Khris Middleton Is More Important Than You Think

Mar 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton (22) checks his elbow after fallin in the fourth quarter during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks beat the Timberwolves 116-10. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton (22) checks his elbow after fallin in the fourth quarter during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks beat the Timberwolves 116-10. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Giannis Antetokounmpo is grabbing all of the headlines but Khris Middleton is vital to everything that the Milwaukee Bucks do.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s effortless run of triple-doubles has certainly helped to improve results, but the Milwaukee Bucks are far from a well-rounded team.

It’s no coincidence that it takes a spurt from the Greek Freak to spark an upturn in form, or that the more comfortable Jabari Parker grows, the better the Bucks seem to look. All of that seems obvious, of course.

It’s the man who makes the least noise of all, who looks set to be one of the league’s perennially most underrated players, who the numbers show to really make the difference.

With their current roster construction the Milwaukee Bucks are something of a house of cards, and Khris Middleton is doing everything in his power to prop it up with solid foundations.

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You can’t turn your head without stumbling across a new Giannis Antetokounmpo article at the moment, and rightfully so, as the young Greek’s play has been nothing short of breathtaking.

On the other hand, how much national attention have you seen for Khris Middleton throughout what has been an outstanding season for the two-way wing specialist? How much have you heard about Middleton’s own stellar post All-Star break play?

The answer is next to nothing, and that’s a shame.

Middleton doesn’t have the freakish length or quite the penchant for constant highlights that his Greek teammate has, but aside from an elite club including wings like Antetokounmpo, Kawhi LeonardPaul George and Jimmy Butler, you’re going to be hard pressed to find players who can match Middleton’s all around ability and contributions.

It’s a testament to just how lucky Milwaukee is to have built a core of players with the talent level that leaves the potential for three bona fide stars, but what Middleton does shows that he has grown increasingly capable of being a leading light for a team in his own right.

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Think about it, he’s shown himself to be capable of carrying a scoring load, has the ability to lock down on defense, is an excellent passer who can make those around him better, and he can be trusted as an intelligent decision-maker.

Our own Ti Windisch noted that as much as being able to do everything that he now can, the truly important detail in assessing Middleton’s performance this season is recognizing his consistency.

In his player grades following on from the Bucks recent win over the Nets, Jeff Herrmann put it even better:

"A few more steals here, a couple more rebounds there and Middleton would have been a serious threat for a quadruple-double. That’s pretty much where Middleton is with his game right now–steady as she goes. Giannis gets the highlights, Parker gets the praise, but make no mistake that Middleton is the glue."

As Milwaukee has looked much better since the break and others have grabbed the headlines, Middleton is truly making his own waves.

20.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds with 40.6 percent from behind the arc is an impressive stat line.

Middleton has also amassed a whopping 2.9 steals per game in that time frame, tied for first in the entire NBA with Houston’s Trevor Ariza. The North Carolina native’s importance to the Bucks extends far beyond traditional statistics though.

Post All-Star break, the difference between the Bucks play with Middleton on and off the court could not be any more staggering, as brought to my attention by the following tweet from Jared Dubin during the Bucks game with the Raptors on Tuesday:

The reality is that that number had only grown more startling by the time that game had finished. In the 14 games since the All-Star break, the Bucks have not only ground to a harrowing stop when Middleton has taken what have generally been very brief rests, but they have been convincingly blown out of the arena.

With Middleton off the court in that time, the Bucks are posting a net rating of -27.3. Their offense stutters to only scoring 91.8 points per 100 possession, while the floodgates open on defense to offer up 119.1 opponent points per 100 possessions.

The Bucks simply cannot keep it together without Middleton on the court, although it’s interesting to note that outside of him Parker and Antetokounmpo, the Bucks post a positive net rating with any other player off the court over their last 14 games. That’s an indictment of the quality of the roster if ever I’ve seen one.

Milwaukee’s reliance on Middleton has been present throughout the season and can be flagged up in other ways too. Middleton’s clutch play has not been as successful so far this year as it has in previous campaigns, but that can likely be attributed to how predictable it has become for Milwaukee to turn to him as their savior.

Just how involved is Middleton when the Bucks are in clutch time? As I tweeted last week, he is literally an ever present.

That’s all well and good in the clutch, but it extends beyond that too. With over 2,500 minutes already logged this season, Middleton ranks second in the league in total minutes and only narrowly trails James Harden for the top spot.

What Middleton has proven himself to be capable of doing this year is a cause of true joy for the Bucks, and something which he deserves the ultimate credit for, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a sustainable method for success to make him shoulder such a heavy load of the work.

Next: A Deeper Look At The Impact Point Giannis Has On The Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks need to learn how to cope better when the most experienced of their core young trio takes a seat on the bench, and even more than that, they need to go and get him some real bench help in the summer. If they can achieve that, it should benefit both parties.