This is the 4th piece in a series examining how the Bucks core is changing and growing. Unlike the previous three that were broad player overviews this will specifically focus on the growth of one Buck: Khris Middleton.
At the start of the year many Bucks fans including myself were under the impression that Khris “Money” Middleton would take a backseat to more primary scoring options, 33 games in that has been anything but the truth. Despite being 4th on the team in usage rate he is currently leading the team in points per game. What is particularly fascinating to me has been how Khris’s game has evolved this year. He has never been a flashy player, but this year his improvements have helped him take a step forward in development and go from good to great.
Never expected to be much of a play maker Khris has blossomed this year lowering the percentage of all of his shots that have been assisted. Both 2 point field goals and 3 point field goals have been assisted about 5% less than last year. Khris took a large step forward in creating offense for himself which is a major skill he added to his toolbox.
In addition to creating more for himself he is creating a lot more for others this year as well. His assists per game is up 1.3 from last year. His assist percentage (which estimates the amount of field goals he assists while on the floor) is up 3.8% from last year to 16.5. For reference O.J. Mayo who is viewed as a good passing wing is at 17.2% this year and the team leader Michael Carter-Williams is at 29.7%. This helps open up a lot more options as Khris has developed from a mediocre passer into an above average one for his position. Coupled with the plus passing ability from Giannis and Moose the Bucks could trot out a line up filled with passers.
Khris is actually shooting significantly worse from 3-10 feet and 16 feet – 3 point line. Which has brought down his overall field goal percentage. His current field goal percentage is 42.3% and his 3 point percentage is at a scorching 44.9%, which is an oddity in this league to shoot worse from inside the arc. I would expect his numbers inside the arc to experience some positive regression towards his career averages. His three point percentage should fall a little bit too, but he will likely continue to be an elite shooter. Middleton is currently 6th in the league from 3 point range and in a league where the 3 is valued more and more every year his value only continues to grow. His free throw percentage is also at a career high 89.1% and he is getting to the line at a better rate than ever before.
Conversely his defense has looked markedly worse this year. He does not seem able to check quicker guards and there is a question lurking in Bucks world whether or not he can play the shooting guard spot long term. In my opinion no stat can capture defense, ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus attempts to and while last year Khris Middleton was the second amongst shooting guards and in cumulative plus minus, he was the leader amongst shooting guards with a robust 4.09 DRPM value. This year he is 5th amongst shooting guards overall, but his DRPM value has cratered to -1.27. I think Khris’s rank in his position says a lot more about shooting guards overall than it does Khris, but it is impressive nonetheless. I think if he got to play more small forward long term it would be a huge positive for his defense, but that raises the question of his fit in Milwaukee. Lately that has meant more bench time for Jabari Parker. I don’t think much of DRPM as a whole, but it is interesting to see how it has rated Khris’s overall value on that end between years. I think in my eyes his defense has been noticeably worse, but the entire team has, so its hard to pin too much of it on any one person.
Regardless Khris’s season has been impressive. He is a more well rounded player and his skill level overall is at a much higher level than it was last year. I thought that Khris had capped himself out last year as an elite shooter, who can pull up inbetween, be a smart offball player. and a decent defender. He has proven to be capable of even more than that this year, partially at the expense of his defense. With Khris’s growth as a creator and facilitator he has shored up many of the weaknesses in his game that were previously present. He presents more value to the team now especially given that he is locked into a deal for the next four and a half years. He can now function as a secondary ball handler in most offenses even running a bit of pick and roll, this ability provides the Bucks offense with a little more flexibility than I thought he would. I would not expect his defense to remain at a low level, he works tirelessly on his game and has the tools to be a good defender. I would also like to issue a word of caution to anyone who wants to doubt Khris going forward, do it at your own risk.