Despite Khris Middleton’s 6-foot-8, 235-pound frame and 7-foot wingspan, he isn’t the lankiest guy on his team. Running mate Giannis Antetokounmpo carries that title (though Thon Maker and John Henson might object), overshadowing his teammate’s measurements, standing 6 feet 11 inches and 240 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan.
For a duo who’ve quietly become one of the most lethal offensive pairings in the league, it’s fitting that even Antetokounmpo’s physical characteristics outshine Middleton’s; such an occurrence is a recurring trope at this point.
The Greek Freak enthralls crowds with his seemingly extraordinarily effortless plays, carving out a nightly spot among the SportsCenter Top 10, and has inarguably become one of NBA’s brightest stars, primed to carry the throne in the league’s post-LeBron Era.
But the Bucks are more than a one-man show, with Middleton serving as the best supporting actor.
Middleton’s most redeeming quality is his 3-point shooting (39.7 percent for his career from deep), but over the past few seasons, he’s honed in on refining other areas of his craft, recognizing the opportunities he’s presented with after being chased off the 3-point line by defenses.
One such facet that’s highlighted Middleton’s transformation into a borderline All-Star is his pull-up jumper. His most frequented shot this season at 7.5 attempts per game, Middleton is a magician working the pick and roll and using his wiry build to create space:
Through 30 games, the Texas A&M product is burying 47.8 percent of his pull-up jumpers — the best mark of his career.
What empowers Middleton’s ability to find these open looks is the success of the Middleton-Henson pick and roll this season, which has emerged as one of the Bucks’ most effective weapons. As the ball handler, Middleton has been absurdly proficient, producing 1.08 points per possession (92nd percentile) on 54.3-percent shooting.
The Robin to Middleton’s Batman, Henson has nearly matched his teammate’s efficiency as the roll man in these sets. He’s scoring 1.29 PPP, which ranks in the 83rd percentile.
With arms that extend longer than Mr. Fantastic, Henson is able to pluck the ball out of the air regardless of its apex:
Middleton isn’t necessarily the most adroit passer, but he’s making use of Antetokounmpo and Henson’s excessively long reaches, placing the ball in a spot where only his teammates can snatch it, and triggering easy scores in the paint.
This season, the Middleton-Henson two-man lineup has turned more profit than a lemonade stand on a blistering hot summer day. Of any Bucks’ duo to have played at least 100 minutes together, the Middleton-Henson pairing ranks third in Net Rating at 9.3.
When Middleton and Henson take the court together, both Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe — linchpins of Milwaukee’s success — sport substantially better Effective Field Goal and True Shooting percentages than when the two are rooted on the sideline. And in the 343 minutes Tony Snell has shared the court with Henson and Middleton, he boasts a 77.9 percent True Shooting percentage on 60 field goal attempts.
On the year, Henson is cashing 67.9 percent of his field goal attempts via passes from Middleton. Their pick and roll affluence spurs opportunities for the entirety of Milwaukee’s offense. Teams recognize the prosperity of these sets and respond accordingly. This is where Middleton’s improvements as a passer rise from their slumber:
Prior to Middleton sending the skip pass to Snell in the corner, every Detroit Pistons player had their eyes affixed to Middleton — whose gaze is keyed on Henson — allowing Snell to slink into the corner for an easy 3.
As much success as Middleton and Henson have yielded in conjunction with one another, Middleton has ascended to new heights individually, particular as a scorer, shedding the label of a catch-and-shoot wing.
Middleton coaxes yawning defenders asleep with a pair of soothing dribbles (he’s shooting 59.5 percent this season when he takes two dribbles) and tucks them in while operating a quick, high-releasing jumper:
Predominantly playing the 2-guard for Milwaukee, Middleton utilizes his 80-inch figure to launch unobstructed shots over traditionally-sized counterparts, harnessing an indefensible turnaround jumper (60 percent on such attempts this season):
Unlike family Christmas cards, Middleton’s shots are rarely forced. He’s often devoid of equilibrium off the dribble but keeps his body aligned toward the basket — which is far more important for athletes who are professional shot makers.
When he opts to carry his elongated stride toward the rim — a rare occurrence as he’s only attempted 64 shots inside the restricted area — Middleton has been decisive and economical, shooting 62.5 percent from the aforementioned region.
As a playmaker, Middleton circumvents tunnel vision and hunting for his shot. He maintains an incessant canvassing of the court, identifying openings that may surface while being the nucleus of any given action Milwaukee employs:
And in particular, it’s his credentials as a sniper that catalyze quality looks for the Bucks:
Sending Middleton around screens for close-range jumpers, which forges pseudo-PnR action, pins the defense in an unenviable paradigm: cede an uncontested midrange shot (Middleton’s shooting 53.4 percent from that area, a mark better than midrange fiends DeMar DeRozan and C.J. McCollum) or neglect the roll man, spurring an easy bucket inside.
In both of the clips above, the defense opts in favor of doubling Middleton, who promptly flips it to his big man for a layup.
As for that renown shooting stroke from beyond the arc that I’ve frequently alluded to, it’s emerged from its hibernation after a dormant, 6-for-30 October. Over the past 24 games, Middleton is 57 of 147 from deep (38.8 percent).
The rest of his game has also followed its mama bear out of the cave as he’s upped his scoring average, assists per game and field goal percentage each month. Disregarding his dismal October, the veteran swingman is averaging 21.9 points, five rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.3 steals on 49.5/38.8/88.8 shooting splits this season (as of Dec. 24).
With Middleton’s All-Star-worthy sample size continuing to balloon and the festivities in Los Angeles still nearly two months out, the Bucks are staring at the possibility of having two representatives in the weekend’s hoopla for the first time since Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson in 2001.
Maybe then, at least for a brief few days, will Middleton’s reach mirror Antetokounmpo’s and extend all 2,056 miles from Milwaukee to LA.
All stats as of Dec. 22 unless otherwise noted.
All stats and videos via NBA.com, Basketball-Reference, ESPN and NBAwowy.