Warriors’ Durant: Bucks’ Middleton ‘one of best players’ in NBA

MILWAUKEE — The career paths of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant have been strikingly similar. They both entered the league as teenagers, got their starts in loyal but smaller NBA cities and with guard-skills in their forward bodies they both have helped changed the stigma of 7-footers only being allowed to play the center position.

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After the Dec. 7 matchup in Milwaukee which saw the Bucks losing 105-95 to the Golden State Warriors and splitting their season series, with each team winning on the opponent’s home court, the two superstars met, shook hands and showed their respect to one another as per usual.

But before they greeted each other, Durant made sure he approached a different star on the Bucks’ roster first; a player that he’s admired for years: Khris Middleton.

When mentioning Middleton’s game, Durant gets so enthusiastic you would think Middleton rather than Durant was the reigning back-to-back Finals MVP. With 11 years and counting of his own Nike signature KD apparel, it’s almost like Durant wishes there was Nike KM gear he could buy for himself.

“I’m a huge Khris Middleton fan. Second-round pick, then got traded … I’ve followed his journey since Texas A&M,” said Durant, who played one year at Texas before heading to the NBA. “I’ve followed him through the league. I always was impressed with how he played. His poise out there, his calmness, his demeanor in the fourth quarter when they need a basket … he’s just so cool, calm, and collective. I’m a huge fan of his game.”

At first glance, one would notice that Middleton’s points per a game have declined a little this season from 20.1 to 17.7, but if you actually break it down, new Bucks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer is actually getting more overall production out of him per minute. Middleton is getting his 17.7 points in just 30.6 minutes, which equates to 20.8 points per 36 minutes. Last season he averaged 19.9 points per 36.

Middleton is also shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range while putting up a career-high volume of them (7.1 attempts a game; previous high was 5.0 per game last season), and to top it off, he’s averaging a career-high 5.8 rebounds per a game.

“Khris Middleton is one of the best players in the league in my opinion. (One of the) most skilled players in the league in my opinion,” Durant said. “Somebody that deadly and that efficient from the 3-point line and all over the court … he can back anybody in, shoot over top, play in the pick-and-roll, he can pass, he’s 6-foot-8 at the two-guard, so he’s big for his position. He can catch and shoot 3s, can shoot the 3 off the dribble, he can shoot the mid-range … he’s complete to me.”

It’s not only Durant that has recognized Middleton’s performance. He also got the attention of Team USA Basketball this past summer and was invited to minicamp in Las Vegas, where Durant also participated. Middleton has received high praise from Team USA head coach Greg Popovich.

Middleton may not be as recognizable as his teammate Antetokounmpo, but his peers throughout the NBA know who he is and what he can do on the court.

“We all in the league realize what he does. He might not get the glory or the glitz or whatever comes with it,” Durant said. “There’s so many guys that don’t get love that should. For me as a fan of the game, who enjoys the game … I feel like he’s one of those guys who deserves to be talked about, but I don’t think he plays for that, he’s a purist.”