Milwaukee Bucks: A case for and against Khris Middleton

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 20: (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - APRIL 20: (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Milwaukee Bucks’ wing Khris Middleton is a stellar shooter and a sound defender. However, some question his value to the Bucks. So, what is he worth?

Milwaukee Bucks’ wing, Khris Middleton, and his upcoming contract have set social media ablaze.

Middleton is an All-Star, but seldom is he deemed a “superstar”. To some, Middleton has a limited skillset. He is known as a pure shooter and a sound defender, but does not crack any top ten lists.

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Plenty of Bucks’ fans see the value in Middleton, though, which creates a curious case for re-signing the Bucks’ veteran to a max deal.

Middleton has made a name for himself by consistently draining the big shot for the  Bucks. When the Bucks need a bucket and Giannis Antetokounmpo is being locked up, Middleton is the player coaches and players defer to. He is one of the most clutch players in basketball, and will likely command a pay check that reflects such.

For example, in  November this past season with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets, Middleton pulled up for a midrange jump shot from the free throw line to seal the game. As expected, Middleton cashed it, and put the Bucks up 117-112. Those types of shots reflect the importance of Middleton and his contributions to the Bucks.

Regular season games are not the only time when Middleton shines in crunch time, though. Who can forget Middleton’s corner three that sent the Bucks into overtime against the Celtics during the first round of the 2017-18 playoffs? That is the player Bucks’ fans want to re-sign.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Middleton’s skill-set is somewhat limited when compared to the kind of players who usually command max contracts.

Never will fans see Middleton throw down a tomahawk dunk on a fast break. Instead, a gentle two-hand slam or a simple layup will do the trick. Middleton is not flashy, like some of his contemporaries. Similarly, Middleton is a very good defender; but not necessarily of the caliber to crack the All-Defensive First, nor Second Teams.

Likewise, Middleton can disappear offensively from time to time.

Take Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, for example. Middleton recorded six points, ten assists, and ten rebounds. In terms of scoring, the Bucks needed more than what Middleton was able to produce. Sure, guarding Kawhi Leonard likely took a lot out of him and detracted from his scoring, but you still expect more from a max player in that scenario.

This has been a routine occurrence, as Middleton failed to surpass 20 points in 46 of his 77 regular season outings. For an All-Star, that is a bit lackluster.

Middleton still managed to produce through his stellar passing and aggressiveness on the glass. Perhaps this is why Middleton’s soon-to-be contract is difficult to quantify. He has the tools to be a star, but has yet to unlock his full potential on a consistent basis. As is the case with many of the Bucks supplementary players aside from Antetokounmpo, performance varies on a nightly basis.

The question remains the same; do the Bucks gamble on Khris Middleton, and bank on the notion that he will continue to improve and take his game to the next level? He is 27 years old; so at this point in his career, he should be entering his prime, with not much improving left to do. Truthfully, Middleton just needs to bring a killer mentality to each and every game. Doing so would give the Bucks a bonafide second option to defer to, and would serve as a beneficial contingency plan should opposing teams learn how to cover the Greek Freak.

Conversely, should the Bucks let Middleton walk, they would have to sign a player who could fill the void of losing an All-Star, a fantastic shooter, and defensive minded wing. Why let Middleton walk when he is exactly what the Bucks need?

The reality is more goes into the situation and the Bucks’ decision than simply determining whether Middleton is a max player, and therefore deciding to pay him or not pay him as such.

The only reason the Bucks could potentially offer Middleton the max, given their salary cap situation, is because they own his Bird rights and are allowed to go over the cap to re-sign him. If they were to lose Middleton unexpectedly in free agency, particularly if it came after Brook Lopez had agreed to a new deal, the Bucks could be left trying to replace his production with no more than $4-5 million to spend.

That scenario would obviously be a disaster and would guarantee to set the Bucks back heading into next season. Considering the goal is to contend again, and hopefully do enough to convince Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign his super-max deal next summer, that’s a risk the Bucks simply can’t afford to take.

Sure, it’s a bit more challenging offering Middleton a max deal. Maxing out a B level player is something that has burned teams in the past. Inconsistent production makes the contract nearly untradeable, and it is a massive risk to take for a team that is on the verge of a championship.

Yet, Middleton could continue to improve, and earn every penny of his deal. Even more importantly, if the Bucks were to lose Middleton, with no cap space and draft picks for the foreseeable future, and limited trade assets outside of that, there’s no path to replacing his production. For a team on the verge of a championship, that’s likely more damaging than an overpay.

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Still, only the future holds the answers to the Bucks’ most difficult questions, including Middleton’s next deal, and only time will tell how the franchise will respond. In the meantime, fans will continue to argue, discuss and debate Middleton’s value on social media. Considering the deal he’s likely set to earn, those discussions may continue for years to come too.