4 Reasons for optimism regarding the Milwaukee Bucks halfway through 2023-24 season

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Khris Middleton is returning to form

There was a lot of uncertainty about just how healthy and good Khris Middleton would be this season. After missing a large part of 2022 with knee and wrist injuries and then having offseason knee surgery, people wondered if he was finally fully healthy or if he was going to continue to have nagging issues.

He started the season on a minutes restriction again, playing just 19.7 minutes per game in his first 11 games and never playing over 23 minutes. But once December hit, he really started to make strides, and ever since then, he has been looking pretty close to his normal self.

Over his last 18 games, Middleton is playing 29.4 minutes per game and averaging 16.6 points and 6.0 assists. His shooting has also improved to 49.8 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three during this stretch, compared to just 46 percent from the field and 32 percent from three prior. His midrange shot has been especially good, currently ranking number one in the entire league at 56.5 percent.

There have still been some bad games and moments, but for the most part, Khris has looked really good. His really bad games have been rare, as he has shot 45 percent or better from the field in 15 of his last 20 games. His mobility has also improved a little bit, as he has shown flashes of better perimeter defense than he had early on in the year. His defense on Jayson Tatum in the January 11th game against the Celtics was a complete turnaround from the disastrous defense he played against the same Celtics team on November 22nd.

Middleton appears to be the x-factor and glue for this Bucks team, and they play a lot better when he's on the court. He takes a little pressure off everyone with his playmaking and three-level scoring ability. If the Bucks can get this Khris Middleton consistently in the playoffs, it definitely raises their ceiling.

All in all, the Bucks have had their share of struggles this season, and there are legitimate concerns with the defense and bench. However, there are several things that should inspire some confidence in this team. The offense is elite even without Dame hitting his full stride, their core has been lethal together, and they are one of the NBA's most clutch teams. We'll see if they can fill the holes on their bench with some defense to take this team to the top level.