Damian Lillard Looked Comfortable In His Bucks Debut, But Team’s Championship Aspirations Hinge On Health And Play Of Former All-Star Khris Middleton

On Sunday night the Milwaukee Bucks and NBA fans everywhere got their first look at the new-look squad with perennial All-NBA and All-Star guard Damian Lillard in the fold.

Dame didn’t overwhelm, scoring 14 points, dishing out three assists and grabbing two rebounds, the renowned sharpshooter shot only 30 percent from the floor and 27 percent from three. 

He will undoubtedly have better days, but working out the kinks is what the preseason is for. The hype surrounding the new dynamic duo of Lillard and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is warranted, and the two are already enjoying the benefits of playing together.

In wake of the team’s 108-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, a giddy Antetokounmpo told reporters:

“I’ll be very honest. I’ve never been this open. And first of all, I’ve never seen anybody being double-teamed from the first possession of the game.”

That sounds great, but if the Bucks want to hoist another Larry O’Brien Trophy, they’ll need former All-Star forward Khris Middleton healthy and playing at a high level. The last time Middleton was healthy the Bucks won the NBA championship. 

Bucks Hoping Middleton Is Healthy To Begin Season

Middleton is still recovering from offseason surgery on his knee, and because of it he’s been limited in practice. The hope is he’ll be ready to when things get underway Oct. 26, but if not the Bucks will continue to be cautious with him. 

Following a practice last week, Middleton revealed where things stood with him as of now. 

“That’s the plan,” the three-time All-Star said. “Sometimes things change, but so far I’ve been on pace with everything I’ve been doing. We’ll go over the schedule again and see where I’m at, see how I feel and just keep track of things that way. I don’t want to set a hard date for when I’ll be out there because it’s all about feel and comfort.”

Middleton’s health is crucial, as he’s now the third option for the Bucks. Not many teams in the league, if any, can say they have a career 17-point, five rebound and four assists player in that role. Add center Brook Lopez to the mix and the Bucks’ Big 4 is probably the best in the league. But, again, it hinges on the health of Middleton. 

Injuries Have Hampered Middleton The Past Two Seasons

Health hasn’t been on Middleton’s side the past couple of seasons. Last season, the former Texas A&M Aggies star only played in 33 games. He missed the first 20 games while recovering from wrist surgery.

He also missed 18 consecutive games while dealing with a sore knee. That was on the heels of him missing the final 10 playoff games of the 2021-22 season with a sprained MCL in his left knee. 

The laundry list of injuries have to make one wonder if Middleton will ever return to his All-Star form. While that remains to be seen, the blessing is this Bucks team doesn’t need that. Just being their third-best player most nights will suffice. 

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