The Boston Celtics need to do a better job on Khris Middleton if they are going to bounce back against the Bucks
The point was made countless times during the days leading up to Game 1; in Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks would have the best player in the series. However, not much was said about the Bucks second leading scorer; Khris Middleton. After four games though, everyone in Boston is sure to know how dangerous Middleton can be.
Predictably, Antetokounmpo has been great in the series, averaging 28/8/6 and shooting 62 percent from the field. As great as Jaylen Brown has played; it is obvious that Antetokounmpo has been the best player on the court for Milwaukee.
Perhaps a bit more surprising has been Middleton’s productivity during the series. Middleton has nearly matched Antetokounmpo’s productivity on the offensive end; averaging 25/6/4 and shooting 61 percent from the field.
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So far, he is 15-24 from three, 62 percent, making him the most dangerous shooter on the floor. Milwaukee ranked only 22nd in the NBA this year in three point shooting, and Middleton is by far their top gun.
His sharpshooting is a necessity for their offense to space the floor and open the lane for Antetokounmpo.
Middleton’s game is built on deception. An unheralded prospect that plays in Milwaukee in the shadow of Antetokounmpo, Middleton flies under the radar despite having an excellent season, averaging 20 ppg and shooting 36 percent from downtown in 2018.
He is also deceptively big, at 6’8″ and 235 lbs, he thrives on forcing mismatches and shooting over smaller defenders.
A subtle advantage Middleton exploits is that he is an outlier in today’s NBA. While team’s prioritize three point attempts and shots at the rim, Middleton remains one of the NBA’s premier mid-range artists.
Middleton attempts 54 percent of his shots from mid-range; a very high number and that likely throws defenders off-balance because it is almost a rare shot to take in today’s NBA. Only Kevin Durant really had a better combination of mid-range shots taken and percentage made this season.
His slick handle and length allows him to create space and bang home 15-20 foot jump shots over surprised defenders. After four games against Milwaukee, Celtics’ defenders should be anticipating those mid-range jumpers. They also need to be more disciplined on defense and avoid switches that force Terry Rozier or Shane Larkin onto Middleton.
The Bucks need Middleton to continue to perform at this level to stay in the series. Unless Jabari Parker goes through a renaissance, Middleton is really the only threat Milwaukee has to score 20+ points aside from Antetokounmpo. Since stopping Antetokounmpo is an unrealistic goal, preventing Middleton from scoring 25 points should be the top defensive priority for Boston.