If you’re not completely and hopelessly immersed in the minutiae of graduate-level NBA Discourse, then you’ve probably not borne witness to The Khris Middleton Debate.
In this scenario, chances are you think of Middleton as an excellent basketball player on a series of excellent Milwaukee Bucks teams built on a generational foundation.
If this is you, kudos on you gift for prioritization.
For some time, energy was expended on debating whether Middleton is “a true #1 option”, a 1a, a top-tier #2, an elite role player. These arguments hinged on built-in assumptions that Middleton is either: A) a good-to-very-good player who’s paid like a frontline superstar, or B) the ideal secondary superstar, with a refined and diverse skill set comprised of all the elements of winning basketball, but no designs on center stage.
It took some time, but option “B” seem to have definitely emerged as the “correct answer”. Given the time and effort that Middleton has dedicated to changing perceptions over the past dozen years, it was a fitting road to hoe.
The Middleton Muniment
The epitome of a late bloomer, Middleton came out of high school, at the Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, as just a three-star recruit. He was thus off of recruiting radar of college basketballs’ elite, attracting interest from Virginia Tech, South Carolina, a then-struggling Michigan (at the time), Saint Joseph’s and, his eventual choice, Texas A&M.
In three seasons at College Station, he averaged 11.3 points (on 43% shooting), 4.6 rebounds and two assists per game. His best season at A&M was his sophomore campaign, 2010-11, when he averaged 14.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists, and was named Second-Team All-Big 12.
Not bad at all. Also definitely not an indication of future NBA stardom.
Not much had changed by Draft Day. The 2012 NBA draft was headlined by #1 overall pick and all-around unicorn Anthony Davis, along with a pair of backcourt studs in Bradley Beal (third overall) and Damian Lillard (sixth). Middleton wasn’t selected until almost halfway through the second round (39th overall), by the Detroit Pistons. It’s worth noting that the second round of the 2012 draft is one of the best in recent history, as Draymond Green was selected four picks ahead of Middleton, with mainstay contributors like Jae Crowder and Will Barton also emerging.
Middleton’s rookie season was hardly ceremonious, as he averaged about six points and two rebounds in just under eighteen minutes per game, in just 27 games. Included here was a one-week demotion in December 2012, to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the G League. Following the 2012-13 season, he was traded to the Bucks, along with Brandon Knight and Viacheslav Kravtsov, in exchange for Brandon Jennings.
Finally afforded an opportunity to play consistently, Middleton made the most of it. Though even his star turn took some time. Middleton’s first two seasons in Milwaukee – the first of which coincided with the drafting of a certain skinny Greek kid – he averaged an efficient 12.7 points and 4.1 rebounds. For his trouble, in July 2015, he was rewarded a five-year, $70 million contract – and a steady stream of questions about whether he was worthy of such a payday.
The first year of that deal, 2015-16 – also the season in which Giannis Antetokounmpo took the first of several developmental leaps – was Middleton’s first breakout. He started 79 games, posting an ultra-efficient 18, with about four rebounds and assists each. Naturally, that road had its bumps as well, and Middleton lost the majority of the next season.
It’s been, relatively speaking, smoother sailing in the four seasons since. Middleton has averaged nearly 20 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists across those regular seasons – which he’s raised to 21.1, 6.9 and 4.8 in the postseason. Along the way, he’s earned a pair of All-Star selections and, in the summer of 2019, a 5 year, $177.5 million contract.
Most importantly, thanks his combination of versatility, selfless play and (this MOST importantly) efficient shooting (just about 40% on 3’s and high 80%’s from the free throw line) Middleton has proven the ideal running for Giannis. Together the pair has led the Bucks to a 60-win pace in two of the last three regular seasons, and a pair of conference finals appearances.
This time the season didn’t end there. As much as anyone (even the big guy), Khris Middleton is the reason why.
In the second round against the Brooklyn Nets, with the Bucks down 2-0, Middleton powered a Game 3 win with 35 points and 15 rebounds. Then, with the Bucks facing elimination in Game 6, he managed 38, with ten rebounds, five assists and five steals to help force a Game 7, in which, despite struggling from the field (9-26), he chipped in ten rebounds, six assists and five more steals in a four-point win.
In the conference finals against the Hawks, Middleton put up a massive 38, 11 and 7 in Game 3 to help the Bucks edge ahead early in the series. Later, with Giannis inactive after suffering a knee injury in Game 4, Middleton averaged 29, with 8.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.5 in Games 6 and 7 to lead the Bucks to their first NBA Finals in almost half a century.
Make no mistake, Kris Middleton IS worth it.
Unsurprisingly, though, Middleton’s journey in cardboard has been something of a slow burn as well. On the plus side, the Bucks’ success, combined with his own superstar performance in the proximity of a megastar have brought some well-deserved attention to Middleton’s rookie cards. Mind you, only some.
Modest Middleton Rookie Cards
At the lower end, there are the 2012 Panini, Past & Present, Prestige, Elite and Totally Certified base cards. There are, of course, also a litany of parallels of these, with print runs as low as 25 and even 10. The most affordable of these, Panini (#276), can be had, raw and in good condition, for just a few dollars, with higher-grade versions commanding anywhere from $40 (PSA 9) to the low triple figures for a PSA 10.
And then, of course, there is the base Prizm rookie. While really not much to look at, this holds a significant place in Middleton’s rookie catalogue. At the time of writing, just 509 base Prizm Middleton RCs have been slabbed by PSA – all but 19 have been deemed worthy of a 9 (pop: 261) or a 10 (229). If you can find one of the 15 PSA 8s, it can be had for around $60 (slightly more than a raw version), while the higher grades fetch between $100 (for a 9) and $500-$600 (for a 10).
Middle to High End Middleton Cards
Ridiculously, raw versions of Middleton’s Panini Contenders auto rookie card – which is not numbered (the Gold version is #/10), but features a crisp, clean photo and usually a clean auto – are readily available for under $50, with even PSA 9s (9 of 17 graded by PSA; seven of the remaining eight as PSA 10s) struggling to crack triple digits.
Despite his modest prospect pedigree and draft status, Middleton’s got a rather extensive selection of rather attractive 2012 auto and jersey/auto card higher up the food chain. In fact, counting parallels and variations, there are simply too many to itemize here. The arguable picks of the litter are the Immaculate Collection Auto Patch, the more common (#/99) of which commands $300-$400, with the rarer (#/75, or #/25) “jumbo” versions climbing into the four figures.
Finally, for those looking to add a premium quality BUCKS Khris Middleton card to the collection, the 2017-18 National Treasures Colossal Auto Patch offers a great combination of vivid photo, clean, unobstructed auto and a giant patch, which has the potential to be breathtaking.
You can check out the current most watched Khris Middleton eBay auctions via the live list below and see all of his cards here.
About Emile Avanessian
Emile Avanessian is a strategic consultant, freelance writer and hobby lifer, originally from the United States, now living in Barcelona. His work, focused largely on the NBA and Spanish soccer, has appeared, among other places, in the Los Angeles Times, ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Tifo Football, The Blizzard, Barça Blaugranes and Forum Blue and Gold, as well as on his own site, Hardwood Hype (https://hardwoodhype.com/the-work). You can find Emile talking sports and collecting on Twitter (@hardwoodhype; https://twitter.com/hardwoodhype) and Instagram (@the_hardwood_hype; https://www.instagram.com/the_hardwood_hype/).