The FanRag Sports Offseason Rankings counts down the top 100 NBA players throughout the offseason. Methodology, voters and the full countdown are all detailed in the introductory post.
Khris Middleton missed the start of last season with an injury. While he acquitted himself sufficiently after his return to the Milwaukee Bucks, it was a clear drop-off from the 2015-16 season. His scoring fell from 18.2 points to 14.7, largely because his minutes were down.
His per-36 numbers were a little closer (18.1 points in 2015-16, 17.3 in 2016-17) and his true shooting percentage actually went up (56 percent to 57 percent). That, combined with his astute defense, makes him one of the best two-way players in the league at his position. No other two in the league was better than Middleton in both Offensive and Defensive Real Plus-Minus (if we consider Jimmy Butler a small forward, where he actually played last year).
What can he do as he enters his prime with a healthy preseason?
Jonathan Tjarks of the Ringer sums up perfectly why Middleton is so valuable as a player:
“Middleton fits into any lineup and makes everyone around him better, which is why Milwaukee has been able to integrate him into the rotation so seamlessly. He’s the connective glue that turns the Bucks from a mismatched collection of long limbs into a group that is better than the sum of its parts.”
Middleton’s place in Milwaukee is secure because he does whatever the Bucks need him to do. As such, his floor isn’t much below where his feet currently are.
Middleton could grow a lot. Jabari Parker’s return date isn’t known. Giannis Antetokounmpo is growing as a playmaker. When the two of them are playing together, the Bucks are a really good basketball team. Middleton should cement his status as the No. 2 scorer on a team that will vie for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. As such, he’ll get a lot of All-Star consideration in the Eastern Conference where there are a lot of vacancies. If he makes the All-Star Game, he’ll have an argument to make as a top-30 player.
There’s a perception that Middleton is “just” a 3-and-D player, but that’s not a fair characterization. Yes, he’s a great defender and can hit the 3-ball, but he’s more than “just” a 3-and-D player. He’s also one of the best post-up guards in the NBA.
According to Tjarks: “At 6-foot-8 and 234 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Middleton has the size of a power forward and the game of a perimeter player.”
Middleton is a big dude who has no qualms backing someone down and dropping in a mid-range shot when he spies the mismatch.
He won’t score 25 points per game or be the first option on offense, but he is efficient and a heck of a second (or even third) option. If we ranked players solely by scoring, he’s probably not top-50, but he’s a well-rounded player who also passes smartly and plays defense.
Middleton is a near-elite defender. He ranked seventh at his position in DRPM, and his .888 points per possession against per Synergy was in the 62nd percentile.
However, with Middleton’s small sample size of games — coupled with the fact he was coming off an injury — those numbers probably understate his actual value. In 2015-16 he yielded .851 points per possession. As an on-ball defender, he’s not a human blanket like Avery Bradley, but he’s very capable. He’s also a good off-ball defender (his .903 points per possession against spot-ups ranked in the 76th percentile).
That combination — being able to defend on or off the ball, and being able to defend 1-4 due to his length — makes the Bucks “positionless” lineups work so well. The almost casual way he gets this steal is a good indication of his defense.
If you’re looking for flashy, you’re not going to get blown away by Middleton, but he’s a consistent baller. That matters.