Milwaukee Bucks Weigh Their Draft Options
After passing on all three of the reported finalists to fill their general manager void, the Bucks ownership conglomerate presumably took out a staff directory of front office employees, threw a dart, and came up with then-director of basketball operations Jon Horst.
Horst, promoted to general manager on Friday at the spry age of 34, is assuredly a qualified and competent candidate properly suited for the job. But being hired to lead personnel decisions less than a week before the NBA draft is kind of like working on a group project in school, realizing the night before that nobody else has done their part yet, and then binge-working till 3 a.m. in order to cover-up for the slackers. Suffice to say, it’s unlikely Horst found time for any Father’s Day festivities.
Fortunately for Horst, with an up-and-coming squad who’s relative draft luck as of late has locked in a solid young core, the nascent GM has some wiggle room to gamble— and fail— with the 17th overall pick in the June 22 draft.
Said wiggle room can mostly be traced back to one individual: the 22 year-old, 6’11” five-tool superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. While most teams struggle draft night tripping over the constant tension of selecting for fit and need versus upside and potential, the omnipresence of The Greek Freak made such discussions a little pointless. With Antetokounmpo in the picture, fit and need isn't really an issue.
It doesn’t really matter that the Bucks still need a traditional point guard to drive the offense, because Giannis Antetekoumpo deserves a five star rating for picking up the offense-driving duties last year. He’s the most capable playmaking point-forward since LeBron James.
It doesn’t really matter that the Buck’s center position might just be a three-headed monster of bit players between Thon Maker, Greg Monroe and John Henson, because— as Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, and Lebron demonstrated all throughout this year’s Finals— in today’s NBA being an athletic freak is the only pre-requisite for the position. Giannis is the league’s preeminent athletic freak, and could easily play center in a pinch. In fact, a Malcolm Brogdon—Tony Snell—Kris Middleton— Jabari Parker—Giannis-at-center end-of-game lineup might be the best counter-punch to Golden State’s vaunted ‘Death Star’ unit in the league next year.
According to Politico, 1,409,467 Wisconsinites took to the polls last November to support a blustery personality who claimed himself the singular solution to all their problems. Ironically, it’s the poor immigrant picked off the streets of Athens who actually can remedy all their shortcomings— on the hardwood, anyways.
With Antetokounmpo and a surrounding roster of young co-stars and role players alike already locked in for a couple more years, Horst has plenty of options for his first big GM task.
Stay the Course
The Buck’s roster-building ethos since scoring on Giannis with the 15th pick in the 2013 draft has been to be the longest, lankiest team in the league. This has yielded both great success— tossing combinations of Giannis, Brogdon, Snell, Middleton, Parker and Maker onto the floor is the basketball equivalent of a blob of silly putty that can transmogrify into virtually any shape necessary— but also, due to a dogmatic devotion to The Book of Lank, great failure (cough, cough Michael Carter-Williams cough, cough).
It’s no secret that versatility is key in today’s NBA, and players who can shoot three’s and switch onto guarding multiple positions are now the hottest commodity. Were the Bucks to stay the course, there are plenty of viable 3-and-D options.
Louisville sophomore Donovan Mitchell possesses the size and skills to swing between both guard positions, and projects as one of the best athletes left on the board in the mid-first round. If he hits his ceiling, Mitchell could be a suped-up version of what Brogdon and Matthew Dellavadova offer. If he doesn’t, he’s still another bench piece who could battle on defense and knock down a jumper.
Meanwhile, Indiana sophomore OG Anunoby is a prototypical Buck: 6’8” ball of muscle with an absurd 7’2” wingspan. Anunoby could provide plenty of energy off the bench and defend across the board, but a terrible handle and lack of any real jumper could keep him tethered to the bench. Somehow, it always seems the best prospects lack any sort of, you know, traditional basketball skills.
