In the summer of 2013, the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks agreed to a trade to send Brandon Jennings to the Pistons for Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Slava Kravstov.
Two years later, Jennings is out for the season with a torn Achilles for Detroit, Knight was traded to the Phoenix Suns, and Kravstov is out of the NBA, making Middleton the lone star of the trade for Milwaukee.
Middleton has exploded for a career year this season, averaging 13 points on 46% shooting, 42% three-point shooting, and 4.5 rebounds per game. Middleton will be a free agent this summer, and he’s increasingly becoming one of the biggest names on the market.
While his basic stats are solid, what has the NBA world buzzing is where Middleton ranks in an ESPN-created stat called “Real Plus-Minus.”
Real Plus-Minus monitors players’ impact on the floor while taking into account their teammates’ impact. While the original plus-minus (net differential of points scored) measures the changing of scores while a player is on the floor, it can be misleading because it doesn’t take teammates’ performances into account. Real Plus-Minus does, creating a more accurate picture of how impactful a player is on the court.
In theory, Real Plus-Minus should show the most impactful players in the NBA, and as expected, most of them are star names. Here are the top-15 players in RPM:
Middleton ranks eighth in RPM, trailing superstars like Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and Chris Paul by mere percentage points. He also ranks eighth in Defence Real Plus-Minus (which only monitors the defensive end).
By these measures, Middleton is one of the ten most impactful players in the NBA.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently spoke to Middleton and asked him about his high rank in RPM:
Lowe: You’re in the top 10 in real plus-minus. I know you’ve been asked about that before. Do you think you’re one of the 10 best players in the NBA?
Middleton: I have the confidence to be. I’m gonna play like it. Some people will have their opinions, but to be in the league, you have to have confidence that you’re one of the best.
After the Bucks traded their leading scorer Knight to the Suns, Middleton has stepped up. Since the All-Star Break, Middleton is averaging 17 points, 45% shooting, 43% from three, 4.8 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He also has the highest on-court net rating for the Bucks. As people take notice of his impressive basic and advanced stats, Middleton’s free agency stock continues to rise.
Tuesday night, Middleton hit a game-winning three-pointer in a critical game vs. the seventh-seed Miami Heat:
This summer, other young, two-way wings like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler hit free agency and are expected to command max offers from their own teams and other suitors. Middleton, who only makes $US915,243 this season, could possibly get a huge contract raise by a team looking for a young wing player who is statistically elite.
Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times reported that NBA GMs expect Middleton to get offers in the range of $US7-8 million per season.
History suggests Middleton will get much more. Last summer, lesser wing players like Avery Bradley and Jodie Meeks received offers in the $US7-8 million range. Players like Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons, very good wing players, albeit not elite, got maximum or near maximum offers.
With the NBA’s salary cap set to explode, teams are willing to overpay free agents, knowing that in two years, big contracts will take up a smaller portion of the cap.
If players like Leonard and Butler re-sign with their respective teams, Middleton could command a ton of attention and money from teams looking for a young player who can fill the increasingly important “3 and D” role. As the NBA becomes focused on advanced analytics, Middleton’s rank in RPM should make him top target for several teams.
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