Middleton Living Up to the Money
Back in the summer of 2013, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to trade the face of their franchise, Brandon Jennings, in a deal that would bring Brandon Knight and little known Khris Middleton back to Cream City. Despite a franchise-worst 15-win season, it was apparent from the get-go that not only Knight had potential, but also Middleton, who flashed some good play and exceptional shooting.
Middleton would continue to develop further, helping lead the team to a surprise playoff appearance in 2014-15. Although he had an injury setback in 2016 when he tore his hamstring completely in training camp, Middleton came back stronger than ever, averaging 20 points per game in 82 starts in 2017-18. His first ever All-Star campaign would follow last season in 2018-19, and proved Middleton had fully emerged as the complementary piece to Giannis.
While some fans had reservations and thought the Bucks needed to upgrade on their number two-piece last off-season, the team instead rewarded Money Middleton with a 5-year, $178 million max contract last July. The move was certainly heavily debated at the time, and an up and down start to this year’s campaign did not help Middleton’s cause. A thigh contusion that resulted in a seven game absence also added fuel to the doubters’ fire.
But once the calendar turned to December, Middleton’s season began to take off, and he has now proven that in year one of his five-year deal, the money he is making has been very well deserved.
Since returning from his injury at the end of November, Middleton has scored 15 or more points in all but three games. Since Christmas, Khash has scored 20 or more points in all but five games. Consistency has always been one of the best parts of Middleton’s game, and it has been on full display over the last few months. Stat lines and highlight packages such as this are becoming the norm every night out.
Always known as a pure shooter, a closer look into Middleton’s stats will show you he is having a truly exceptional season shooting the rock. Middleton is averaging a career-high 20.6 points per game so far this year, and is shooting the ball at 51%, almost four percentage points higher than at any other point in his career.
Last year Malcolm Brogdon joined the elite 50/40/90 shooting club, and Middleton has a chance to make it this year as well. He is shooting 44% from deep and 90.5% at the charity stripe. For an already very good shooter, those numbers are extremely impressive, and each would be career highs as well.
The Texas A&M product’s scoring isn’t the only way he affects the game. He is currently averaging over four assists and six rebounds per game, both right around the career highs that he set last season. He also is a strong presence on the perimeter defensively for the NBA’s number one defensive rated team.
Middleton’s impressive play earned him his second consecutive All-Star appearance alongside teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Just 24 players are selected to the NBA’s showcase game, and only seven teams had multiple All-Stars play in Chicago this season, showing Middleton is one of the top 25 players in the league, and also a top complimentary piece.
Maybe the most valuable asset Middleton brings to this team is his fit with Giannis. The two have grown together in the city of Milwaukee through the ups and downs the franchise has had since 2013. They have great chemistry off the court, and even better on it. In a league where free agency has taken off and staying with one team for a long duration is rare, both Khash and the Greek Freak have been in Buck uniforms for seven years together. There are not many if any one-two punches that have played together in this league as much as these two, something that is proving very beneficial for the cream and green this season.
Middleton’s skill set also perfectly complements that of Giannis and the rest of this team. He can go get a bucket whenever the team needs it, and not only does it give the Bucks another go to scorer, but it also allows them to further spread the floor and allow Giannis lanes to dominate inside.
While no one is focusing on it with the NBA season’s stretch run upon us, this offseason will be a big one, especially in Milwaukee. No one knows for sure what Giannis will do, although a report did come out this week saying most NBA executives expect him to remain in Milwaukee. All Bucks fans hope this is the case, and if he does re-sign, 34 and 22 will have several more shots at championship runs no matter what happens this season.
If Giannis would bolt in free agency, there is no doubt it would be a blow to the city of Milwaukee. However, Middleton has shown the Bucks would at least still be left in good hands. In the six games Giannis has missed this year, Middleton has averaged over 27 points, including a 51-point outburst against Washington where Middleton went 16-26 with seven three pointers, and made history in the process.
Middleton is certainly preferred more as a number two-piece, but if forced to play in the lead role he has shown he is more than capable.
Despite fan’s reservations in summer, Middleton has proved to be worth every cent of his contract thus far. As consistent as they come, he is putting up career numbers that could lead to a record shooting season. He continues to fit perfectly alongside Giannis and the rest of this Bucks squad, and if he continues to play this well down the stretch, the now two-time All-Star may very well reward Bucks fans with an NBA championship come June.
Statistics Courtesy of Basketball Reference