Bucks forward Khris Middleton felt “disrespected” when Miami point guard Goran Dragic was selected to replace injured Kevin Love in the All-Star game. He was disappointed again this week as Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker was chosen to take Kristaps Porzingis‘ place in the Feb. 18 game.
Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee earlier this week in the Knicks 103-89 loss to Middleton’s Bucks. Funny, just before the game Middleton was talking to JS reporter Matt Velazquez about how it really did kind of bother him that he was passed up — not once, but twice — to replace injured All-Stars (Detroit center Andre Drummond was tabbed to replace injured John Wall Jan. 30).
“I definitely feel disrespected because of the numbers that I had and we had a good record,” Middleton said before the Knicks game, not specifically referring to Dragic or Drummond. [Drummond shoots 55% from the floor and is leading the league in rebounding; to this point in the season (Feb. 8), he’s been the 3rd most statistically impactful player in the NBA, according to BIER* — so it was most likely the selection of Dragic that left Middleton feeling dissed.]
Drummond was 13th in the coaches vote, so he was next in line. Dragic was next in line after Drummond, according to NBA.com.
How did Dragic end up with more votes than Middleton or Kemba Walker? The coaches voted after the announcement of the starting All-Stars Thursday Jan. 18 on TNT. The All-Star reserves were announced Tuesday Jan. 23, so the votes were cast that weekend, Jan. 19- 22. I seem to recall that Bucks GM Jon Horst sacked coach Jason Kidd on Jan. 22, and that Middleton was not playing particularly well at the time — but this is about Dragic and the Heat.
The Heat were 27-20 on Jan. 18, and winners of 8 of their last 9 games, including two wins against the Bucks in four days. Dragic had dropped 25 on the Bucks in a blowout in Miami and 16 in a down-to-the wire 106-101 win in Milwaukee. The Heat were alone in 4th place in the East.
The Bucks were in a different place altogether, and had lost four of their last six games, including the two they lost to the Heat, and had fallen to 7th in the East with a 24-22 record. Over those 6 games, Middleton scored 18.2 pts per game but shot just 42.6% and 7 for 31 on threes (22.6%). Not to pick on Khris — Eric Bledsoe was mired in a shooting slump and the entire team looked gassed vs. Miami Jan. 17, their 13th game in 23 days — but the two losses in four days to the Heat became kind of memorable when Kidd was fired just a few days later.
It’s a strange disconnect. Middleton may have had “All-Star-like” numbers but they were slipping. The Bucks weren’t winning when the coaches were casting their ballots and Giannis Antetokounmpo had won a starter’s spot, so the idea of a 2nd Bucks All-Star was pretty far-fetched, no matter how much anybody loves the team. If a Bucks player got any reserve All-Star votes from the coaches, chances are it was Bledsoe, who had higher impact numbers (6.74 BIER) than Middleton (5.37 BIER) at the half-way point, before wearing down mid-January.
Middleton’s numbers are looking better now (20.1 pts, 5.3 rebs, 4.2 assists, 5.78 BIER) than they did then; he won Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jan. 22-28, and the Bucks have won 7 of 8.
In those 8 games (Jan. 22-Feb. 6) since Kidd was fired, Middleton has played like an All-Star, scoring 20.1 pts per game and shooting 42% from three and 50.4% overall, a BIER of 8.57, more than double the average for a small forward. But those games were played AFTER the All-Star ballots were cast.
(The non-reality of the Velazquez’s story yesterday deserves a note, here — none of it was real.)
“It wasn’t lies, it was just bullshit.” — Elwood Blues, circa 1979.
Put the shooting slump and the good shooting together and you’ve got Khris Middleton’s season – prolonged lows mixed with All-Star highs, a borderline All-Star with no cool shoe commercial running 24 hours on ESPN (yeah, that’s a crack at Paul George).
Below are the 2017-18 per game stats of Middleton and Kemba Walker, plus Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin and Otto Porter. Simmons’ name was mentioned as a possible choice to replace Porzingis. Griffin’s a bonafide All-Star suddenly playing in the East after being traded to Detroit. Wizards forward Porter plays the same wing-small forward position as Middleton. And there’s Dragic, picked ahead of the other five for this year’s All-Star game.
It’s a tough call, sort of. At first glance, I wouldn’t cast an All-Star vote for any of them. Blake Griffin’s not having a good shooting year and has missed some games due to injury, but his numbers still say “All-Star” (he wasn’t eligible as an East reserve, anyway). Simmons’ numbers look great – 7.8 rebs, 7 assists, 53% shooting – from a rookie! But he is a rookie, and at last check his team was 2-8 without center Joel Embiid, an All-Star starter. Maybe next year for Simmons, if the Sixers continue to improve.
