Khris Middleton cleared to return

The Milwaukee Bucks are getting that much more dangerous.

Khris Middleton is set to return on February 8 against the Miami Heat. Middleton has been sidelined with a torn hamstring since September 21. The injury occurred during preseason workouts and required surgery. Middleton was the Bucks’ leading scorer last year, averaging 18.2 points per game while shooting 44.4% from the field, 39.6% from three and 88.8% from the line.

Without Khris

In response to his injury, the Bucks made an intra-division trade to help their lack of shooting. They acquired former Bulls guard/forward Tony Snell in exchange for Michael Carter-Williams. To his credit, Snell is averaging career highs so far. He’s scoring 8.4 points per game, shooting 45.8% from the field, 38.8% from three while getting 28.9 minutes per game.

In his absence, Giannis Antetokounmpo has become a household name. With a strong year, Giannis is a shoo-in for the league’s Most Improved Player Award. The Greek Freak’s scoring average has jumped up to 23.1 points per game – last year he only averaged 16.9 points per game. In addition, Giannis has taken more of the lead on defense and using his natural tools to become a better defender.

More surprising, however, is the emergence of Jabari Parker. Parker is often the forgotten man of the “big three” of his draft class, which includes Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Giannis was somewhat destined to grow into his body and become a mismatch on both sides of the ball. After tearing his ACL, Parker’s status of a franchise piece was in jeopardy.

He has bounced back to become Milwaukee’s second-leading scorer at 20.1 points per game. In fact, if it weren’t for his teammate, Jabari might get some love for MIP. Parker is a much more efficient scorer this year. His field goal percentage is at 48.6% this year, slightly down from last year’s 49.3%. However, he is taking 5 more shots per game on average than he did last year.

Bucks Slide

The Bucks have definitely missed Middleton on both ends of the floor. They currently sit at 21-28, though only 1.5 back of the 8th playoff spot. They’ve lost their last five games in a row and 10 of their last 11. It will be interesting to see just exactly how the Bucks share the wealth offensively. Both Giannis and Jabari have become 20 point-per-game scorers without his presence. With Khris Middleton being their leading scorer last year, it’s clear that someone’s role will have to change. Perhaps Jason Kidd will decide to bring Middleton off the bench as a super-6th man. That way, Parker, and Giannis can stay in their roles as starters. Additionally, Middleton can get back into game shape and get the shots he wants against bench units.

The dog days of the NBA season are rapidly approaching and Milwaukee is certainly happy to have a player like Khris Middleton back in the fold. They are looking to ramp up their efforts for a playoff push and he is without question a big piece of that puzzle.

Joshua Chapman