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Bucks guard Khris Middleton is a breakout star


Among the NBA’s most devoted followers, one previously obscure name keeps coming up, over and over again, throughout the 2014-15 season: Khris Middleton.

The Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard has swiftly become one of the game’s most admired young players, modestly developing into one of the best “three-and-D” guards in the league. He has the best defensive real plus-minus among anyone at his position, and shoots 41 percent from deep. He’s also quite adept at creating his own shots.

An alumni of Texas A&M and the D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants — where the Detroit Pistons had him assigned in 2012, before trading him to Milwaukee — Middleton is headed for restricted free agency this summer. The Bucks can match any offer sheet a competing team may send his way, and they’re likely thanking their lucky stars for that.

Middleton has improved consistently under new head coach Jason Kidd, with his star peaking when he hit one of the season’s most memorable shots against the Miami Heat last week. Here’s his buzzer-beating game-winner, which sent the Bradley Center into a tizzy:

The shot was not only exciting in isolation — it also carried big playoff implications. The Bucks have struggled to hold onto their seed since a roster mixup at the trade deadline, in which they sent Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns in a multi-team trade that netted them Michael Carter-Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers.

Losing Knight hurt in the short term, but it was done in anticipation of free agency. The Bucks calculated that they didn’t want to pay both Knight and Middleton big money, so they opted to carve out a space in their purse for Middleton, instead. Alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, the guard is part of one of the most promising young trios in all of the NBA.

— John Wilmes