There’s not a whole lot more to say about Khris Middleton at this point in his career that hasn’t already been said ad nauseam. Folks who follow the Milwaukee Bucks (and some who didn’t) loved to hem and haw about whether he could be a true “number two” on a Championship team, but last year’s results sure put a damper on that debate. In this ranking, he came fairly definitively in second place, and I was surprised how large the gap was between him and Jrue Holiday.
I don’t need to wax all that much about Middleton, so I’m going to take most of this section to ponder about the gap between Middleton and Holiday. Upon first blush, if someone asked me who would be more valuable this upcoming postseason, I’d likely reflexively say Middleton. He’s been around longer, he was more consistent from a scoring perspective, and while he had occasional off-shooting nights, outside of the 6-23 performance in Game One against Brooklyn, he never felt quite as offensively inept as Holiday looked at points. More importantly, there was the parade of clutch moments.
Khris Middleton had 18 points on 75% shooting in the clutch in the Finals, the most by any player. The next closest player had 4 points.— StatMuse (@statmuse) July 21, 2021
He also led the entire playoffs in clutch points. pic.twitter.com/wmKjvdsf10
There’s on denying Middleton was absolutely essential to Milwaukee’s late-game execution, and he delivered time and again to deal death blows to opponents. His value in those minutes cannot be overstated, the Bucks halfcourt offense felt at times like digging into a layer of rock. In those precious, decisive minutes to close games, their best option was almost always asking Middleton to deliver a jumper himself or off some action with Giannis. I don’t think anyone else on the team could replicate his ability, but there is a world where he misses more of those shots next season and we re-evaluate him just a smidge. Clutch performance can be fickle, and that 75% figure in the tweet above is preposterous and evidence of those small sample sizes.
He might be Milwaukee’s niftiest passer, but I’m not sure he’s their most consistent. Even with some of the baffling decisions Holiday made last season, I’m not sure he gets enough credit as a Playoff playmaker. People talk plenty about Milwaukee having three initiators but not a “true” point guard, but the assist totals from the postseason sure paint a different picture. Holiday averaged 8.7 assists per game compared to 5.1 for both Middleton and Giannis. I think Jrue’s playmaking goes a little unnoticed beneath the horrid shooting we saw from him throughout most of the Playoffs.
Then there’s obviously Holiday’s defense, a pivotal part of the Bucks ability to slow down Phoenix as the NBA Finals wore on. Jrue grew better the more Bud forced him to stay engaged throughout a possession, but I’ve always thought he gets occasionally lackadaisical off-ball. As for Middleton, he was rarely tasked with guarding the other team’s best player thanks to PJ Tucker ably handling those duties. That freed him up for more offensive output, which he did deliver with a stat line fairly commensurate with Devin Booker and Paul George (each of whom I’d say get far more shine than Middleton).
However, I did think Middleton’s defense was fairly solid throughout the Playoffs, and pretty passable against Kevin Durant in the stints he had him. I didn’t think he handled Devin Booker all that well, allowing him to scoot past him off the dribble too often, but overall I came away more impressed with Middleton’s defensive capability than my recent perception of him. Is his particular game more replaceable than Holiday’s? Maybe, but it’s close, and I’m not sure how many other stars of his ilk could play the type of completely complementary ball he’s forced into alongside Giannis. Perhaps plenty could with a little seasoning, but I like to think there’s some value to your two best players developing a rhythm over years-and-years that can’t just be solved with a new plug-and-play wing. Regardless, we all know what this means for the top spot. We’ll have a brief write-up about Giannis set to run sometime soon.