The Sixers are off to a 2-3 start and the last couple of losses haven’t been pretty.
While defense has been a huge cause for concern (see story), the need for another consistent scoring option is also evident.
In Tuesday's night’s game against Milwaukee, we saw firsthand the impact Khris Middleton can have on a game. While Giannis Antetokounmpo did his usual thing, Middleton was a big part of the Bucks’ 49-point second quarter.
In the second, Middleton scored 13 of his 25 points in a variety of ways. He hit three threes, a mid-range jumper and was able to draw a foul and connect on two free throws. He didn’t have his best night from the field (6 of 18, 3 of 8 from three) but so far this season he’s shooting 51 percent from the field and a ridiculous 58 percent from three. Those numbers aren’t sustainable but it just shows you what he’s capable of.
Why all this love for Middleton? Well, he has a player option for $13 million next year. It is extremely likely that he will opt out of his deal and hit the free-agent market. While the season is far from over, the Sixers should already be thinking about doing everything in their power to bring Middleton to Philadelphia this offseason.
He is the perfect cure for what ails the Sixers. He can score in isolation, he’s good moving without the ball, he uses screens well and is proficient with catch-and-shoot opportunities. He also has a craftiness to his game where he’s able to draw fouls — as evidenced by his 10 attempts from the line Wednesday.
Middleton is not going to win Defensive Player of the Year or make an All-Defensive team, but he's a pretty strong defender. He’s shown enough athleticism to stick with opposing threes and has the size at 6-foot-8 to guard fours.
He’s also proven to be a clutch player. He was outstanding in the Bucks’ seven-game series in the first round against the Celtics. He averaged 24.7 points and shot 60 percent from the floor and 61 percent from three. He also nailed several big shots while doing a nice job limiting rookie sensation Jayson Tatum on the other end. The Sixers’ struggles against Boston are well documented. Perhaps Middleton can become their newest “Boston Strangler.”
There’s no telling what will motivate Middleton when he signs his next deal. He’s only 27 and has improved every year he’s been in the league (save for an injury-riddled 2016-17). Maybe he’s enjoying his time in Milwaukee and playing next to Antetokounmpo. He could just be looking to cash in and go to the highest bidder.
Then again, the Sixers could appeal to him on a couple fronts. Obviously, the bigger market is a factor. Playing with a star like Antetokounmpo is certainly appealing, but maybe Elton Brand could lure Middleton with the idea of playing with Ben Simmons — a similar player to the Greek Freak — and a dominant big man like Joel Embiid. That could be a formidable trio, especially if Middleton continues his progression.
While there’s still plenty of season left to play, there’s no harm in envisioning Middleton in a Sixers uniform next season.
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