Bucks feel Khris Middleton could have high ceiling

MILWAUKEE — When the big trade between the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons went down in late July, many gravitated to Brandon Knight as all the Bucks got back for Brandon Jennings.

Sure, the two Brandons are the biggest names in the deal, but Milwaukee feels small forward Khris Middleton was a piece to the puzzle moving forward and not just a throw in. While Knight is being looked at as the team’s point guard of the present and future, the Bucks are excited to have Middleton on board, as well.

“We wanted a certain caliber of player, a certain type of player, a certain type of young man,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “Both of these gentleman are two guys I really feel are going to be a big part of our future, a big part of the equation when we talk about building something special here. Both of these young men fit the bill.”

Who is Khris Middleton? Well, he was supposed to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft and might have been one if he had declared for the draft after his sophomore season at Texas A&M. That season, Middleton averaged 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the Aggies.

Though Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon left for Maryland following Middleton’s sophomore season, new coach Billy Kennedy was impressive enough to convince the young small forward to stay in school.

In the end, Middleton’s decision ended up hurting is draft stock. He partially tore the meniscus in his right knee in the first game of his junior season and missed seven games after surgery. He injured the knee again later in the season and had to sit out five more games.

He still averaged 13.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in 20 games and in the Big 12 tournament, Middleton averaged 19.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. But his draft stock still plummeted and he fell to the second round where Detroit took him 39th overall.

Middleton averaged 6.1 points per game and shot 44.0 percent from the floor in his rookie season with the Pistons, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. He played a total of 22 minutes until late February.

“It definitely was (tough), but I didn’t let that set me back, I didn’t let that deteriorate me from being an NBA player down the road,” Middleton said. “I just wanted to work as hard as I can so I could get to that spot.”

He eventually earned a spot in Detroit’s rotation and thrived when he did. Middleton averaged 8.1 points per game and shot 52.9 percent from the field and 40.0 percent on 3-pointers when he played 24.3 minutes per game in April.

“I tried to (take advantage of my opportunity),” Middleton said. “I wasn’t playing at the beginning, but I stayed in the gym and worked as hard as I could and I earned a rotation spot. I got the opportunity and took advantage of it. My confidence kept growing the more I played.”

Knight witnessed first hand the work Middleton put in and came away feeling his teammate will make an impact in the league.

“He can flat out put the ball in the basket — he can score,” Knight said. “He’s long and sneakily athletic. He has an all-around game, especially on the offensive end. He can put it on the floor, catch and shoot, I mean, there’s nothing that he can’t do offensively.”

Coming into the season, Middleton will have a good chance at playing consistent minutes with the Bucks. As of right now, Carlos Delfino is likely to be the team’s starting small forward, but Middleton should be the primary backup as rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo develops.

“I’m really excited for it,” Middleton said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to establish myself. I just want to try and go out there and make it happen. I want to take what’s out there and seize the opportunity.”

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