Who is the Most Valuable Buck Besides Giannis
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When you think about the Milwaukee Bucks, one name comes to mind immediately: Giannis Antetokounmpo. An elite athlete, an All-Star, and a potential MVP candidate in 2018, Antetokounmpo is the clear leader of the Bucks franchise. But as any NBA fan knows, in today’s game, one star just isn’t enough.
Even all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James have needed the likes of Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dwyane Wade to help them get to the top of the basketball world. With the Bucks coming out of the gates strong in the early stages of the 2018-19 season, contending for an Eastern Conference title is becoming a legitimate belief in the city of Milwaukee.
For the Bucks to truly contend, they know they need significant contributions from other players. Which begs the question, who is the most important player on their roster other than the Greek Freak?
Over the last few years the Bucks have done a good job reconstructing their roster. Many NBA fans may forget that just five years ago this was a 15 win team whose future in Milwaukee was up in the air. But the emergence of a star, and the complimentary pieces brought in around him have transformed the Bucks to a playoff team the last two years, and the looks of a conference contender this season.
One of these complimentary pieces is Eric Bledsoe. Acquired in a trade from Phoenix last November, Bledsoe quickly showed he was a quality point guard who could play effectively alongside Giannis. This season, rejuvenated by new coach Mike Budenholzer, Bledsoe is bringing more hustle and energy, as well as more efficient offense, shooting a career high 50.6% from the field per basketballreference.com.
Another important piece of the Bucks squad is Malcolm Brogdon. A 2016 second round draft pick, Brogdon came out of Virginia as a polished “NBA-ready” player that lacked the youth and athleticism of a first round pick. However, Brogdon showed right away he could play at this level, winning the 2017 Rookie of the Year award after an outstanding first season with the Bucks.
His second year in the league would not be quite as celebrated, as a tear in his quadriceps suffered at the beginning of November would keep him out until the final couple games of the regular season. Brogdon never looked quite right in the team’s first round playoff series against Boston last year, but has come back with a vengeance so far this season, looking like the promising rookie who pleasantly surprised so many Bucks fans two years ago.
Other underrated pickups this offseason by the Bucks included the signings of Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton, as well as the selection of Villanova standout Donte DiVincenzo in June’s draft. Each of these players have played a big part into the Bucks early season success and continue to grow confidence with each game.
Despite the key contributions from each of the guys mentioned above, there is one player the Bucks could not contend without; the most important player on their roster besides Giannis: Khris Middleton. Although not a household name, Middleton is an elite level NBA scorer who has knocked down big shots for the Bucks game after game, year after year.
Essentially a throw in by the Detroit Pistons in the Brandon Jennings and Brandon Knight swap of 2013, Middleton was a little known 2012 second round pick who no one in the NBA predicted would emerge to this level. Middleton and Antetokounmpo started their Bucks careers together in the trying 2013-14 season, establishing themselves as the building blocks to the franchise’s rebuild.
Middleton was a key cog in the quick turnaround that led the Bucks to a 41-41 playoff season in 2014-15. Despite a non-playoff year in 2015-16, Middleton would get even better, posting a then career high 18.2 points per game per basketballreference.com. However, a complete tear of his hamstring before training camp of 2016 would derail a large portion of his next season, leading many to wonder if he could get back to his earlier form, or if perhaps the Bucks should move on and try to find a different 1B to Giannis’s 1A.
Middleton came back last season better than ever, starting all 82 games while averaging 20.1 points as the Bucks go to shooter. That hasn’t stopped this year either as he continues to thrive in Coach Budenholzer’s new high scoring offense.
While Antetokounmpo often seems unstoppable, the one thing which holds him back is the jump shot, which is Middleton’s forte. Often at the end of games when the Bucks need a clutch shot, a play is drawn up for Middleton to get a look at one. This can be evidenced by several game-winning/tying shots over his career, including buzzer beating jumpers in 2014 against Phoenix, 2015 against Miami, and 2018 in Game 1 of the playoffs against Boston.
In a league which often comes down to one on one battles, Middleton is quietly one of the best at creating his own shot. Along with good court vision, respectable defense, and growing leadership, Middleton has become a piece the Bucks need alongside the Greek Freak to contend in the East.
There is a renewed sense of optimism about basketball in Milwaukee led by a two-time all-star and MVP candidate. But without a little-known piece acquired in a trade over five years ago, a player who now looks like a potential all-star himself in Middleton, the Bucks would not be at the contending level they have achieved thus far in 2018.