Milwaukee Bucks: Can Khris Middleton continue to improve as a playmaker?

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 29: (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 29: (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Having demonstrated growing comfort as a playmaker, can the Milwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton continue to improve in that department in the 2018-19 season?

The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky to have no shortage of players who are comfortable with the ball in their hands and capable of creating highly efficient scoring looks for teammates.

Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is obviously the first name to come to mind, but a point guard corps of Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova also fits that bill. As his NBA career has progressed, Khris Middleton has shown himself to be increasingly valuable in those areas too.

Middleton averaged just 1.0 assists in 17 minutes per game as a rookie with the Detroit Pistons, putting him in just the 21st percentile among players at his position in terms of assist percentage (7.6 percent), per Cleaning the Glass.

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Since then, many elements of Middleton’s game have rounded out nicely as he’s developed into a top-end scorer and strong wing defender, but his passing improvements continue to fly a little under the radar.

To illustrate just how much the 27-year-old has grown in that department of his game, he’s averaged at least 3.4 assists per game and an assist percentage of greater than 17 percent for each of the last three seasons, in spite of his prime responsibilities falling in other areas.

Last season, that culminated in an average of 4.0 assists per game and an assist percentage of 17.2, the latter of which was good enough to place him in the 94th percentile among NBA forwards, again per Cleaning the Glass.

Very much at home in his role as a secondary scoring option for the Bucks, Middleton’s vision leaves him with the ability to similarly alter the game as a complementary playmaker. Milwaukee doesn’t need to turn to Middleton for significant stints as a playmaker, yet his ability to do so is enough to open up a vast array of options for the Bucks and keep opponents guessing.

Heading into the 2018-19 season, that may become more important than ever for the Charleston native too. Following a breakout playoff series against the Boston Celtics and a summer which included participating in the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, the days of Middleton being an after-thought on opponents’ scouting reports are well and truly gone.

As opposing players and teams become particularly wary of his shooting and scoring, though, a door opens for Middleton to find teammates and mix things up a little more.

Not only should this provide more space for teammates to work, but it will also keep opposing teams honest and perhaps pay off in creating easier scoring opportunities for Middleton over the course of a game. The former second round pick is good enough to punish the opposition with either tool.

With the arrival of Mike Budenholzer as head coach, ball movement and player movement are likely to become much more central elements of Milwaukee’s play, and that should suit Middleton perfectly. A more fluid offense will create greater room for improvisation and intelligent playmaking within the flow of the game.

There’s no reason to believe Middleton couldn’t be highly effective as a passer in that setting, yet he also has a track record as a more deliberate playmaker too.

Middleton flashed a growing repertoire as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season, as he was particularly adept at picking out John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo for alley-oops. As a pick-and-roll ball-handler, Middleton averaged 1.03 points per possession which was good enough to place him in the 93rd percentile, per NBA Stats.

Speaking about his frequent connections with Henson out of those sets, Middleton told Eric Nehm of ESPN Milwaukee back in December 2017:

"“I just try to be aggressive and I know that I have that late pass or that late lob to John and he’s going to be there for me.”"

Changes to the Bucks’ offense heading into the new season should provide Middleton with plenty more reason to be aggressive, and so the question is whether that will be most evident in his play as a scorer or whether he’s asked to create a little more frequently.

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Most importantly, based on his career to date it seems Middleton is more than capable of doing both. If his role calls for more playmaking this season, there’d be little reason to doubt Middleton would be up to the task.