Although Milwaukee reportedly insisted on Khris Middleton‘s inclusion in the Brandon Jennings trade, many saw him as merely a throw-in. Two years later, he’s a top-three player on a playoff team. His outstanding 2014/15 season, wherein the 23-year-old showcased his all-around game, put him in line for a lucrative second contract this offseason as a restricted free agent.
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Middleton has expanded his shooting range since coming into the league. He isn’t a high volume shooter, but he is an efficient one. The Texas A&M product shot over 40% from behind the arc in each of the last two seasons. He doesn’t need the ball to impact the game offensively. His presence on the floor allows his teammates to have better opportunities, similar to how Kyle Korver helps the Hawks. Opposing defenders can’t pack the paint because they can’t veer away from Middleton for fear he will make them pay with his knock-down jumper.
His impact on defense may surpass his on offense. He was the best defender among shooting guards last season, according to ESPN’s Real Defensive Plus/Minus. That doesn’t tell the whole story because he played more minutes at the four spot than any other position, as Basketball-Reference shows. Still, Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis are the only power forwards with a higher Real Defensive Plus/Minus than Middleton’s 4.10. Middleton needs help defending some behemoth power forwards, such as Zach Randolph or Derrick Favors. With fewer teams taking the traditional approach of having two big men on the floor and instead transitioning to small-ball, the 23-year-old’s ability to defend any non-center position becomes more valuable.
The precise value of his next contract is difficult to predict, as Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors explains in Milwaukee’s Offseason Outlook. A league executive told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News that Middleton would draw an offer of around $15MM annually. Such an offer would be very close to the max, which will be an estimated $15.8MM for a player with his experience level. An Eastern Conference executive who spoke with Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times expressed doubt about that figure and estimated the 23-year-old will only receive $9MM per year on his next deal. It only takes one team to float an offer and drive up a player’s value, just like the Jazz encountered with Gordon Hayward‘s contract situation last offseason. I’d speculate that some team gives Middleton a similarly bloated offer sheet because of his age and defensive ability.
The Bucks are likely to match any offer sheet that Middleton signs and Middleton expressed his desire to re-sign with the team. “I hope to be back here,” Middleton said. “I feel we have a great young team, going in the right direction.”
On defense, Middleton fits perfectly with the Bucks’ philosophy. Coach Jason Kidd wants every player to switch assignments on every pick. For that to work, the team essentially needs five interchangeable parts on defense and with the midseason acquisition of Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks are closing in on that goal. The team just needs someone with top defensive ability to man the center position. Milwaukee has the 17th pick in the upcoming draft, which is unlikely to be high enough to select Willie Cauley-Stein. The Kentucky center would be a perfect fit for the team because has the quickness and length to guard any position on floor, as Dana Gauruder of Hoops Rumors explains in his profile of the 7-footer.
Instead, the franchise will have to go the free agency route if it wants to improve the position. The team is reportedly going to take a run at a few veteran big men in free agency. The Bucks have only about $36MM in guaranteed salaries against a projected $67.1MM cap after their salary-clearing Ersan Ilyasova trade. Middleton’s cap hold is set at slightly more than $2.725MM. That alone makes it more likely that Milwaukee retains the former Aggie, as the team can use its cap space for other transactions and have the ability to sign Middleton afterward.
If an opposing team is going to steal Middleton away from the Bucks, offering a contract right as the July Moratorium ends would likely give it the best chance. If Middleton signs an offer sheet, Milwaukee will have three days to match. Unless the Bucks can use their cap space in that time, matching for Middleton would lift his cap hold to whatever the starting salary in his new deal is, making it more difficult for the team to chase Brook Lopez and other marquee targets. The forward is represented by Mike Lindeman of Excel Sports Management, which was founded by Jeff Schwartz, who represents Kidd. It’s not inconceivable that Middleton is aware of the team’s cap situation and chooses to wait to sign any deal. A source told Woelfel that a quick agreement is in the offing for Middleton and the Bucks, and if Middleton commits to the Bucks right away, the team can quietly hold off on making an official signing until a more convenient time and use cap space in the interim.
The 23-year-old will likely have no shortage of suitors if Milwaukee is not where he wants to reside for the next few years, though it will probably take a bloated offer to dissuade the Bucks from matching. The Sixers are a dark-horse possibility for Middleton based on his age, his favorable advanced stats and Philly’s cap situation, as I explained in the team’s Offseason Outlook, although that is merely my speculation. Another team that would be a good fit for Middleton would be the Magic, but again, it is only my speculation. Orlando has a tough choice to make with Tobias Harris‘ next contract, as Dana Gauruder of Hoops Rumors writes in the Magic‘s Offseason Outlook. Harris did improve this season, but he isn’t nearly the shooter that Middleton is. Replacing the Tennessee product with someone who can spread the floor will be crucial if the Magic intend on having the poor shooting trio of Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon lead the team in the future.
Middleton isn’t the type of player who will lead a team to victory; he isn’t the centerpiece of your meal. He’s similar to Draymond Green in that he can provide more to a team with other spectacular players already in place. Milwaukee has a few potential stars in Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak isn’t completely developed yet offensively and if he is going to share the floor with MCW, the opposite wing will need to be able to shoot the lights out. Middleton has that ability and if Milwaukee’s executives are truly connoisseurs of good basketball, they will do whatever it takes to keep the perfect complement to its rising stars on the roster.
What do you think Middleton will make on his next deal, and where do you think he’ll end up? Let us know in the comments.