“Giannis and Jabari” are typically the first words out of any Bucks fan’s mouth, when asked about the team, and it is easy to see why.
Their potential, especially Antetokounmpo’s, is through the roof. If the conversation lasts more than just a few minutes, the next name up is often Greg Monroe and how he needs to be traded.
Finally, after all that, the name Khris Middleton comes up.
Isn’t it rather odd that the team’s leading scorer isn’t even one of the three most talked about players on the team? Sure, Middleton may not be as exciting to watch as Giannis or Jabari, but what he lacks in showmanship, he makes up for in efficiency.
Last season, Middleton attempted 273 more field goals than he did the season before, an increase of 3.5 per game, quite a sizable jump. Despite the leap in workload, his field goal percentage dropped by just 2%! Even more remarkable was that he attempted almost 100 more three-pointers than the season before, and his percentage dropped by 1%!
Middleton took on a huge workload and still handled it as efficiently as he had the season before. Couple that with his perimeter defense, and the Bucks have more than just a “3 and D” player, they have a bonafide stud.
Middleton’s nightly line was essentially 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, all while shooting 44% from the field and a shade under 40% from beyond the arc. Oh, and he only just completed his fourth season.
Let’s compare that to the fourth season of another legendary Bucks shooting guard: 22 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists, shooting 46% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. Oh by the way, that’s Ray Allen’s stat line.
Ray Allen was the 6th overall pick in the draft, Middleton was the 39th. Middleton is producing at a level beyond the wildest dreams of NBA scouts and General Managers!
The advanced analytics are also extremely kind to Middleton. Looking at his defensive differential, Middleton stands at an impressive -1.9% a number that puts him in the upper echelons of perimeter defenders.
What’s most impressive about Middleton is his ability to play off the ball. His effective field goal percentage (percentage that weighs 3’s as more valuable) on catch-and-shoots is an excellent 59.3%, and it is clear that Middleton is at his best running off screens and shooting off a pass.
Still, looking at his percentages for shots off the dribble, Middleton is still extremely effective. [Bear in mind that Kobe Bryant’s career field goal percentage was 44.7%, and now look at these numbers for Middleton.]
0 dribbles -> 45% field goal percentage -> 59% effective field goal percentage
1 dribble -> 43.3% field goal percentage -> 45.2% effective field goal percentage
2 dribbles -> 45.1% field goal percentage -> 46.7 effective field goal percentage
3-6 dribbles -> 43.2% field goal percentage -> 44.1 effective field goal percentage
7+ dribbles -> 46% field goal percentage -> 48.3 effective field goal percentage
Middleton isn’t just a one trick pony, he can also create his own shot, a skill that becomes increasingly important as a game enters its late stages. This versatility is also important in that it keeps defenses on their heels.
In the playoffs, Kyle Korver, the ultimate example of a one trick pony, was absolutely stifled by the Cavaliers’ defense in large part because if catch-and-shoot opportunities were not available he floundered; Korver was just not capable of creating his own shot off the dribble. Due to Middleton’s ability to create his own shot off the dribble and convert at a high rate, defenses will be forced to pick their poison against him.
To summarize, Middleton is at his best in catch-and-shoot situations, but also has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble, while still maintaining a pretty high field goal percentage. Seems like the perfect complementary player to someone, say Giannis Antetokounmpo!
For the longest time, chemistry was something that couldn’t be tracked by statistics, but to a certain extent can be now. Just over 20% of the passes Middleton received this past season were from Giannis, getting over 9 passes per game from the Greek Freak, himself. The only player to pass it to Middleton more was Michael Carter-Williams.
On the flip side, Middleton passed it to Giannis 7 times per game. That back-and-forth was the highest of any tandem for both Middleton and Antetokounmpo.
Based on his total production, high efficiency, great defense, and elite on-court chemistry with Giannis, it’s fair to say that Middleton is the perfect piece for the Bucks moving forward. Perhaps the reason people don’t get as excited about him is because potential is out of the equation. Khris Middleton is ALREADY really good.
With no readily discernible weaknesses, Middleton is already producing up to his max contract; he signed a 5-year, $70 million deal in the summer of 2015. Nicolas Batum just signed a 5-year, $120 million deal to stay with the Hornets, proving Middleton’s contract is a bargain. The best part? Middleton is about to turn 25, while Batum is set to turn 28 this coming December.
Middleton has a lot more time to develop into an even better player, and the Bucks have him locked up for the next four years at a contract $50 million below the market. The last time a team was able to pull off a coup like this was when the Warriors locked up Stephen Curry at significantly below what he’s worth now. While it’s unrealistic to expect Middleton to make a Curry-esque jump, even solid incremental improvements will make him one of the best shooting guards in the league.
Over his first four seasons, Middleton has increased his scoring each year, while hardly taking a hit in efficiency. As Antetokounmpo and Parker continue to develop into more versatile scorers, expect Middleton to become increasingly efficient. Even when the Miami Heat assembled their Big 3 back in the summer of 2010, each player had to sacrifice scoring totals to become more efficient, and it resulted in two championships.
While Middleton will presumably have to continue his role as the leading scorer at least in the short term, his affinity towards making the most of his opportunities will only increase in importance, as the Bucks truly enter their contention window. Middleton is just as much a cornerstone of team’s long-term success, as Giannis and Jabari are, and Bucks fans will be wise not to take him for granted.