Milwaukee Bucks: Is Khris Middleton’s max contract paying off?

This summer, the Milwaukee Bucks signed swingman Khris Middleton to a five-year, 177 million dollar contract, just a few million dollars short of what would have been a max deal. The deal was under much scrutiny from people across the NBA, especially Bucks fans who were torn over the deal. So has he lived up to the money so far?

We will take a look at every aspect of Khris Middleton’s game for the Milwaukee Bucks this season, but let’s start with how a lot of people gauge success in basketball: Scoring. Middleton has put the ball in the hoop a lot this season, and more efficiently than he ever has. His 48.0 percent field goal percentage, 55.1 effective field goal percentage, and 88.9 free throw percentage are career highs. His 39.0 percentage from three-point range is also his best in the last three years.

This efficiency isn’t because of any lack of attempts either. In fact, his usage rate of 26.2 is the highest of his career. He’s taking 14.7 shots per game, only marginally down from his 14.9 last year, and averaging 18.8 points per game, the second-highest mark of his career if he continues at that pace. People questioned how the Milwaukee Bucks would replace the 50/40/90 efficiency of Malcolm Brogdon, but Middleton has almost hit those numbers this year while continuing to score at his same clip.

One final quick wrinkle about Middleton’s scoring this year: Get him the ball on Fridays. In seven Friday games this season, he’s shooting 56 percent from the field, 54.8 from three and 85.7 percent from the free throw line. Stats are weird.

Everyone knows he can create his own shot, only 38.3 percent of his two point field goals are assisted, but in terms of creating shots for others, he hasn’t done much to write home about this season. He’s a capable passer, but it’s never been the part of his game that anyone talks about. His 3.9 assists per game this season are slightly lower than his totals from the last two years of 4.0 and 4.3 respectively, but not by enough that it’s a concern.

One encouraging figure is that even though his usage rate is the highest of his career, he is averaging only 2.0 turnovers per game, his lowest since the 2014-15 season when he was only averaging 13.4 points per game and not even close to the player he is today. He’s had the ball in his hands this year more and has taken care of it better than he ever has. This gives him the highest assist to turnover ratio since his rookie year in Detroit when he only played in 27 games.

Sometimes after a player signs a long contract, they tend to lack in the effort category for a while, knowing that they’ve locked in their money. Hustle and effort are a tough thing to gauge, but one statistic that can show how much effort is being given is offensive rebounding. Middleton is crashing the glass harder than ever this year. Even though he is playing the least minutes per game in his seven years as a Milwaukee Bucks’ player, he’s averaging a career high in offensive rebounds per game.

Now, I know it’s not a perfect metric. Rebounding is partially luck when the ball bounces off the rim, but most rebounds are around the rim. Sure Middleton is 6’8″, but I think we’d all agree he’s not really the most athletic player seeing as he only dunked 19 times last year. So for a guy like him to average over one offensive rebound per-36 minutes is a nice sign that he’s not resting on his laurels.

Finally, Middleton may be having the best complete year of his career. Everything we’ve discussed has all added up to the highest player efficiency rating of his career, a stat that condenses all the conventional box score stats into one number. No metric like this is perfect, but at 19.8 this year he is well above his career 15.9 PER average and his previous career high of 17.4.

Middleton is by no means a perfect player. He will continue to have occasional off nights that will be highly criticized by people who were not happy with him being brought back this offseason. However, the fact of the matter is that the Milwaukee Bucks are a better team with him in the lineup. His slow methodical perimeter play style is also a perfect compliment to Giannis in the halfcourt , and that can be hard to find.

I’m going to conclude with a somewhat bold prediction: The Milwaukee Bucks will win an NBA Championship while Khris Middleton is on his current contract. When they win one and hopefully multiple, there should be no question that this was a good move for the Bucks. So far, he’s lived up to the money and a championship would seal the deal that, no matter what else happens, this was a good re-signing.