Scotty Middleton Deserves Your Attention
Scotty Middleton has played the role of opener to his headliner teammates the last two seasons. And just as he did at Sunrise Christian, he looks poised to steal the show during his freshman campaign.
One of my favorite aspects of scouting is when I discover “the pop” for a player. You’ll often start off watching a game for a specific prospect, but as the game goes on, you start to notice that your attention has been diverted elsewhere.
Over the last two summers, there has been no high school prospect that has diverted my attention from one prospect to the next quite like Scotty Middleton.
Middleton has spent the last two seasons playing sidekick on the wing for Sunrise Christian; however, whenever I turn on their tape, I always leave feeling that Scotty Middleton was the main draw—a feeling akin to going to a concert for the headlining act but all you want to talk about on the ride home is how awesome the openers were.
Although Middleton has played in the best high school hoops league in the country alongside players like Gradey Dick and Matas Buzelis, he’s still flown under the radar. I’m not saying that Middleton is a complete unknown—he’s currently ranked 35th on the ESPN Top 100—Scotty is just…under the radar. Quickly peruse a few mainstream big boards or mocks, and you won’t find Middleton’s name anywhere. I’d bet money that changes in a big way.
On the surface, I can kinda sorta get why Middleton isn’t getting the kind of preseason hype that comes with touring the high school All-Star Circuit, but to not get any mainstream buzz at all is bewildering.
The sell is pretty straightforward—Middleton’s game isn’t predicated on flashy mixtape shit, he’s just a rock solid 6’7” wing that plays switchable defense and can play on or off the ball who also happened to shoot 42% from three on good volume over his last two high school seasons in the NIBC, per Synergy.
The stroke is pure. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and it goes in the round orange thing attached to the backboard quite often. Scotty has a real claim as the best shooter in the class, a skill that frankly is lacking at this juncture of the 2024 cycle. Go take a gander at a mock draft and peruse it for shooters. I’ll wait. Did you like what you saw? Besides being devoid of the obvious high-end All-NBA prospects the last few classes have had, it also has a dearth of rotational snipers.
I alluded earlier to Middleton playing alongside more highly touted prospects at Sunrise Christian. Although the eyeballs that come along with that may not have correlated to a rapid rise in his preseason draft stock, it did allow him to prove that he can thrive in a complementary role. So often when evaluating young prospects we have to ask ourselves: “what does player X do when he doesn’t have the ball?” or “what does player X look like when they aren’t the number one option?” A lot of prospects that are used to high usage roles where they operate with the ball in their hands will struggle when they jump levels and have to adjust their games. From jump street, Middleton will provide value to an offense as a deadly floor spacer, as he knocked down 44.8% of his catch-and-shoot threes overall during his senior year.
Middleton isn’t just a stand-in-the-corner shooter; he has some versatility in how he generates off-ball looks. Scotty can come off movement, or get loose in transition, and Sunrise Christian would deploy him in creative actions, often using him as a screener where he could pick and pop or ghost the screen and move into space.
The off-ball shooting rocks, but what makes Middleton super intriguing to me as a scorer is the developing pull-up game. Aesthetically, Middleton isn’t as smooth with the handle as polished NBA wings like Tatum or KD, but he’s tall and long, he has a high release point with soft touch, and he has a suddenness that helps create enough space to mostly get off clean looks against shot contests. According to Synergy, Middleton rated out as excellent on all dribble jumpers, knocking down 46.4% of his shots off the bounce.
Middleton’s off-the-bounce game from deep is complemented by his ability to get to his spots in the midrange—highlighted by his go-to turnaround middy. Scotty has slick footwork and coordination that combined with his height, touch, and ability to square up and get balanced allow him to knock down tough contested looks on the reg.
With Middleton, the question isn’t “what does he do when he doesn’t have the ball?” but instead, we consider the inverse of whether we should be buying into more of his flashes of self-creation.
While the flashes of on-ball creation have been enticing as Middleton has continued his development, he’s still growing as an off-the-bounce shot creator. Scotty’s handle can get a little loose when he tries to do too much. He doesn’t have the natural wiggle or elasticity that a Paul George or Shai-Gilgeous Alexander has, leading to some possessions where he can look a little stiff and unorthodox, failing to generate the space needed to get off a clean look.
Middleton is at his best when he’s using quick efficient movements to attack and get to his spots. Even with room for improvement regarding his on-ball creativity and ability to generate space, Scotty was still a very capable and efficient bucket-getter. Overall, Middleton was damn near automatic on mid-range attempts, knocking down 58.5% of looks considered from short to 17 feet per Synergy.
