Milwaukee Bucks first round series will be a tone setter for Khris Middleton

Apr 5, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s been a lot of chatter ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks‘ first-round series with the Chicago Bulls about how Giannis Antetokounmpo will dominate or how will they guard DeMar DeRozan (I’m guilty of both!) but someone who isn’t being talked about a lot is Khris Middleton.

It makes sense since Middleton ended the season in a bit of a slump and he hasn’t really dominated the Bulls as he has with other teams, but the three-time All-Star is naturally going to play a big role at both ends of the floor for the defending champs.

Even in a series where the Bucks are heavy favorites, Middleton can set the tone after an up-and-down regular season for another fantastic playoff run.

Khris Middleton should fare better in this series than his regular-season numbers vs the Chicago Bulls

For all of the team success that the Milwaukee Bucks had against the Chicago Bulls throughout the regular season, the same couldn’t be said for Khris Middleton’s performance against the division rivals.

He played three of the four games against Chicago and averaged 19.0 points on 55.4 percent true shooting (just below league average) with 6.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists. He shot 5-of-18 from 3 and only got to the line 10 times across those three games.

Those aren’t terrible numbers by any means, but it’s also not what we expect from him.

The Bulls don’t have the best defensive personnel, especially without Lonzo Ball, but they have a few guys that are pesky and can make things difficult for Middleton.

The guy who guarded Middleton most in those three games was rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu. He guarded Middleton the fourth-most in terms of minutes and shot attempts against out of anyone in the league. Middleton went 7-of-16 against Dosunmu, but 7-of-11 on 2s and drew two shooting fouls on Dosunmu but went 1-of-4 at the line so he didn’t make the rookie pay for the fouls. He also had 10 assists when being defended by Dosunmu.

After Dosunmu, Alex Caruso guarded Middleton for just over six minutes and Middleton went 4-of-8 against him overall, but 4-of-5 on 2s.

So against his two primary defenders on the Bulls (and likely the two guys he’ll see most often against him in this series), Middleton has shot 11-of-16 — nearly 69 percent — on 2s but 0-of-7 from 3.

For as pesky as Dosunmu and Caruso are, they’re the types of guys that Middleton has success against. Dosunmu gives up two inches and over 20 pounds while Caruso gives up three inches and over 30 pounds to Middleton.

The 3-point shooting isn’t anything that the Bulls’ duo is doing to make him shoot worse against them. It has always been hard to correlate opponent 3-point shooting with one-on-one defense, it tends to be more about luck than anything else.

Middleton ended the regular season shooting just over 31 percent from 3 on seven attempts per game, but there shouldn’t be much of any concern given how great he was coming out of the All-Star break and that he has had a ton of success against the two defenders he’ll see most in this series.

On the other end, Middleton’s presence won’t be as important but he’ll still be counted on as one of the guys they’ll need to throw at DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

While it will mostly be Wesley Matthews and Jrue Holiday taking that assignment, Middleton did match up with the Bulls’ two leading scorers for a total of 11 minutes and 13 shots, with DeRozan having more success going 4-of-8 on 2s and drawing two shooting fouls.

He’s a bigger body than LaVine (though less athletic) and about the same size as DeRozan. It will be good that he won’t be too taxed on the defensive end by guarding these guys all night and it should mean good things for his offense, but he will definitely see time against these guys throughout the series and will be an important part of slowing them down.

It’s become normal for the focus to be off of Middleton, but he always has seemed to thrive in higher pressure moments and it starts with round one of the playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks playoff opponent spotlight: DeMar DeRozan. dark. Next

Middleton and the Milwaukee Bucks start their title defense this Sunday at 5:30 PM CT.