Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Free Agent Profile: Khris Middleton

Khris Middleton - SF - 6'7, 215
FA Ranking: 5

This one hurts, because Middleton would be the Pistons' high-valued restricted free agent if it weren't for one of the more questionable moves of Joe Dumars' last few years in Detroit.  After playing a mere 475 minutes as a rookie with the Pistons in 2012-13, Middleton was shipped to Milwaukee in a sign-and-trade for Brandon Jennings.  Middleton and the other piece that went to Milwaukee, Brandon Knight, both flourished, while Jennings provided mixed results in Detroit.  Now 23 years old, Middleton is one of the top restricted free agents on the market this summer thanks to a breakout year with the resurgent Bucks.  His value at both ends of the floor makes him an intriguing prospect across the league, and a great fit for the Pistons' needs at the SF spot.


Khris Middleton
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3PAr
3P%
AST%
TRB%
FTr
FT%
DRtg
2013-14
12.1
12.5
19.1%
54.1%
.340
41.4%
11.7%
7.2%
.160
86.1%
113
2014-15
13.4
15.6
19.9%
56.3%
.308
40.7%
12.7%
8.4%
.180
85.9%
102
Career
11.8
13.8
19.2%
55.1%
.323
40.3%
11.9%
7.6%
.174
85.8%
108

Middleton transitioned from solid in his first season with the Bucks to really good in his second season.  His usage rate/role in the Bucks' offense remained the same, as did his shot composition (for the most part); the source of Middleton's overall improved efficiency and production was an improved efficiency inside the arc.  He upped his 2P% from an okay 45.4% in 2013-14 to a solid 49.4% this past season.  Also helpful was a slight decrease in three point attempts, which helped his free throw rate rise by a couple of percentage points.  For what Middleton is, he's got a good balance between outside shots and attacking.  You don't really want a guy who's hitting threes at over 40% taking more shots inside the arc than necessary, and I like the way Middleton has composed his offensive game in Milwaukee.

The other key change for Khris Middleton this year was that he was recognized as one of the better defenders in the league, with many labeling him as a "3-and-D" guy.  This is one of those cases where you definitely can't just rely on the guy's Defensive Rating.  Did Middleton just all of a sudden turn into a lockdown perimeter defender and put the Bucks' defense on his back?  Or was he simply a part of an overall team improvement from last year to this year?  Here's what the NBA's play tracking stats have to say about Middleton as an individual defender, with the minimum amount of possessions used in screening being approximately however many possessions Middleton had defended for each scenario:

Play Type
Possessions
PPP Allowed
NBA Rank
Best 2014-15 Piston (PPP)
Isolation
104
0.60
2nd
Andre Drummond (0.74)
PnR ball-handler
159
0.68
8th
Brandon Jennings (0.77)
Off-screen
63
0.89
31st
Jodie Meeks (0.74)
Spot-up
347
0.85
4th
KCP (1.04)

Middleton barely had any figures for post-up or cut possessions, which is why they aren't included in the table.  What is on the table suggests that Middleton would be a major upgrade for the Pistons defensively on the wings.  While he was merely average as a defender trying to get through a screen, he's elite as an isolation defender, against the pick-and-roll and as a close-out man on a spot-up shooter.  My biggest focus is on the isolation area, where the Pistons struggled majorly against the league's better SFs, as they didn't have a single player who could match up against a well-rounded wing.  Overall, the Pistons ranked in the middle of the league defending isolations, allowing 0.85 points per possession.  Khris Middleton would fill the defensive void at SF about as well as any other free agent wing on the market.

Middleton's offensive play-type statistics tell a decent story about the kind of player he is as well, which is the cautionary tale about how much teams should be willing to pay him this summer:

Play Type
Possessions
PPP 
NBA Rank
Best 2014-15 Piston (PPP)
Isolation
59
0.92
33rd
Reggie Jackson (1.01)
PnR ball-handler
94
0.65
120th
Brandon Jennings (0.86)
Off-screen
178
0.93
5th
Jodie Meeks (0.88)
Spot-up
269
1.20
5th
KCP (1.05)

That's the makeup of a truly excellent role player.  Great in catch-and-shoot situations and moving without the ball.  The only thing stopping him from being a genuine star is a pretty clear inability to generate offense for himself or his teammates.  In a market where Middleton appears set to get a max deal, or close to one, is it worth putting that big of an investment into a guy who needs someone to get him the ball for him to be successful on offense?

