Milwaukee Bucks: Appreciating Khris Middleton’s star turn this season

Jan 27, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA (Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports)
Jan 27, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA (Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports) /

This era of Milwaukee Bucks basketball has certainly been defined by the two-time MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo’s rise from a young, gangly teenager from Greece to a hulking man who dominates whenever he steps foot on the court has captured a Bucks fanbase that had been starving for success. Big hurdles still remain in the Bucks’ quest for a championship and Antetokounmpo’s long-standing shooting deficiencies, from both 3-point range and the free throw line, are still issues he has to overcome, though not for a lack of trying.

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While Antetokounmpo has gone on to become the franchise’s savior and the current owner of the NBA’s richest contract in history, the rise of Khris Middleton has been a steady undercurrent to this incarnation of the Bucks.

Once viewed as a trade throw-in upon his arrival nearly seven-and-a-half years ago, Middleton has risen to the caliber of a perennial All-Star and he’s showing this year that he’s not interested in slowing down by any stretch.

Through his 17 appearances on the season, Middleton is averaging career highs all across the board at 21.9 points on .519/.441/.925 shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 33 minutes of action.

Khris Middleton is on his way towards another career year for the Milwaukee Bucks.

While Antetokounmpo’s ongoing evolution has long been dissected by Bucks fans and media alike, Middleton’s own evolution has received the same level of pub and recognition, despite the clear improvements he has sported.

After falling short of entering the 50-40-90 club last season, Middleton is comfortably on track to earn his membership, even at this early stage in the season. And with his team-leading assists per game, Middleton has never looked more comfortable in delivering pinpoint passes all over the court.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect regarding the role that Middleton has carved out this year has come in tight games late. It’s been Middleton, not Antetokounmpo nor the Bucks’ new star guard Jrue Holiday, that has taken the reins in such spots with very encouraging returns at the quarter way mark this season.

All of this has made the expansion and importance of Middleton’s wide-ranging game impossible to ignore this season. By taking his game to new heights, even after what appeared to be a career year, Middleton is in the midst of making a lasting imprint on this Bucks team.

More importantly, Middleton’s confidence has grown right alongside his play. Whether it’s due to the institutional knowledge he has built playing under head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system or being willing to take the last shot in games, the two-time All-Star may just be the most important player this season for the Bucks and what they hope to achieve.

Standing as the Bucks’ most accomplished three-level scorer, Middleton has long been used to playing off of Antetokounmpo’s gravity within the paint and inside the arc. And considering Antetokounmpo’s shooting struggles, the Bucks have learned playing off him, rather than on, may lead to the better look they need when the game is on the line.

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As the season unfolds and the playoffs inevitably come again, the expansion of Middleton’s game will be an important barometer for the Milwaukee Bucks’ hopeful progression in the postseason. All of the development and glowing contributions that Middleton earns has and continues making him so crucial to their success.