Milwaukee Bucks: How Does Khris Middleton Compare To Three-and-D Specialists?

Feb 11, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton (22) during the game against the Washington Wizards at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 11, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton (22) during the game against the Washington Wizards at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Khris Middleton is an excellent perimeter shooter and defender, but how does he compare to the rest of the NBA’s three-and-D specialists?

“Three-and-D” players get a lot of love in the modern NBA. The best three-and-D guys are more than just role players, they are vital pieces that help make a team with the requisite star power a title contender. They never get the glory but they impact the game mightily.

Last offseason, I took a deep dive into the numbers that proved that Khris Middleton was an elite three-and-D player. I compared Khris to his peers and he came out as one of the five best players of that type in the NBA.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit how Khris compares to his peers once again this offseason, but first I think it’s important to illustrate the impact three-and-D players can have on a team.

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Two seasons ago a team with one of the top 15 three-and-D players, on the court for at least 24 minutes per game, had a win percentage of 65 percent. That is a really nice win percentage. It is especially nice when compared to the win percentage of the 15 players who made an All-NBA team last season. The win percentage of teams with the superstars of the league was 68 percent.

This past season the comparison between three-and-D players and All-NBA team players was not direct because of three team: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Philadelphia 76ers. One of the 15 best three-and-D players played for the historically great Warriors while another played for the historically bad 76ers. On the other hand, a total of five players on the All-NBA team played for the Warriors and the Spurs.

Last season a team with one of the top 15 three-and-D players, on the court for at least 24 minutes per game, had a win percentage of 56 percent. Still an above average win percentage. The All-NBA players had a win percentage of 71 percent. The difference between stars and 3 & D guys is more pronounced this past year because of three historically significant teams noted above.

Obviously three-and-D players are not as important to their team as star players but looking at the comparison between them and stars in terms of win percentage is a great barometer of how essential they are. True team success is measured in wins and these specialists contribute greatly to winning.

The Milwaukee Bucks are a team void of great shooting. The Bucks do, however, have Khris Middleton. He, almost single-handedly, spaced the floor for a team that desperately needed it. He is an excellent shooter off the dribble or in catch-and-shoot situations. At the same time, Khris is a solid defender. He is called upon often to slow down the opposing teams’ best wings and guards. By definition, Middleton is a three-and-D guy.

Like last year, I was curious to see what players would make the cut and be qualified as both effective three-point shooters and effective defenders. While doing this I examined where Middleton ranked among the most qualified three-and-D players.

First, I narrowed down the potential pool. I came up with some arbitrary cutoffs that I thought would get me down to a range of players who were definitely three-and-D guys. I started by eliminating all the players that had a three-point shooting percentage under 35 percent and a usage rate over 23.5 percent. This was done to remove poor shooters and star players.

Additionally, I removed players that played less than 15 minutes per game and had defensive win shares less than or equal to 1. This was done to get rid of players who did not play much and did not contribute to team success on the defensive side of the ball. This left me with 43 qualified three-and-D players.

Secondly, I looked at important three-point shooting statistical categories. I choose to use three-pointers made per game (3PM), three-point percentage (3P%), percentage of field goals attempted that are threes (3PAr), points per game (PTS), plus/minus (PM) and minutes per game (MIN). I ranked players in all of these categories (43 for the best and one for the worst). Then I created a Three-Point Score formula utilizing the ranks of each stat for each player.

Three-Point Score = 3PM + 3P% + 3PAr/2 + PTS + PM/2 +MIN/2

Next, I looked at important defensive statistical categories. I choose to use defensive rebounds per game (DREB), steals per game (STL), blocks per game (BLK), defensive win shares (DWS), defensive box plus/minus (DBPM), plus/minus (PM), and minutes per game (MIN). I again ranked the players from 43 to one for each statistical category. Then I created a Defensive Score formula utilizing the ranks of each stat for each player.

Defensive Score = DREB/2 + STL/2 + BLK/2 + DWS + DBPM/2 + PM/2 + MIN/2

Finally, I added the Three-Point Score to the Defensive Score to get a three-and-D Score. When I sorted the players by this score, Khris Middleton came out as tied for 14th out of the qualified 43 players.

Here is the list of the top 15 three-and-D players (according to three-and-D Score) in the NBA for the 2015-2016 season:

1) Draymond Green – 275
2) Marvin Williams – 266
3) J.R. Smith – 258.5
4) Kyle Korver – 252.5
5) Trevor Ariza – 248.5
6) George Hill – 246
7) Avery Bradley – 236.5
8) Robert Covington – 220
9) Nikola Mirotic – 219
10) Marcus Morris – 218
11) J.J. Redick – 217
12) Rodney Hood – 211
13) Wesley Matthews – 210.5
T14) Kent Bazemore – 210
T14) Khris Middleton – 210

This list will seem pretty similar to general expert and fan consensus of the NBA’s top three-and-D players. That leaves me confident that the math, to some degree, matches the eye test.

Khris Middleton, by my metrics, is once again an above average three-and-D player in the NBA. That is a really good thing for the Bucks. As I mentioned earlier in the article, a team that starts that kind of player for a significant amount of minutes has a high likelihood to have an above average win percentage over the course of a season. That was not the case for the Bucks this season but it is the overall trend throughout the association.

Additionally, Middleton’s consistency from two seasons ago to this past season as one of the better three-and-D weapons in the league was only matched by four other players: Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, Wesley Matthews, and Trevor Ariza.

One key difference between Middleton and his four peers who have made this list in back to back seasons is that Khris is often the number one option on offense for his team. Korver, Smith, Matthews, and Ariza are at best all the third options for their teams’ offense. That is also true for the rest of the three-and-D guys in the top 15 from this past season.

Middleton is a rare NBA player who does not need to have the ball in his hands all the time but can lead his team as the best option on offense, the best (and sometimes only) floor spacer, and the best defender on defense. On top of all of that, he also became an above average passer this season, upping his assists per game to a career high of 4.2.

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The Milwaukee Bucks are really lucky to have a player like Khris Middleton on their team. He may not ever play in an All-Star game or make an All-NBA team but he is an excellent basketball player who can help his team compete for a championship.