We all know what Khris Middleton was last year for the Milwaukee Bucks. He led Milwaukee with 18.2 points per game and was second in Offensive Rating. Middleton was also the Bucks best perimeter shooter and was essential to spacing the floor and keeping driving lanes open for guys like Parker and Antetokounmpo. On the other end of the floor he guarded the opposing teams best perimeter player night in and night out. He was also stepping into his own as a vocal leader for the Bucks. At the end of games Milwaukee would run their plays through Middleton, which lead to a few huge shots by the man who earned the nickname Khash. But will he regain his form after tearing his hamstring completely off the bone? There doesn’t seem to be a precedent for this type of injury so Bucks faithful are confident that he can come back 100% without any lingering effects. Middleton himself described the injury as a freak accident and said he didn’t have any hesitations returning to the floor last night.
During the first quarter Khris Middleton was simply getting a feel back for the game. He was matched up with Luke Babbitt who is a three-point shooter and not much else. It was a great first matchup for Middleton as he would always know where to find his man. On the very first possession (see below) Middleton displayed why he is such a valuable defender for Milwaukee. Jabari Parker got beat off the dribble (imagine that) and Middleton was there to stop the dribble penetration outside of the lane. It’s important that he was able to stop the penetration outside of the lane because that didn’t allow the Heat player to get a shot up. The Heat player was forced to kick it out to Ellington who rotated the ball to Babbitt in the corner for a three-point attempt. As Bucks fans, we are all aware how the corner threes have been our kryptonite on this losing streak. However Middleton was able to recover to Babbitt in the corner quick enough to use his almost 6’ 11” wingspan and contest the shot, which resulted in a miss.
On the ensuing offensive possession for Milwaukee Middleton curled off a screen by Monroe and was able to get into the middle of the lane before being walled off. He then dished an off target pass to Jabari who air-balled a three. Middleton was very active on defense the whole game and that obviously started in the first quarter. He was trying to set the tone defensively for his teammates, unfortunately they did not follow his lead. Middleton was able to get his hands on passes on three separate occasions but none of them ended in steals for the Bucks. He also took his first shot of the game in the first quarter. The shot came after he received the ball on a rub screen. He took a couple of dribbles to find his rhythm and then pulled up with a short fade away. The defender was right in his face but the shot looked like it was straight on, only a little short. As Jim Paschke reminded us all on the telecast, when a player returns from injury their shooting is the last to come back.
In the second quarter Middleton got his first point of the year. He caught the ball at the three-point line in the corner and then drove to the basket. A help defender walled him off for a second until Middleton’s man was able to recover. Middleton then made beautiful use of his hesitation dribble, acting as if he was going to pull the ball back out. He attacked the rim with a pump fake (we’ll ignore the travel Khris because we missed you) and was able to draw a foul and get to the free throw line. At the line he knocked down one of two throws, which was on par with his team’s awful free throw shooting night.
On the following play Middleton made one of the only defensive highlights of the night for the Bucks. Middleton’s man was standing at the three-point line away from the ball and Middleton was in good help position in the middle of the lane. The ball was then swung around to a couple of Miami Heat players before ending up in the corner. Middleton had a nice close out forcing his man to attack the rim. The best part about this play was when Middleton then recovered and blocked the shot from behind. This really demonstrates what the Bucks have been missing all year from their perimeter defenders. The block started a fast break for the Bucks which ended in Middleton wrapping a pass around the lane to Jabari who got fouled and was sent to the free throw line.
The third quarter was Khris Middleton’s longest and last run of the night. Playing the final six minutes and thirty seconds of the quarter, Middleton continued to display good on and off ball defense. Middleton was in great help-side position and took a charge on James Johnson who was attacking the rim with reckless abandon. I also noticed on a couple of different occasions Middleton did a good job communicating with Giannis off the ball to ensure that they were in proper help position. Khris also demonstrated good hustle and energy hoping to spark the Bucks to victory.
Middleton was beginning to get his groove back late in the third quarter, something that Bucks fans can look forward to more of in the future. On one possession he drove down the right side of the basket and then had the awareness to drop it back to Greg Monroe for an easy lay-up. A little while later Middleton had a great spin move that led to a contested tear drop in the middle of the lane for two points. On the very next possession he hit a jumper off a mini step back in the corner. He came off a screen by Monroe for this bucket and those were his only two field goals of the game. It was obvious that Middleton was really sucking air down the stretch of the third quarter but that is also when he was showing some of his best basketball of the game. Both of these baskets came as a result of Middleton creating the shots for himself which is important because Milwaukee doesn’t have many players who can do that.
Milwaukee has really lacked that third play-maker since Middleton has been out. As he briefly showed in his first game back he brings a lot of positives to this team. On defense he is a great perimeter defender and understands Jason Kidd’s defensive system and what he is trying to do. On the offensive end of the floor he is without a doubt the Bucks best outside shooter. He can also create shots not only for himself but for his teammates as well. His floor spacing is badly needed with how this Bucks team is designed. Obviously with the bad news awaiting Bucks today they might be gaining one play-maker right as they are losing another. Even though the night was overshadowed by Jabari’s injury; as far as Khris Middleton is concerned he can own the future.