When a trade happens in sports, especially one of the magnitude of yesterday's three-teamer for the Bucks, the first order of business for fans and media alike is to analyze the deal itself. Place the primary parties in a vacuum and break down the departures and additions. Second, we look at the deal in context of the teams in play, whether the move weakened or strengthened the club in whatever facets you choose to look at (performance, depth, finances, etc.). But now that the stone has sunk to the bottom, we are left only with ripples. They are growing wider, larger, and longer. And these disturbances are heading towards one person.
With Brandon Knight out of the equation, the offensive workload now shifts to Middleton, who has emerged as the go-to Buck when a basket is needed. But more than that, Middleton has become one of the NBA's advanced metrics darlings, sitting sixth in the league in real plus/minus, a 54.5 eFG% and a 57.4 total shot percentage. Middleton possesses an offensive rating of 105.1 (second on team - Jerryd Bayless), and a 95.2 defensive rating (team best). His net rating of 10.0? Best on the team by a landslide (Jared Dudley is next at 7.7). In layman's terms, the Bucks score a ton with Middleton on the floor, and give up very little.
If traditional metrics are still your speed, Middleton is hitting 47% from the floor, a remarkable number when you consider over 70% of his shots are either pull-up or catch and shoot jumpers. Middleton's average shot distance? 15.5 feet from the hoop, giving all of us "mid-range jumper" nerds nightly reasons to do a happy dance.
But now, the team dynamics change. With Knight replaced by Michael Carter-Williams, a far less viable offensive threat, opponents can now shift their defensive focus more on Middleton than they have in the past. A subject of much debate, even the staunchest of Brandon Knight detractors cannot deny that he was a focus of a defense. Carter-Williams has not proven he warrants such attention, certainly not this season. Middleton will get more shots with Knight out of the picture. But will he stay as effective?
If Middleton can continue this high level of efficient play the rest of the season, sans the main offensive weapon, the Bucks will handle the transition from Thursday's deal more smoothly. But this deal wasn't one for the next few months, but rather the next few years. And if all goes according to plan, Khris Middleton will be rewarded handsomely.
Following this deal and the impending buyout of Larry Sanders, the Milwaukee Bucks will find themselves sitting on a pile of cash this summer. Charles Gardner agrees.
After deal today the Bucks have $15 million of cap room heading into summer. Bucks heavy on expiring deals and rookie-scale deals next year.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) February 20, 2015
That's a lot of money! A lot of that lot of money will go to Middleton, and the Bucks will lock up a young shooting guard for another four years to put one more piece of this puzzle in place (UPDATE: Middleton is already included in next year's cap at $1.8 million and can be re-signed with Bird rights. Hat tip to Sector 7 Dan for catching that).
When the Bucks dealt Brandon Jennings to Detroit two years ago, no one really figured the that it would be Middleton to break through. But here he is, on the verge of something 39th overall draft picks are rarely this close to.
But first, it's time for Middleton to show he can take the next step. That when he's the focus, when he's the main threat, when he's the guy everyone is looking to... he can come through. The immediate opportunity for the larger payoff. This trade will give a couple of young guys new chances to make impacts. But it's granting one a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Khris Middleton won the lottery on Thursday, and he's holding the ticket in his hand. It's time cash it in.