Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton’s continued offensive evolution

MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 22: Khris Middleton
MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 22: Khris Middleton /

Khris Middleton has carried the 3-and-D label as a player for a few seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, but three-point shooting isn’t even his best offensive weapon now.

Considered a throw-in as part of the 2013 deal that brought Brandon Knight to the Milwaukee Bucks from Detroit in exchange for Brandon Jennings, Khris Middleton, as would be later discovered, was the best player in the trade.

An advanced-stats darling in the early stages of his career, Middleton was lauded as a potentially elite 3-and-D player that Milwaukee could make a key component of their young nucleus.

However, Middleton’s offensive game has changed quite a bit since then. The aforementioned label has been shed somewhat, and in many ways the result has placed him in the crosshairs of some of the more impatient Bucks fans.

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Whether it was the player’s initiative or the team’s, it seems that the conclusion has been that to utilize Middleton most effectively, he can’t simply get out of Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s way. Middleton has become a featured element of Milwaukee’s offense, rather than a specialist just waiting for a catch-and-shoot three opportunity.

The main gripe that you’ll hear about Middleton is that he needs to take less of his tough long two attempts. Middleton is still taking threes, in fact he’s taking the most per game of his career. However, he’s shooting the lowest percentages of his time in Milwaukee. Long two-point attempts are met with groans, but it’s Middleton who is turning these shots into his most efficient and deadly weapon.

It truly defies all logic for the modern, three-point centric NBA, but it’s the toughest, and most inefficient shots taken by Middleton that are the shots he converts most frequently.

Distance wise, his field goal percentage in the 15-19 ft. range ranks as his highest, converting 55.9 percent of the time from that distance, per

Middleton’s bread-and-butter shots are his turn-around, and step-back jumpers, which usually involve the Bucks clearing out to the weak side, allowing Middleton to back down his guard. The results have been gaudy this season. On shots that qualify as pure step-back jumpers, Middleton is shooting 58 percent. His turnaround (including fade away) jump shots are even better, hitting on 60.6 percent of all such attempts.

Middleton’s ability to create a basket out of these situations is a real positive for a Milwaukee Bucks team that desperately struggles with Giannis Antetokounmpo off the floor. Interestingly enough, Milwaukee’s offensive rating suffers its largest dip when Middleton sits, as opposed to Antetokounmpo.

On the season to date, there also appears to be something of a correlation between Middleton playing poorly and the team following suit. He takes some of the most violent dips among Milwaukee’s starters in defeats. His effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentages drop 12 and 10 percentage points down from Milwaukee wins, respectively.

The Bucks rely on Antetokounmpo, but if Middleton isn’t going, it’s tough sledding for a team that struggles for half-court contributions on offense. That could be argued as when his tough shots don’t fall they tank the Bucks’ chances, but it could also be reflective of how Middleton playing well can push the Bucks to a different level. That’s currently a divisive topic within the team’s fanbase, but in reality both elements can be held up as accurate.

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Middleton’s game may be changing, but his place as a part of Milwaukee’s core remains the same. Still, the slight inconsistencies will need to even themselves out if the Bucks are to have any hopes of winning their first playoff series since 2001.