Khris Middleton looking to get his groove back

Bucks forward Khris Middleton, who was one of the best shooters in the league for two months, is shooting just 26.4 percent from the field in January and is 6-for-his-last-35.

Tom Szczerbowski/Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Khris Middleton was in a groove as a starter for the Milwaukee Bucks. But a lineup change attempting to shake things up moved him to the bench where he just hasn’t been as productive this season.

Coincidentally or not, Middleton’s removal from the starting lineup began his first prolonged shooting slump as a member of the Bucks. Though coach Larry Drew recently moved Middleton back into starting five for a couple of games, the 22-year-old is still mired in a shooting drought.

Middleton, who was one of the best shooters in the league for two months, is shooting just 26.4 percent from the field in January and is 6-for-his-last-35.

"It’s just something I have to work through," Middleton said. "I’m in a little slump, but I’ll figure it out and get my way out of it."

Acquired in the Brandon Jennings sign-and-trade, the former second-round pick was one of Milwaukee’s pleasant surprises early on. Middleton burst onto the scene by shooting 46.9 percent in December and 45.0 percent in January.

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Middleton averaged 14.6 points per game in 15 December games, including games of 29 and 27 points. His 47.7 3-point percentage in December rose him up among the league leaders, but hitting just 2 of his last 11 from beyond the arc has dropped him to 14th in the NBA in that category.

"I’m getting the same looks, the same opportunities," Middleton said. "It’s just those same shots that were falling before aren’t falling. They’ll start falling again soon."

The Texas A&M product was averaging 19.7 points per game over his six when Drew yanked him from the starting lineup to insert Luke Ridnour. The idea was to give the Bucks two ball handlers on the floor with the starting unit, but Middleton suffered.

He’s averaged just 4.9 points per game since, including a total of 27 points in the five games he came off the bench. Middleton has averaged 12.8 points per game in 25 starts, while his scoring average dips to 7.2 as a reserve.

"Right now I think Khris is the guy who has suffered the most," Drew said while Middleton was coming off the bench. "He was in a real good rhythm as a starter.

"He has just not done well with the change."

Drew put Middleton back into the starting lineup one game after he made those comments, but a sprained left ankle suffered in practice Tuesday caused him to have to come off the bench Wednesday against Memphis. He scored just two points and hit just one of six shots in 12 minutes.

It’s the same ankle Middleton injured in training camp and has aggravated multiple times throughout the course of the season. Despite the nagging injury, Middleton is the only player on the roster to appear in all 38 games thus far.

He was limited to no contact in practice Friday but is expected to play against Houston on Saturday night.

"It’s been sore since I rolled it, but it’s nothing I can’t play on or play through," Middleton said. "It’s not bad at all actually. It’s just a little tweak the other day at practice. It was sore that night and in the morning, but once we got to game time it felt really good so I decided to play."

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Drew sat down with Middleton recently to tell him not to discouraged about not being in the starting lineup and to keep shooting through his slump. The Bucks are hoping it’s just a matter of time before Middleton is back to the dangerous mid-range shooter he was for two months.

"You have to keep shooting," Middleton said. "You won’t get out of a slump if you don’t shoot. All the shots that are there and open, I have to take and still be aggressive and play within the team like I have been. They’ll start falling for me again I feel."

To him, all it would take is a couple in a row to fall to get him feeling good again.

"That could change it," Middleton said. "A lot of these looks I’ve got the last couple of games have felt really good. I’ve got a couple of nice looks from my teammates. They keep encouraging me to shoot the ball and keep playing my game."

This mini-slump has done nothing to change the impression Middleton has made on the Bucks this season. He came over from Detroit as an unknown after not playing much as a rookie and has proved he has the potential to be a piece of the rebuilding project moving forward.

There’s certainly a role for him moving forward, and he’s part of the young core gaining valuable experience despite a 7-31 record.

"It’s discouraging, but at the same time, we have to look at it as a positive, learn from it and move on from it," Middleton said of the team’s struggles. "(We have to) just go out and play the next game with a winning attitude.

"There’s definitely a brighter future for all of us. We have some great young players, great talent. It’s just one of those seasons where it’s rough, but I feel like we’ll learn from it and it will make us better in the long run."