BucksSpotlight2.2.23

Milwaukee Bucks' Khris Middleton shoots over New Orleans Pelicans' Jaxson Hayes during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Welcome to the 2022-23 edition of the Bucks Weekly Spotlight. Each Thursday, we’ll track the progress of the players who are trying to help Milwaukee make another championship run and give updates on other players from the previous week.

This is the 13th edition of the 2023-23 Bucks Weekly Spotlight.

SPOTLIGHT ON …

Forward Khris Middleton

Middleton is on a minutes restriction. But it doesn’t matter. 

The three-time All-Star small forward is back to being a baller for the Milwaukee Bucks. After missing 18 consecutive games due to a lingering knee issue, Khris has provided a spark off the bench in five in a row.   

Before delving into Middleton’s return, let’s pause and recap the better part of the past 365 days. 

Some time after the All-Star break last season, Middleton injured his wrist. He played through it, but was ruled out in Milwaukee’s first-round playoff series against Chicago when he suffered a sprained MCL in Game 2. Months later, in July specifically, Middleton underwent surgery to fix a torn ligament in his wrist. 

Fast-forward to opening night. Still rehabbing the injury, Middleton was inactive. That designation lasted through November. Then on Dec. 2, Middleton returned. Prematurely. He appeared in seven games then was sidelined for more than a month because of his knee. During that time, Middleton was written off. But “Khash Money” – to steal a line from Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith – didn’t write back.

Following a couple G League assignments, Middleton was on the NBA stage, again. But rusty. 

On Jan. 23 at Detroit, Middleton scored eight points on 3-for-7 shooting (not bad) in 15 minutes. The ugly part was his six turnovers. But they ultimately didn’t matter. The Bucks won in a blowout, 150-130. 

And they’ve kept on winning. 

Milwaukee’s five-game win streak is linked directly to Middleton’s comeback. It’s beaten the Pistons, Denver, the Pacers, New Orleans and Charlotte consecutively … by a combined margin of 72 points. 

No, Middleton hasn’t scored 20 yet – FYI, he’s done it once this season, netting 20 on Dec. 13 vs. Golden State – or hit more than two 3-pointers in a game. Yes, he’s an enormous reason the Bucks are on a roll.

In the second game of his second stint back, Middleton notched 10 points, two rebounds, three assists and a steal. He was responsible for just one turnover, and again received approximately 15 minutes. 

The next time out, he had 17 on 7-for-13 shooting (53.8%). In Game 4, Middleton contributed nine points, three rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in 17 minutes. That set the stage for Tuesday. 

In Milwaukee’s nine-point win over the Hornets, Middleton played 19:53 and generated 18 points on 4-for-10 shooting from the field, including two treys, and a perfect 8-for-8 showing from the foul line. 

“It’s a challenge, but I’m back doing something I love,” Middleton told Bally Sports Wisconsin’s Zora Stephenson in response to taking advantage of each minute under his restriction. “It’s nothing but fun.”

BUCKSHOTS

– This week in Giannis: The Bucks All-Star captain closed out January strong. In his last five games, after sitting out five straight, Antetokounmpo averaged 37.4 points on 61.5% shooting and 13.8 rebounds. In 10 games total last month, he scored 31.0 points per game and dazzled with a couple 50+-point efforts. Giannis was in peak freak mode Jan. 29 vs. New Orleans, tallying a 50-piece in only 30:20 of game action.

– Rounding out the Bucks Big 3 is point guard Jrue Holiday, who continues to make an all-around impact. In three games last week, “Big Money” averaged 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Holiday has run into some trouble turning the basketball over as of late – he has 5+ giveaways in five of his last 11 games – but has essentially neutralized those mistakes by upping his points, averaging 22.8 in that span.

– In all seriousness, we should amend Milwaukee’s super talented trio to a foursome. Brook Lopez, the frontrunner in our mind to win 2022-23 Defensive Player of the Year honors, deserves the recognition. On Tuesday vs. Charlotte, the 34-year-old 3-point specialist and block expert swatted 5+ shots for the eighth time this season. For what it’s worth, he has four games with six rejections. Other Lopez goodies: He’s averaging 14.4 points, his best mark in a Bucks jersey, playing his most minutes per game (30.4) since 2015-16. Lopez also is sinking 1.9 3s per night, a number eclipsed only in Year 1 in Milwaukee (2.3).

– Since moving to the starting five on Christmas Day at Boston, sharpshooter Pat Connaughton has been a steady scoring threat for the Bucks, reaching double figures in 11 of 19 games with a high of 19 on Jan. 25. The focus of our spotlight last week, Connaughton keeps proving he’s a complete basketball player. He’s averaged 9.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists his last three times out. Perhaps, the coolest part of Pat’s 2022-23 campaign is straightforward: He’s already tied his career high for starts in a season (19).