The Bucks will be without one of their most valuable players, and last year's leading scorer, when the 2016-17 season begins. This one hurts.
Guard Khris Middleton suffered a left hamstring injury in preseason workouts – reportedly the muscle was torn – that will require surgery, general manager John Hammond announced Tuesday evening. Middleton, who will have the operation within the next week, is expected to be sidelined for approximately six months.
"We’re obviously disappointed for Khris and our team, but injuries are an unfortunate part of the game," Hammond said in a statement. "We’ll rely on our overall roster depth to help us while Khris is out for a significant period of the season."
Middleton, 25, re-signed with the Bucks in July 2015 to a five-year, $70 million contract. He averaged a career-high 18.2 points, tops on the team, with 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 79 games last season, and was Milwaukee's second-leading three-point shooter at 39.6 percent (the highest mark among returning players).
Losing Middleton is a huge blow for a team excited about its outlook for this season, especially after signing Giannis Antetokounmpo to a four-year, $100 million contract extension. Without Middleton, Milwaukee loses vital outside shooting and floor spacing, which it desperately needs for Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker to be most effective. The team did use the offseason to try and address three-point shooting, signing veterans Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, Jason Terry and Steve Novak.
Originally selected by Detroit (39th overall) in the 2012 NBA Draft, Middleton was acquired from the Pistons in the 2013 Brandon Jennings trade. He has career averages of 13.2 points, 2.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 267 career games.
At Antetokounmpo's press conference Tuesday, Middleton was present, smiling and still healthy.
With the caveat that it's usually a fool's errand to read too much into what a team says about bad news in a press release, it's interesting that Hammond noted the Bucks will "rely on our overall roster depth to help us while Khris is out" because the roster depth at his shooting guard position is not particularly encouraging. In fact, it's practically inevident, as there's not an obvious in-house replacement who'd approach being able to fill Middleton's important role at both ends of the court.
Considering Antetokounmpo is set to be the team's primary ball-handler and playmaker on offense, it's possible the Bucks will insert a defensive-minded player like Michael Carter-Williams or Dellavedova into Middleton's spot to guard opposing points, or start a more conventional off guard like second-year Rashad Vaughn or rookie Malcolm Brogdon, both of whom are at least average three-point threats.
The Bucks could also make a trade, perhaps involving center Greg Monroe, to acquire a more proven scorer. Middleton's six-month timeline wouldn't have him return until after the NBA trade deadline next year, and it's difficult to imagine Milwaukee competing for an upper-tier playoff seed with any of the options they currently have playing significant minutes at shooting guard.
Are the Bucks a contender without Middleton? What should they do to replace him? Let us know in the comments!
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.