Bucks’ Middleton working towards next level

LAS VEGAS — The Milwaukee BucksKhris Middleton — yes, Khris with a “K” — has had hiccups with the correct spelling of his name in the past.

“All the time people misspelled my name, all the time. I just dealt with it,” Middleton said.

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But he’s possibly stumbled on a loophole on how to avoid that ever happening again … by becoming one of the best basketball players on the planet.

Middleton is coming off a season in which he set career highs in points (20.1), 3-pointers (146) and rebounds (5.2) with the Bucks and followed that up by averaging 24.7 points and shooting 59.8 percent from the field vs. a top-notch Boston Celtics defense in the NBA playoffs.

Middleton’s 2017-18 performance caught the attention of USA Basketball, as he was selected to the roster for the national team’s minicamp, which was held July 25-27.

“Huge honor, whenever my name is called to try out for Team USA, you owe it to yourself and to your country to do it,” said Middleton. “You see how good these guys are, you see the work that they put in, and you try to learn from it and compete against them.”

Make no mistake, even though Middleton is continuously driven to be an elite NBA player, he still embraces the fun involved in the game. In fact, Middleton let out a chuckling holler heard across the USA Basketball minicamp after Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant knocked down a tightly contested jumper over him during a one-on-one drill, “This guy is unguardable.”

And in a 3-point shooting drill at minicamp, Middleton got grouped up against Washington Wizards guard John Wall and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker at a basket, and there was plenty of friendly chatter going on.

“Yeah, shooting is where the most trash-talking happens,” said a grinning Middleton. “We’re all playing a game out here. So you can’t be too serious, and figure out how to have fun.”

Originally acquired by the Bucks in a 2013 trade with the Detroit Pistons, Middleton was not even the focal point of the deal. It was then all about the swapping of guards Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings. Now, Middleton is a strong pillar of the team and getting better season by season.

“Have to find ways to challenge yourself, I mean I haven’t done anything, I haven’t won anything in the league, so that’s my motivation to get there,” said Middleton. “Be there like your Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden … all those guys find a way to be one of the best and I got to keep working for that.”

Middleton’s constant improvement may get overlooked at times playing alongside teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it has no effect with their on-court bond.

“We’re both great, we’re great playing together, great chemistry,” Middleton said. “We’ve been playing together for five, six years now, so we learned how to play with each other. We understand each other’s game, strengths and weaknesses, and just trying to go from there.

“He has his silly side to him where he’s a kid and he has the side where he can tear up the streets that comes out when he’s on the court, which you want to see,” added Middleton. “He’s competitive and wants to be the best.”

The global stardom of Antetokounmpo has no bearing on whose number is called when the Bucks needing a clutch shot at the end of games.

“I’m not afraid to take the last shot, I don’t think anybody on our team is and that’s the way you want it,” said Middleton. “You want to be able to trust the guy you pass the ball to, to shoot it and knock it down or if he misses it, you live with the results.”

During Middleton’s offseason, he remains focused and never strays from his work ethic.

“I go back home to Charleston, South Carolina, for the majority of the time. That’s where I do a lot of my training and get with old friends and family,” he said. “I make trips to Milwaukee every now and then just to see how everything is going and check in with coaches and the team.”

Looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, Middleton is very optimistic and confident about the Bucks and their new players, especially Milwaukee’s most recent first-round pick.

“I’m excited about the additions we drafted. I’ve heard great things about Donte (DiVincenzo). He’s a great player, great worker, and I think he’ll fit into the team well,” Middleton said. “He’s a guy that can shoot, a playmaker, and knows how to play the game. He’ll fit right in with us.”