Khris Middleton: The Key to Early Season Success


As the Milwaukee Bucks prepare for the regular season, most eyes are focused on Jabari Parker and his health. As things stand, Parker is making good progress in his rehabilitation.

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It’s unlikely, however, that Parker will play a large share of the minutes at the beginning of the season. This leaves the Bucks rotation in an uncertain state.

The biggest concern for the Bucks as they enter the 2015-16 season is whether they can score enough to win games. The team boasted the second best defense in the NBA last season, but was near the bottom of the league in scoring.

The Bucks did address some of these concerns this off-season by adding a solid low-post scorer in Greg Monroe. Natural improvement from guys like Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo should also help ease these concerns.

The key guy, however, to the Bucks early season success is Khris Middleton.

Middleton had a fantastic season in 2014-15, setting career highs in multiple categories. Through the first four months, Middleton produced as a solid “three-and-D” wing and looked like a solid rotation piece for a young team.

The trade of Brandon Knight, however, left a significant void. With Knight on the team, Middleton worked well as a solid second or third scoring option on a nightly basis, getting open looks off the ball as Knight directed the offense.

After the trade, the Bucks were left without a clear number one option. Middleton answered the call.

In the month prior to the trade, Middleton averaged 12.9 points per game on 53.8 percent shooting including a ridiculous 52.3 percent from three. In the following two months, he increased his points per game average to 16.5 and 17.7 in March and April respectively, while also shooting 49.1 and 43.7 percent from the field (via ESPN).

As the stats show, Middleton became the primary scoring option for the Bucks.

During his late season run, Middleton demonstrated that he was much more than a three-and-D wing. He showed an ability to create his own shot, including flashes of a mid-range fade away game where he hit difficult shots over smaller defenders. He also found great success driving to the lane, something that opened up in large part because of his deadly shooting ability from range.

In many ways, Middleton became a much more well-rounded player, closer to a Jimmy Butler than an Iman Shumpert. Thus, it came as no surprise that the Bucks paid Middleton this off-season.

Oct 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) shoots the ball against Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) during the first quarter at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Middleton holds the key to the Bucks early season success because of his ability to score. Few, if any players on the team have the range of abilities that Middleton does. He’s a lights out shooter who can make defenders pay, even with the slightest bit of separation.

He can also create his own shots in situations where the offense breaks down.

With his range of ability, Middleton will draw the best wing defender that any team has to offer.  He should also draw a number of double-teams. This should help create opportunities for others, giving Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams space to drive, and Greg Monroe the proper spacing to be able to operate in the low-post. 

Middleton and Monroe should also mesh well in pick and roll situations. Monroe is an excellent ball-handler and passer for a big-man. The Bucks last season, with Middleton and Zaza Pachulia, were able to run a number of plays at the top of the key where Middleton received the ball behind Pachulia and got enough separation to get a good look. Middleton and Monroe should be able to replicate this.

Middleton, of course, is also an elite defender, capable of reeking havoc on any perimeter scorer. His ability to guard multiple positions effectively allows the Bucks rotation defense to work as effectively as it does.

His defense, coupled with his elite ability to score, is why Middleton is key to the Bucks early season.

Next: Taking a Look at the Eastern Conference's Five Best Players

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