MILWAUKEE — Upon signing a $178 million contract last summer, Khris Middleton decided to spend some of his earnings on a home improvement project, adding a fitness center to his house — an investment that has paid off handsomely.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ wing has been putting the new addition to great use over the past few months.
With the league slowly churning back into gear ahead of a July 31 restart in Orlando, Florida, Middleton admits his workout routine won’t provide an advantage, per se, but does give him a head start as he and his teammates resume their quest for an NBA championship.
“This is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Middleton said of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in a conference call with reporters Friday. “But it definitely feels great to be back in the gym and doing what I love to do.”
Middleton was enjoying one the best season of his career when the NBA put things on hold back in March. He was averaging 21.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 0.9 steals in 30.1 minutes of work and coming off his second consecutive appearance in the All-Star Game.
He also was on the verge of making history, needing just one made basket to boost his field goal percentage over 50% for the season. Adding that to his 48.8% 3-point percentage and 90.8% mark from the free throw line, Middleton is in position to become the second Bucks player to average 50-40-90 in as many seasons.
With eight regular-season games remaining, Middleton could post the 12th such season in NBA history, joining a list of players that includes Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and, most recently, former teammate Malcolm Brogdon.
“Hopefully I’m able to achieve that,” Middleton said. “That would be one of the best shooting percentages or numbers in league history with a lot of Hall of Fame guys. So, to add my name to a list of Hall of Fame players is incredible.”
More incredible, of course, would be getting through the eight-game “regular season” healthy and making a deep playoff run that ends with the franchise’s first championship since 1971.
Such an accomplishment will require a tremendous effort and strict discipline on the court, where the Bucks had compiled a league-best 53-12 record before the shutdown, but also off the court, where the league has instituted a lengthy list of restrictions, guidelines and precautions in place with the hopes of protecting players from contracting and spreading the coronavirus.
The likelihood someone, himself included, will test positive is real and Middleton admits there is a slight sense of nervousness about what might happen.
Still, he and his teammates have to trust in the process established by the league and players’ association.
“I don’t think guys are scared to go down to Orlando because of the virus,” Middleton said. “But they’re definitely going to be a little bit cautious and I think everybody has to be.”
There’s also the matter of being separated from family and friends for as long as three months. In the kind of strange juxtaposition that only makes sense in the upside-down world that is 2020, Middleton spent the past few months surrounded by his loved ones but with minimal basketball activity. Now, he and his teammates will have to adjust to the exact opposite of the spectrum as they enter what the NBA hopes is a safe, secluded environment.
Middleton says he’s prepared, having experienced a taste of that last life last summer while playing for Team USA. But as he and the Bucks prepare to relocate, making the most of the family time he has is as essential as any conditioning or shooting drills.
“I have a young daughter that’s growing up, who I’m gonna miss a lot when I’m gone,” Middleton said. “So to try to spend all those moments with her. You know, feed her breakfast, the dinners, bath time, stuff like that. Those are the things that I look forward to now because I know I won’t get the chance and I will miss it when I’m eventually in Orlando.”
It remains to be seen just how difficult putting those fears aside will be. Just as it remains to be seen how much the layoff, the new guidelines and atmosphere will impact a team that excelled through chemistry and cohesion as much as it did through sheer talent.
Middleton is confident the Bucks can do just that and, more importantly, finish what they started.
“This is this is something that we got to deal with and try to figure out on the fly,” Middleton said. “The team that can pull it together the fastest or the quickest will probably have the best shot.”
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