Otto Porter’s efficiency numbers are fantastic, and he’s a tough defender — he battled Middleton to a 5-13 shooting night, 0 for 4 on threes, in Milwaukee earlier this year. The Wizards have been winning without John Wall, and Porter has a lot to do with that — but he just doesn’t score enough at 14.0 pts per game.
Middleton does have a point — Dragic’s numbers aren’t that hot, and his BIER* checks in at 4.42, just 0.36 above the average for an NBA point guard. Miami’s All-Star is Hassan Whiteside, the center, but Whiteside hasn’t played enough this year to merit All-Star consideration. So it fell to Dragic, proof that coaches value winning more than numbers when choosing All-Stars. Whiteside, Dragic and the Heat are 6-0 against Walker’s Hornets and Middleton’s Bucks. Enuff said.
Middleton’s numbers are nearly good enough, and the BIER works out to 5.84, his best season. His 3-point % is down — 34.8% is below the league average. There are 25 teams that have shot the three better than Khris this year, and his teammates are one of them. On the other hand, he’s 2nd to only Steph Curry in mid-range shootings this season at 52.3%. The bag tends to be mixed with Middleton. One of the issues during his slump was that Jason Kidd was guilty of overplaying him, insisting on big minutes on nights when Middleton didn’t have it.
The Bucks face the Heat for the last time this season tonight in Miami. Winning a game against the Heat this season might help Middleton’s argument, though the point itself is moot. The Heat have lost five in a row, and Kelly Olynyk‘s not expected to play (out with a shoulder strain). The Bucks have a chance to steal one on the road. (Ed. note – it didn’t happen, as the Bucks played a miserable 3rd quarter, scoring only 8 points, and their 4th quarter comeback fell short 91-85.)
Kemba Walker actually has a better Impact and Efficiency rating (7.26) than John Wall (6.20) this season — it was a down year for Wall even before he hurt his knee, which made his All-Star selection a bit of a surprise. Walker could be more efficient as a shooter, and his good and bad shooting tends to come in streaks. Charlotte’s troubles as a team shooting the ball (they’re 29th in the league) and the difficulties they’ve had winning close games made Wall an easier choice by default (and Drummond and Dragic, too, based on the results).
The Miami-Dragic effect on Kemba Walker’s season was far more dire than an All-Star snub. The Hornets lost all four of their games with the Heat this season, all the difference between being in the playoff hunt or out of it at 23-31. The season in shambles, the Hornets front office was scouting trade offers for Walker up until the deadline yesterday at 3 p.m., hoping the lure of Walker would get other teams to take some of their bad contracts with him. Within hours, Walker went from the trading block to being named the All-Star replacement for Porzingis. Then the Hornets went out and lost an overtime game in Portland.
It’s been that kind of season for Charlotte — a dozen losses by 5 points or less or in OT, three of them to the Heat (the 4th loss was by six). None were more poignant than the 106-105 loss on Jan. 20, the weekend the East coaches were clutching their All-Star reserve ballots. Dragic didn’t play due to a bruised knee. The Hornets had control of the game, a ten point lead at the end of the 3rd quarter. Walker was playing like an All-Star — 20 pts and 6 assists through three quarters. But two costly turnovers by Charlotte’s Nic Batum and a controversial call by the refs handed the game to the Heat.
In the 4th and final Heat-Hornets game, Jan. 27, Charlotte blew a 15 point lead and shot a horrendous 4 for 20 in the 4th Quarter. Walker was again playing All-Star basketball through three quarters (26 pts) but went cold in the 4th, shot 1 for 8 from the floor and 1 for 5 from three. Dragic played, and had all of five points, missing 6 of the 8 shots he took. It’s been that kind of year in Charlotte.
*Basketball Impact & Efficiency Rating (BIER) numbers (current)
- Greg Drummond – 17.36 – leads the league.
- Giannis Antetokounmp – 16.34 – 3rd in NBA. Anthony Davis is 2nd at 16.82
- Ben Simmons – 8.98
- Blake Griffin – 8.40
- Kemba Walker – 7.26
- Paul George – 6.86
- John Wall – 6.20
- Khris Middleton – 5.84
- Kristaps Porzingis – 5.69
- Eric Bledsoe – 5.61
- Goran Dragic – 4.42