Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton grew up together leading Bucks
Posted On July 14, 2021
MILWAUKEE – Khris Middleton, a second-round pick in the NBA Draft, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who also wasn’t a lottery pick, are the top two players on an NBA title contender.
“There’s a lot of luck out there that Khris and Giannis will end up here,” Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “And now that they’ve been together for seven, eight years as teammates and sort of built this together and tried to get to this, it talks about the possibility of building championship-level teams from different ways. There’s not just one way to reach the NBA Finals. “
But the Milwaukee route is rare.
The Bucks only have one lottery pick in the starting five, and it’s Brook Lopez who is 13 years old from not going number one. 10 in the 2008 draft.
It’s rare for the top two players on an Eastern Conference Championship team to be a guy who was reluctantly traded just to make a deal with two other players, and a player born in Greece to Nigerian parents.
When the Bucks acquired Middleton from Detroit in 2013, the main part of the deal was Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight – two playmakers who needed a change of scenery. Middleton was the only Pistons player to make the deal work financially under NBA trade rules.
Jennings and Knight are out of the league, and Middleton has a starring role in the finale.
No one was involved in writing Antetokounmpo, the No. 15 overall pick in 2013, described him as an MVP twice, even in their most fantastical musings.
But here they are in the final with a chance to tie the series in Game 4 against Phoenix on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
“It’s an amazing trip,” Antetokounmpo said.
Antetokounmpo and Middleton arrived at the Bucks in the summer of 2013 and suffered a 15-67 season in 2013-14. The two players fought for playing time and faced each other in training.
“At the start, a friendly competition, a guy like him from Detroit and I just got drafted,” said Antetokounmpo. “We just tried to get down to the ground, facing each other in practice. But over time he has often proven that he will do whatever it takes to help the team win. He’s the kind of guy you want next to you. “
Middleton has become an All-Star at his own pace, just as he plays the game at a deliberate pace. Budenholzer noticed this talent from afar when he coached Atlanta.
Then he worked closely with Middleton.
“Since he’s been around him every day, just his work ethic, his professionalism,” Budenholzer said. “But when it comes to a player, the ability to be a playmaker and grow as a passer, I think that’s been a big part of our growth. Maybe he’s done it more before, sometimes you just don’t see him and pick him up like you do when you’re with someone every day.
“What he does at 6-8 is a really gifted and gifted smart basketball player. His IQ, I talk a lot about his IQ. It is out of the ordinary. He sees, reads and understands things very quickly and at a very, very high level. “
Antetokounmpo averaged just 6.8 points in his rookie season. The Bucks made the playoffs in 2014-15, missed the next season, and were sent off to the playoffs in 2016-17. By this time, the Bucks were starting to take shape as regular playoff players, with Antetokounmpo and Middleton becoming the buildable players.
Budenholzer took over as a coach in 2018, and the Bucks won 60 games that season. Antetokounmpo won his first of his two MVPs and Middleton made the first of his two All-Star teams.
“It just shows that we’ve grown as a player and as a team that we don’t have to fight in practice anymore to improve each other,” Middleton said. “Now I was like, ‘Okay, how do we win a game together? At the time, we were part of separate (training) teams, training each other, competing against each other. Now we’re on the same (practice) team because we need that chemistry to form so that we can get into a game and play together and coexist there at the same time. “
That’s not to say that there still isn’t healthy competition, just in a different way.
“We are always confident players,” said Middleton. “He could be here and I’ll tell you I’m better than him and he’ll say the same. It’s just who we are. This is why we love each other so much. But at the same time, we have two totally separate games. “
These separate games blend well with the two forming a close bond on and off the pitch.
One of the reasons Middleton quit with the Bucks in 2019 was that he could continue playing alongside Antetokounmpo, and Middleton was a factor in Antetokounmpo’s decision to sign an overtime before this season.
“We were talking about maybe, I don’t know, maybe (three weeks ago) in the locker room and we were talking about how long are you going to play,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was just a silly conversation.
“I’m not going to say exactly what he said, but I told him, ‘Hey, the day you retire, is gonna be the hardest day of my career because I’ve been with you all the time. . … It’s great to see this guy, man, the way we started, the way we are, the way he started and the way he is right now.