Khris Middleton is about to get paid

When Khris Middleton makes a shot in the Bradley Center, the opening lines of The O’Jay’s “For The Love Of Money” play over the loudspeakers.

“Money, money, money, mon-ey. Monnnnn-ey.”

The music is flattering, but the offer sheets he’ll see this summer will be even better.

Part of the purpose of the Milwaukee Bucks big trade deadline move was to create financial flexibility and freedom, the sort of flexibility and freedom that could allow the Bucks to retain Khris Middleton, whose rise over the past two seasons has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the league. Rather than face the decision about whether or not to spend $12-$16 million on Brandon Knight, Milwaukee’s biggest question this offseason will center around how much money they can afford to commit to Middleton, a player who seems to play both an important and obvious role.

Coming into this season, there appeared to be an opportunity for Middleton to show off an expanded game. He began the season as Milwaukee’s opening night shooting guard and saw his number called with frequency against the Hornets in Charlotte. It seemed like he’d no longer just be the catch and shoot guy he was last season. But his first month under Jason Kidd wasn’t so great, the lowest point being a DNP-CD in Milwaukee’s sixth game.

After a tough start, he’s gotten better with each passing month.

Month MIN PTS REB AST STL FG% 3P%
October 31.9 14.5 5.0 1.5 0.0 38.7 28.6
November 21.8 7.9 3.0 1.4 1.1 39.6 36.7
December 24.8 10.5 4.1 1.4 1.5 47.3 43.8
January 30.7 12.9 4.6 2.4 2.1 53.8 52.3
February 34.1 16.8 6.3 3.1 2.0 49.5 32.1

What changed? There didn’t seem to be any “Aha!” moment. After the first month of the season, his shots shifted slightly more towards catch and shoot or catch and get to the basket, the two ideal shots for a guy like him. But basically, he’s started to make more shots and seems to increased his activity defensively. Middleton got more comfortable the more he was on the court and able to adjust to his role under a new coach.

“More minutes, playing with more energy,” he said just before the All-Star break about what’s changed over time this season. “Trying to do the little things on defense and offense to help get us going. And also just playing within the offense and just letting the game come to me. With this team we have so many options and so many guys can put the ball in the basket, we’re just trying to get the best shot for us.”

The one noticeably different thing about his game this season is an apparent increased willingness to post up. Middleton’s 22-39 out of the post this season, and while he’s posted up on only about 8% of his possessions, he’s averaging better than one point per possession out of the post, good enough to place him within the league’s top 20 among players who average at least 10 minutes per game and have at least 10 post-ups.

“I have smaller guys guarding me in the shooting guard position and if my shot wasn’t falling, I just try to put them in a bind by going in the post and see what they would do,” Middleton said. “Every time I get in the post I’m not looking to shoot, most of the time I’m looking for the help, because they know I have a smaller player on me. So I’m looking for the pass out and trying to take advantage of it.”

Everything Middleton’s doing is working. Through February 18, per 82games.com, Middleton’s a net +16 for the Bucks. When he’s on the court, offensively the Bucks are 6.5 points better and defensively they’re 9.4 points better per 100 possessions. He’s been the anti-Brandon Knight, a guy who seemed to be contributing a lot, but couldn’t quite get his plus/minus numbers to match what the eye test was telling us about his production.

If this is the player Khris Middleton is, there’s going to be a very healthy market for his skills this offseason when he’ll be a restricted free agent. At minimum, he’s a developing player who has spent two seasons as one of the league’s 15 or so best 3-point shooters. Since joining the Bucks, he’s made 42% of his 3-point shots.

When browsing the list of the NBA’s top 3-point shooters percentage wise, we start to get an idea about what Middleton’s salary floor will probably look like based on two classes of players that populate the league’s best shooters. There are the “role player” 3-point shooters, guys who generally are responsible for making threes and that’s about it. Kyle Korver: $6 million annually. J.J. Redick: $6.5 million. Jose Calderon: $7 million. Marcus Thornton: $7.5 million. And then there are the guys tasked with being a centerpiece of their team’s offense (or at least players teams bet on at some point). Klay Thompson: $18 million. Kyrie Irving: $18 million. Eric Gordon: $15 million.

Middleton’s deal is likely going to exist somewhere between the purely responsible for threes players and the max money types, unless something drastic happens over the course of the next 27 games.

While teams love three and D players of all ages, what could make Middleton more intriguing is his youth, especially if he starts to post bigger and better numbers without Brandon Knight as Milwaukee’s first option offensively. At 23-years-old, with only three years of experience under his belt, imaginations may run wild if he’s able to average around 20 points per game in the second half when teams start thinking about what amount makes sense when putting together an offer sheet for Middleton.

