Perpetually underrated, Khris Middleton knows that the Milwaukee Bucks have been looking for another 2-way star to pair with their resident superstar, all throughout his tenure in Brew City. If this has bothered him, Middleton has been great at keeping it to himself. He knows that given the right opportunity, in the right system, he can become the star everyone around him seems to be looking for.
The Bucks may be slowly warming up to this very idea. Their search for another big name ultimately led them to kicking the tires on getting Jimmy Butler from Minnesota. When the Wolves asked for Khris Middleton to be part of the package though, the Bucks balked, thus signaling their position that besides Giannis, there just might be another untouchable guy on the team.
The 2017-2018 regular season was a curious one for Middleton. His reputation as a stout defender suffered as his defensive rating was abysmal throughout the first few months of the season. During the same timeframe, Khris Middleton suffered through a prolonged shooting slump which ultimately led to his worst three-point shooting season since his rookie year; at 35.9% more than 3% off his career rate. That he was able to maintain averages of 20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal, however, speaks of his versatility and his ability to help in myriad ways.
Analyzing the Bucks’ lineup for the first few months of last season, it’s clear that the loss of Mirza Teletovic ten games into the season left a huge hole at the backup Power Forward position for the team. Khris Middleton had to move up a spot in the lineup during the times when Giannis would sit or when the Bucks wanted to play small ball. While Khris had the speed advantage on offense, it was clear that battling bigger and more physical players on the defensive end was taking a toll on his body.
When Jabari returned from injury during the latter part of the season, Middleton rarely needed to play the PF role and the resulting increase in his three-point shooting percentages and improved defense were welcome results of this change in role.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: More 3s!
While Middleton emerged last year as one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA, recent NBA trends have shifted the focus away from such inefficient areas. While he did not say that he will totally eliminate these shots from his arsenal, a conscious effort to let loose more often from 3 will radically change the gravity and spacing that KMidd can provide.
In short, the Bucks’ best shooter will be shooting more 3s this season. Music to the ears.
PROJECTED ROLE: Ultimate 3-AND-D guy
The arrival of Mike Budenholzer, Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova is a Godsend to Khris Middleton. In a recent interview with CBS, it became clear that Coach’s Bud’s system has sunk in when Middleton casually mentioned that “the way guys win nowadays is by shooting the 3-ball”. This early, he already commits to shooting less medium range shots, in favor of more three-point attempts, drives at the rim and kickouts to open teammates.
That the Bucks will have a more efficient and effective Middleton.
More importantly, the presence of good-shooting bigs like the aforementioned newcomers mean three things:
1) The spacing around Giannis and Khris will be miles better.
2) Middleton will no longer need to play the power forward position except in spot lineups.
3) Middleton’s size and strength at the 2 and 3 positions will give him an advantage over most opposing shooting guards and small forwards.
Middleton’s improved health and resulting role on the team will ensure that his 3PT shooting percentage will go back around his career percentages. The big improvement, however will come from the increase in 3PAs and the lowered volume of medium-range shots.
PROJECTED KEY STAT: 3-pts-attempted
Middleton has never shot more than 5 three-point shots per game in his career. Under Coach Bud’s system, look for Khris to take more than 7 three-point shots per game. This increase in 3PAs will improve Middleton’s efficiency and scoring.
Being freed of having to play the 4-spot will also save Middleton’s body from unnecessary pounding. This in turn will give Middleton more energy to chase and use his length against the speedier 2-guards, or the strength and stamina to battle the high-scoring small forwards in the game.
X-FACTOR: Willingness to be a decoy/facilitator
Middleton will be a free agent at the end of the season. He also has the green light to start bombing from 3s. His offensive stats should explode this season under the system of Coach Bud.
It is important, however, to balance his desire to increase his stats in preparation for the summer, and the need elevate the play of his other talented teammates on the floor. The arrival of former all-star big man Brook Lopez along with the expected improved play of Brogdon and Bledsoe under coach Bud only means that there will be more mouths to feed. That Brogdon, Bledsoe and Lopez will all essentially be playing on an expiring contract would be an issue that should be kept an eye on.
Fortunately, Middleton is not a selfish player and won’t to take bad shots to hijack the offense. Under Coach Bud’s system, here’s hoping that the Middleton from the Boston series becomes more of the norm moving forward.
Lebron’s transfer to the West has all but assured that the Bucks will have Batman in all playoff matchups in the East. Khris Middleton’s ultimate rise as the perfect Robin will place the Bucks firmly in line to get a seat for the Eastern Conference Finals.