Is Middleton Milwaukee’s Road Riddle Answer?


The Milwaukee Bucks have once again looked like an excellent team at Fiserv Forum this season.

However, their offensive game hasn’t been traveling with them.

Last season, the Bucks had the third-ranked offense overall. This year, though, the Bucks’ road offense has been an inefficient grind.

Milwaukee’s home-road differential regarding points scored per 100 possessions is — by far — the biggest in the league. The Bucks have the league’s ninth-ranked home offense (116.7 points scored per 100 possessions) and its 30th-ranked road offense (107.5 per 100), even after recording 141 points in Indiana last Friday.

It hasn’t been one shortcoming or player causing the issues on the road— it’s a number of factors.

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Not Enough Points, Even With Enough Scorers

The obvious factor is health. Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Giannis Antetokounmpo haven’t been on the court together much.

Milwaukee hasn’t been healthy all season, with second-best offensive player Khris Middleton playing in only seven games until finally returning on January 23rd. Until that relieving moment, the Bucks’ Big 3 had played just 77 (!) minutes together.

Still, Giannis has been on the court consistently this year, who is the NBA’s most dominant force.

The Bucks have had Holiday much of the year, solid role players like Brook Lopez, and stellar sixth man Bobby Portis (who, alas, is now out with a knee sprain). Regardless, Milwaukee can’t find a groove offensively. Not even the MVP. It sounds crazy, with the Greek Freak averaging 31 points and 12 rebounds per night. But even his play has seen a decent drop on the road.

Middleton’s Absence Had Impact On Giannis

Antetokounmpo is still an MVP candidate, but teams have been able to throw more attention at him this year with Middleton missing.

Much of the Bucks’ offense ran through Giannis and Jrue with Middleton out. It has also taken away much of the Bucks’ best offense, forcing Giannis to have the ball in his hands. As the roll man, The Greek Freak was unstoppable in the Bucks’ championship run.

34’s efficiency as a roll man saw a considerable drop as he has struggled mightily from deep and at the free-throw line.

His true shooting percentage (59.6%) and effective field-goal percentage on mid-range shots (34.4%) are all his worst marks in the last seven seasons. Antetokounmpo has been assisted on only 39.3% of his buckets, his lowest career rate. With Middleton’s return, however, Giannis’s play improved remarkably.

The Bucks, a top-three offense last year, rank 23rd offensively this season. Some of that struggle is the bench’s poor three-point shooting relative to last season.

But there’s no denying much of it stems from the Middleton-sized hole in Milwaukee’s lineup much of the season.

Too Many Mishaps

Turnovers have been a problem.

Milwaukee has the league’s second-biggest jump in turnover rate from last season. They rank near the bottom in many turnover statistics. Giannis averages over four turnovers per game. The Deer are in the bottom third in nearly every turnover statistic, including turnover rate (22nd best) and assist-to-turnover ratio (25th).

On their last road trip before Middleton’s return in Detroit, the Bucks had lost four-straight games with Giannis in the lineup, scoring just 106.8 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak. They shot less than 30% from three-point range and recorded assists on less than half of their field goals after the four games.

How have the Bucks managed to stay afloat before Middleton’s welcome comeback? The Bucks have been the best defensive team in the NBA on the road. Let’s just say games haven’t been easy on the eyes.

Even before that journey, their win in Toronto occurred with too much difficulty. The Bucks blew a 21-point lead in just over three minutes but won in overtime. On 115 possessions, the Bucks scored just 104 points (90.4 per 100) in their absurd overtime contest. Despite the win, it was the least-efficient performance for any winning team this season.

Individual Struggles

The Bucks’ offense has been significantly worse on the road regarding shooting, free-throw rate, turnovers and offensive rebounding.

Among players with at least 75 field-goal attempts at home on the road, Brook Lopez (62.5% vs. 55.1%) and Grayson Allen (60.6% vs. 47.1%) have two of the biggest home-road differentials regarding effective field-goal percentage in the league. Antetokounmpo’s differential (58.4% vs. 51.9%) also has significance.

The Bucks are 23-5 at home and are only 13-12 on the road. Milwaukee is lucky to be above .500 away from Milwaukee the way they have played offensively.

Can The Bucks Find Their Roadmap?

It sure seems so. Middleton has missed the majority of the season, and with him, the Bucks will have another reliable ball-handler for the offense. His return is vital to put Giannis off the ball more often and ease the Greek Freak’s burden.

It can’t be true that a core that won an NBA championship has insolvable road issues. Middleton’s return should help at least the offense. Also, while it was frustrating Middleton was out so long, he should be 100 percent now.

Another indicator Milwaukee can return to championship form on the road is that they are 17-10 in games against teams that have winning records, so they know how to beat good teams.

The Bucks’ road challenges are certainly temporary, especially if the Bucks’ Big Three can play regularly together in the second half of the season.

About Mitchell Skurzewski

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