Khris Middleton showed signs of regaining form in the Milwaukee Bucks’ Monday win, but what have been the causes of his recent slump?
On his return to action following a finger injury on Monday night, Khris Middleton finally started looking a little closer to his old self. As prior to that, things had certainly gone off the rails for the Milwaukee Bucks’ star wing.
After a torrid start to the season that saw him put up superstar numbers in line with his impressive post-season showing against Boston in April, Middleton found himself mired in a significant shooting slump in more recent games.
Specifically, since the start of December, Middleton is in arguably the worst shooting slump of his career, even accounting for a bounce-back game against the Pistons. Though the sample size is small, Middleton is shooting just 31 percent from the floor on 14 attempts per game, and is an underwhelming 30.6 percent from three on six attempts per game.
As expected, the team’s production with Middleton on the floor has slipped, seeing the team go from a positive net rating of 24.3 in October, and 6.2 in November with him on the floor, to a net rating of 4.7 in December.
So, what’s been going wrong for Khris Middleton?
A few things in particular stand out about Middleton’s shooting in recent games.
First, Middleton’s less desirable shot tendencies, particularly his willingness to take low percentage shots from the mid-range, have returned in a significant way.
Through the first 21 games of the season, Middleton’s shot selection was much more in line with head coach Mike Budenholzer’s inside/outside system. After attempting 5.53 shots per game from the mid-range last season, Middleton reduced his mid range attempts to 2.09 per game.
Mid-range attempts made up just 14.5 percent of his shots during the first 21 games of the season compared to 35.7 percent of his shots last season. The remainder of his shot attempts came from in the restricted area, the paint, or behind the three-point line.
In the last six games, however, Middleton’s taken 20 shots from the mid-range, good for 35 percent of his shot attempts. Of those attempts, Middleton has only made three, or just 15 percent of those shots.
Middleton’s also missing his mid-range attempts at a much higher rate this season. Last year, Middleton made 49.3 percent of his mid-range shots. Even including the first 21 games of this season with his most recent performances, Middleton is shooting just 26.9 percent from the same distance this year.
A second aspect of Middleton’s recent shooting woes has been his inability to make pull-up jumpers. Last season, Middleton shot an incredible 50.3 percent on pull-up jump shots, making him a uniquely dangerous threat in transition.
One final aspect of Middleton’s shooting that’s lagged recently is his ability to hit threes. Middleton lit the world on fire to start the year, making 54.9 percent of his 7.3 three-point attempts in October and 42.1 percent of his attempts overall in October and November.
In December, he’s made just 30.6 percent of his three-point attempts.
Much of Middleton’s struggles can be attributed to the types of shots he’s taking.
Like many of his mid-range attempts in recent games, many of Middleton’s three-point shots have been highly contested. Instead of looking to move ball when he’s been pressured, Middleton has resorted to taking shots with a defender in his face.
When he’s on, Middleton has shown a unique ability to hit these very difficult shots, which has made him of the best scoring threats in the NBA. However, this style relies on him having a feel for the game. A rhythm. A confidence that his shot will fall.
This aggressive style makes him prone to slumps because, when his shot is off, the rhythm he relies on to make those shots isn’t there. This makes Middleton different from his teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo who almost exclusively gets his points within the restricted area and the paint.
Middleton, like many scorers, has been no stranger to rough patches. For example, in October of 2017-18, Middleton shot just 38.9 percent from the floor in seven games on 15.4 attempts per game.
He also found himself in a similar position going into the post-season last year, shooting 40.7 percent from the floor and just 22.7 percent from three in six April games.
However, Middleton has always found his way back to being a very efficient and productive scorer.
Middleton’s shooting slump is likely an aberration. Every shooter, even the best, goes through slumps like the one Middleton has recently found himself in.
A recently disclosed finger injury almost certainly made an impact as well, and his performance following a game off to nurse that injury was certainly encouraging.
The key for Middleton getting back on track is to improve his shot selection. To look for open shots rather than taking a shot at every opportunity. Once he gets his feel back for his shot, he’ll return to being one of the league’s best. Let’s hope the first sign of that came in his 22-point showing against the Pistons.