As a restricted free agent, it's going to take a big contract to pull Khris Middleton away from the Milwaukee Bucks.  Milwaukee's right to match any offer he signs may even be enough to scare away his suitors.  The only thing that may leave a sliver of hope that Middleton may be signed away is the fact that he plays a position where the Bucks are quite deep, with Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo offering a higher ceiling at the forward spots.  In terms of the actual size and length of a Middleton deal, it might be smart to compare Middleton to Chandler Parsons, who signed a 3-year, $45M deal with Dallas last summer.  Although Middleton isn't the dynamic offensive player that Parsons is, he's leagues ahead of him on the defensive end.  With the salary cap set to explode, who's to say that Middleton doesn't sign a deal of similar value?  Whether or not the Bucks choose to match that offer is the biggest question here, as Middleton is definitely going to get paid.  

Since he's a restricted free agent, a sign-and-trade may be the best way to lure him away from Milwaukee.  As stated above, the Bucks have bigger needs than SF/PF.  Would it be worth it to move Middleton to find a deal where they can improve the quality of their backcourt?  From the Pistons' perspective, if I can get over the hurdle of paying top dollar for a role player, it's just another hurdle to clear if you have to trade for him.  Personally, I don't think the value is there if you have to overpay a guy AND trade for him.  That being said, here's what a sign-and-trade for Middleton may look like:

Pistons receive: Khris Middleton
Bucks receive: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Cartier Martin

While Middleton is certainly a better player than KCP, the Bucks could use depth at SG, where OJ Mayo is on an expiring deal and there are few other options, let alone one with KCP's upside.  If the Bucks are going to lose Middleton anyways, why not grab an asset in the process?  This should be a thought process that Pistons fans are familiar with, as that would have been the right move with Greg Monroe last summer.  While some Pistons fans may see this as giving up too early on another young player, Middleton himself is only a year-and-a-half older, and moving KCP would allow the team to seek out an option with a higher ceiling at SG.  It wouldn't be the ideal move, but if Stan Van Gundy and the front office are set on acquiring Middleton, they have little else to offer.  The Bucks take on Cartier Martin to even the scales a little bit, allowing the Pistons to avoid Martin's player option.

No matter how the Pistons hypothetically acquire Middleton, let's assume that he gets a 4-year deal worth $64M, equaling Chandler Parsons' deal in annual salary.  The Pistons figure to have approximately $25M to play around with this summer, give or take, so signing Middleton would leave the front office with $9M to make their remaining acquisitions, with needs at PF, backup C and possible additional depth at SF.  Here's what an offseason that includes a Middleton signing could look like, using the assumptions that Middleton is signed outright, and that Detroit takes Stanley Johnson with the 8th pick and Richaun Holmes with the 38th pick:
  • SF Khris Middleton: 4 years, $64M
  • C Bismack Biyombo: 2 years, $8M
  • PF Mirza Teletovic: 3 years, $12M
  • C Greg Smith: 2 years, $2.1M
Position
1st
2nd
3rd
PG
Reggie Jackson
Brandon Jennings
Spencer Dinwiddie
SG
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Jodie Meeks
Cartier Martin
SF
Khris Middleton
Stanley Johnson
Quincy Miller
PF
Anthony Tolliver
Mirza Teletovic
Richaun Holmes
C
Andre Drummond
Bismack Biyombo
Greg Smith

That's a lineup that goes two-deep and maybe can compete for a playoff spot, with one glaring hole at PF.  Fill that hole in and figure out what you have in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and you've got the start to a team that can win 50+ games and challenge in the Eastern Conference.  The key word there is start; the Pistons are going to have a lot of work to do regardless of how this offseason plays out.  

Khris Middleton may not be worth whatever he's going to get paid this offseason, but he could offer a solution to quite a few of the Pistons' problems, thanks to his excellent outside shooting and high-quality perimeter defense.  It wouldn't be the popular signing that Draymond Green would be, or the perceived savvy move of going after DeMarre Carroll, but adding Khris Middleton would be a smart next step in the right direction, overpay or not.  It's just too bad the Pistons won't be holding the cards, thanks to the everlasting impact of the Joe Dumars era.

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