No one expected Khris Middleton to DNP-CD against his former team on Friday night--including, apparently, Middleton himself. On Friday, Jason Kidd opted to give the seldom-used Kendall Marshall a look in the starting five, moving Jared Dudley into the backup SF minutes that Middleton had been getting the past couple games.
And leaving Middleton as the odd man out.
Still sitting here shocked at what happened... Smh— Khris Middleton (@Khris22m) November 8, 2014
That tweet didn't do anything to diffuse confusion over the move (assuming that's actually what Middleton was venting about), and in general you can understand why Middleton would be less than pleased with a DNP-CD. After all, Dudley has been largely invisible and Jabari Parker has battled poor shot selection and defensive lapses of his own, which likely left Middleton feeling singled out. Before Saturday's game, Kidd alluded to the moving being defensively motivated, while Middleton didn't fan the flames any further. Via Todd Rosiak at the Journal-Sentinel:
"We have to believe that defense comes first and then offense. For Khris, maybe he wasn't making shots early on but there's a lot of season left to be played. It is just a matter of time before he starts making shots."
Asked if it would be just a one-game absence for Middleton, Kidd was non-commital.
"We'll see how the game goes," he said. "We have a lot of guys at the guard position. Nate (Wolters) probably has a case to play. We're playing 11 almost 12 guys. We'll play the guys we feel fits the time and score."
Prior to Saturday's game, Middleton said he hadn't spoken to Kidd about not playing on Friday despite tweeting his surprise at his role following that game.
"That's his decision," Middleton said. "I still have to be ready no matter what."
So does any of this matter, or will it just be a blip on the early season radar?
In the case of Middleton specifically, the answer is probably...uh, well, who knows? After a strong preseason, he's hit just 23% of his threes and often looked uncomfortable trying to create shots on his own, and at the end of the day he's not so central to the Bucks' long term plans that he should be getting 25-30 minutes simply for big-picture development purposes. You'd like to see him playing real minutes because he's still young and already a good player, and it would seem odd if he were frozen out of the lineup for any extended period. So it wasn't surprising that he ended up starting the third quarter on Saturday and playing (albeit not terribly well) down the stretch against Memphis, signaling that he's perhaps back in Kidd's good graces. But I'm not sure it's worth losing sleep over either way. As valuable as he might be as a floor-stretching complementary guy, he's also not Jabari or Giannis. Sorry, Khris.
Still, Middleton also has more talent and strategic value than Dudley, so it'd be disappointing to see him marginalized for an extended period while Dudley continues to struggle and yet still see regular burn. Contract considerations could also be playing some role in this--after all, propping up Dudley's trade value could enable a trade later in the season, while a breakout season from Middleton will only make him more expensive to retain next summer. That might just be conspiracy theory stuff, but we can at least agree that Middleton has some additional motivation to get on the court and put up big numbers, which may or may not be aligned with the Bucks' motivations.
That said, the Bucks' depth means that Kidd may well have to manage these kinds of issues all season long--at least until the Bucks either suffer some injuries or make a trade or two. Until then, playing veterans like Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova and Jerryd Bayless will necessarily come at the expense of the team's younger players. Just ask Marshall and Nate Wolters, both of whom have barely sniffed the floor during the first two weeks of the season. That will necessarily rub some fans (and players) the wrong way, but let's not pretend that Kidd has an easy job here. Jabari and Giannis should have a somewhat longer leash for reasons that we shouldn't have to debate, and thankfully they're starting to earn their keep anyway. Sanders is another lock to play 25 minutes a night because of his defensive abilities, and Brandon Knight looks to be on the all-you-can-eat plan given a) he's been productive (if not always ideal in his decision-making) and b) he's way more talented than anyone else in the Bucks' backcourt.
After that everything becomes a bit up in the air, though at this point I'd feel comfortable saying that I'd like to see less of Dudley (though I do have a soft spot for him) and more of Middleton as the token wing shooter guy. I get that Dudley has been a more diligent defender thus far, but let's hope that message got through to Middleton. I don't really know what to do with Ersan at this point; perhaps I'm being a bit defeatist, but I'd have no problem with the Bucks cutting bait on him for next to nothing at this point in order to clear minutes for the underutilized John Henson as well as more minutes for Parker and Giannis at the 4. And yes, I'm fine resigning the Bucks to gimmicky small-ball lineups for long stretches, which would presumably happen if Ilyasova was shipped out and no clear replacement brought in. The tough part is that the market for Ilyasova is difficult to gauge right now, and if we know one thing about Ersan it's that he never gets traded ever. So who knows--the Bucks may well be stuck with him for now, and we all know Ersan won't be thrilled if he's stuck on the pine. Good luck, Jason.
Bottom line: It's almost unavoidable that some guys who think they deserve to be playing won't be, and plenty of things going on behind closed doors--practice performance, locker room psychology, player showcasing--figure to play a role in who plays and how much. So while as fans we always complain about rotations, some patience is also in order. Hopefully Kidd won't be playing more than nine or ten guys nightly a couple weeks from now, but don't be surprised if he occasionally dusts guys off the end of the bench to throw them a bone either.
In other words, don't give up yet, Nate Wolters.