Since arriving in Milwaukee in 2013, few Bucks players in recent history have sparked more heated debates on social media than James Khristian Middleton. For years, Pro-Middleton and Anti-Middleton camps engaged in massive arguments on Twitter and other platforms. Various members of Bucks Twitter shaped their online identity on defending Middleton from “Khris slander.”
Middleton’s clutch moments in the 2021 playoffs appeared to end the debate. Bucks Twitter was finally in agreement that, “Khris Middleton is good.” Despite that, Middleton’s recent shooting slump has re-ignited the argument. Nowhere was this more apparent than on February 17th, when the Bucks lost a close game to the Philadelphia 76ers. Middleton took the majority of the blame from Bucks fans for the loss stemming from his poor shooting. All this begs the question: is Khris Middleton still good? Here is my attempt to analyze the question as fairly as possible. This article merely represents my opinion based on what I see.
Middleton’s field goal percentage is down to .438%, which is the lowest it has ever been. Likewise, his three-point percentage is down to .356 (it was .414 last season). There are no clear answers to why this is. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with his shooting form, nor is he taking poor shots. It’s easy to assume it’s a confidence problem, but Middleton’s 3P% has gone up and down throughout his career. In his ten seasons in the NBA, Middleton shot 40% or better from behind the arc in five seasons and less than 40% in five seasons.
All shooters experience extended slumps; Khris is no different. Although, it’s easy to forget that based on his phenomenal performance in the All Star Game on Sunday , even Steph Curry is having the worst shooting season of his career. Is Middleton in a slump? Yes. But it’s not a massive decline if you look at his whole career. Ultimately, Middleton’s PPG currently rests at 19.4, which is still higher than his career average of 17.
Is Middleton’s Age Catching Up With Him?
Many Bucks fans are beginning to wonder if Middleton, 30, is on a downward trajectory due to his age. Although it’s concerning when a generally reliable shooter starts missing, I don’t think this is the case. Middleton still runs the floor well. He gets to his spots. His shooting form looks fine, and his defense doesn’t appear any different. When players start to decline due to age, joint pain and a lack of stamina are the most significant tell-tale signs. That’s not the case with Middleton. In my opinion, Middleton’s shooting woes have nothing to do with his age.
Addressing the Problem
Mike Budenholzer’s system (often referred to as “Bud Ball”) is heavily analytics driven. The analytics dictate that teams should only attempt threes, lay-ups, or dunks while avoiding midrange shots. The average Bucks offensive set begins with five out (i.e. all five players outside the three-point line). One player (usually Giannis, but sometimes Holiday) drives towards the hoop. If the paint is weakly defended, they go for the dunk or layup. If the defense collapses in on the driving player, said player kicks the ball out to the perimeter for a (theoretically) wide open three. It’s a sensible offense, especially when you have a player like Giannis who draws so much attention. The problem is that, although he’s capable of shooting threes, Middleton’s most notable skill is his midrange game.
Analytics have their place, but I’m skeptical about relying on them too much. Middleton can be an effective three-point shooter, but he’s far from the best (or most consistent) in the league. While I can understand why the NBA shies away from the midrange, there are players that use it very effectively. Guys like Chris Paul and Khris Middleton can cause a lot of problems with midrange shots and they shouldn’t be discouraged from shooting them. Drawing up more plays that take advantage of Middleton’s primary skillset will not only improve his numbers, but add another major element to the Bucks’ offense.
I understand fan frustration with Middleton, but he’s not necessarily on the decline. I don’t pretend to understand the X’s and O’s of basketball better than a NBA coach. Despite that, knowing Middleton’s skillset and watching the Bucks offense gives me the impression he’s not being used as effectively as possible. I fully believe Middleton will find his three-point shot again as the season progresses. I also know he’s a streaky shooter (as many shooters are), especially from behind the arc. Khris Middleton should be a midrange shooter that sometimes shoots the three, not the other way around. In other words, Khris Middleton is still good. He could just be used better.
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