The Milwaukee Bucks are putting the pieces together for a title run
Analyzing Khris Middleton’s impact since his return and setting expectations for the rest of the season
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Eugene Choursoutoglou, Gyro Step assistant producer and frequent contributor to the GSPN Substack. Follow Eugene on Twitter for more Bucks coverage!
It was January 27 when I last wrote about Khris Middleton’s return and how it could affect Milwaukee’s offense. It was then when I also talked about the historical importance of being top 10 in specific statistics in order to excel in the postseason. What has changed since then?
Apart from his effect on the overall performance of the Bucks, the biggest question mark a month ago was Khris Middleton’s condition coming back from his knee injury. Middleton made his return on January 24 when the Bucks beat the Detroit Pistons to go 30-17.
He scored 8 points in 15 minutes coming off the bench, leaving his mark on his first game back. Since his return, the Bucks have played 12 games. They’ve won all of them!
At first glance, you can tell his impact has already been huge. The Bucks are now 41-17, enjoying the best streak in the NBA at the moment while featuring in the first spot of the NBA Power Rankings, just a game shy of the first seed in the East. They are unbeaten for a whole month.
Since his return, Khris Middleton is averaging 15 points per game, plus 4.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists. His 3-point percentage is not the prettiest, shooting just 31% beyond the arc, but it hasn’t really affected his offensive production considering he’s still playing in restricted minutes.
What is really worth mentioning though is the fact that he hasn’t started in any of the games he has played since his comeback. He’s averaging just 19.4 minutes per game as he’s slowly getting himself ready to be a part of the starting lineup again. In his first three games he played exactly 15 minutes, while he played between 18-20 minutes in the four games that followed. He has played over 20 minutes just three times since returning.
How does Middleton’s return affect the Bucks statistically?
This is what I wrote in late January:
“Offense, on the other hand, has to be in the center of attention once Khris comes back. The Bucks have proved that they can be offensively productive when their big three are healthy.”
Time to look at Khris’ offensive impact after 11 games! Back in January, before his return, the Bucks ranked 25th in Offensive Rating (ORTG) and 3rd in Defensive Rating (DRTG). In 12 games since his return, the Bucks rank 11th in ORTG and 1st in DRTG. They also have the 2nd best Net Rating behind the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Pace is another fun stat to look at. The Bucks ranked 11th in possessions per game before Middleton’s return. In the last 12 games, they lead the NBA with 104.4 possessions per game. His ability to handle the ball and run arguably the best pick and roll actions with Giannis Antetokounmpo has really upgraded Milwaukee’s offense. It’s very obvious that their offensive attack is rolling much more smoothly with him. The most positive sign though, has been his ability to stay in front of his players on defense, without looking rusty or slow so far.
To sum up, the Milwaukee Bucks have climbed 14 positions in ORTG, 2 in DRTG and 10 in Pace. If that isn’t a great indicator of Khris Middleton’s impact to this team I don’t know what is.
Should there be any real concern?
There has been some concern around Twitter about the fact Khris hasn’t been able to become a part of the starting lineup yet, or at least break the minutes restriction. Concerns got bigger when he missed the game against the Chicago Bulls right before the All-Star break due to “knee soreness” according to the Bucks.
Thankfully, according to coach Mike Budenholzer who talked to Eric Nehm of The Athletic on February 22, things seem less dire. “[Khris]… had a really good break. He looked good today and we’re optimistic that he’s in a very good place and did everything in practice today. And we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
Khris, himself, looked unconcerned about the minor setback which leads me to believe that the Bucks are trying to have everyone back after the hiatus in order to get as healthy as possible before the last, but most important, sprint of the season.
The first games after the break are going to be a great indicator of whether he can slowly find his way into the starting lineup. Until then, there should be no real reason for further concerns.
New addition and expectations before the Playoffs
The Bucks were active in the trade deadline, acquiring Jae Crowder while trading away Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka and 5 second round picks. Crowder is a player the Bucks were constantly linked with since the summer. He provides what the Bucks missed a lot last year: a big, strong, and capable wing to throw at the Boston Celtics and Jayson Tatum.
“He knows how to win and play in the playoffs. He’s been in the finals three of four times in his career. He competes, he can make shots, and he brings toughness. We need that in our team,” Giannis said to Eurohoops.
Giannis exaggerated a little bit when he talked about Crowder making it to the NBA Finals three or four times. The reality is that he has made it twice, one with the Heat in 2020 and one with the Suns in 2021, averaging 11.4 points on 37% 3-point shooting.
With 24 games to go in the regular season, the focus should shift towards getting the group together as fast as possible. Time is not an ally anymore and any new injury is going to be a real headache ahead of the playoffs.
How they manage Giannis Antetokounmpo’s sprained wrist remains to be seen, but they don’t seem concerned about it. His x-rays were negative and despite missing the All-Star Game, his return shouldn’t take long.
Creating “good habits” has been Giannis’ favorite motto for a while now and that’s exactly what the Bucks have to do in the last games before the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see how they manage to be as cautious as possible getting Bobby Portis, Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo back, while helping Jae Crowder adapt to their system.
According to Eric Nehm’s latest piece on the Athletic, Bobby Portis and Joe Ingles got a head start with integrating Jae Crowder to the team, as the Bucks trio spent time working out together in Miami with trainer Stanley Remy during the All-Star break.
“The workouts and the players’ desire to remain in the gym during the All-Star break came from the players, but the Bucks quickly sprung into action to give them the support they needed as an organization, which included various members of Milwaukee’s coaching and training staff joining them in Florida”, according to Eric Nehm.
All three of them will be available for the game against the Heat, according to the latest injury report, which is very exciting.
Either way, the final stretch of the season is going to be very intriguing. I dare say that the Bucks have the best (and most complete) roster in the Antetokounmpo era and it’ll be very interesting to see how coach Budenholzer manages it. Khris Middleton and Jae Crowder were the last pieces in the Bucks puzzle. Now it’s time to give it all for the real target. A NBA championship.