Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Khris Middleton is one of the best young wings on the rise, though, he may have gotten lost among bigger names, both literally (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and figuratively (Jabari Parker) among the rising stars on his team.
But he is quietly emerging as one of the better two-way wings in the NBA. Between his three-point shot and elite defense, Middleton is a borderline All-Star who could take that next step this season.
Some people might guffaw at Middleton’s high ranking. But while you guffaw, keep in mind that last year, there were only two starting shooting guards who had had a better Real Plus-Minus than him: Jimmy Butler and James Harden.
And Butler is moving to small forward next year, which makes Middleton arguably the second-best shooting guard in the league (cue Klay Thomson fans — don’t worry, Klay is higher than Middleton in the rankings).
If he takes the next step, an All-Star Game could be in his future.
The Bucks are in a bit of a one-ball quandary, though. With Johnny Greek Alphabet and Parker both occupying a ton of touches, there’s a possibility that Middleton just gets fewer shots. While that’s a distinct possibility, it’s also worth stating that he is the team’s best three-point shooter by quite a large margin.
He notched 143 threes last year, while Parker and Antetokounmpo combined for 37. So when it comes to being the man who gives the court a bit of elasticity, the other two don’t compare very favorably. And that makes a measure of his usage fairly safe.
He can drain the deep ball off the pass. Only six players scored more points (406) more efficiently (60.6 effective field goal percentage) than he did on catch-and-shoot opportunities, according to NBA.com’s tracking data.
He was also solid off the bounce, averaging 8.2 points per game with a 45.5 effective field goal percentage when taking at least one dribble. Granted, those numbers aren’t going to make Stephen Curry quiver in his MVP, middle-aged-man shoes, but they’re solid enough to make Middleton a threat with or without the ball. In fact, his Offensive Real Plus-Minus was 3.13, a smidge better than Jimmy Butler, and trailing only James Harden among shooting guards.
Middleton is an elite defender as well. As ESPN noted in their scouting report last summer:
With plus athleticism and a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Middleton is a disruptive wing defender. His single-season RPM in 2014-15 (plus-4.09) ranked eighth in the league and was third among wings behind Tony Allen and Kawhi Leonard. His ability to play the passing lanes fits Milwaukee’s trapping scheme and he’s an above-average defensive rebounder. His metrics were strong against opposing shooters (94th percentile, per SportVu) and Synergy put him in the 96th percentile against isolations. Middleton is slightly built and can be bullied at times, as he was by Chicago’s Jimmy Butler during the postseason. Still, if Milwaukee’s team defense remains elite, Middleton could push for all-defense recognition.
While his Defensive Real Plus-Minus dipped a bit last year, that had more to do with other aspects of the Bucks’ defense than it did Middleton. According to his defensive dashboard, shooters more than 15 feet away shot 3.6 percent below their season average when he was the closest defender, but within 10 feet, they were 7.8 percent better — a pretty strong indicator that he was victimized by poor inside help defense.
Middleton is one of the best two-way wings in the league, even if it’s only NBA wonks who give him that recognition.