Capitalizing on those quick attacks off the catch has resulted in Middleton’s strong efficiency at the rim as well.
Scotty isn’t ground-bound, but he also isn’t a hyper athlete on the wing. Middleton can get up some in a transition or in a straight line in the halfcourt but he doesn’t have the explosiveness in tight spaces to rise up and catch a body. His ability to not only make quick decisive decisions when the ball swings to him, but also to have the recognition that he needs to generate opportunities by cutting and moving into space allows him to generate uncontested gimmies at the rim and boost his efficiency. Scotty is a trustworthy finisher at the rim already, finishing 66% of his field goals at the rim overall and 55% of his attempts in the halfcourt, and it will be interesting to see how his on-ball finishing continues to develop based on some of the flashes he’s shown. Those flashes weren’t often enough to proclaim them as a bankable skill at the next level but they were enticing enough to believe that he’s capable of developing them. His handle will need to get tighter, but some of the possessions where Middleton displayed some nifty change of speeds and directions, playing off hesitations and extension finishes show there may be a larger upside for him down the line.
For that to happen, Scotty will have to continue to work on getting stronger so that he can finish through contact and not get pushed away from his line of attack. Middleton isn’t someone who will necessarily shy away from contact but you can bump him off his spot when his momentum can’t overpower his opponent’s physicality.
Middleton has a complementary offensive scoring package with elements of go-to scoring but the reason that he projects as more of a secondary/tertiary guy at the moment is that his playmaking is way more connective than primary. He isn’t selfish or sloppy; he averaged more assists than turnovers. He isn’t a poor decision-maker, but he doesn’t process a pick and roll like Brandon Miller did last draft cycle and he doesn’t have the creativity and stability with his handle to get a guy on his hip and survey the court and patiently read the floor when he enters the second level or gets into the teeth of the defense. Every so often, Middleton will hit his roller, but he’s much more of a swing the ball to make the extra pass, attack a closeout and dump-off, or execute a set kind of passer. Those are skills, by the way, even if they don’t catapult your upside. Understanding your strengths to not play out of control while processing the floor quickly enough to get the ball to the open man are important traits in gaining the trust of the coaching staff and staying on the floor.
On the other side of the ball, Middleton has all of the tools you want out of a modern defender out on the wing. Middleton has legit NBA physical attributes that impart him the versatility to switch up and down, guarding multiple spots. His height and length allow him to check bigger wings and he has the lateral movement and physical tools to overwhelm smaller guards.
Middleton’s mobility, length, and instincts are on full display on this possession against potential lottery pick Ja’Kobe Walter. Middleton does a great job taking away space and getting into his body, forcing Walter to settle for an off-balance inefficient midrange shot. Due to Scotty’s length, Walter has to change his shot by pulling back and snake-biting his release.
Middleton can really smother his opponent and speed them up when he’s locked in. His length and active hands keep ballhandlers on their toes. If they get too loose and leave the ball out in front, Scotty will poke it away, and he consistently makes it hard to shoot over him with his anticipation and extension on shot contests.
Even when Middleton’s man gets a step on him and he gets beat off the bounce, Middleton has shown the willingness to fight to recover and get back into the play.
Middleton isn’t perfect. He can have some fidgety feet at times, and he can sometimes play a bit too flat and upright or he’ll make the classic young guy mistake and ball watch, losing sight of his man. But even when he gives up a bucket, the dude is always putting in the effort necessary to project as a two-way wing.
Good two-way wings are super valuable; there isn’t a team in the league that can’t use more of them. And every so often, the dudes that we evaluate and project as more of a 3-and-D wing, have a little more offensive juice than originally projected. Guys like Mikal Bridges or Trey Murphy come to mind. I think Scotty is one of those dudes.
It’s easy to get caught up in preseason rankings and go strictly to the clips of the guys that are projected super high on those lists, but that’s how you miss “the pop” and we end up under-ranking guys like Brice Sensabaugh or Taylor Hendricks. High school rankings only go so far, and it’s important to trust your gut and your eyes, especially at this point of the draft cycle. For my money? I’m willing to bet Middleton follows a similar path this cycle. He’s got the physical tools and the skills to contribute on any court he steps onto. And when it comes to the 2024 NBA Draft, not only do I think he has a chance to be a guy that ends up going in the first, but with a rare upcoming class that has so much uncertainty up top, Middleton belongs in more Top 10 conversations.