Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Joe Kaiser and Kyle Soppe, plus ESPN NBA Insider Kevin Pelton.
In Wednesday's season debut, Khris Middleton had 5 points, 2 dimes, 2 boards and 1 block in 15 minutes, as he returned from a lengthy rehab from hamstring surgery. Middleton finished last season ranked 22nd on the Player Rater, so he should be owned in all season-long formats, but at what point will you be willing to insert him into season-long and DFS starting lineups? Do you think he will eventually match last season's level of production?
Renee Miller: Middleton's return to the court Wednesday night was overshadowed by Jabari Parker spraining his right knee, which is something that will factor into my answer to this question. The Bucks are a losing team that ranks 20th in the league in pace but has been able to stay in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency. One gets the feeling that this young team, starring the dynamic Giannis Antetokounmpo, was just one piece away from being good.
Although just a fourth-year player himself, there was good reason to believe that Middleton was that piece. Averaging more than 13 points, around four rebounds, three assists, about 1.3 steals and more than 30 minutes per game during his first three years in the league -- numbers that steadily improved each year -- Middleton showed much higher upside than that last season. Loved by DFS players for that combination of floor/ceiling, Middleton filled an important void in roster construction at the oft-scarce SG position.
On the one hand, Parker's knee injury could force Middleton into a bigger role sooner than the Bucks would prefer, as the team indicated Antetokounmpo could shift to the four more often, leaving a gap on the wing. On the other, the injury disrupts the Bucks' rotation and chemistry, such as it is, which can have the effect of making everyone a bit less effective in shifting roles -- a tough situation to acclimate to for Middleton.
On the whole, I think the way to use Middleton in these first weeks is in a price- and matchup-dependent manner. Positional scarcity can inform your decision in both DFS and season-long, as can looking out for opponents who are particularly soft from the perimeter, since Middleton averaged nearly five 3-point attempts last year and they are one way he can have a big impact in limited minutes. I think in time, he can not only match last year's production, but continue to improve.
Kyle Soppe: Short answer: No, he's not getting back to that level this season. It took him the better part of six weeks to get rolling last season, and his usage probably won't match last season's with Antetokounmpo and Parker taking that next step and Malcolm Brogdon making the most of his near 25.6 minutes per night.
He was able to rank as a top-25 player last season, thanks to playing the sixth-most minutes in the NBA and with the Bucks only two games out of the eighth spot in the East, I don't see them altering their rotation in a big way. The Bucks play five back-to-backs in March, so if Middleton is anything less than 100 percent, I'm not counting on significant numbers from him for the fantasy postseason.
Joe Kaiser: I think it's too much to expect Middleton to approach last year's stats, because he'd have to be completely atop his game to get to those numbers: 18.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.8 3PG. That doesn't mean Middleton can't be useful, though.
Once he ramps up his minutes and gets his game legs back, which could take three to four weeks, he has a chance to still be a 12-15 PPG scorer and someone who can distribute, steal and hit the 3-ball. Considering how poorly a number of other high-profile wings have played over long stretches this season -- like Kent Bazemore, Victor Oladipo and Trevor Ariza -- Middleton has a chance to be a more efficient, better option than all of them once he rounds into form.