Bucks All-Star forward proving to be a top sidekick in the NBA
By Tyler Job
Perhaps Khris Middleton was meant to be the Milwaukee Bucks’ true number two star all along.
The year Milwaukee went 15-67, Middleton made the most of his opportunity as a 22-year-old trying to find his way into the league. He averaged 12 points a game on 44 percent shooting and 41.4 percent behind the 3-point line in 2013.
Middleton kept improving his game in points, rebounding, assists, steals and other key areas year after year. He eventually shot his way up to a 20.1 point per game average in 2017-18, including a 43-point performance one game. His scoring average was the second-highest on the Bucks at the time. He also averaged more than 36 minutes played per game. Middleton needed the Bucks, the Bucks needed Middleton, and number 22 delivered all season long. Milwaukee ranked 14th in the league in assists per game in 2017, so the team scored on a fair amount of isolation scoring plays. Middleton often times was at the forefront of that because of his ability to shoot consistently in isolation situations.
He even put up a whopping 24.7 points per game on 59.8 percent shooting and 61 percent from behind the arc in the 2018 playoffs (yes, 61 percent shooting on 3-pointers). And despite all of his improvements, he had no All-Star selection bids on his resume.
That finally changed last season, and some will say it was a long time coming. He put up 20 points in 22 minutes in his inaugural All-Star contest, which tied for second-most on Team Giannis with Paul George. Middleton and Giannis were the Bucks’ first All-Star duo since Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson in 2001. Think about that.
The former Texas A&M star averaged 18.3 points per game, as well as career highs in rebounds (6) and assists (4.3) per game last season. Even more impressively, Middleton did so playing in five fewer minutes per game than the year prior. He averaged almost 17 points per game and about 44 percent shooting on triples in Milwaukee’s run through the Eastern Conference Finals.
The national media keeps debating about the Bucks being a championship-level team because they are not sure if Middleton is enough to get them over the hump. However, the 28-year-old is having his best season yet. Middleton is averaging 19.4 points per game, ranking higher than stars Nikola Jokic, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nikola Vucevic to name a few. He is shooting 49 percent overall and 41 percent from downtown in just 28.4 minutes per game. His 49 percent overall shooting marks a career high, his 41 percent 3-point shooting ranks third-best in his career, and his minutes average is the second-lowest in his eight years played. Middleton has accomplished all of it this season despite missing seven games with a thigh injury.
Unsurprisingly, Middleton performed like he was the star of the show in the games Giannis missed this season. In Milwaukee’s three games without The Greek Freak, Middleton scored 24, 23 and 21 points, all of which were wins. He shot at least 50 percent or above against New Orleans and Atlanta. He led the team in points against Orlando despite making 41 percent of his shots. If 41 percent shooting is an “off night” for Middleton and he still registers around 20 points, the Bucks will take that every time.
K-Midd lately has been tearing it up scoring baskets. He is averaging 23.1 points and 62 percent overall shooting in his last seven games. Against the Trail Blazers Jan. 11, Giannis put up a team-high 32 points, and Middleton was right behind him with 30. Just recently against the Celtics, Giannis scored 32 again, and Middleton put up 23 of his own. That’s what true number two stars do for their team.
Middleton right now is not even in the top 10 in fan voting for the 2020 All-Star game, granted all coaches vote for the reserves and he will likely get in. It would feel like a crime if Middleton did not earn his second consecutive selection, because he has been proving himself for most of his career, and especially this year, why he is on the brink of being an NBA superstar.
The 28-year-old continues to be one of the more underrated star players in the league, and I’m sure he is unfazed by that perception. But Middleton continues to show up game after game, and Coach Budenholzer and co. couldn’t ask for more.
The Bucks are one of the most talented and deep teams in the league. When teams have those benefits, all they need is a true second player, and Middleton checks all the boxes.