It’s not so much that the Bucks will miss Middleton’s 18–20 points a game (they will). It’s not that they’ll miss his spacing on a team that starts 3 non-shooters (they will). It’s not that they’ll miss his team and individual defense (they will). But the Bucks are going to have a really hard time filling that 36 minutes.
Basic counting stats as well as numbers like RPM or VORP tell you Middleton is a very good player. One of the best shooting guards in the league without question. And it’s easy to look at those numbers and say “man it will suck without him.” But to measure losses like this you’ve got to focus on the trickle-down effect on the depth.
For one, Middleton offered a few more lineup possibilities on a team that had few. Khris allowed the Bucks to go small with his ability to play either wing position and get a lot more shooting on the floor. Traditionally this meant staggering Jabari/Giannis minutes, but could even mean brief spurts with Giannis at center. And when the Bucks are big, or just long, he ensures there’s someone the defense has to pay close attention to. Now Delly and Teletovic are the only established outside shooters who expected to see major minutes. It’s looking worse than last season from a spacing standpoint.
Far worse, is the replacements and potential rotations at this point. There’s no telling what the lineups will be given this injury was announced last night, but the likely outcome is the traditional guards end up being MCW and Delly. If that happens, it will be the same struggle as last season, made worse by substituting Delly for Middleton. Further, the hopes of Carter-Williams carving up bench defenders goes out the window and the second unit starts looking very weak.
The team could try and get creative by starting Teletovic. You’d probably see Parker playing more of a 3 role with Giannis at the 1. The problem of course, is who guards the other backcourt player? That lineup could work against teams with one really weak guard, but those opportunities are few. In most cases it would be a defensive disaster, but randomly they might outscore people or force coaches to adjust early.
Let’s assume the likely scenario. This means the initial downgrade with whichever guard gets pushed to a starting role (between MCW and Delly — this means we’ve got a downgrade at a starting spot because of them moving up as well as the loss of them as a bench player). This also means Vaughn, Jet, Brogdan, Ennis are all getting more playing time and likely against better players. Ennis likely figured not to play much and the rest are unknowns due to experience or age. But I think we all assume Vaughn does not look like a promising breakout candidate and Terry is not someone from whom you want to rely on getting 20 productive minutes a night.
Worse yet, the Bucks are over the cap and paying 15 players this year. So while I’m sure fans are pumped about the idea of bringing in Gary Neal as a last minute free agent add, it’s pretty unlikely they’ll find a way to make room. Couple that with the total lack of a market for trading any of their big guys (especially Monroe) and the options are bleak. There’s no way the Bucks would find someone anywhere near comparable to Middleton on the market, but it appears they won’t even find someone to upgrade at the 7th or 8th bench spot without giving up substantial assets.
If Khris is out a full 6 months, he’ll come back with 10–12 games left in the regular season. Were basketball were 100% about stats, the Bucks might drop 3–4 wins based on the Middleton injury and ripple-effect of roster shuffling. And assuming he doesn’t come back in time for a 10 game win streak, that’s likely enough to knock an already fringe playoff team back into the lottery. Since this injury is far more complex than just the boxscore effect, it could send the team into a far greater spiral. It’s a real shame to not even be into preseason and suddenly go from being a possible 5–8 seed down to potentially high in the lottery, but these sorts of results seem to always follow the Bucks.
The one hope, similar to last season, is that the team continues its future-centric mantra. The two young stars are still very young. This would be a wasted year in the sense that we’re fast approaching luxury tax territory and season tickets for the future arena won’t sell themselves, but the team still had zero title hopes this season. Hopefully they remember the lessons of previous ownership that a 1st round playoff loss does not make a difference in the end. Point being, there’s no reason to make a desperate move just to salvage 2016. This year may be painful, but let’s hope we don’t try to fix that by sacrificing future seasons.