On September 20th, 2016, Jason Kidd, John Hammond, and the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks received heart-breaking news regarding their future. Khris Middleton, a fifth-year pro out of Texas A&M, suffered a torn hamstring. The Bucks were prepping to see what a core of Middleton-Jabari Parker–Giannis Antetokounmpo could do, but following Parker’s devastating ACL injury, that could keep the core apart for a full year. Not only did Middleton’s injury hurt the Bucks’ development as a team, but it also affects his personal development. Middleton is a player who came into the season ranked 39th in Sports Illustrated‘s preseason top 100 player rankings.
But now Middleton is back, having played three games thus far for Milwaukee. With that said, let’s take a look at what he’s been able to do this season.
Breaking Down Khris Middleton’s Return
Through his trio of games, Middleton has compiled a stat line of 7.3 points, 3.7 assists, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.0 steals in 18 minutes per game. The numbers in this sample size and in limited minutes can’t tell us the whole story. However, it’s clear that Middleton has already been a valuable addition.
Right off the bat, you notice two things. First of all, the Bucks immediately feature Middleton in the offense. This particular play is within the first three minutes of his first game action. He is already the focal point of Milwaukee’s second unit. Assuming the week off for the All-Star break goes well, Middleton should be incorporated into the starting lineup shortly after. (Do not be surprised if the Bucks begin playing better post-All-Star because Middleton is a much better fit next to Antetokounmpo than Parker is.)
The other noticeable thing in this clip is the way Middleton lands. Typically, this detail is rarely looked at, but in a player’s first game or two back from injury, it can provide valuable information. Middleton tore his left hamstring and, on this play, he landed on that leg perfectly, proving that he has full confidence in that motion.
This is what people thought Milwaukee had been missing. It was a primary concern for anyone who thought this team might return to the postseason. The Bucks were viewed as one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league. But that hasn’t been the case. Malcolm Brogdon‘s emergence as a key rotation piece and Kidd’s ability to devise clever offense has allowed the Bucks to survive shooting the ball and even thrive. Anteotkounmpo draws so much attention when he drives that he has turned this mediocre shooting team into the eighth-best in the league, percentage-wise.
Now, throw in Middleton, one of the best three-point marksmen in the league, and this team becomes a legitimate threat on the offensive end. Middleton is able to knock open shots, but he is also capable of attacking closeouts after a defender comes flying out from an Antetokounmpo drive. Once he attacks, he knows what to do.
An underrated part of Middleton’s game outside of his shooting is his ability to make plays for others. He averaged just over four assists per game a season ago, a good number for a secondary playmaker like Middleton.
Part of the reason he is a quality distributor is the threat of his jumper. On this play, Andre Drummond dances out too far away from Greg Monroe, and Middleton is able to find Monroe using an unusual angle on the bounce pass. Another non-Middleton effect here is Antetokounmpo drawing Jon Leuer away from the play. This is the effect of an elite scorer, something Milwaukee hasn’t had since…Michael Redd?!
Middleton’s defensive ability is well-documented for those who follow the Bucks closely. He is a long defender, standing at 6’8″ with an almost 6’11” wingspan. He is also a fairly high IQ player whose activity, for the most part, is good. Showing highlights won’t quite do him justice, and we won’t truly know if the injury has hindered him until he is going against elite Eastern Conference wings for an extended period of time. Whether Middleton and Antetokounmpo can turn into a truly elite wing pair defensively is yet to be seen, but they have a chance, given their length and athleticism. If they are able to accomplish that, then they may be able to make up for deficiencies in Parker’s defensive game, should the three stay together long-term.
Here’s a highlight, because LENGTH:
Middleton’s game looks, primarily, unaffected by his torn hamstring injury. He should continue to progress and possibly return to form by the end of the month. He’ll provide a much-needed push for the Bucks, as they attempt to grab a weak eighth seed in the East. Should that happen, Antetokounmpo and a fully healthy Middleton will give the Bucks a shot at winning a game or two against every playoff team outside of a healthy Cleveland Cavaliers squad.