Fantasy Basketball: Why Should You Want Khris Middleton on Your Squad?
As a player, it has to be a bummer to miss a chunk of time due to injury. Sometimes, you just have to sit back and watch your team struggle without you. Other times, you're forced to watch as your team thrives. In either situation, all you do is yearn to get back on the court. Whatever it is, you want to be a part of it.
When you finally get healthy enough to return, it's an exciting feeling.
NBA fans and fantasy basketball owners have a similar mindset in these situations. It's deflating to see a team fall short of their potential due to the absence of a key player. But, in the same way, it's like a midseason trade when that player gets back into the fold. It's exciting because it in some way changes the dynamic of the team and possibly your fantasy roster.
That being said, what should we expect from the Milwaukee Bucks' swingman in terms of fantasy production?
For purely situational reasons, we can expect good things from Middleton. However, for those same reasons, we should also temper expectations.
Compared to his initial timetable, even if the four-year veteran doesn't return until next month, Middleton's debut would come ahead of schedule. His recovery time was set at roughly six months from the date of his surgery (September 30th), which means the end of March, not the beginning of February. What that should tell us is that his rehab went well and he's confident enough to get into the flow of the season.
Beating his timetable also means Middleton will reap the benefits of the All-Star break (February 17th to 22nd). After what should be somewhere between three and five games, he'll get some time to recover at the end of the month.
That will be nice, sure -- but, it doesn't mean he'll see more than 20 or 25 minutes a game to start. For owners, it'll be a waiting game as to when Middleton will receive anything near a full allotment of minutes.
The Bucks' current position in the Eastern Conference should also allow them to bring Middleton along slowly. At this time, they're only a game back of the Charlotte Hornets and the 8 seed. While Middleton could help overcome the likes of the Hornets, Pistons, Knicks and Heat for a playoff spot, the team has to look past this season.
He's just 25 years old and the Bucks have some decent cash ($42.3 million guaranteed through 2018-19) invested in him. For that reason, Milwaukee will only push him as far as he and the front office is comfortable.
As far as the immediate future, all this points to limited fantasy production. Conversely, it all bodes well for Middleton's long-term value as well as his availability down the stretch as the young Bucks eye an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
In case you need a reminder of what Middleton brings to the table on a nightly basis, here you are.
In 79 games and a team-leading 36.1 minutes per game, Middleton led the squad in scoring while converting at a rate of 44.4% from the field, 39.6% from three and 88.8% from the line. He was also first on the team in steals, second in threes (1.8) and third in assists on a per-game basis.
According to Basketball Monster, points, threes, free throw percentage, assists and steals are the categories where Middleton created his third-round value a year ago. As he eases into the new year, you can expect most of that to continue. But, you shouldn't expect the same type of production in the points or assists column.
Last year, Middleton was first on the team with a 23% usage rate. And, yes, that included Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has led the Bucks with a 28.2% usage rate so far this season. Clearly, this is an entirely different situation from a year ago, when Middleton was heavily relied on to be a playmaker and scorer.
Not only is the Greak Freak the primary ballhandler and playmaker, but Jabari Parker has taken quite a step forward in his development. His 25.9% usage and 16.1 shot attempts are substantial increases from where they were a year ago (20.9% and 11.8, respectively). If you stopped there, there might be room for the same kind of usage Middleton experienced last year, but with the addition of Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova, it's just not possible. There are too many capable ball-handlers to go around.
This could affect Middleton's volume numbers, like points and assists, but it should positively influence his production in the efficiency categories of shooting percentage and turnovers, where he posted negative values in 2015-16. He'll likely feed off the games of Antetokounmpo, Parker and the guard duo of Brogdon and Dellavedova.
If Middleton's still available, add him to your roster. Wait out the transition period and look to capitalize in weeks to come. You can't expect the same production as last season, but he's still a very talented player and could prove to be a valuable commodity across a number of categories.