By Jack Drapkin
When discussing the Milwaukee Bucks, the conversation rightfully is centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak who will turn 23 in December is the young centerpiece of a franchise on the uptick. However, Giannis needs help and with Jabari Parker sidelined until at least January, someone will need to take up some of the playmaking slack. Some writers are looking towards second-year players Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon to bridge this gap. However, both players seem more likely to stay in their current roles than drastically increase them. This leaves Khris Middleton, now a year removed from a hamstring tear to pick up the playmaking slack.
So why Middleton and not Brogdon or Maker, after all, Middleton is the oldest player of this group and the one who presumably has tapped into his potential the most. A career 40% shooter from deep, Middleton had increased his role each year with Milwaukee before his injury-ravaged campaign last year. Peaking at over 18 points and four assists a game in the 2015-16 season. This numbers should surprise the most ardent of NBA fans, just not the top-notch Bucks fans, I hear ya Milwaukee!
So why will this year be the year for Middleton and the Bucks. Two reasons, opportunity, and health. To the latter, a year removed from the major hamstring injury from last season, expect Middleton to look fresh and re-invigorated at the start of the season. Now as far as opportunity is concerned, this will be the best situation Middleton has had a chance to play on throughout his career. The difference in the level of play that Giannis is playing at compared to the last time Middleton was completely healthy is night and day. The openings created by playing with Giannis are tremendous and will make Middleton’s life easier to pick apart his defender with his old-man, Joe Johnson-like game. Also with the additions of Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon, the defensive burdens will be less on Middleton this season allowing him to have more energy on the offensive end.
With Middleton’s 15 points, nine rebound, six assist opening night performance is just the way the Bucks hoped his season would start.