But at his first press conference after the Knight trade, Jason Kidd didn’t seem to think Milwaukee’s offense would be changing all that much.

“We don’t rely on one person,” Kidd said when asked how the offense may change without Knight to rely on. “Nothing changes. That’s how we have been built from day one. Nothing changes from the trade. When you rely on one person it is easy to guard. When you have five guys and they don’t know who is going to take the shot, it makes the game a lot of fun. I look at it the same way. B-Knight was getting shots because of his teammates.”

Middleton may not become much of an offensive initiator, but even if the ball just happens to end up in his hands a few more times he’s a likely choice to become Milwaukee’s scoring leader over the rest of the season. If that takes him from a 12-15 point scorer up to a 16-19 point scorer, he’s probably going to get an offer sheet around $10 million.

From there, it’ll be up to Milwaukee to determine just how crucial a part of the Milwaukee Bucks success Middleton is and whether or not the budget of the championship team they want to build includes that sort payday for the guy they’re calling Money Middleton.

Categories: Bucks Player Features

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8 Comments

  1. Khris Middleton is a must sign. He reminds me a little of Paul Pierce light, especially with his improved rebounding, improved steal rate, and newly discovered midrange post up game. If we thing MCW is the future at point guard it is now the front offices job to surround him with shooters. Khris is a pretty good shooter. With the new CBA coming up there is no reason the Bucks shouldn’t break the bank and be willing to give up close to 12 million for him. His high basketball IQ implies he can make a positive impact in a variety of roles, and is just icing on the cake

    • Not to take anything away from Middleton, because I agree he’s a must-sign (unless he gets a max offer, which would surprise me), but he’s not nearly the ball-handler/creator for himself that Pierce was. Having said that, we aren’t expecting him to be Pierce. If he continues to knock down 3’s, play good defense, and occasionally post guys up, drive, cut, etc., he’s worth a lot of money.

    • The trade proved to me that the Bucks are going to pay Khris. My guess is that it is going to be around the 12-15mil/yr range. Middleton reminds me more of Chandler Parsons than Pierce. The Truth was always the focal point for opposing defenses and had the ability to make his teammates better while still getting his, whereas, Middleton flourishes as, at best, the number 2. The similarities in their numbers make me believe their contacts could be similar as well. Here are Parsons’ 13-14 per 36 min stats compared to Middleton’s 14-15 per 36 min stats:

      Name FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2PA 2P% FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK PTS
      Parsons 6 12.8 0.472 1.7 4.5 0.37 8.2 0.528 2.9 0.742 0.9 4.4 5.3 3.9 1.1 0.4 15.9
      Middleton 5.8 12.2 0.475 1.7 4 0.42 8.2 0.502 2.3 0.859 0.8 4.9 5.7 2.6 2.1 0.2 15.3

  2. Does Milwaukee have any good radio stations that you can listen to Wisconsin sports like Bucks and Brewers and Packers? I’m like lowkey interested in Wisc sports bc of family from there, and I wanted to listen to sports talk, and I couldn’t find any stations that had any local programming. I know here in Cleveland we have 2 ESPN Cleveland, and two fox sports clevelands. I was just wondering if anyone knew, thanks !

    • 105.7 (WSSP) is a good local station that will talk the Bucks and they have post game shows. Bill Michaels Show is a statewide radio show. Covers all aspects of Wisconsin sports.

    • This may or may not help but I downloaded the Bucks app and listen to every game because we don’t get any coverage in Illinois.

      And the Bucksketball podcast is worthy of a 5 star rating, or even five stars.

  3. I think Khris would be a great sign at about $10 million per year, perhaps with incentives for personal performance and team success.

    What a find he’s been, seemingly everywhere on the court, doing just about everything well, and yet at the same time supremely unselfish and out of the way and almost invisible — quite a remarkable combination!

    I think this speaks to him having both outstanding talent and character, of him being truly a team guy, and a tough competitor, totally involved on the court, with a high basketball intelligence.

    What’s great is that he can lead the team in scorng on any given night, but he doesn’t seem to have to be the centerpiece of the Bucks; I think he’d be very happy allowing Giannis and Jabari to be ahead of him in focus on offense.

    I will say that these are tough calls, when guys get in the range of $10 million and above. Khris has come a long way with his game in a short time, and he seems to be showing improvement and promise in every aspect — yet, it’s really hard to tell how far a young player is going to progress for the future, and whether he’s going to keep his determination to play hard night in and night out, year after year. It’s scary to make these commitments of mega-millions to players.

    If Khris is pretty much the guy as I’ve described him, unless others have information and observations to the contrary, then he seems like the kind of guy to invest in as a player and a person. His stats are already starting to add up to a winning player for a formidable team with a bright future, but I also think Khris is the kind of man whose contributions to the Bucks go well beyond statistics.