A player like Brandon Knight, who has had an excellent season for the Milwaukee Bucks, has received ample attention for his play in 2013-14. On the other end of the spectrum, though, is the team's most underrated player: Khris Middleton.
Not only is he the team's most underrated, but he has been its most consistent too.
Despite the lack of attention, Middleton has been more than solid in a lot of categories.
But which ones?
Averaging 12.1 points through 64 games, Middleton has been a solid scoring option for the Bucks in 2012-13.
While players like O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova have struggled for consistency on offense, Middleton has been a surprising source of points.
He has scored between 10 and 29 points on 40 different occasions compared to the 24 times he has failed to reach double figures.
In fact, looking at his splits, Middleton has recorded only only calender month this season in which he failed to average double figures in points (not counting the one game in October): In January, he struggled with his shot and posted just 8.2 points per game.
With a long, slender build and ample quickness, he has provided the Bucks with a weapon at small forward in a season when the position has been hit hard by injuries. Carlos Delfino has been sidelined all season and, before being waived, Caron Butler couldn't consistently stay on the floor.
Middleton's play hasn't exactly helped the team pickup a ton of wins but, without him, the Bucks' record would likely be even worse.
The Bucks rank 29th in points per game and 28th in field-goal percentage; they aren't really an offensive juggernaut. In fact, as the rankings indicate, they're statistically one of the worst offenses in the NBA.
But out from among the inefficient play of Mayo, Ilyasova and others has emerged Middleton.
The small forward is connecting on 45.8 percent of his field goals and a very good 43.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
And Middleton's shooting efficiency and value to the team's offense hasn't gone unnoticed.
Back in January, Zach Lowe of Grantland illustrated Middleton's value with some impressive facts and numbers:
Middleton can play both wing positions, and he has logged a tiny slice of time at power forward as the Bucks have scrambled with small lineups to make up for the injuries and bar fights that have decimated their front line. Middleton isn’t quite a plus/minus god anymore, but the Bucks have been a competent NBA team with him on the floor. Teams have outscored the Bucks by an embarrassing 15 points per 48 minutes when Middleton sits, but that number drops to just 2.5 points per 48 minutes when he plays, per NBA.com.
He’s shooting 44 percent from deep, including a saucy 48.6 percent on corner 3s — mostly the result of kick-out passes Middleton gets as Knight or some other player runs Milwaukee’s main action. But Middleton isn’t a one-trick catch-and-shoot guy. If he catches the ball and spies his defender scurrying to close out on him, Middleton will pump-fake, take one or two hard dribbles, and launch a nifty floater or pull-up jumper. He’s not athletic enough to get closer to the rim, and he hasn’t looked comfortable near the hoop. “The next step for him is finishing at the rim more efficiently,” Hammond says.
Should those percentages dip in the future, like they did in January, he'll have to continue being aggressive and find ways to score regardless of his outside or mid-range shot is falling.
Still, for someone who appeared in just 27 games for the Pistons a year ago, Middleton has made tremendous strides in 2013-14, showcasing his efficiency throughout the season.
If he can continue to post respectable shooting percentages while improving other areas of his game, he'll be a vital part of Milwaukee's future.
Defense and the Other Things
In addition to being a great weapon offensively, Middleton isn't awful on the defensive end.
At 6'7" with a 6'10" wingspan (per NBADraft.net), he has the ability to pester opposing players who are trying to attack the rim.
If he can increase his foot speed, learn how to stay in front of his man and not rely on his length so much, he'll become a much better defender. He's averaging 1.1 steals, which certainly isn't terrible.
Aside from that, and like his Bucks teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton seems to bring a demonstrable passion for the game whenever he takes the floor. It's rare that you'll see him taking possessions off or hanging his head.
And, as the saying goes, a good attitude can go a long way.
Middleton is unlikely to ever blossom into a perennial all-star, but that doesn't mean he has no value within the franchise. Continuing to post numbers similar to what he has put up this season will certainly make him, at the very least, a valuable role player.
And were he to improve in 2014-15 on what he's done this year? Well, then we're talking about him taking on an even more expanded role for the Bucks.
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