Milwaukee Bucks: Analyzing the ‘inconsistent’ label for Khris Middleton

Jul 14, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 14, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton, Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker
Jul 20, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Is Middleton as inconsistent as he is made out to be? Here’s what the numbers say about the Milwaukee Bucks forward

It’s tough to make sense of this platitude or trace back its roots, even though it makes sense on its face. Middleton is hot-and-cold, back-and-forth, personified: the smooth-shooting swingman can just as easily erupt for 50 as he can hit just two of his 13 shot attempts. But here is a question: does this read like a genuine lack of consistency, or just a chaotic brand of it?

Here is a simple fact: you don’t sniff the premiere 50-40-90 club over 82 games if you’re an inconsistent basketball player. It should be that simple, especially when you go on to average 20.4 points, six rebounds, and 5.4 assists on .476/.414/.898 shooting splits in a championship-winning season.

Slapping the “inconsistent” label on one of the association’s best shooting wings and one of its better two-way players has just never felt right, whether one is a Bucks fan or not. After all, the entire idea of inconsistency has become synonymous with Middleton, whose shooters-shoot brand of hooping has always been a paragon of steadiness and stability for one of the league’s top teams despite taking the ostensibly less efficient shots.

As it stands, Middleton is tied for 48th in the league in offensive box plus/minus, ahead of other ostensibly more consistent scorers like Devin Booker, Kyle Lowry, and Jordan Clarkson, per Basketball-Reference. He’s also just decimal points away from the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, and Fred VanVleet—all fine secondary scorers who have never had to reckon with narratives of “inconsistency,” at least to this extent—in this stat, all while being ahead of Hall of Fame scorers like Kevin Durant in offensive win shares.

Of course, efficient shooting splits don’t account for streaky shooting over an 82-game season, which every player reliant on a perimeter game is bound to experience at some point or another. Evidence of streaky play is there: Middleton shot his lowest field goal percentage over 15 games in April, where he made just 42.5 percent of all his shot attempts. In the seven games he played just the following month, he shot 31.7 percent from behind the three-point line.

Criticisms over his inconsistencies are not unfounded. Middleton’s numbers take a nosedive across the board when the Bucks are on the road (55.7 percent true shooting) versus when they play at home (62.3). This is, however, true for almost every NBA player, too.

But his impact on the team’s offense is more than his scoring, and Middleton has proven that he can contribute when his shot isn’t falling. Even when he doesn’t score, Middleton is an excellent secondary facilitator for the Bucks, as evidenced by his sublime pick-and-roll with Giannis. Middleton tallied a career-high 5.4 assists per game during the regular season, showing his improvement as a passer with a heightened role in that department.

Statistics that are all too often left out in the conversation also include the ones he puts up when all the attention is on him. Per StatMuse, Middleton averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 boards, and 5.6 dimes in eight games without the reigning MVP in 2020-21—games where he shot the ball on extremely efficient .430/.455/.938 splits. He also famously willed a shaken Antetokounmpo-less Bucks to two straight wins against the Atlanta Hawks.

Not bad for an inconsistent Batman whose popular narrative oscillates by the day. These numbers speak to Middleton’s “nature” as a basketball player: composed, efficient, unselfish, and ultimately, one who contributes to winning.