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Why The Milwaukee Bucks Must Find An Identity In The 2016 NBA Draft

Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker. Mark L. Baer - USA Today Sports

Can the Bucks use the 2016 Draft to get back on track?

This article is part of a series on NBA Draft team needs. Our first four articles featured the SixersLakersCeltics, and Timberwolves. They are thorough and delightful; you should check them out. This article will look at the Milwaukee Bucks, who have the 10th, 36th, and 38th picks in the draft. 


Let’s get this out of the way, the Bucks’ 2015-16 season was a disaster. They took a big step backwards, while the rest of the East improved. Milwaukee finished the season with 33 wins and 41 losses—11 wins out of the playoffs. This was such a huge disappointment because the team both receded back into a less developed state and lost whatever forward momentum the franchise had gained during their 2014-15 season. That year they had 41 wins, 41 losses, and played a style of basketball in which their sum exceeded their parts. 

Going into the 2014-15 season, number two overall pick Jabari Parker was supposed to grow into the team’s offensive centerpiece, but he went down with a torn ACL 25 games into his rookie season. This being the case, the Bucks used a rotating cast of characters at the big spots. Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Zaza Pachulia, Miles Plumlee, Larry Sanders (I’m crying real tears), Johnny O’Bryant, and Kenyon Martin all did yeoman’s work, allowing the team’s talented wings—Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton—to take over the majority of their possessions. 

While these bigs filled in admirably, there was a sense that the Bucks needed a true “max-caliber” player for their front line heading into free agency. And they did not disappoint, adding the second biggest fish to change ponds in Greg Monroe. It’s easy to understand why Milwaukee was excited to get Monroe; the guy is built like your prototypical big, can score with an array of truly impressive post-moves, and puts up solid rebounding totals year in and year out. The line of thought was that even if he couldn’t be a team’s number one guy, he could be one of the better bit-part contributors in the league.

That seems crazy in retrospect. They went from being the fourth best defense in 2014-15 to the 23rd(!) best defense in 2015-16 (by DRTG). This cannot all be levied on Monroe, but the addition of one of the worst every-day defensive centers in the league certainly did not help. Monroe is immobile, bound to the ground, and easily lost on rotations. To survive in the NBA with his profile you need intensity, energy, and incredible hands. Those are three things that he decidedly lacks on the defensive end of the floor. The return of Parker meant that they added two minus defenders at the positions that are supposed to anchor the defense; they both lack the rim protection and lateral quickness it takes to survive as a big in the NBA.  

Offensively, Monroe can manufacture points and get his teammates easier looks by collapsing the defense, but arguably the worst part about adding him is that it stripped the team of its identity and replaced it with nothingness. Are the Bucks going to get stops and look to run? Are they going to slow the game down and use their length and skill to get easy baskets? Are they going to pound the paint? The answer to all of these questions, now, is “kind of…?”

Heading into the 2016 NBA Draft, the Bucks will need to make a selection that helps them regain some sort of identity. Obvious positions where Milwaukee could use some help are “rim-protecting big”, ”3&D guard”, and ”driving, score-first point guard”. Lucky for the Bucks, those three profiles are among the deepest in the draft. 

#10

The 10-spot is an interesting pivot in this year’s draft. There’s a chance that one of the big three guards (Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, and Jamal Murray) falls to you. If any of them are on the board, Milwaukee should take them in a heartbeat. Hield and Murray project to be fantastic NBA-level shooters, but do not look capable of controlling the floor at the next level. Playing next to a point-forward like Giannis would alleviate the pressure of game-management and allow them to do what they do best: shoot the ball.

Dunn, on the other hand, would add the two-way dynamism that they’ve lacked at point guard since they improbably turned Brandon Knight into a high-end lottery pick into Michael Carter-Williams (an unmitigated disaster in management). He looks to be an absolute destroyer on both ends of the court, with the requisite size and athleticism to get to his spots on offense and prevent his opposite number from getting to theirs on defense. It’s such a good fit that I wouldn’t be surprised if they packaged their 36th and 38th selections to move up if he’s still on the board at seven or eight. In the video below, Dunn scores at will over UNC’s NBA caliber athletes.


