And so we’ve come to another weekly wrap-up, a day deferred, but I came down with a bout of food poisoning following that oh-so-foul Brooklyn Nets loss last Saturday and I couldn’t catch up on this collection of Milwaukee Bucks game until a tad late. However, we’re here now, and that’s all that matters. Plus, Morgan’s piece yesterday deserved all the shine. Either way, it was all worth it to post this piece in the afterglow of last night’s rousing Miami Heat win. Possibly the start of galvanizing us all for the stretch run? Let’s hope, and, let’s wrap-up.
The Week that Was
- Milwaukee 123, Brooklyn 126 (Nets Take Advantage of Bucks Mistakes)
- Milwaukee 130, Charlotte 106 (Bucks Swat Hornets)
- Milwaukee 120, Miami 119 (Bucks pull of Wild Comeback Against Heat)
The Nets game felt like a collective shrug across the Bucks roster in the second half of that contest. An eminently winnable Saturday night that turned into an “evidently we’re gonna lose” and encapsulated so much of the frustration we’ve seen up to this point. Thankfully, the team gathered themselves for a Charlotte team that’s often given them fits, and looked poised to bomb away once more early. After a 44-point second quarter, so much for that. Besting Miami was as sweet as it gets and, hopefully, a step in the right direction for this team getting its closing mojo back.
Khris Middleton this, Khris Middleton that. Without a doubt, the Bucks second All-Star undeniably comes under the most scrutiny on a night-to-night basis among the Bucks three. I can’t say it’s unwarranted all the time, although his Playoff performances last year, while not always hyper-efficient, were more than enough to buy him ample wiggle room in my view. Add in one of the busiest basketball calendar years in history for a superstar, and there was probably bound to be a bit of shrinkage in his stat lines this season.
I’m on record as not totally understanding his All-Star selection this season, indeed I would’ve preferred he just get the week to rest up with his family. Although that charming moment between Middleton’s kid and Giannis’s at All-Star might’ve made it all worth it. Sappy new dad digression aside, I do think it’s worth diving into what kind of player Middleton has been this year versus his past.
First and foremost, his shooting has fallen off a spell. He’s still a plus-shooter from almost everywhere on the court, but it’s dipped back to figures from a few seasons ago. The gray backgrounded sections in the below graphic, courtesy of Cleaning The Glass, indicate his Playoff shooting stats.
His pet shot, the long midrange, is still firing at accurate enough capacity, and even ticked up a spell in recent weeks. That’s a good sign for the Playoffs given I’d expect Milwaukee will still require an ample amount of possessions where Khris has to bail them out with a jumper. While his 3-point percentage is down, the biggest change between this years and the past, is simply that he’s taking more 3-pointers than ever in his career. They make up 41% of his shot selection, up from 33% last year and even higher than the 40% mark he put up in his first tug-of-war year with Mike Budenholzer.
It’s possible that 3-point percentage of his will stick around 36%, but I do think it’s capable of sneaking up a smidge higher still with the hopes of superior shooting in the playoffs (haha). But, we’ve been asking Khris to shoot more threes for most of his career. Well, he is, he just happens to be missing a few more of them than normal. In the aggregate, I’d say this is a positive development.
Another oft-cited point of frustration with Middleton has been his turnovers, sloppiness with the ball. Now that is a worthwhile critique, with a career-high 13.7% turnover rate, ranked in the 18th percentile among forwards. He is probably asked to do more ball handling than most of the “forwards” in Cleaning The Glass’s database though, and his usage rate is, say it with me, a career high. Turnovers count as usage, so that could be part of it, but the other element of that upped usage has been a positive for Khris this year.
Riley mentioned it on this week’s podcast, but anecdotally it certainly seems like Middleton has turned into a griftking this year. The good news: it’s working! In just 51 games this season, Middleton has already taken as many free throws as he took through 68 games in 2020-21 (236). He’s drawn shooting fouls on 10.1% of his attempts (61st percentile) and up from 8.2% last year. I don’t like to rely on jump shooting fouls, especially come Playoff time, but Khris has seemed to avoid the foul-drawing regression that initially hit some hall of fame grift artists early in the season. Either way, for a player whose diet relies heavily on the midrange, adding another efficient way to manufacture points has been a pleasant surprise.
He’s offering little defensive resistance, something that is obviously worth monitoring come Playoff time. He’s never been great at sticking in front of guards, and Booker in particular I recall being able to roast him off the dribble, but he’s always been capable enough as a switcher to use his length as a shot deterrent and stick in front of most positions besides the scoot-scoot guards. Other small parts of his game just haven’t been as sharp either. He’s turning it over on 21.7% of his pick-and-rolls, which matches with my recollections of lost dribbles and pocket passes bouncing off feet. He’s shooting just 33% on pull-up threes this season after 40% last year.
For a player without unbelievable athletic gifts and who is much closer to top-30/40 than top-10, sanding off the sharp edges means more. There’s less to work with, and against the backdrop of a season in the afterglow of a championship but steeped in “meh” results, a duller game for Khris feels more pronounced. The hope is that he’s chiseled back into shape by April.
Play of the Week
We can’t ignore the bodacious display of blockitude that Giannis had on the court against Charlotte, so we stuck that below. I pushed the throttle in harder on highlights than I may normally like, but such is life. Here’s what stood out.
Giannis Block & Dish
The block on Miles Bridges early in the first may have been more impressive, but the two-way nature of this play merited exposure for me. The speed with which he identifies Bembry will be wide open as three Hornets buzz his way is stellar, you can see him recognize it basically at halfcourt. It only takes two dribbles to make the magic happen.
Something out of Nothing
This is one of those possessions where you feel heartened the Bucks didn’t just settle for a pull-up jumper. Holiday’s initial attempt to penetrate past Cody Martin to a wide open lane is stymied, so he dribbles out and resets. Middleton slices his way to the mid-post, recognizing his mismatch against Montrezl Harrell. Holiday shifts the ball to Ibaka, who swiftly gets the ball out of his hands to Khris Middleton on the left arc. Wisely, he passes up Portis who keeps in motion by curling around Ibaka allowing Khris to take his place outside the arc.
Deftly, Holiday recognizes the cluster of confusion and big bodies both Ibaka and Portis have caused to clog up the top of the lane. He makes a bee-line to the hoop as his man Martin tries to catch up and Middleton reads it perfectly with an on-point bounce pass. Were it not for a foul, that’s a layup. Nice work not settling.
Khris had one of these to Bobby earlier in the week, but it’s a credit to Middleton for the initial swipe and gather turned into something so pinpoint perfect. Helping out Holiday on the double, he recovers from a return swipe by Vincent and while falling forward does a two-handed touch pass that lands almost precisely in Allen’s range of motion as Bud’s four verts call from the bench turns into a delicious slam in front of both Bam and Butler. Credit to Grayson for avoiding the swipe and throwing it down too.
Jrue Holiday charges down the floor off the jump-ball and knocks down the floater for the win! pic.twitter.com/80YU0FmPgk— NBA (@NBA) March 3, 2022
A linebacker point guard bullies a backup point guard like a little brother. What more needs to be said here, besides Holiday reigns as the king of the “don’t call a timeout” game-winning runner.
We’ve come to the end of another wrap-up. Thanks, as always, for reading and vote for your play of the week below!
Mar 3: My Play of the Week is...
This poll is closed
Giannis Block & Dish
Something out of Nothing