Welcome to the Brew Hoop’s entirely subjective and emotionally-driven 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks season player evaluations! Similar to last year’s series, we’ll take a look at each current Buck and ask three questions: what do they do that helps (Boon), what do they do that hurts (Bane), and whether they ought to be on this team (Belonging).
Last summer, there were two camps of Bucks fans. On one side were those who wanted Khris Middleton to be retained, to get paid, to stay with Milwaukee at a salary he (and the market) determined he had earned, and that the Bucks would benefit from his steady versatility in the long run. Those on the other side may have recognized Khris’ on-court value, but a salary that size would be simply too much, too high a price for a player who wasn’t a “true superstar.” He wasn’t even a multi-time All Star!...until he was.
Khris’ Boon: Conducting the offense
There are many things that Middleton is good at. He’s a good three-point shooter, a good pick-and-roll operator, a good passer, a good defender, a good rebounder. But of everything that Middleton is good at, there is one area in which he is best, and that is fine-tuning his pocket watch, checking that all the passengers have their tickets, and shoveling coal into the engine. Welcome aboard, everyone, to the Tough Shot Express
It’s not that Khris makes bad shots look good, but that they are good shots for him. Per NBA.com, Middleton took the sixth-most midrange shot attempts in the league last season (4.8 per game)...and had the fifth-best conversion rate on those shots (52.7%). He was a few baskets away from joining the 50/40/90 club, which is all the more impressive considering the relative difficulty of his shot attempts and that he was effectively Milwaukee’s best self-creator of shots when the clock was winding down and the offense needed a bail-out bucket. They don’t call him Khash for nothing.
Khris’ Bane: Dollars and Sense
Even still, Khris catches flak for what he does on the court in relation to his compensation. At $30.6M, he had the 19th highest salary in the league last season. Next year, he ranks 18th. In 2021-22, 16th highest. The year after that, 8th. And in the final year of his deal, in 2023-24, Khris holds a player option worth $40.4M, which is currently the 4th highest salary figure in the league that season. Can you really expect positive value on that contract for a player who doesn’t immediately put you in a position to contend for the NBA Finals?
Does Khris Belong?
Khris Middleton is among your favorite player’s favorite players to have on their team. He is solid, steady, salient...albeit unspectacular. He can play with or without the ball, shoot off the dribble or off the catch, and is a reliable defender who knows the game and knows where to be. He is not an elite athlete, but has the endurance to give you winning minutes when you need them most. Middleton is a consummate professional, and one that the Bucks are lucky to have on their roster.
...that is, of course, unless they stand a better chance at getting over the hump by moving him.
This is an unlikely course of action that the Bucks can pursue, but it is an available one if the right star becomes available themselves. Middleton, a two-time NBA All Star, is a wonderful player that can help make a team competitive...but he’s not the centerpiece. Giannis Antetokounmpo, rightfully, is that guy, and Khris is one of the best members of his supporting cast, but he is not irreplaceable. If a heretofore unthinkable sequence of events led to, say, Damian Lillard or Stephen Curry finding it in their best interest to take their talents to Bradford Beach, Khris could be a necessary – but worthy – sacrifice. This is far from likely to come to pass...just like the Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio was a few years ago. So yes, Khris does belong here, one way or another, as long as it leads to the Bucks battling for a shot at a title.