• Chris Harden

The Bucks Need Khris Middleton to Play Better

Sometimes, the title really does say it all. We’ve seen the Orlando Magic put forth their best defensive effort into corralling Giannis. Orlando head coach Steve Clifford is excellent at putting together defensive game plans, and he always seems to make the most out of having a limited roster. Even with Orlando’s attempts to limit Giannis’ effectiveness, he’s still been one of the best playoff performers of the first round, averaging 31 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists per game

All-Star teammate Khris Middleton, however, has been struggling to get any sort of rhythm going in the series against Orlando. Through the first three quarters of Game 4, Middleton had a meager three points and had made only one of his nine field goal attempts. A broader perspective: in the 15 quarters of playoff basketball leading up to that point, Middleton was shooting 32 percent from the field, 29 percent from three and a meagre 57 percent on his seven free throw attempts. Remember, he also had only two points in the entirety of Game 2, where he made only one of his eight shot attempts.

You see, the way that Milwaukee’s offense works is in three parts. Parts one and two go hand-in-hand; Giannis drives into the lane and depending on what the defense does, Giannis will either finish at the rim or find the open shooter. Milwaukee has a deep and talented roster full of veterans that can sink open threes. George Hill, Kyle Korver and Pat Connaughton are examples of guys that can do just that. Part three of Milwaukee’s high-octane offense hinges on Middleton giving Giannis a breather by taking over the half-court creation duties for a few possessions per game - which usually include a nice variation of catch-and-shoot threes and getting to the charity stripe.

Now, back to the fourth quarter of Game 4: Milwaukee saw their nine-point lead decline to a three-point lead with a score of 84-81. This scenario is the best example of why Middleton playing at an All-Star level is crucial to the Bucks' championship aspirations. It wasn’t until Middleton got things going offensively before they could put away game four. In the fourth quarter, Middleton shot six of ten and scored 19 points, and Milwaukee cruised to a convincing 121-106 win.

Giannis was interviewed after the game and said the following about Middleton: “I told him when we came off, ‘Shoot the ball. Till your arms fall off. Just keep being aggressive.’ We need him to do that. This game, the next game, also as long as the playoffs go.” This is especially true for when they face the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. If they’re able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and face the winner of Toronto vs. Boston, they better hope that Middleton can play at an All-Star level consistently by then.

We saw this before in the previous season’s playoffs. In last year's Eastern Conference Finals against Toronto, Middleton averaged 13 points for the series. In four of the six games of that series, Middleton shot below 40 percent from the field. In two of the six games, Middleton failed to crack the 10-point mark. There is now a startling amount of pressure that is undeniably on Middleton's shoulders - Giannis' free agency-fate and the long-term future of the Bucks franchise revolves around Middleton's ability or inability to consistently play at an All-Star level in the playoffs. If there were ever a time to definitively prove that he's worthy of max money, now would be it.

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