Here’s an objective truth readers may not want to hear: Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon, and arguably even Bradley Beal are not better at basketball than Khris Middleton. Not only is the smooth-shooting swingman a legitimate second option on a winning team, but he also deserves a third All-Star selection.
In true Middleton fashion, this is still considered to be a hot take in a league committed to overlooking the all-around small forward.
Compared to the aforecited, Middleton is simply a better defender and a more efficient and well-rounded scorer. The statistics so far prove this to be a correct statement. Here’s what they say.
He’s putting up superstar numbers
It’s a little-known fact that Middleton is almost a completely different player this season. Through 22 appearances, Middleton has put up averages of 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game on 52.0/46.5/92.8 shooting splits.
Fresh off his second All-Star season, the 6-foot-7 forward has come out swinging, showcasing remarkable growth in every facet of his game. Per StatMuse, he’s on pace to be the first player to average 20/6/6 on 50/40/90 shooting in a season since Larry Bird.
Khris Middleton is insane this season.
6.0 APG (career-high)
52.1 FG% (career-high)
44.8 3P% (career-high)
93.8 FT% (career-high)
He’s on pace to be the first player to average 20/6/6 on 50/40/90% shooting in a season since Larry Bird. pic.twitter.com/XP7sDDxprJ
— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 9, 2021
The numbers make it clear as day: Khris Middleton is elite in his own right.
Among players who have attempted at least 300 shots this season, Middleton is second (61.0%) in effective field goal percentage only to Paul George (62.1%). Among the same players, he’s also 4th in net rating (12.4) and 6th in true shooting percentage (64.7%).
He’s still one of the league’s premier midrange shooters, but Middleton has blossomed into an excellent playmaker this season. Over the past few games, he’s shown a more decisive and controlled game when handling the ball. Middleton’s career-best 5.8 assists lead the Bucks in that area. Per Cleaning the Glass, Middleton is also in the 95th percentile in both points per 100 shot attempts (130.8) and assist percentage (24.7%). He’s also 91st in assist-to-usage ratio.
Not just a secondary scorer
His playmaking is extremely impressive when you consider his point totals and scoring efficiency. Of note, he’s also 7th in the league in offensive rating with Bucks teammates Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Donte DiVincenzo in the top ten. However, this is likely a result of the team’s league-best offense.
That Middleton is but a glorified second fiddle is also a patently untrue narrative. In the 203 minutes he’s played without Giannis, the Bucks are actually more efficient (122.7 ORtg) than in the 538 minutes they played together (116.3).
He’s also a fairly clutch player capable of hitting shots to close out games. He’s shooting 63.6% on mid-range shots and 50.0% on above the break threes in fourth quarters so far.
Though not sporting any clear improvements, Middleton has always been a steadying presence on the defensive end. He knows exactly how to use his size and his 6-foot-10 wingspan to make up for his athletic limitations. Here are a few of his performances against the more potent wing scorers as their sole defender:
- Jerami Grant: 7-of-18 shooting (38.9% FG) in 63.6 partial possessions (17:41 matchup minutes)
- Jayson Tatum: 2-of-5 (40.0%) 24.4 Pposs (6:35)
- Donovan Mitchell: 1-of-4 (25.0%) 6.4 Pposs (1:35)
- Cedi Osman: 1-of-7 (14.3%) 22.3 Pposs (6:03)
Khris Middleton is an #NBAAllStar:
29 PTS | 12 AST | 8 REB | 3 STL pic.twitter.com/YLAnKsBJnG
Narratives are against Middleton
But Middleton has long been a low-key and underrated player, which is often held against him when it comes to accolades. His calm, cool and collected game has always come across as pedestrian to most. He’s hardly the most explosive or athletic player, and his claim to fame has always been efficiency.
Narratives about these supposed limitations coupled with his generally unassuming play are why his case remains overlooked. It doesn’t help that he plays next to the two-time MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Make no mistake, however: Khris Middleton is a top 15 player in the National Basketball Association today, and it would be an egregious mistake on the part of fans to let such a talent go unrecognized in the league’s biggest gathering of star talent.