Spice it Up
As previously stated, the Bucks have a real formula: smother opponents with length and switch heavy defense, then spot-up behind the arc as Giannis goes to work on offense. And the Bucks love to acquire pieces who fit that type. But last year, two players found success playing deliberately against that type. With Jason Terry and Michael Beasley, the Bucks had two unabashed gunners who came in off the bench to provide some real scoring punch. But Terry is nearly old enough to be my father and Beasley is one of the most inconsistent players in the league. With neither under contract for next season, it’s unlikely the Bucks will bring back either veteran. Likely without Parker until the All-Star break due to another devastating knee injury, and a rotation of slower off-ball guards, it might be wise for the Bucks to look towards adding a little more zip to their roster.
Oklahoma State point guard Juwan Evans might be a bit of a reach at 17, but he’s quick as hell and would look great scurrying around Giannis screens before pulling up from mid-range. He’s tiny, at 6’0”, but could be a lefty middle-reliever with a killer off-speed game that the Bucks need to fortify and diversify their bullpen.
Justin Jackson, on the other hand, could be one of the best plug-and-play prospects in the draft, spending three years at UNC before commanding national attention as a junior thanks to his versatility and scoring prowess. His iso-game lacks the creativity and athleticism to make him a star in the NBA, but his 6’8” frame and high IQ could make him a valuable wing scorer and shooter off the bench.
Between Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, D’aaron Fox and Dennis Smith, the 2017 draft class is already being lauded for it’s point guard prospects. Unfortunately for the Bucks, the top guard prospects will be well off the board by the time pick 17 rolls around. The rest of the draft will likely be dominated by bigs and centers. While Thon Maker garnered a lot of hype near the end of the season thanks to impressive tools and a string of high profile national media stories, he’s very much a work-in-progress and Coach Kidd’s starting center by name only. Greg Monroe is likely to opt in to his final year of his contract, but his best role seems to be as a bench bruiser. Jon Henson, meanwhile, is useful in small doses but still rather limited, and Spencer Hawes is likely on his way out of the league if he can’t reclaim his three-point stroke. It might be time for the Bucks to take another shot at a center.
Harry Giles, who committed to Duke a year ago as one of the best recruits in the nation, fell out of the rotation due to a string of injuries and a poor fit with the team. He’s a kid in need of a good break and some confidence, and if the Buck’s are willing to bet on a project Giles could evolve into a real multi-talented center.
Zach Collins, Ike Anigbogu and Justin Patton could each provide solid return on investment with tools to be, at worst, a competent role player, and, at best, a two-way starting center. The 17th pick is a crapshoot, and that’s about as good a bet as you can make.
The Bucks have plenty of room to grow before turning into true conference contenders. The best way to expedite that process? Trade for a veteran. In this case, the league’s most eminently available four time All-Star Paul George. With just a year left on his contract and a publicly known understanding he won’t resign with the Indiana Pacers, the sweepstakes are on for chance to rent the 6’9” small forward for at least a year.
George has made it known his dying desire to sign with the Lakers in a year, which has made his trade value all the more interesting. He’s still a star, so Indiana should expect a reasonable return. But with the perception he’s no more than a yearlong loaner, George’s price might be surprisingly affordable. He would give the Bucks the end-of-game scorer they need, and would be a great wingman with Giannis running the offense. Add Middleton in the mix and the Bucks would have one of the scariest two-way trios in the league.
Would pick number 17, Jabari Parker’s glass knees, Malcom Brogdon, and salary fluffer be enough? At the very least, it passes the ESPN Trade Machine test.
Parker would certainly be one of the best prospects, barring future injury (seriously, what is up with Chicago natives and bad knees?), that the Pacer’s would likely be offered. It’s an intra-division trade they may normally be wary of, but if they believe George is headed west in a year anyways then what’s the harm?
If the Bucks organization is secretly worried about the long-term status of Parker as a cornerstone, this would be the perfect time to dump him while his value is still high. Then they can hope that a deep playoff run and the prospect of playing with a likely future MVP candidate is enough to keep George around for another contract. If not? they lose out on one pick, don’t have to make a tough decision regarding Jabari’s contract in another year, and are stuck with a 22 year-old All-NBA, hyper-modern, positionless, do-it-all superstar.
There are certainly worse general manager jobs to inherit.