As many of us continue to digest last Sunday’s thrilling, legacy-writing game seven, it’s somehow already time to turn our attention to the 2016 NBA draft. And then we get to start talking about free agency! Welcome to the year-round NBA.
I’d also like to welcome you back to Building A Contender. In last year’s edition, I took an in-depth look at Milwaukee GM John Hammond’s draft history (and a few awful picks made by his predecessor, Larry Harris), identified some team needs, and then used that database to evaluate a slew of potential draft picks for the Bucks. This year’s edition will be slightly shorter and sweeter (re: not 4500 words), but please click here if you’d like a refresher on some of Milwaukee’s recent draft patterns. I’m biased, but I think it’s a recommended read and, even though I was wrong with my predicted pick last year (just about everyone was), I identified clear themes of Hammond’s drafting that continued with Rashad Vaughn.
I’d also like to welcome myself back to writing sports articles, something I haven’t done in over 6 weeks due to graduating college and starting full time work and whatnot. It’s good to be back, thanks for having me. Time to basketball.
Click here for a refresher on team needs and Milwaukee’s current impending free agents.
If you’re stubborn and don’t want to click there, the team’s free agent situation is somewhat straightforward. Miles Plumlee is a restricted free agent, which means Milwaukee has the opportunity to match any offer made to him by another team. He’s likely to stay, especially given the way he played over the second half of the season. Guards O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, Greivis Vasquez and forward Steve Novak are all set to be unrestricted free agents. Novak is 33 and his only skill is shooting the ball. Although that’s a skill Milwaukee desperately needs, his defense and lack of ability to affect the game in other ways makes him borderline unplayable. I expect him to walk.
At the most, I expect Milwaukee to re-sign only two of Mayo, Bayless and Vasquez. Mayo, only 28, had a down year last year, but he’s a good shooter and a decent secondary playmaker off the bench. He’s also good pals with Giannis and Jabari, so it would make sense for him to resign if he takes a pay cut. Bayless, 27, has the most to offer as a 6th man combo-guard. He’s actually coming off one of the best seasons of his career in which he scored 10 points a game and shot a blistering 43.7% from three. He’s the most engaged defender of the bunch, easily the most athletic, the youngest and doesn’t have Mayo’s injury history. I definitely expect him to be back. Vasquez, 29, never made sense in the first place and lost nearly all of last season while recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur in his foot. He’s the worst shooter and defender of the three and yet makes the most money. The Bucks gave up a lot for him, but Vasquez will likely be gone.
Milwaukee has the 10th pick in Thursday’s draft. This year’s class is by no means loaded, but it’s relatively deep and there’s value to be found at all five positions. A draft class that is top heavy with talent but substantial in breadth puts Milwaukee in a unique position at #10. Similar to last year, there are many directions they can go in with this pick, except that it’s seven slots higher this year.
This year’s selection is more important, however, and it can’t be similar to last year’s ambiguous, meh-inducing Rashad Vaughn pick. Going forward, it is of paramount importance that Milwaukee establishes its own basketball identity. This past year, the Bucks brought in Greg Monroe and traded away shooting veterans like Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley, seemingly aiming to beat teams in the post by getting easy looks around the rim. The result was a very young Bucks team slogging through an identity-less season, with good patches of basketball buried under poor shooting, awful rim protection, below average rebounding and myriad turnovers. According to ESPN’s John Hollinger’s team statistics, Milwaukee was bottom seven in offensive efficiency, only a tick better in defensive efficiency, bottom six in turnovers and second to last in defensive rebounding.
It’s possible that with Milwaukee’s current core of Giannis, Middleton and Jabari that being a jump shooting team won’t be this team’s identity. But it’s also possible that Giannis and Jabari both improve to the point where they have, at the very least, league-average jump shots, which changes the math significantly. If that’s the case, it would make sense for Milwaukee to target the ever elusive big man who can protect the rim and stretch the floor, similar to Serge Ibaka, LaMarcus Aldridge or even Marc Gasol. They just need someone who leaves the paint open for Giannis and Jabari to punish weaker defenders, and if defenses collapse, it leaves one more deadly shooter as a kick out option.
