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Leadership is a topic tossed around frequently this season.

The loss of veterans Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley in the off-season certainly hurt the Milwaukee Bucks in the locker room and on the court.

But younger players gradually have been assuming more leadership as the season has progressed.

Khris Middleton is not afraid to take shots late in games, as he showed Wednesday in the Bucks' 104-99 loss to the Indiana Pacers. His potential tying three-pointer did not go in, but he was ready and confident.

Giannis Antetokounmpo moving from small forward to a point guard role — or is that point forward? — brings the added benefit of putting the 6-foot-11 player in a more prominent position.

Bucks coach Jason Kidd sees that as important to Antetokounmpo's overall growth in his third year as an NBA player.

"You can see that he's growing in all areas," Kidd said. "Rebounding the ball, scoring the ball, and the big area is leadership. Being 21 years old and being asked to be part of that leadership group, that's a lot.

"And he's handling it in stride. He wants it. We're trying to put him in that position to be successful. There are going to be nights like the other night; he has eight points, seven assists and 12 rebounds (against Detroit).

"Some of us would say that's a bad night. I would take that night. Sometimes our expectations are off the charts and we have to come to reality. One day he will meet those expectations and we just have to be patient."

Already the results have been impressive.

Antetokounmpo posted a triple-double against Houston on Monday (18 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists) in the Bucks' 128-121 victory, his second triple-double in a span of four games. He had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists against the Pacers.

The Pacers made it more difficult for Antetokounmpo to initiate the offense. Other teams will strategize to take away his strengths.

But he will get more comfortable with more experience as the Bucks' primary ball-handler. So even when he is not serving as a point forward, he will be better with the ball on his drives and in the post.

In the last 10 games Antetokounmpo is averaging 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.8 blocks as the Bucks have compiled a 5-5 record. His season averages are 16.1, 7.6 and 3.2 with 1.2 blocks.

Middleton is averaging career-high numbers in points (18.3), assists (4.1), minutes played (36.7) and free-throw percentage (87.4). He ranks 15th in the league in free-throw percentage.

"We looked at him last year and we knew he fit into our system," Kidd said of Middleton, 24. "You can see he is growing, too, as a player.

"He feels comfortable in that role now, where maybe earlier in his career he probably wasn't. He's accepted what we want from him, which is putting pressure on the defense, shooting the ball, making plays.

"He's one we can lean on if we need a shot, a good shot."

Middleton is quiet by nature but is speaking more in the locker room and is more accustomed to dealing with the media, something he didn't worry about when he joined the Bucks in the fall of 2013 in a trade with Detroit.

"We're a quiet team, so we need Khris to talk," Kidd said. "He's learning what that means on a consistent basis, not just in the game but in practice.

"That's what leaders do. He's done that. His personality is a little bit more reserved, but you can see he's a bit more vocal now. We need that as a leader."
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