Khris Middleton Still Looks Like Khris Middleton

by Alex Boeder Writer

Late in the third quarter, Khris Middleton lost his balance, fell to the ground, lost the ball, and the Nuggets pushed the other way and went up 84-53. Down by 31, this felt like a low point (or the low point) of the season. The Bucks led for zero seconds of the one hour and 59 minutes that night. This was at home, against a team with a nearly-identical record.

You can feel despair in moments, minutes, nights, losses like that. I did. I do.

Middleton got up after that turnover, though. And one of the biggest parts of the bigger picture – escaping for a moment from “what is the score tonight” here – is Middleton. Whether he would once again be the Middleton who emerged as an All-Star candidate last season before tearing his hamstring last September.

And in the next 15 minutes or so (of real time) after that turnover, he hit three picture-perfect threes.

Cherrypicking a few made baskets is easy. But this is not that. Middleton (in an admittedly small sample size of 20 attempts) is now shooting 45.0 percent from long range in nine games since his return from injury. All his shooting numbers are outpacing career averages.

Season FG% EFG% FT% 3PT% TS%
Career .450 .514 .873 .401 .556
2016-17 .477 .528 .882 .450 .597

Again, these are very early returns, but they are also positive early returns. Middleton made his name as a shooter, and he appears to have not lost his touch.

But to label him a shooter is also to sell Middleton short. He transformed into an all-around playmaker who could create his own shot as well as shots for others last season. In his first 200+ minutes this year, he has largely picked up where he left off. Jason Kidd and the coaching staff initially eased Middleton back by bringing him off the bench to help lead the second unit while placing loose minute restrictions on a game-by-game basis.

After a quiet first couple games, Middleton has slowly but certainly reclaimed his co-starring role, including posting the highest usage percentage and free throw rate of his career. For a player returning from a serious injury, these are a couple of encouraging numbers that suggest he has neither (physically) lost a step nor does he (mentally) think that he has lost a step.

Season USG% FTR
2014-15 19.9 .180
2015-16 23.0 .273
2016-17 23.6 .386

His per-minute traditional numbers are trending the right way, too. In his best performance of the season so far, he put up 19 points, nine assists, four rebounds and four steals in a surprise win against the full-strength Clippers.

Season PTS / 36 MIN REB / 36 MIN AST / 36 MIN
2014-15 16.0 5.3 2.8
2015-16 18.1 3.8 4.2
2016-17 19.6 4.8 5.4

As a team, the Bucks have been roasting offensively with Middleton – their 110.8 offensive rating with him on the floor would be fourth-best in the league behind the Warriors, Rockets and Cavaliers. Individual defense remains hard to quantify, but Middleton is posting a career-best steals rate on a per-minute basis, and the Bucks held up relatively well against the dynamite Clippers and Raptors offenses in wins over the weekend, as Middleton played in a back-to-back (as well as 30+ minutes in each game) for the first time this season. Throughout the weekend, there were a bunch of moments when Middleton looked like Middleton. Most of the moments, really.

On the way to my car after the win over the Clippers, a fellow walking next to me struck up a conversation and said he was not going to go to another Bucks game this season had they not won that night. It was the first game after the Nuggets blowout loss. It was not such an unreasonable ultimatum. He said that the team had really missed Middleton, that he was the main difference, and then we saw a woman lose her balance and fall to the ground. He hurried over to help. She said she was fine and got up. Hope she is. Hope he keeps going to games.

As we approach the one-month mark since Middleton’s return to the court (his first game back was on Feb. 8), not everything is perfect with the team. But it seems like Middleton is okay. Which means that Middleton is quite good.


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