Preview: Bucks vs. Magic
MILWAUKEE -- Khris Middleton has been the Milwaukee Bucks' unsung hero the last few seasons.
While Giannis Antetounmpo has drawn most of the attention during his ascent to the NBA's top tier of young stars, Middleton has gone about his business and quietly established himself as one of the more reliable sharpshooters in the league.
With new head coach Mike Budenholzer encouraging the Bucks to shoot more 3-pointers, Middleton is no longer toiling in Antetokounmpo's shadow; he's emerged as a top playmaker on a Bucks team off to its best start since 1971as it prepares to host the Orlando Magic on Saturday night.
Middleton improved to 22 of 38 from beyond the arc this season after knocking down 4-of-6 3-pointers Friday night in a 30-point rout of the Timberwolves in Minnesota.
"He's always been a tough shot-maker, so when coach says I want you to shoot more 3s, it just means there's going to be more points," forward John Henson told reporters earlier this week. "He's locked in. His confidence is at an all-time high."
Middleton has made the third-most 3-pointers of anyone in the league and he's tenth with a 57.9 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
"He has a lot more to give," Antetokounmpo said. "As you can see, he's showing it. He can take a step, two steps forward this year. We want him to do that because if he does that, the team's going to be way better. He's been doing a great job through a couple games."
He's not the only one enjoying more freedom under Budenholzer's system. The Bucks made 19-of-46 3-point attempts Friday against Minnesota. They lead the league in 3-point makes (16.0) and attempts (41.8) per game and are connecting at a 38.3 percent clip, good for ninth in the league.
Expect that trend to continue against Saturday night when the Bucks welcome Orlando, which is allowing an average of 12.6 made 3-pointers on 32.4 attempts, both marks ranking among the league's bottom five, while allowing opponents to connect on those shots at a 36.8 percent clip.
Defense in general has been a problem for Orlando so far but head coach Steve Clifford is confident his team will be able to make the necessary adjustments.
"We've played five games," Clifford said. "It's going to take a while. We have to learn from it. That's the biggest thing. You have to know what it is and you have to learn from it. We'll have to watch the film. They have to see it. And then we have to be willing to make the changes."
The Magic will be well-rested coming into the game. Orlando had Friday off after a Thursday loss to Portland, but the Bucks' regulars got a break Friday thanks to the blowout. Nobody on the roster played more than 26 minutes.
At 5-0, the Bucks are off to their best start since the 1971 squad, led by Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, opened the year with seven straight victories before steamrolling their way to the franchise's only NBA championship.