Kris Middleton has been a pleasant surprise in his first season with the Bucks.
*Editor’s note: This piece was written by Behind the Buck Pass contributor, Justin Becker.
With 23 games left in their season, the Bucks are headed to the lottery just one year after snagging the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed. With only four players returning from last year’s roster and lots of injuries to different players, the Bucks are a league-worst 12-47. All is not lost for Larry Drew’s crew, though. Here are five reasons why we still have to keep our eyes on the Bucks:
This is the guy who will benefit the most from Caron Butler’s departure.
Khris Middleton was drafted by the Pistons with the 39th pick of the 2012 draft. This 6-8 forward played three years of college ball at Texas A&M, where he was named to the All Big-12 Second team in 2011 as a sophomore. He also led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament that season. He came to the Bucks as one of the add-ons to this summer’s “Brandon” trade, where the Pistons and Bucks swapped their respective floor generals.
Middleton currently leads the team in steals at 1.1 per game. He’s improved his three-point shooting, hitting more threes (81 makes) and shooting better from beyond the arc at (41% this season, 31% last season). With Butler gone, his minutes are bound to pick up as much as his role should, and his last two games have proven that.
Middleton scored 22 points during the Bucks’ loss to the Pacers on Feb. 27. He followed that up with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting in their losing effort to the Nets on Mar. 1. He played 36 minutes in the last game, which is around seven more minutes than what he was averaging before Butler’s departure.
His name is as hard to write as it is to pronounce. So maybe let’s just refer to him by nickname – “The Greek Freak.” He’s not only a freak because of his athletic skills, but because he is a 6-10 kid (he’s only 19) who has a wingspan of a 7-3 center and owns freakishly long hands that measure 15 inches. Yes, each hand measures an astounding 15 inches.
And is the number 15 a coincidence, because he was drafted by the Bucks as the 15th overall pick in the 2013 draft? Not really. The Bucks couldn’t pass on him because of his size and raw talent. Scouts agreed that this kid has a lot of upside. And he sure is a find for Milwaukee.
Although he played only 17 minutes and scored nine points in the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge, Giannis’ stock is definitely on the rise after the All-Star break. He’s shot the ball better after the break, going from .427 FG% and .314 3P% to .486 FG% and .455 3P%. His scoring has also increased to 9.5 points per game, up from 6.5 per game before the break. He’s also doubled his assists average after the first half of the season. Again, with the departure of Caron Butler, Giannis is to benefit because of his versatile game.
This former Third-Team All American standout from South Dakota State was the 38th overall pick in the 2013 draft after leading the Jackrabbits to two NCAA Tournament appearances during his final 2 years in college. Wolters played much of the early season when Brandon Knight and Luke RIdnour were sidelined with injuries. He averaged 7.3 points and 4.4 assists in November 2013 while averaging 26 minutes of action per contest. But with the return of Knight and Ridnour, his minutes decreased, and so did his performance. His playing time dropped to 17.3 minutes per game in December and 13.9 mpg in January, 2014.
Lady luck came smiling on Wolters at the trade deadline, as the embattled Bucks shipped out the disgruntled and underperforming Gary Neal, together with Luke Ridnour. Wolters averaged a career high 28.5 minutes per game while contributing 8.7 points and 3.3 assists during the month of February. Although the team acquired Ramon Sessions in the Neal trade, Wolters’ role with the Bucks for the remainder of the season is expected to increase as he teams up with Brandon Knight in the starting backcourt.
John Henson was the 14th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Bucks. He played three seasons with the Tar Heels of UNC before turning pro. He’s listed at 6-11, but he’s got a 7-6 wingspan. He used that wingspan to win the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in both 2011 and 2012.
John Henson had a low-key rookie year in 2013. He logged in only nine starts and averaged 13 minutes per game. But Henson has improved all of his stats this season. His minutes have doubled and so has his scoring average.
John Henson is listed as a power forward, but he can be a legitimate NBA center. In the 13 games that he’s started this season as a center, he averaged 14 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. The Bucks are left with ZaZa Pachulia and Miroslav Raduljica manning the center slot with Larry Sanders (face) out for the remainder of the season. With this development, John Henson’s value should increase, and he will be a key contributor the rest of the year, if he stays healthy. However, given Larry Drew’s recent penchant for employing deep rotations, Henson hasn’t seen the playing time most expected. Instead, recent acquisition Jeff Adrien has seen more minutes at power forward than anticipated.
The only reason why Ramon Sessions is worth watching is so we’ll know where he’ll take it from here. Sessions has played for five NBA teams in a career that started in 2007. He’s had a decent career, with averages of 11.6 points and 4.8 assists per game. Sessions is a solid role player who’s been able to adjust well to all the teams he’s played with, but he’s not yet been able to find a home in the league. That’s what worries everyone. His longest stint was his first stay with the Bucks, when he lasted for two seasons.
He was part of the Gary Neal trade because of money reasons. He is also playing on an expiring contract, so chances are he won’t be a part of the Bucks’ future, but if he finds a niche in the remaining games, he can be a solid asset to Milwaukee. He can play back-up to both Brandon Knight and Nate Wolters because he can play both guard spots. Remember, Sessions was brought in by the Bobcats to play alongside Kemba Walker, and look how Walker has improved. Perhaps he could do the same for Brandon Knight.
As for Sessions, he’s playing for another contract, so expect him to go all out to finish this season.
Tags: Milwaukee Bucks