Mike Budenholzer sold Khris Middleton on doing less in order to get best out of Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks currently own the league’s best record at 43-14 and look prepared to make their best playoff run in years. Giannis Antetokounmpo is leading the way for this team, playing his way toward a potential first MVP award, and the rest of the squad seems to fit in seamlessly around him. However, it took some foresight and adjustment to get the team playing at this level, with much of the change occurring in how Khris Middleton approached his role with the team.
Prior to the start of the season, new Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer sat with the team’s star, Antetokounmpo, and Middleton to discuss how to maximize this team’s potential. Despite Giannis arriving to stardom and Middleton having his best season yet in 2017-18, Milwaukee hadn’t been able to crack the second round of the playoffs. In an effort to change this, Budenholzer had to get Middleton to understand how changing his game, and essentially doing less on the court, would help the team.
Khris Middleton initially wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but he soon realized it was best for the Bucks, according to Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated’s The Crossover:
“Me, for serious, I’m like: What the f—?” Middleton says, catching himself in the retelling. He censors the thought. “What the hell?” The timing seemed especially cruel. Middleton was a former second-round pick who had been traded after his first pro season. The NBA survival rate for players with that profile is close to zero. Middleton had defied those odds, and carved out a career for himself in Milwaukee. His performance last season was finally a brush with semi–stardom: 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game for one of the most promising teams in the East. There was something unavoidably fraught in asking Middleton, in the space between that career year and his upcoming contract year, to accept a lesser role.
“I just came off averaging whatever numbers,” Middleton says, recalling his reaction in the moment. “Led the team to the playoffs. We lost, but I proved I was one of the best players. So why are you telling me I need to do less ‘cause it’s gonna do more for the team?” The answer to that question had more to do with the construction of the Bucks’ roster than with Middleton. Both player and coach agreed that Milwaukee’s roster was deeper than it had shown—untapped, in a sense. Budenholzer made the case for change through a sobering reflection. Antetokounmpo and Middleton, Budenholzer noted, had played together a certain way for five years, through three playoff appearances, and never made it out of the first round. “Once he said that,” Middleton says, “it clicked.”
These adjustments have helped both the team and Khris Middleton. The Bucks currently occupy the first seed in the Eastern Conference, and Middleton will be playing in his first All-Star Game. With everyone buying into the new system, it seems that the sky is the limit for this red-hot Milwaukee team.