Disappointingly, Milwaukee was also in the bottom nine in pace. I believe that the key to Milwaukee forging its own identity is through turning this metric on its head. There is no excuse for a team having Giannis, Jabari and Middleton being in the bottom half of the league in pace, let alone the bottom ten. Those guys can flat out run and are a nightmare to guard in the open floor. Giannis shot 67.9% from the field in transition last year, good for second in the NBA. The only guy ahead of him? LeBron James. The Bucks could wreak havoc in the East with a run-and-gun lineup that switches defensively, forces turnovers, runs the break, shares the ball (6th in assists last year even with poor 3-point shooting) and becomes just a middle of the pack shooting team. There’s a definite path there, and that can certainly be a recipe for success with the right pieces.
This Milwaukee team needs to get back on track this year, and a lot of that will come from establishing an identity as a team. It’s hard to remember that the core of this team is absurdly young, but it’s still important to begin to forge an identity that these players can build upon. That’s why the #10 pick could seriously impact this team’s future prospects.
Similar to last year, mock drafts are all over the board in predicting who Milwaukee will pick. Sam Vecenie (CBS) has them taking Deyonta Davis, nbadraft.net thinks it’ll be Marquese Chriss, The Vertical and draftexpress.com chose Henry Ellenson, nba.com is guessing Skal Labissiere, hoopshype.com (USA Today Sports) decided Milwaukee will take Jaylen Brown and bleacherreport.com settled on Jakob Poeltl. Across our own Sconnie Sports Talk mock draft, which will also be published today or tomorrow, our writers were undecided between Davis, Labissiere, Poeltl and Timothe Luwawu. For what it’s worth, Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Milwaukee additionally brought in Diamond Stone, Brice Johnson, Malachi Richardson and Thon Maker for workouts, though most of that final group isn’t projected to go in the top-2o outside of Richardson.
Basically, nobody has a freaking clue who the Bucks are going to pick, which is why this is hopefully a fun and educational exercise. Let’s take a look at each of the individual prospects.
Potential First Round Picks (SST’s 6 Mock Drafts Average Draft Position, or ADP, in parentheses)
Deyonta Davis – Michigan State – Forward/Center – 19 – 6’11” – 237 lbs (ADP = 13)
Many didn’t anticipate Davis’ rise to the lottery, seeing as he’s still a pretty young and raw talent who lacked lottery-level production as a freshman. But he was also playing on a very deep and talented Michigan State team and had to take his minutes behind a senior center who knew the system much better. Davis’ appeal comes in his physical tools, which have already lent themselves to natural defensive ability. He has a 7’2″ wingspan, and though he needs to bulk up, he has a good frame that he’ll likely grow into. His long arms and quickness made him an elite shot blocker and offensive rebounder as a freshman, and as he learns the game more he should be able to switch onto quicker wings to defend the pick and roll, a must in today’s NBA. He still has a very raw and limited offensive game, and it’s likely that Davis will never be a go-to scorer. But that doesn’t mean he can’t bring value to an offense. He’s very athletic above the rim, can run the floor, and his great hands, soft touch and athleticism are perfect to be the screen setter in the pick and roll.
A quick shot blocker who can rebound and finish around the rim sounds similar to guys like Serge Ibaka, who came into the NBA pretty raw but after growing became one of the most dominant forward/centers in the league. Though Davis will have a lot to work on, this could be the exact type of player Milwaukee wants.
Marquese Chriss – Washington – Power Forward – 18 – 6’9″ – 233 lbs (ADP = 6)
With an ADP of six, many would consider Chriss a steal if he falls to Milwaukee at #10. Chriss has shot up draft boards since bursting onto the scene as a freshman, largely due to his combination of elite above the rim athleticism and three point shooting. This is obviously a rare and desirable combination, especially in today’s pace-and-space league, but there are still many problems with Chriss’ game. He’s a bit undersized to be a natural 4, and he doesn’t absorb contact well and struggles to finish with his left hand. There are still many things to like: he can attack off the dribble, has good footwork in the post and has the quickness to be a pretty solid defender. But from what I’ve seen he doesn’t box out. This is coachable but still a big red flag for a power forward.
His skill and potential is tantalizing, but I think he’s a bigger project than people realize. Honestly, his fit in Milwaukee seems awkward. There are obviously aspects of their game that differ, but a lot of his skill set overlaps with Jabari’s too much. The Bucks simply don’t have room for another undersized power forward who isn’t a great rebounder. He probably gets scooped up ahead of Milwaukee anyway.
