history tells us it won’t. I am amongst the staunchest of Middleton defenders, still bullish about his all-star chances this year, but its hard not to be frustrated by this typically frigid start.
Giannis needs help, and Middleton has to find a way to be the man to do so or Milwaukee will continue to struggle against top tier opposition.
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