During his brief career, Khris Middleton has diligently worked to establish himself as one of the NBA’s best shooters. He was a solid but unspectacular shooter at Texas A&M University, finishing his college career shooting just 32.1 percent from three-point range.
He was selected by the Detroit Pistons in the 2012 draft but struggled through 27 games his rookie season, hitting just 14-of-45 shots from long range. Not surprisingly, the Pistons included him as an afterthought in a multi-player trade with the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2013 offseason.
Over the next three seasons, he has shot 40.5 percent from three-point range, converting 372-of-919 shot attempts.
Middleton has evolved into more than just a long-range sniper, however. His per-game averages have increased every year, topping off during the 2015-16 season at 18.2 points. His shooting has been so consistent from everywhere on the court that he is now one of the game’s most dependable scorers.
But despite his spectacular prowess from beyond the arc, Middleton is particularly deadly in shooting the fadeaway jumper, an underutilized aspect of his diverse scoring abilities.
Of players who attempted 10 or more fadeaway shots during the 2015-16 season, Middleton finished with the fourth-highest field goal percentage in the league at an astounding 77.1 percent, according to NBAsavant.com. Here’s a look at how he is so effective with his shot.
Listed at 6-8, Middleton is certainly among the league’s tallest guards. But his overall wingspan (an enormous 6-10.75) allows him to extend over most defenders as he fades away with his jump shot. Despite only taking 35 such shot attempts last season, the Bucks have certainly looked to exploit Middleton’s size advantage over smaller defenders. Here’s an example of Middleton hoisting an easy shot over the 6-3 Jeremy Lin, who played with the Charlotte Hornets last season.
Lin is hardly a great defender, but he looks particularly ineffective bodying up the taller Middleton, who outweighs him by around 35 lbs. Lin’s teammate, Nicolas Batum, slides over to try to limit the mismatch, but Middleton quickly recognizes this and, after two short dribbles to help establish space against Lin, launches the shot:
It makes absolute sense to run a play like this with a shorter defender in the lineup (in this case Lin) assigned to guard Middleton. But the Bucks will run the same play and have Middleton set a quick screen for a teammate (whether they’re handling the ball or not) to force a switch and result in a mismatch.
However, Middleton is savvy enough to get the shot off over taller defenders, as well. In this next example, he victimizes Batum, who, at 6’8″, matches up more effectively with Middleton. The result is still the same:
Middleton switches up his technique just a bit, however. While his advantage over Lin was far easier to exploit, it’s not quite as simple with Batum, a solid wing defender. When Middleton catches the ball with his back to Batum, he immediately jerks his right shoulder to create some space while probing Batum’s defensive tendencies. He then uses his weight and strength effectively, backing down Batum with his left shoulder.
After two short dribbles, Middleton initiates the finishing touch with a pivot fake to his right (which Batum immediately jumps on) before spinning left and letting the shot fly over the defender’s outstretched hand.
Given Middleton’s incredible accuracy with the shot, it does seem surprising that he didn’t utilize it more often. At least part of that can be attributed to Middleton’s effectiveness as a perimeter shooter. The Bucks were among the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season, ranked 22nd overall, connecting on just 34.5 percent of their attempts from behind the arc. Middleton’s 143 made three-pointers represented 32.5 percent of Milwaukee’s buckets from long range.
It doesn’t help to have maligned center Greg Monroe clogging up the lane either. Of Monroe’s 941 field goal attempts lasts season, only 122 were taken from 10-19 feet away from the rim, where Monroe does almost all of his scoring. It’s better for the Bucks to utilize Middleton’s versatility and perimeter touch elsewhere.
But Monroe is only slightly more effective in post-up situations than Middleton. According to NBA.com, Monroe was used in post-ups for 33.8 of his offensive output, resulting in 0.86 points per possession, or ranking in the 59th percentile among all NBA players. Just 8.1 percent of Middleton’s plays were post ups, yet he ranked in the 57th percentile, at 0.85 points per possession.
Middleton was virtually unstoppable on turnaround fadeaways, converting 11-of-12 such attempts last year. He was still extremely effective on all turnaround jumpers, converting half of his 44 attempts.
It’s clear that his back-to-the-basket game is a deadly weapon that can be utilized more frequently, with or without Monroe in the lineup. And, given his overall efficiency, it sets up Middleton to complete plays like this more easily:
What’s Next for Middleton
Despite the underutilization, it’s clear that Milwaukee’s coaching staff recognized the strength of Middleton’s fadeaway. Plays like the ones against Lin and Batum were called following timeouts, which was the case on nearly half of Middleton’s fadeaway attempts. There’s clearly some faith in a shot he’s likely guaranteed to connect on.
Determining a balance for when to go to Middleton in situations like these or to rely on his perimeter shooting must be a challenge, especially when complicated by Monroe’s presence on the floor.
Still, the evolution of Bucks teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo bodes well for the Milwaukee to continue utilizing Middleton in this way. With the “Point Giannis” movement likely to dominate Milwaukee’s lineups, defenses will be left scrambling to contain either of these backcourt mates.
While he isn’t nearly the shooter that Middleton is, Antetokounmpo’s springy length can’t be contained by a smaller guard. If an opponent chooses to have Middleton defended this way, plays like the one against Lin are the result.
Middleton continues to toil away in relative anonymity in Milwaukee. Perhaps it’s the result of his low draft status, slow ascension as a player or because of the Bucks’ lack of recent postseason success. Perhaps it’s a combination of these factors or more. Still, after a disappointing showing last season, the team is primed to break out again, and Middleton’s efficiency will continue to be a major factor.
Antetokounmpo will continue to get most of the attention while he defines his career by exploiting his incredible athleticism. There isn’t much glamor in slowly backing down an opponent or creating space to release a perfectly arcing shot. But there’s a comfort in knowing that Middleton will continue to steadily do what he does best.
As he’s already proven, you couldn’t stop it even if you tried.