Khris Middleton‘s injury is far from ideal for the Milwaukee Bucks, but if his young teammates can pick up the pieces now, the franchise may reap the rewards in the long-term.
The Milwaukee Bucks were not going to win a championship in 2016-17. The main goal for this season was to make the playoffs and challenge a competent team in the first round for six or seven games. With a team comprised mostly of men 25 years old or younger that would have marked significant progress from the past year.
You could argue that Khris Middleton is not the best player on the Bucks nor is he the most dynamic, but he might have been even more vital to the team reaching the above goal than Giannis Antetokounmpo or Jabari Parker. Middleton is the ultimate glue guy and his value to Milwaukee was immense.
The Bucks were bad at shooting threes and playing defense last season. Middleton is great at both those things. For the past two years he has been a top 15 Three-and-D player in the NBA. That skill set along with a newly developed passing game was going to be the main contribution Khris would bring to the Bucks this season. And the team needs that contribution badly.
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In fact, Milwaukee needs players that can play defense and shoot threes so badly that they drafted Malcolm Brogdon and traded for Matthew Dellavedova in the offseason. The Bucks figure the more players they have like Middleton the better off they will be.
Unfortunately, even with those additions, there is not a single player on the Bucks roster who can supplement the loss of Khash. Some can play defense, some can shoot, some can pass, but none have that entire package. There aren’t a lot of players in the NBA with that entire package.
But what if this injury is a blessing in disguise? Khris Middleton makes things easier for all of his teammates. Losing him will make everyone’s job tougher. If they can figure out a way to succeed without him though, then they can be that much better when he returns.
How Giannis and Jabari adjust to this injury might determine the fate of Milwaukee basketball for the foreseeable future. Jabari was drafted with the second overall pick to be the face of the franchise. Giannis’ playmaking over the past three seasons has put the entire NBA on notice and now everyone expects him to become a star too.
The Bucks’ formula for success without their main glue guy gets much simpler – get the ball to Giannis and Jabari. The buffer that Khris provided is no longer around to help the kids through their struggles. In the past if things ever got too difficult on the court these two could just defer to Khris and he would figure out a way to get things done.
No more Middleton means no more safeguard for Antetokounmpo and Parker when the going gets tough. On the court, all the pressure falls on Giannis and Jabari. The good news is they can take it. How far they take it is the real question.
Let’s start with Parker. He has all the tools in the world to be a great offensive player. His mid-range game is strong, he can score inside with a variety of moves, he can dunk on just about anyone, his ball handling is superb for someone of his height, and his basketball IQ is sound.
He needs to pick up the slack on the offensive end from the Middleton injury. That means Jabari needs to start shooting threes efficiently and often. We all know he is capable of doing it but the Bucks have asked him to rein it in during his first two years. This really helped him master the other aspects of scoring but it was also a way to play his offensive development safely.
The Bucks need to take the offensive training wheels off for Jabari. If he can add competent three-point shooting to his already impressive laundry list of offensive skills he will have a real shot at scoring 20 points per game this season.
If Parker cannot start making triples this year the spacing for the Bucks will be woeful. Neither he nor Giannis will have room to penetrate the lane and attack the basket. There are other shooters on the roster but if Jabari and Giannis want to share the floor together Parker needs to digest a fire flower and get hot from outside on a regular basis.
Now, let’s move on to Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak needs to pick up the slack on the defensive end from the Middleton injury. Giannis is the best defender on the Bucks without Khris but he still needs to take another stride forward. That stride needs to come in the form of perimeter defense.
There are not many players in the world who can protect the paint on both the fastbreak and in half court. You can probably count them on one hand, and one of the fingers is Antetokounmpo. If there is an area defensively where Giannis is subpar at times, it is on the perimeter though.
That is where Middleton was best as a defender, slowing down opposing wings and guards and stymieing their plans to drive to the lane. If Antetokounmpo can bolster his perimeter defensive skills and become a better all around defender the loss of Middleton will be less noticeable.
Michael Carter-Williams and the additions of Brogdon and Delly should be able to effectively manage almost all of the guard defensive duties that Middleton leaves behind. But one of the things that made Khris so special was his ability to defend taller wing players. This is why the Bucks desperately need Giannis’ perimeter D to be stable and meaningful throughout the course of the season.
In conclusion, Jabari and Giannis can take over a lot of the responsibilities that have popped up in the wake of Khris going down. If they can make up for their fallen comrade then the season will go much more smoothly.
One thing is for certain – the Milwaukee Bucks’ formula for success has changed for the upcoming season. The problem is we don’t know exactly what that formula is going to look like. The more Giannis and Jabari are in that formula, the better the chance of it resulting in success becomes, for the franchise this season and in the seasons to come.
These two 21 year old guys need to deliver. They don’t need to deliver a ring or even a playoff berth to the city of Milwaukee. They don’t need to deliver 50 wins or All-Star game appearances. Giannis and Jabari just need to see the opportunity in front of them and grab it. If they can do that then the Bucks will be just fine.