Just months removed from a $70 million contract extension marking his transformation from overlooked backup to locked-in starter, Khris Middleton now finds himself the first of our Final Foursome to be eliminated. Depending on how you frame it, this is either completely sensible or certifiably insane.
How did Middleton get to this point? In the simplest terms, by leveraging an exceptionally valuable skillset against a team that desperately needs it. Middleton was the Bucks' best shooter over the course of the entire season, a fact evidenced by the +6.5 split in Milwaukee's offensive rating with him on the court last season. That's the best mark of all the Bucks' returning players by a substantial margin. Middleton's ability to play out of position also enabled the Bucks to run out some of their most effective smallball lineups for extended periods--according to Basketball-Reference.com, Middleton played nearly 70% of his minutes as a nominal power forward. That distinction may be a bit misleading (the forward spots were often reasonably interchangeable in those lineups), but the point is well-taken: when Middleton shifted to the three or four and the Bucks brought another shooting wing on the court with him, the team played extremely well.
Why, then, isn't Middleton even higher on the list? It certainly has a lot to do with the guys ahead of him, all of whom have plenty going for them as well. But in fairness, we should point out that Middleton doesn't exactly have a long track record of excellence to bank on. Last season was the first time he recorded a PER over league average, and even then it was only marginally above the 15.0 mark. For as valuable as Middleton's skills are, they aren't particularly varied. He's not much of a passer or rebounder, nor can he create his own shot with ease. Players who do things really well, especially critical things like long-range shooting and wing defense, are very valuable, even more so when they're being paid less than a million dollars. But multiply that salary by 15 and the calculus changes accordingly.
All that said, fourth on our list ain't a bad spot. For what it's worth, he finished was 7th in our rankings last year, but few saw him as much more than a solid role player. It's a testament to how utterly shattered Middleton has left the expectations that followed him from Detroit to Milwaukee. We're all quite happy to have him.
Milwaukee Bucks 2015 Roster Rankings
15. Johnny O'Bryant
14. Tyler Ennis
13. Damien Inglis
12. Miles Plumlee
11. Chris Copeland
10. Jerryd Bayless
9. O.J. Mayo
8. Greivis Vasquez
7. Rashad Vaughn
6. John Henson
5. Michael Carter-Williams
4. Khris Middleton
Cast your vote for the next guy off Bucks Island below. Remember -- production, potential and salary all matter, though you can weigh them however much or little you like. Here's the Bucks' updated cap situation as a refresher: