NBA Title Shines Light on Khris Middleton, Invisible Star: Data Viz

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Only 19 players in NBA history have averaged 20 points, five assists and five rebounds during an NBA championship run. Fourteen of them are in the Hall of Fame, and four are Hall of Fame locks: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokoumnpo.

The 19th is Khris Middleton.

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Indeed, while Antetokounmpo turned in a Finals MVP-winning performance for the ages, filled with iconic moments and games—The Block 2, The Alley-Oop, 50 for 50—Middleton was the unsung hero of the Milwaukee Bucks. Over the whole postseason, Middleton was Milwaukee’s leading scorer in “crunch time,” when the score differential was five points or fewer within the last five minutes of a game.

In the NBA Finals, there were only seven total minutes that met the “crunch time” criteria. Middleton scored 18 points in that time on 6-for-8 shooting. The remaining players on both teams scored just 14 points combined, going 5-for-19 from the field.

Over the past three seasons, Middleton has averaged 29.0 points, 5.6 assists and 7.8 rebounds on 54% eFG per 36 minutes that Antetokounmpo was on the bench. Those don’t just look like star numbers; they look like superstar numbers.

Despite having the league’s 16th highest salary, though, Middleton makes very little money off the court, relative to his peers. Of the 31 NBA players on Sportico’s Top 100 Highest-Paid Athletes in 2021 list, Middleton was the only one to make less than $1 million in endorsements, earning just $500,000.

The former second-round draft pick doesn’t have a major sneaker deal and has made just a few paid social media posts (including one featuring shampoo and body wash and another endorsing Nike) this past year. He is also an investor in Dapper Labs, the company behind NBA Top Shot.

Among the aforementioned group of players, there is a nearly linear relationship between endorsement earnings and social media followers, and the latter is an area in which Middleton lags. In fact, he ranks nowhere near the top 100 NBA players in total Instagram followers.

Middleton has the third-fewest followers on the platform of any active NBA player who has made an All-Star Game and averaged at least 20 minutes per game last season. Interestingly, his Milwaukee teammate Jrue Holiday has the fourth fewest of all such players.

Holiday is another underappreciated star. His two-handed pickpocket of Devin Booker in the final minute of Game 5 will be remembered as one of the great defensive plays in Finals history. Coming through on the sport’s biggest stage and winning a ring will help both Middleton and Holiday grow their personal brands.