Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pre-Grading the Bucks Draft

The NBA draft may be over a month away, but that doesn't stop yours truly from pre-emptively grading the Bucks's draft.

We know a few things about the Bucks entering the draft, but there are also things we don't know. We know that they stunk last season, but that they had a lot of injuries. We know the Greek Freak and Brandon Knight appear to be the current choices as franchise cornerstones, but we don't know how management feels about last year's franchise cornerstone, Larry Sanders. We know that new owners Edens (who shall always have his name listed first on #BucksForest due to having a hot daughter) and Lasry want to build a winning culture, but we don't know how willing they are to spend money on players. All of those unknowns are in addition to the unknown status of veterans like Big Ers and Juice Mayo.

Perhaps the biggest Known of the draft is that the Bucks need to maximize this draft.  Safe plays are as risky as aggressive plays.  If they just draft a guy at number two, then he'd better be closer to Kevin Durant than to Derrick Williams.  

Also to be considered is the fact that the top prospects are making it clear that they don't want to play for the Bucks.  Rumors are particularly strong that Joel Embiid, a man who has shown up on the Bucks' line in multiple mock drafts, wants to avoid Milwaukee at all costs.  Yours truly is of the opinion that drafting players who don't want to be there is ultimately a bad idea.  

With all of that having been said, here then, are the A through F scenarios for the Bucks draft:

Grade F

Bucks select anyone besides Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart and Dante Exum at No. 2.

This is a deep draft, and many players could be great pros. Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon, for example, could become stars. They are also players who fit the Bucks, a team that is short on interior toughness and athleticism. The problem is value. Randle and Gordon can be had later in the draft. Even if either man rises to the fourth or fifth slot on the experts' draft boards, those are still picks with far less value than No. 2.

If the Bucks fall in love with a player who is not in the Fabulous Five, it is fine if they draft that player. Yours truly is a big believer that fit is an undervalued trait. If they are drafting a non-top five player, however, it should not be at No. 2. In a draft like this, and with a roster like the one the Bucks have, they need to maximize value.

***

Grade D

Bucks select Marcus Smart, Dante Exum or Jabari Parker at No. 2.

Yours truly loves Marcus Smart. He has a feel for the game. He is strong. He has superb hands. He hates to lose. He is the lone member of the Fabulous Five who doesn't have rumors swirling around him about a distaste for playing in Milwaukee. No player would bring as wide a smile to my face when he pulls on a Bucks hat as Marcus Smart. But he is not ranked in the top two. Neither is Exum and neither is Parker.

Exum and Parker are not far from being rated second, so either man's selection would bring the Bucks's draft above an "F" grade. Again, however, this draft is one where the Bucks need to maximize value. That means drafting a top two player at No. 2 or trading down.

In addition to lacking the value of a top-two prospect, Smart, Exum and Parker also come with too much risk. Smart may never learn to overcome the lack of elite quickness in his first step. Exum never played NCAA basketball (which, for all its warts, does provide the toughest competition against people his age). Parker might not be a great enough athlete. None of those worries may come to fruition, but it's too much for No. 2.

***

Grade C

Bucks select Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins at No 2.

Younger readers may not recognize "C" as a passing grade. It is. C is average. You take the top and bottom 10% for As and Fs. The next 20% on each end get Bs and Ds. Then that juicy middle 40% are the Cs. The average drafts. The John Henson drafts. Better than Joe Alexander, but not quite Brandon Jennings.

When you pick at No. 2 in a two-player draft ("two-player draft" in this case meaning "two players who are rated a level above every other prospect"), an average draft is getting a top-two player. Earning a C should mean that a team was solid, but unexceptional. That's Embiid or Wiggins. Both players are on the path toward regular All-Star selections. Both players are athletic freaks. Both players are fluid in their basketball movements.

Yours truly is actually cool on Embiid, but yours truly is also not a scout or general manager. If Embiid falls to No. 2, then he is a higher value selection than Exum, Parker or Smart.

