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Khris Middleton is the best in the worst basketball shot

Despite a defeat in Denver on Monday night – their fourth defeat in their last five games – the full-strength Milwaukee Bucks still look very similar to the best basketball team. It might sound bold, but the team’s track record is quite unmatched: Bucks’ 53-12 record is better than that of any other team for 2.5 games; until last week, they were in the running to become only the third team ever to win 70 or more; and the difference between their differential of over 11.2 points and that of the Los Angeles Lakers’ second place is almost equal to the distance between the Lakers and the seventh place of the Houston Rockets.

We know all about the reigning and probable repetition of the MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player who almost everyone guarantees an offense at the highest levels in the system of the coach Mike Budenholzer. Milwaukee also has the NBA’s best defense of a mile. But the Bucks wouldn’t be where they are now without somehow still underestimated contributions from Khris Middleton.

Middleton, who was a healthy scratch for Monday’s defeat, checks in 13th place in the NBA overall RAPTOR, tied with Jayson Tatum and mere decimal points behind Damian Lillard, Paul George and Nikola Jokic. This season he is also doing something that has only been done by another player (Kevin Durant) in the history of professional basketball: an average of at least 20 points, six rebounds, four assists and two bets made 3 per game while he connects better than the 40 percent of his three tempted.

But what stands out from the Bucks’ second star even more than his general level of play is his brilliant scoring efficiency. His 21.1 points per game, until Sunday, come courtesy of a rarely seen before shooting clip: he is well on his way to becoming only the eleventh player in NBA history to use at least 26 percent of the his team and to score an effective field goal percentage of 57.5 or higher.

While Middleton, who made his second All-Star appearance last month, has always had a reputation as a shooter, his current level of efficiency is still out of character. Before this year, Middleton had typically recorded an effective field goal percentage around the league average. In six of its previous seven seasons, its eFG% was within 1 percentage point of the average and in four of those six it was within half a percentage point. This season, however, 57.7 percent of Middleton is 4.9 percentage points higher than the league average.

Middleton had been an average marksman … until this year

Difference in effective percentage of goals on the field per season between Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks and the league average

Season Middleton NBA media Diff.
2019-20 * 57.7% 52.8% 4.9
2018-19 51.9 52.4 -0.5
2017-18 52.4 52.1 0.3
2016-17 51.8 51.4 0.4
2015-16 50.7 50.2 0.5
2014-15 53.0 49.6 3.4
2013-14 51.1 50.1 1.0
2012-13 48.9 49.6 -0.7

* Through the games on March 8th.

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

Typically, you associate such a dramatic increase in efficiency with a healthier shot distribution, swapping mid-range attempts for those on the edge or from beyond the arc. But this is not the case here. Indeed, Middleton has gone in the opposite direction.

But let’s take a step back. Before last season, Middleton was an extraordinarily mid-range player. The Second Spectrum tracking database dates back to its second season in the league and between then (2013-14) and two seasons ago (2017-18), mid-range attempts made up 39.2 percent of its shooting profile. Of the 149 players who attempted at least 2,500 total shots during that five-year period, his average odds were the 12th highest.

Then, Budenholzer showed up in Milwaukee. He encouraged the Bucks both as a team and individually to push their shot distribution in a Rockets-style direction, avoiding the mid range for multiple layups and three. Milwaukee’s offense took off and finished fourth in last season’s ranking in terms of efficiency. But while the team’s success helped Middleton make her first All-Star game, she actually scored less effectively than the previous year.

So, this year, Budenholzer allowed Middleton to raise its average rate. After dropping to 22.8 percent last season, midrange attempts now account for 34.7 percent of Middleton’s shooting profile. That odds are the fifth highest among the 134 players who have made at least 500 shots this season until Sunday, according to Second Spectrum.

So how did Middleton manage to have the most efficient season of his career, repeatedly lifting what is considered the worst shot in the game? Exceeding expectations on those shots with a wider margin than almost everyone in recent memory.

According to Second Spectrum, the actual expected percentage of Middleton’s field goals on his mid-range attempts this season is only 36.97 percent, the type of brand that usually exemplifies why so many coaches don’t want the own players throw those shots. But Middleton has proven to be the exception to the rule, linking to those low-value attempts 51.55 percent of the time.

Middleton’s 14.57 percentage point differential between his actual and actual percentage of goals on the pitch is the fourth largest for any of the 491 seasons of players with at least 200 medium frequency shots in a given season in the past seven years . The only players in his league are three masters of the middle range: Durant, Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki.

Middleton rates among the mid-range greats

The best five seasons per player in the difference between the actual and actual percentage of the goal on the pitch on medium-range shots, from the 2013-14 season

Rank Player Season % EFG expected Actual% EFG Diff.
1 Kevin Durant 2018-19 37.04% 53.23% 16,20
2 Kevin Durant 2015-16 35.47 51.52 16,04
3 Chris Paul 2017-18 40.23 55.17 14,94
4 Khris Middleton 2019-20 * 36.97 51.55 14,57
5 Dirk Nowitzki 2013-14 36.84 51.17 14.33

* Through the games on March 8th.

Source: second spectrum

Adapting to his prevailing mid-range sniper status in the game, Middleton showed the ability to take pieces from each of these star games.

Like Durant, he showed an impeccable insulation package. There is the rocker pull-up sweater, which allows him to break free from a defender in short areas to get up and shoot. When staring at a smaller defender, he gets up right above the top or makes his way to the lane and then turns away for a turnaround jumper. On the open floor, he can push the ball up to put the defender on his heels and let him fly at any time. It has the “hesi pull-up jimbo“, As Durant himself would say, as well as a complete repertoire of jab-step, sidestep and step-back to create additional space at the elbow or on the wing.

Middleton also has a bag full of CP3-esque pick-and-roll jumpers. Against the fall cover, it will rise to the elbow or avoid the wing. If the big man tries to meet him at the level of the screen and locks him close to the elbow until his man recovers, Middleton can return him to the center to create additional space for his sweater. When his defender tries to cheat because he knows that a screen is coming, Middleton is more than willing to deviate from the choice to rise. Even when he is well covered by turning around the screen, he can still get up (which he can do by moving left or right) or use a bad crossover behind his back to make his man fly.

Finally, Middleton can use its size (it’s 6 feet-7 with a 6-11 wingspan) to shoot directly on top of defenders from the pole, Nowitzki-style. He is comfortable both on the left and right blocks, and in Nowitzki’s nail studio. His footwork and fakes on the shoulders are video-perfect for instructions, and he can spin on both shoulders from both sides of the floor, which causes defenders to guess which version of his turnaround is actually coming to them.

Is it sacrilegious to say that Middleton has a mid-range game that is reminiscent of those of the big three of all time? Could be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. There are not so many players capable of turning the midrange into an area of ​​high value for attack. And with the defenses increasingly focused on forcing these types of attempts as efforts are made to defend the paint and the 3-point line, having a player who has perfected the worst shot in basketball is very useful for the Bucks.

Take a look at our latest one NBA predictions.

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