Khris Middleton’s style of play and shot distribution is the best representation of the Milwaukee Bucks’ 3-point revolution.
Mike Budenholzer and his coaching staff have created a whole new offensive system for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks utilize floor-spacing and off-ball movement to create efficient shots at the rim and from downtown. Per NBA.com, 45.2 percent of the Bucks’ shots are 3-pointers, second only to the Houston Rockets. This figure is a massive increase from the prior season when the Bucks only took 31.2 percent of their shots from downtown. The Bucks’ playmakers, like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, create gravity because of the help defense they demand, leading to the Bucks ranked second in assists and points per game.
The best representation of the Bucks’ 3-point revolution is Middleton’s style of play and shot distribution adjustment. In the 2017-2018 season, Middleton attempted 32.0 percent of his shots beyond the 3-point line, with an effective field goal percentage of 52.4 percent (effective field-goal percentage accounts for the greater value of 3-pointers). He was known as a member of a dying breed of mid-range shooters, amongst the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Durant. In addition to that, Middleton had his worst 3-point shooting season since his rookie year at 35.9 percent.
Shot Chart provided by www.austinclemens.com
In the first 12 games of the 2018-2019 season, Middleton attempted 54.4 percent of his shots beyond the arc, with a 56.4 percent effective field goal percentage. So far, Middleton has made 45.5 percent of his 3-point attempts. He has almost completely eliminated the pull-up elbow jumpers and post-up 10-footers from his game. Instead, Middleton has confidently and aggressively shot from beyond the arc, especially the top of the arc 3-pointers. In the following clip, Middleton leverages the mismatch against center Enes Kanter to score at the end of the shot clock.
This type of shot is unique, a lot of players utilize the step-back, popularized by James Harden, but not many run up on their defender. The shot Middleton uses in the clip carries his momentum towards the basket, making it an easier shot than a step-back, which shifts one’s momentum away from the basket. Also, Middleton effectively rocks Kanter back on his heels to shoot over the big man by running right at him.
In general, Middleton is more aggressive shooting off the dribble this season, attempting 6.5 pull-up shots a game and 3.8 of those are 3-point attempts. That compares to 7.2 off the bounce attempts per game with 1.3 of those coming from downtown last season. Middleton’s scoring efficiency from pull-ups has dramatically increased from last season (47.8 percent to 55.6 percent).
Middleton’s scoring efficiency has been a major factor in the Bucks’ offensive success this season because of the respect he receives from the opposing defenders. By stretching out the defense, Middleton opens up space for other shooters around the arc or Antetokounmpo in the paint. Also, there is immense value in guys that the team can count on in key late-game situations to make a bucket.
The one key takeaway from Middleton’s changing shot profile, though, is the effect Mike Budenholzer’s offensive system has had on the Bucks’ efficiency. It is quite apparent Middleton put in a lot of hours in the gym this summer, working on his 3-point shooting, especially off the dribble. Those hours in the gym have paid off dividends already in the early portion of the season, but his individual scoring could become more valuable in the playoffs when slower isolation plays are more frequent as opposing teams shut down the normal offense.