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After establishing himself as a player to keep an eye on with his strong sophomore campaign a year ago, Khris Middleton took a significant step back as a junior, struggling with a knee injury all season and seeing his pace-adjusted production fall off across the board this year, while his scoring efficiency numbers took a similar plunge.
Texas A&M's success as a team fared even worse, as the team went a disappointing 14-18 this year following a very good 24-9 a year ago.
Middleton surprisingly decided to enter the draft despite seeing his stock plummet this season, as the combination of injuries, the coach (Mark Turgeon) that recruited him leaving for Maryland last summer, and the significant turmoil his program has faced since in the wake of new head coach Billy Kennedy being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and top recruits such as Jamal Branch deciding to jump ship likely led him to believe that the situation at College Station can't get any better.
Looking at Middleton's game, his strengths and weaknesses remain largely the same as the last time we profiled him, as he possesses a few attractive attributes from an NBA perspective, though he hasn't progressed much as a player in that time span.
Middleton's ability to score off the dribble from the mid-range remains his most important skill as both a college player and NBA prospect, and he showed continued success in that area this past season. He possesses excellent creativity and feel in this area of his game, while being very comfortable finding small windows to get off shot attempts while blanketed by defenders.
Middleton's first step off the dribble is not very impressive and he rarely gets past his man in isolation situations, but he still gets off a variety of shots in the lane ranging from runners to floaters to pull-up jumpers. Despite just average length, he has a very high release point on these moves and requires very little space to get off his attempts.
From isolation situations, Middleton's efficiency is outstanding at the college level, as his 1.043 points per possessions according to Synergy ranks in the 91st percentile. Middleton's high level of efficiency scoring the ball in isolations is certainly a coveted skill from an NBA perspective, but there are some concerns projecting this area of his game to the next level. For one, given the finesse, mid-range nature of his game and how he relies heavily on scoring closely contested looks, there are questions if he will can maintain similar success against the bigger, more athletic opponents he'll face on nearly every possession. Further, there aren't many role-playing, shot-creating, isolation-oriented wings in the pros, which could make it difficult to find a niche matching his skill set, meaning significant adjustments in his game.
While Middleton saw continued success with his isolation game this past season, unfortunately the same cannot be said about all other aspects of his game. Middleton's shooting efficiency numbers fell in every area this year, highlighted by his three-point percentage plummeting from 36.1% to 26.1% on just a modest increase from 3.3 to 3.9 attempts per game. Middleton's spot-up shooting in general was unimpressive this year, as he hit just 0.827 points per shot on catch and shoot jumpers according to Synergy, barely better than his 0.825 points per shot on shots off the dribble.
Projecting to the next level where he'd very likely have to play a smaller and less ball-dominant offensive role, Middleton's lack of success hitting catch and shoot jumpers is a red flag, and is something he should focus on in his pre-draft workouts. Improving his three-point shooting in general will be even more important for him, as it will likely be necessary for him to become a much better three-point shooter to find a long-term place in the NBA, especially given the preferences most teams have for their wing players.
To Middleton's credit, it wasn't common that the ball-handling weak Aggies asked him to take spot-up shots in their offense, and when the ball did come his way for one, it was often out of the flow of the offense, so it was likely difficult to develop a rhythm in this area of his game. Further, he has a certain natural feel for putting the ball in the basket and is clearly a very talented shooter, so he could see significant improvement in this area down the road as he adjusts to new roles wherever he plays.
Middleton's ability finishing around the basket was another area he failed to impress this season, as he still shows a lack of explosiveness and lift around the rim, along with the aforementioned problems getting the step on his man in the half court. His FTA/FGA also fell considerably from 0.33 to 0.19, further evidence of a less aggressive playing style in regards to attacking the basket, possibly due to struggles related to his return from injury. While his success with runners and floaters somewhat mutes his inability to finish around the basket, it's still something he should work on for developing a more complete and efficient game moving forward.
One area Middleton did continue to excel with on the offensive end is his flow-of-the-offense passing, as he posted decent assist numbers for a small forward at 3.3 per pace adjusted 40 minutes. He's an unselfish player with solid vision and feel, while he's capable of making nice passes to shooters and cutters alike. While he's not someone to create offense for others or make many passes on the move, he can serve as an effective cog in this area of the game, and does a good job fitting into a team-oriented offense.
On the defensive end, Middleton still possesses many of the same issues we identified last time we profiled him, as he struggles to move well laterally and is prone to frequently being beat off the dribble in isolation. To his credit, he does a good job getting into his stance when matched up one-on-one, shows a high effort level, and does an effective job using his size to contest shots from behind even when he is beat. Still, this is likely to be an area of concern for him projecting forward, and putting in as much work as possible here would be to his benefit.
Looking forward, Khris Middleton possesses a fairly unique skill set for his position, and is an interesting player trying to project to the next level. While his ability and feel scoring the ball in isolation situations is certainly attractive, his shortcomings in most areas traditional role players excel in pose some questions for how his game will translate and what types of adjustments he'll need to make.
However, 6'8 players with his level of shot-creating ability are not a common commodity, and that could certainly lead someone to feel he's a player worth investing the time in to try and develop.