Milwaukee Bucks: 3 reasons why Khris Middleton misses Jrue Holiday

MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 30: (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 30: (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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Before scraping out a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night, everything had gone south for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks had dropped five straight games, with the final three losses coming against sub-.500 clubs. Without coincidence, starting point guard Jrue Holiday entered the league’s health and safety protocols just before the skid, and has been absent since.

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His unavailability has brewed trouble for the entire roster, but Khris Middleton finds himself in the eye of the storm. A two-time all-star coming into the season, Middleton was enjoying his greatest year yet, posting career highs in points per game (20.1) and assists per game (5.7) on very efficient shooting.

After falling short of gaining entry into the 50-40-90 club, Middleton was coasting his way in by boasting .520/.465/.930 shooting splits through his first 24 appearances on the season.

However, in seven games without Holiday, those splits have plummeted to 27/44/82. Going along with 4 turnovers and 3.5 fouls per game, Middleton fails to finish possessions, play sound defense, and shoot efficiently.  Put bluntly, he hasn’t been himself.

This is no accident and the Bucks knew when they shelled out for Holiday this offseason they were getting a strong two-way player with no real performance flaws. The city of Milwaukee, and Middleton especially, need him back more than ever. So, let’s see the three ways Jrue Holiday directly affects Middleton’s play.

Jrue Holiday’s absence has allowed opponents to swarm Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton.

At full strength, Milwaukee fields a starting lineup with Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Brook Lopez.

DiVincenzo and Lopez are serviceable in their respective roles, but Holiday, Middleton, and Giannis spearhead the Bucks’ attack. Giannis and Holiday take turns initiating the offense, with Middleton being a primary beneficiary.

Accounting for all three creates a nightmare for defenses, especially when Giannis alone demands a fortified wall. Putting the ball in Holiday’s hands, while placing Middleton on the wing, facilitates a multi-faceted attack, capable of burning anyone from any area on the court.

However, Holiday’s absence removes an entire dimension from the offense.  Defenses have adjusted, applying heavy pressure to Giannis and Middleton with few repercussions. Let’s see what happened in Milwaukee’s last loss against the Toronto Raptors.

Here, Middleton receives an entry pass in the high post from D.J. Augustin, Holiday’s replacement.  Middleton’s strong mid-range game puts him in the driver’s seat here – he immediately realigns himself towards the basket, looking to jab step and cut baseline for an easy jumper over the smaller Fred VanVleet.

In the blink of an eye, though, VanVleet seals off that route, and Pascal Siakam rushes him from the other side. Siakam can bring this double knowing that Terrence Davis and Chris Boucher are ready to reapply quick pressure to Antetokounmpo. In jumping to him, they correctly guess that their original assignments, a distant Pat Connaughton and an immobile Brook Lopez, cannot do much to intervene.

Worst of all, Augustin completely removes himself from the play after passing the ball. He could’ve taken advantage of his preoccupied assignment and given Middleton an outlet, but instead remained near mid-court. Holiday’s off-ball instincts would’ve saved the play there, but then again, the Raptors would not have run that defensive set with someone as dangerous as him at point.

Middleton sees this pressure frequently with Holiday off the court, and has struggled to adapt. He either succumbs to the defense, or must frantically scramble to find a teammate. If that teammate isn’t Antetokounmpo, the defense has won the possession – they’ve forced the ball away from their threats.

Holiday’s actions on the court save Middleton from such swarming attacks, and even create comfortable positions for the shooter throughout the game.