5 Years, $178 Million Dollars. That's not what you pay for a player who consistently rides the "Tough Shot Express". But for the Milwaukee Bucks, he is the ultimate handyman to compliment the willing worker that dominates their team's offensive and defensive output.
It was the worst kept secret around Lake Michigan this summer when it came to who the Bucks would have to resign. The contracts of Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brook Lopez were all in need of being renewed, but with how the salary calculus was playing out, one of those three was likely to be looking for another spot. The fingers quickly pointed to dropping either Middleton or Brogdon after deeming Lopez an irreplaceable big man for this current Bucks roster. Fans on either side fought viciously for the other, the ones in favor of "The President" seeing that his production and versatility were signs of promise for the future, while knocking Middleton as an average guard whose signature move is hitting routine mid-range jumpers, and maybe a couple of jab steps just for show.
Even after the ink had dried on the contract, there was still hesitation from fans that the All-Star that Milwaukee had just signed was not nearly worth the value being given to him. Link that with how Malcolm Brogdon stormed out the gates with his new squad in Indianapolis and the ire against the indefinite Bucks second-man grew louder than before.
But with Khris Middleton, there hasn't been any change. His role on the offense has stayed essentially the same, if not enhanced by Mike Budhenholzer and his system. He's hitting the shots he needs, defending his guys how the Bucks need him to. There isn't a way to define Middleton's worth until you see what the Bucks play like without him. He's the apotheosis of consistency, yet we still consider him a player unworthy of the accolades adorning him.
On January 28th, Milwaukee took the floor without Giannis Antetokounmpo days after the death of Laker legend Kobe Bryant. Tributes were exchanged by Milwaukee and their opposing side in Washington, and then Middleton went to work, finally putting to bed the doubters and detractors that pillage his box score online.
His colleagues on the hardwood know his worth: Opposing coaches see his as a legitimate threat, double teams come at him trying to force him into his patented mid-range fadeaways, in turn compelling the Bucks to get out of their comfort zone. He doesn't hit the echelons of basketball lore like his counterparts with nasty highlight reels, but if you like players who hit their spots, nail their zones, and hit the shots they are supposed to take, then Khris Middleton hits your boxes.
"I just think he's underrated," Coach Mike Budenholzer said, when asked about Middleton. "He's very nuanced, and he can sneak up on you in how he gets his baskets. But I think the rest of the league is appreciating him more and more. The success of the team, his individual performances, I think people that understand the sport know how good he is. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how he's rated. As long as he's with us that's all we care about."
To spar the argument against Khris's ascendency to a repeat All-Star level, after his 51-point pounding over the Washington Wizards, Middleton currently is on pace to gain entrance into the 50-40-90 club, and club granting membership to only nine members, including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant among others.
Middleton's night included breaking a defender's ankles, hitting his first seven three-point attempts, and putting an emphatic stamp on his 50-burger with a dunk that looks like he just barely clears rim, because if you know Khris Middleton, he wouldn't do it any other way.
Middleton became the first player in NBA history to score 50+ points shooting 70% on 3PT and 100% FT in a game, and with that performance showed his true worth and ability to be a scorer when being the leading man.
Even if fans around the league see his certain All-Star selection this season as just another mistake, peers and coaches around the league notice his contributions. Before the game, Wizards coach Scott Brooks stated he thought Middleton would be an All-Star and wanted to make sure media members told him about his comments, for fear of retribution on Middleton's part.
After assessing Middleton's performance and impact on the NBA today, it might be better if he is unheralded as a player, even if it is outrageous. He won't make Sportscenter's top plays every night, he won't try and out dance you with the basketball. He'll hit his spots, he'll nail his shots. He'll go under the radar, but he'll do enough to knock your team out of the playoffs, and being that underrated assassin is probably a better fit.