How Khris Middleton is Excelling for the Struggling Bucks

Bucks swingman Khris Middleton is having a good season, but his skill set isn’t on full display for this struggling Bucks team. Plus: Jabari highlights, next week’s preview, and more.

During the offseason, the Bucks resigned Khris Middleton to a five year, $70 million contract. Around the league, Middleton has garnered a reputation as “a 3-and-D ace,” “the quintessential ‘3-and-D’ combo,” and “a premier three-and-D specimen.”

Despite shooting a career high percentage from the three-point line and playing his typically stellar defense, a popular thought among Bucks fans this season has been: “What’s wrong with Khris Middleton?”

His recent hot streak has probably helped convince people that everything is back to normal with Middleton, but, in reality, there hasn’t been anything wrong with him this entire season.

What has come to light, however, is the dirty little secret about 3-and-D players: They only play for good teams.

The 3-and-D guy is the only role that is inextricably linked to team success. A 3-and-D guy needs a good team that can handle their responsibilities to thrive. Take a second and think about the league’s best 3-and-D players. Do any of them play on bad teams?

To be effective and make a sizable impact, elite perimeter defenders need their teammates to play their roles and not make simple mistakes. The Bucks’ defense, currently the league’s third worst , cannot handle those responsibilities, ultimately rendering Middleton’s defensive prowess almost useless.

On the other side of the ball, Middleton is shooting 47 percent from the three-point line, which should more than satisfy his requirements as a 3-and-D guy, but he has also shot an alarming 36.7 percent on two-point field goals, which is more than ten percent less than his career average on those type of shots.

Though this would seem to point to obvious struggles from Middleton this season, a look at his shot charts from the last two seasons helps explain why that might not be the case.

In the graphs, the colors represent shooting percentage above (green) or below (red) league average (yellow). The percentages listed are the percentage of Middleton’s total shots taken from that area.


This year, the Bucks have played slower, moved the ball less, moved their players less, and taken worse shots. Those are bad things in general, but especially for a 3-and-D guy like Middleton, whose effectiveness comes from from moving around the floor, coming off screens and burying shots.

Last season, Middleton was fantastic in the scenarios listed above, especially on the left baseline (look at all that green!). Much of the reason for his success was the Bucks’ regular use of “floppy action” (video breakdown here), “a common NBA move involving two wings crossing underneath the basket before coming off screens.” Middleton would regularly come off these baseline screens and get open shots in rhythm.

When defenses were really bent out of shape, Middleton could use a shot fake to beat a recovering defender to the rim. But that hasn’t happened this season, and he has struggled to find easier close-range shots. Last season, 25 percent of his shots came at the rim; this season, that number is only 16.5 percent.

Instead of using the action that created these shots for Middleton, the Bucks have opted for more post-ups to incorporate Greg Monroe into the offense. Unfortunately for Middleton, this has also meant fewer screens and space for him to use, as well as more post-ups for him in the Bucks’ offense. So, instead of taking jumpers in rhythm, Middleton is taking crowded jumpers off the dribble or turnaround jumpers off of post ups from the left block. And thus, Middleton is seeing red…on the left baseline so far this season.

While some will say Middleton has struggled thus far this season, I will say he has excelled. He is posting nearly the same numbers he did last year and career-best three-point shooting despite his team playing poorly and struggling to use him correctly. Though the Bucks have failed to leverage his 3-and-D capabilities, Middleton has managed to extract value from his skill set and help the Bucks this season.

Clip of the Week

Jabari Parker will try to dunk on you. Each of the last few games Parker has been able to throw down a dunk and he has become oddly reminiscent to the rookie year version of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Obviously, Parker is much more developed skill-wise, but like Antetokounmpo in his rookie year, he has struggled to make much work offensively aside from highlight plays here and there.

What to Read

How Zaza Pachulia, who can barely jump, changed the fates of 2 NBA teams – SB Nation’s Mike Prada masterfully breaks down the success Pachulia has found in Dallas and the struggles Greg Monroe has found in Milwaukee. Warning: This piece will make you sad.

Gus and Marques Johnson providing fresh perspective on Bucks broadcasts – The Bucks added two new faces to their television broadcast team over the summer and the Journal-Sentinel’s Lori Nickel spent some time with each of them to learn a little bit more about their thought process. (Ed. note: Marques Johnson has been fantastic thus far.)

Bucks players react to Kobe Bryant’s retirement announcement – At Brew Hoop, Aron Yohannes talked to different Bucks players about their thoughts regarding Kobe Bryant’s retirement.

Week in Review

Wednesday – The Kings came into the Bradley Center and helped the Bucks burn more than enough calories for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday on their way to a 129-118 victory over the Bucks. Rudy Gay scored 36 points and the Bucks just couldn’t keep up, despite Antetokounmpo and Middleton each scoring 21 points.

Friday – Things fell apart for the Bucks in the third quarter (outscored 37-22) against Orlando and the Bucks fell 114-90. The Bucks played so poorly in this game that Jason Kidd made changes to the starting lineup.

Sunday – Newly inserted starters O.J. Mayo and Jerryd Bayless both played more than 40 minutes against the Hornets, but it wasn’t enough as Nicolas Batum and Kemba Walker made big plays down the stretch to close out the Bucks 87-82.

Monday – The Bucks were able to give the Nuggets their seventh straight loss behind some big performances from their bench. Michael Carter-Williams nearly went for a triple double in 30 minutes and Parker added 16 points in 26 minutes.

Wednesday – The good feelings did not continue against the Spurs as one of the league’s top defenses shut down the Bucks offense in a 95-70 loss.

Next Week’s Preview

Friday – Despite beating the Pistons in Milwaukee two weeks ago, the Bucks might not feel all that confident going into this game given their recent struggles and the Pistons’ recent victories over the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns.

Saturday – The Knicks have split their two games with the Bucks this season and may look at their trip to Milwaukee as a way to get back on the right path after losing four of their last five games. Though rookie Kristaps Porzingis is garnering much of the attention, Carmelo Anthony is leading the Knicks in points, averaging 21.6 per game.

Monday – The offseason was extremely tumultuous for the Portland Trail Blazers, but they have played better than many expected behind the play of their two dynamic guards, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who have combined for more than 44 points per game this season.

Wednesday – Before the season, the Clippers were one of the favorites in the Western Conference, but they have stumbled out of the gate, dealing with a slew of injuries to some of their top players. The Bucks will be the second opponent for the Clippers in a five-game road trip.

Stats of the Week

7.6 – After averaging 10.9 elbow touches in the Bucks first 14 games, Greg Monroe has averaged just 7.6 in the Bucks last five games.

16.6 – Jason Kidd likes to focus on pain touches. Currently, he should be quite happy as the Bucks offense is generating 16.6 paint touches per game, the league’s fourth highest total.

70.3 – The Bucks are currently grabbing 70.3 percent of available defensive rebounds. That is the league’s worst rate. It gets worse. The difference between the Bucks and Rockets (29th) is 2.9 percent, which is the same margin between the Rockets and Nuggets (16th). The Bucks don’t have a long way to go to be respectable on the glass; they have a long way to go to just be terrible.

Quick Bucks is Milwaukee Magazine‘s weekly roundup of all things Milwaukee Bucks written by Eric Nehm. You can also find his work at SBNation’s Brew Hoop or you can find him on Twitter @eric_nehm, where he would love to know who made a bigger mistake with their haircut, MCW or OJ?