Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. In the case of the Milwaukee Bucks and their unceremonious second-round loss last postseason, it’s fair to say that fans developed a bittersweet fondness for Khris Middleton, who earned second place in our annual exercise of which Buck would be most important for postseason success. That this poll wasn’t 100-0 is...something, but the result is still overwhelmingly aligned with our expectations of this team’s hierarchy.
The 2nd most important player to Milwaukee’s postseason success is...
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Middleton, perhaps infamously, injured his MCL during the first round of the playoffs and ended up missing all of Milwaukee’s remaining postseason action. This guy and wet floors, man. Though he couldn’t come back from the knee issue, Khris was already playing with a wrist injury that was attended to earlier this offseason. As you can see from the photo below, when Middleton joined a Milwaukee traveling party to visit the Greek National Team (who unfortunately lost to Germany in the semi-finals), that left wrist is still in a cast, creating some cause for concern that Khris will be cleared for full contact when training camp commences in October.
Milwaukee Bucks' GM Jon Horst and Khris Middleton are here in Milan to watch Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo playing for the Greek NT. pic.twitter.com/B6MJabKqxC— Harris Stavrou (@harris_stavrou) September 6, 2022
What’s done is done. The past is the past, and all eyes are on the path ahead. Middleton’s matchup against Jrue Holiday in this poll was less competitive than I would have expected; given Middleton’s tenure on the team compared to Jrue joining the Bucks and winning a championship in his first season here, my guess would have been that the vote would be closer to 50/50. As Adam alluded to yesterday, both players are pretty dang important to what Milwaukee does:
In Middleton’s absence during last year’s Playoffs, Holiday was forced into a second fiddle offensive role, one in which he repeatedly slammed his head against the wall to little success in the defining moments of the Boston Celtics series. Still, I could realistically see a world in which Holiday was injured last year, Khris only hits say 37% of his shots against the Celts, and we’re saying we needed Holiday’s defensive tenacity to deter one of Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum alongside his additional ballhandling.
Gut Check: how confident are you that Khris Middleton will be in the playoff rotation?
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1 – Not in the rotation, at all.
2 – Might play a few rotation minutes, here and there.
3 – Will get some minutes, depends on the series.
4 – Will be part of the rotation, playing steady minutes.
5 – Firmly in the rotation, playing heavy minutes!
As we said back in May: get well soon, Khris. The Bucks need you.
In the meantime, this concludes the formal voting portion of our Ranking The Roster series. For posterity, here’s the final order of the voting, as well as the Gut Check score averages. Remember, the secondary poll in each post focused on how many playoff rotation minutes you thought the player would play, on a scale of 1 (none at all) to 5 (tons of playing time).
17: A.J. Green (score: 1.27)
16: Jordan Nwora (score: 1.62)
15: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (score: 2.16)
14: Sandro Mamukelashvili (score: 1.98)
13: George Hill (score: 2.67)
12: Serge Ibaka (score: 2.33)
11: MarJon Beauchamp (score: 2.47)
10: Jevon Carter (score: 2.84)
9: Joe Ingles (score: 3.57)
8: Wesley Matthews (score: 3.59)
7: Grayson Allen (score: 3.81)
6: Pat Connaughton (score: 4.69)
5: Bobby Portis (score: 4.64)
4: Brook Lopez (score: 4.64)
3: Jrue Holiday (score: 4.98)
2: Khris Middleton (score TBD, likely above a 4.9)
1: Giannis Antetokounmpo (automatic 5.0, obviously)
(And yes, we will have a Giannis piece up tomorrow.)
Something I find fascinating about the results above isn’t necessarily the order of players, but what level of confidence the fanbase has in how many playoff minutes each one should (will?) receive when we get to that point in April. If you figure that any result above a 4.5 is a bona fide lock to make the rotation, Milwaukee’s top-heavy roster construction really stands out. The only players to score that high were Jrue, Brook, Bobby, Pat, and (presumably) Khris and Giannis. This top-6 grouping makes sense in-context, but when you look back at the tough playoff series that Milwaukee has played, we’ve seen that Mike Budenholzer rarely shortens the rotation to such drastic levels (with the 2021 Brooklyn series standing out as a notable exception).
What does that result indicate? Is it a matter of fans being split on which players ought to fill out the rest of the playoff rotation, or is there a certain lack of confidence in the middle of the roster? Going further, is this set of results perhaps overly pessimistic, considering the potential development of younger players like Allen, Carter, and Beauchamp...or perhaps it’s even inflated optimism, given the reliance on older contributors like Matthews, Ingles, and Hill? I don’t know if I have the answers to those questions, but your votes helped illustrate that they deserve being asked.
What do you think of the results? What do you think of the process? What should we do differently next year? Let us know in the comments!