Khris Middleton’s climb through the NBA ranks has been a steady one. It started in the second round, moved on to starter minutes and hit a high mark this past season, when the sixth-year player averaged 20.1 points and 5.2 rebounds. And though the Bucks fell in the first round of the playoffs, Middleton continued to perform at a high level, averaging 24.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in a seven-game series.
But while Middleton experienced the most success of his professional career in 2017-18, he’s still not satisfied. When Middleton hit the NBA Store in Midtown Manhattan for a Fanatics event, The Crossover sat down with him to discuss his latest trip to the playoffs, his new coach and his plans for the future.
DeAntae Prince: Last year, after dealing with the hamstring injury, you made it through the year and played all 82 games. Was that a point of pride for you?
Khris Middleton: That was my first goal I set for myself before the season started was to play all 82 games, knowing the type of injury I went through, the ups and downs. My plan was to put my body through the toughest summer it had ever been through and see what happened next. I came out swinging still so I’m happy about that.
DP:Was there one thing you did last year that you thought paid off this season?
KM: I changed my diet and I changed my workout regimen during the season. Those were too huge things that I felt day by day. Not waking up with as many aches, being able to last longer in games. Stuff like that. I’ve realized that my body is the most important thing I need to take care of in order to play at a high level so that really improved.
DP:Another improvement last year came when you made that jump to 20 points per game. It always seems like a lot of that groundwork is laid out in the summer. What are you doing this year to prepare yourself for next season?
KM: I haven’t necessarily thought about it numbers wise what I want to do. Right now I’m just getting my body back together to start training at a high level. It’s a process, a step by step process. Right now I’m focusing on my body, training the get all the way back healthy. It’s going to be the same thing. Put my body through a hell of a summer and try to have another career year.
DP: I saw that you had an interesting moment during the playoffs where someone called you Jabari at a press conference. With you being close to being close to being the face of a franchise, do you feel like one of the league’s most underrated guys?
KM: Probably so. I’ve been going through that my whole career, even back to high school. I was a three-star recruit, went to Texas A&M and no one really talked about me there. Second-round pick, get traded as a throw-in guy and then I become a starter after that. So that’s kind of been the story of my entire career. Do I feel underrated? Yes. Does that bother me? No, not really. Whatever happens or whatever they say, I’m going to try to be the best me at the end of the day.
DP:Do you feel like you have an understated game that sort of lends itself to those sort of run-ins?
KM: I just think it’s not as fashionable. I’m not the most athletic guy who is able to make these crazy layups or dunk all over people. I’m more of a shooter, floater, lane guy, not too much flash. But it gets the job done.
DP:You guys pushed the Celtics to seven games and they almost made it to the Finals. Was there any moment where you looked at that series and thought it could’ve been you? Was it hard to watch that?
KM: Definitely, both of those. Hard to watch and you think, ‘Damn, that could be us playing against LeBron or whoever in the Finals.’ But you can’t forget about Philly in the second round. Boston did a great job, Brad Stevens did a hell of a job with his team and those young guys played at an unbelievable level that nobody saw coming. So you’ve got to give them credit. We thought we could take them. We took them to seven, even though we thought we could’ve stole that last game. But they’re a great team.
DP:I know you guys will have Mike Budenholzer as the new coach coming into the season and you played for Jason Kidd for four seasons. What was the excitement level like when Kidd first got there and what sort of bond did you create while he was there?
KM: It’s crazy, man. When you hear that you’re going to be coached by one of the greatest players of all-time you’re going to be excited about it. When he was let go, I was hurt about it but it’s the business and I understand that. He was let go just like Larry Drew did the year before he came in. We just have to trust the owners, the front office, all the people who made that decision that they just want us to get to that next step. They want us to win a championship, and they felt like maybe a new voice or a new face could help us get there with Bud so hopefully it works out.