Henry Ellenson – Marquette – Power Forward – 19 – 6’10” – 242 lbs (ADP = 14)
At 6’10”, 242 lbs. and with a 7’2″ wingspan, Ellenson is perfectly sized to be an NBA power forward and big around down low. The Rice Lake, WI native can shoot the three pretty well for a big man, and his ball handling and understanding of the game are advanced for a guy of his size. Being that big and being able to shoot is a hot commodity in today’s pace-and-space zeitgeist, especially if he can play a stretch-5 in smaller lineups. While he is a tenacious rebounder and only getting better, he doesn’t offer much rim protection and will struggle switching onto quicker players. Still, his offense game is far more polished than his age would indicate, and his frame, IQ, youth and instincts mean his potential could far exceed his current ADP. This may sound outrageous, but considering his unique combination of outside shooting, ball handling and finishing ability, his offensive ceiling is some scary combination of Blake Griffin (minus the ABSURD HIGH FLYING POSTER JAMS) and Kevin Love. This is bold and optimistic, and it also comes with the caveat that his defense would also very likely by in the same vein as Love’s.
While all of that is nice, I’m not sure how well he would fit alongside Jabari in the frontcourt. Though his spacing would be welcomed, he’s too much of a defensive liability to pair with Parker around the rim. This may not deter the Bucks, but it should be enough to make them look in another direction.
Skal Labissiere – Kentucky – Forward/Center – 20 – 6’11” – 216 lbs (ADP = 11)
Labiessiere is one of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s class. Initially hailed as one of the top prospects heading into this year, he hardly made an impact at Kentucky and was on a very short leash with Calipari largely due to his somewhat impatient nature on the court. Importantly though, Labissiere is only 20 and hasn’t played competitive basketball for more than a handful of years; his appeal is in his potential. With a 7’2″ wingspan, and nimble, advanced footwork, Skal possesses unique athletic ability for someone his size. He still must fill out considerably, especially to play center, but that’s often one of the easiest things to fix with a player. His skill set is truly as rare as they come: he’s quick, athletic and big enough to be the perfect big guy rolling to the hoop after a screen, but he also has a silky jumper which means he can be just as deadly if he pops back to the three point line. That is the ultimate combination, and I still haven’t mentioned his elite shot blocking and switching abilities on defense.
He is essentially the perfect big man for today’s NBA, with one huge asterisk: he’s arguably the rawest prospect in the entire draft. The potential is there, and more experience can only help, but he often looked overwhelmed by the speed of college basketball and isn’t a very good decision maker. He’ll need to get bigger, foul less, pass better, and much better at rebounding and banging down low. Still, if potential and length are what you’re drafting for, which is often the case with John Hammond, this pick makes a lot of sense.
Jakob Poeltl – Utah – Center – 20 – 7’1″ – 239 lbs (ADP = 10)
A rare “true center” and the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, many, including Sports Illustrated‘s Andrew Sharp see Poeltl going to the Bucks. Poeltl reminds me a bit of Andrew Bogut, another foreign-born (Austria this time) Utah big man the Bucks selected in the lottery. The difference here is that, while Bogut’s game was never intended to be the #1 guy on a team, Poeltl has a more well-rounded offensive game and wouldn’t be asked to be that guy. At 7’1″ and with a 7’3″ wingspan, Poeltl is the perfect size to protect the rim, although he’ll have to add bulk to his 239 lbs, which is doable. He’s quick and athletic for his size, possesses good footwork that helps him score efficiently in the post and would be a good pick and roll finisher. I love the fact that he’s a willing passer out of double teams, as this is a skill that often takes big men a while to develop. The weaknesses to his game don’t really scare me: solid but not great rebounder, average rim protector, not strong enough yet, and will probably never average 20 per game.
He’ll improve at rebounding and rim protecting, and his quickness and ability to switch onto faster players will make up for that initially. Milwaukee certainly isn’t drafting a player like this to try and score 20 a game – that’s one of the problems with Monroe. As he learns to use his size better on defense, a 13 and 10 player who passes the ball could be the perfect role-playing center for the Bucks. One last thing: he improved significantly from his freshman to sophomore year, and improved his free throw shooting by 26% in that span. If he could develop a 12-foot jump shot, he’d be my number one choice for the Bucks.
Jaylen Brown – California – Forward – 19 – 6’7″ – 223 lbs (ADP = 7)
Jaylen Brown is also a somewhat raw 19-year old who is brimming with potential. His height, frame and 7’0″ wingspan are absolutely perfect to be a small forward – and possibly even a super small ball four – at the NBA level. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year is already a superior athlete who can soar above the rim, and he’ll feast in transition, but he often struggles to create offense for himself in one-on-one situations. He was a productive shooter around the court in high school and AAU games, but he struggled with his jump shot mechanics and his numbers dipped as a result. Brown would have had a much better freshman year if surrounded by better shooters, and it’s reasonable to think a lot of the raw edges could be rubbed out of his game by good coaching and better teammates.
