Khris Middleton is a surprise opening night starter

Middleton will get the chance to battle inside on Wednesday night. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Middleton will get the chance to battle inside on Wednesday night. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

In a bit of a surprise that probably isn’t that surprising if you’ve been paying attention this preseason, but is still fairly surprising since few people value what actually happens in preseason all that much … Khris Middleton will start for the Milwaukee Bucks in their season opener tonight against the New York Knicks.

Middleton started a few preseason games at the four while typical starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova battled an ankle injury. One of the games he started was against the New York Knicks, who will very likely be rolling out Carmelo Anthony as their starting power forward, as they did in that preseason game. This almost forces the hand of the Bucks, given that Anthony is the centerpiece of the New York offense.

With Ilyasova active, but hobbled, Milwaukee’s starting forward options are Caron Butler and Middleton or Butler and John Henson. Henson would be in the unenviable position of having to guard Anthony despite lacking the necessary quickness. Coach Larry Drew has opted to match New York’s small lineup with one of his own. I talked to him about that concept before the aborted final preseason game.

“I know it’s tough for them,” Drew said about both Middleton and Butler shifting down to the four. “I know both guys are playing out of position when I do that. In playing small, it gives us an opportunity to do some things in the event that we have to go small. Neither guy has shied away from it. In playing against much bigger and more physical guys, both guys have embraced the challenge.”

Maybe Drew didn’t realize he’d have to go small so quickly, but he apparently felt confident enough in what he saw out of both Butler and Middleton throughout the preseason that he felt like they gave him his best matchup for the Knicks early on tonight. Thanks to the injuries that have caused problems for the Bucks front court during the preseason, the Bucks may have indirectly discovered some lineups they wouldn’t have used otherwise.

And the Bucks do still have the opportunity to go big with the Henson/Ilyasova and Larry Sanders front court.

“You have the flexibility to mix it up,” Drew said. “I like the fact in going small we get the chance to dabble with it a bit. As long as we have that versatility where we can go small or we can go big, I think that plays into our favor.”

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