Wiggins looks like a future superstar, but it is always hard to tell how young players will pan out. Claims that a college player has "high character" or "works hard" are always the most laughable. Nobody in college (whether they play basketball or not) ever has their work ethic or character truly tested. It is only once someone is out in the professional world that those things can be shown.

***

Grade B

Bucks trade No. 2 for a top player and something else.

To rise above an average draft, a team has to exceed expectations. Picking at No. 2 and getting a top-two prospect is not enough. That's a C. To get a B or better, something out of the ordinary must happen.

One possible trade partner is Philadelphia. It seems clear that Wiggins is their man. The Sixers's affection for Wiggins has been rumored about all season. Once the draft order was finalized, online chatter began appearing about Philly being disappointed that Wiggins could be gone. Cleveland holds power over the Bucks because they can deal Wiggins to Philadelphia. An offer of Wiggins for the 3rd and 10th picks might make the Sixers bite. Cleveland can make that offer before the Bucks can. The good news, however, is that Cleveland needs a center and a playoff run in 2015. Neither of those things is made more likely by missing out on Embiid and Wiggins. If the Bucks get No. 3 and No. 10, then a Jabari Parker/Nik Stauskas wing pair could help their scoring problems. Or a Dante Exum/Dario Saric draft could be a nice small/big combo.

If the Sixers aren't an option, the Bucks could ask the Jazz (who reportedly want Parker) for the fifth pick and Gordon Hayward (assuming he's amenable to a contract extension). Marcus Smart would be available at No. 5. The Kings (whose owner is tired of being in the lottery) might be willing to part with the eighth pick, Jason Thompson and Isaiah Thomas (who would also need a contract extension), and Smart could be there at No. 8.

As long as the Bucks get one of the Fabulous Five prospects and an additional contributor, their draft grade rises to a B. The team has more than one hole in its rotation, and this deep draft can draw more than one rotation player.

***

Grade A

Bucks acquire two of the top five players in the draft by trading the Greek Freak.

Giannis loves Milwaukee and Milwaukee loves Giannis. That is great. Unfortunately, love doesn't come with a quick release on its jump shot. Or good hands. Or an elite first step. Or a superstar's awareness.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's stock in the eyes of yours truly has been in steady decline for about six months now. Before the 2014 season and in the first few weeks, it was all excitement. Then he would get blocked on shots at the rim. And he couldn't get by anyone. And his trigger was slow on kickouts. And he kept getting passes deflected. In short, he kept doing things that elite athletes don't do. He's not a freak. He may have huge hands and long arms, but he doesn't have fast hands or quick feet.

The Bucks can take advantage of the perception of Giannis. He had two good games against the Lakers. Good games against Boston, Orlando and Philly. One of those teams might give the Bucks their pick for the Greek Freak.

Imagine some of the scenarios that could happen. The Bucks could pair Wiggins with Randle. Or Embiid with Smart. Or Exum with Parker and Stauskus. The players that the Bucks are relying on for rebuilding could all enter the league together, learn together and hopefully win together.

Trading the Grecian Formula would tick off many online Bucks fans. It would tick off some real Bucks fans, too. Some people see him as another Kevin Durant. (That one is ludicrous.) Larry Drew said that he saw flashes of Magic Johnson. (That was my initial impression.) Maybe he's another Dirk. For a franchise that already has difficulty generating local excitement, trading a likable young player like Giannis would be difficult.

The problem is that Giannis could be Darius Miles. He could be a guy who gives effort, but who never quite rises above being a solid rotation hand who thrives in the open court.

Yours truly realizes that the Bucks almost certainly aren't trading Giannis. There is something to be said for that. Most successful teams grow together. Turning over players all the time was a big reason why Herb Kohl's tenure saw so much losing. At this stage, however, the Bucks are all about maximizing value. They have an overvalued youngster who some team might take in exchange for a better prospect. Those are the types of moves Grade A franchises make.

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