It’s murky where he would fit in Milwaukee’s lineup, although he’s certainly not ready to start at the next level anyway. But fit matters long term, and though he may not even be available for the Bucks to draft, a selection like Brown would say quite a bit about the team’s identity. He would fit perfeclty in the run-and-gun team I described above, but whether the rest of his game works is a lot cloudier.
Timothe Luwawu – France – Guard/Forward – 21 – 6’7″ – 205 lbs (ADP = 18)
It’s always tougher to evaluate opponents playing in foreign countries than those playing college in the States, but that makes Luwawu an even more intriguing prospect. The Frenchmen is all over the board on mock drafts, ranging from the Bucks at 10 all the way down to the 30th pick in the SST mock, partially due to less available film tape. Still, Luwawu has shot up draft charts due to his elite athleticism, long frame (6’11” wingspan) and physical tools, not unlike another foreign prospect the Bucks took a few drafts ago. Similar to Giannis, Luwawu is athletic enough to handle the point and guard across multiple positions, but he also shot a solid 36% from three this year at a very high volume. Teams also like the fact that he played a sizable role in a competitive European league this past year, so he’s still had a little professional experience. Luwawu is a very intriguing prospect who would fit in very well with Milwaukee’s athletic, long-limbed core, but he may be a reach at 10 and there’s always an added risk taking a player from overseas.
Dejounte Murray – Washington – Point Guard/Shooting Guard – 19 – 6’5″ – 170 lbs (ADP = 17)
Murray surprised some by electing to go straight to the draft after his freshman year, which was individually productive even though Washington struggled to a 19-15 record due to its young roster. Murray contributes in lots of ways, evidenced by his averages of 16 ponts, 6 rebounds (1.4 offensive), 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. At 6’5″ and with a 6’11” wingspan, Murray is the perfect size to play either guard position and his length is no doubt appealing to Milwaukee. He plays at a high pace, has good instincts and can push the ball in transition. But he’s a very poor shooter from outside (20% from three) and looks to score first and create for his teammates second. He doesn’t try enough on defense and lacks poor fundamentals on that end, though he is just 19.
Admittedly, I’m not as high on Murray as some. He needs to add a lot of strength and probably should have stayed for another year. But what really scares me is the way his game sounds similar to Michael Carter-Williams. The Bucks simply don’t need another athletic guard who can’t shoot. I think he’ll develop a more complete offensive game than MCW but won’t be as explosive around the rim or as good at defense, and they’ll probably be similar when it comes to passing and turning the ball over. For those reasons, I have to pass, though his upside and length will make Milwaukee take a long hard look. I just think this is too early for him.
Honorable mentions: Wade Baldwin, Demetrius Jackson, Malachi Richardson, Domantas Sabonis, Denzel Valentine
In an ideal world, or at least my ideal world, Milwaukee trades Greg Monroe and the tenth pick up to New Orleans for the sixth pick and some future second rounders, then uses that pick to draft Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield. But it’s not a perfect world and at this point it’s hard to tell how many teams are interested in Monroe’s services. The Bucks could also trade down to the Nuggets, who own the 15th and 19th picks, and then they can draft two players and address an extra position of need. I’m surmising, but you can never rule out a trade, especially when there’s no clear-cut best selection for a team.
This is tough, and I’m glad my job doesn’t depend on making this pick. There are pros and cons to every player, and there isn’t one perfect fit, which is why you can never rule out a trade. Hammond has traditionally drafted for youth, length and potential. If that trend continues, I think he’ll take either Davis or Labissiere. Labissiere scares me the most and also intrigues me the most due to his insane athleticism, ability to shoot the three and the overall smooth fluidity he’s shown in flashes. He’s easily the most unique prospect, and his length, shot-blocking and floor-stretching skills would be welcome sights in Milwaukee. But even though he has my vote, he’s also the riskiest pick of the bunch. Ellenson and Chriss might be safer, but they make for awkward fits in Milwaukee’s front court. Brown probably won’t be available, Murray feels too similar to MCW, and Luwawu is the biggest mystery of the group. Labissiere would be as fun as he is risky, so I could see Hammond and Kidd going with Davis or Poeltl if they want earlier contributions from safer players. Or, knowing the NBA, none of this will happen and I’ll look like a fool. Either way, there’s going to be a new face in Milwaukee. Let’s find out who.