But if they’re off the board, which is likely, their position becomes a lot more compelling. The bigs with proven scoring and athleticism (outside of the top-two) like Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss will likely have come off the board by this point and that leaves the Bucks in a position, along with Toronto, where they have the entirety of the second tier to choose from. The talent gap between selections 10 and 40 in this draft is not as wide as it would be in a deeper year, and we could see some wacky reaches and unpredictable picks coming off the board.

There is an assumption that Milwaukee will select the hometown kid Henry Ellenson with the 10th pick. Ellenson played his college ball for Bradley Center co-tenant Marquette and the Bucks will know more about him than any other team in the draft. But beyond the fairy tale, there is simply no fit at all. You know what Milwaukee doesn’t need? Another big with average efficiency (54% true shooting in college), heavy feet, and an inability to protect the basket or the perimeter. He got destroyed by college guards on the perimeter. I don’t want to imagine what Russell Westbrook or Eric Bledsoe would do to this man. Ellenson has some appeal as a stretch big, if you believe that he can become an effective one, but his college efficiency suggests he’ll be more of a Meyers Leonard than a Dirk Nowitzki

If the Bucks are seduced by Ellenson, the player that they should be looking at is Skal Labissiere. Skal has been up and down draft boards this season, but is making a late push as he dazzles the workout circuit with shooting displays. This should obviously be taken with a pinch of salt, but there is some precedent for John Calipari preferring to keep his shooting bigs in the paint to gain additional possessions…*cough* Anthony Davis, *cough* Demarcus Cousins, *cough* Karl-Anthony Towns. And the jumper looks real. He has a repeatable, smooth, high release and has displayed the consistency and confidence of a seasoned shooter. 

The appeal of Labissiere is not where he is right now, but what he could become. While he’s less developed than Ellenson, the Haitian is longer, more athletic, and more fleet of foot. He’s already a better defender and, as he adapts to NBA strength and conditioning, practice, and diets, it’s easy to see him becoming a fantastic NBA defender. The NBA conference finals have featured Bismack Biyombo, Serge Ibaka, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, and Channing Frye. Protecting the rim and shooting the ball are two skills that can get you onto an NBA court. 

Speaking of protecting the rim, one player that makes a ton of sense is Deyonta Davis. As I touched on in my piece on the Celtics, Davis is underdeveloped offensively, but looks to be able to do the little things a big man has to do to effect winning in the NBA. He can protect the paint, rebound the basketball, set picks, and be an effective roll man. Davis would be a bit of a market adjustment for Parker and Monroe. The Bucks really shouldn’t be putting Parker and Monroe on the floor together. Tethering each to one of Davis and John Henson would make a ton of sense. 

With Giannis taking over the primary ball-handling duties, another player that could make sense is Davis’s MSU teammate Denzel Valentine. We know what Valentine is: an elite offensive swiss-army knife, a limited athlete, and a terrible defender. That versatility on offense—he’s a tremendous passer—would make him invaluable to the Bucks, giving them a player that not only commands attention on the perimeter and off the ball, but can also keep the ball moving. They currently have two “get out of the way and let me work” players in Middleton and Parker, and while Monroe is an excellent passer, a lack of kick out options kind of stunts that aspect of his game. Drafting an intelligent player that can help turn Middleton and Parker into termini (instead of the initiators too) would make a ton of sense. 

Along these lines, Timothe Luwawu, out of France, is an excellent passer and has added a jump-shot as well. While he may never be as consistent a shooter as Valentine, he’s a nicely developed all-around wing that could make the Bucks interesting on offense. His excellent defense, however, is the selling point. Luwawu can legitimately guard both guard positions and small forwards right now. He’s phenomenally quick, has active hands, and is extremely smart. The footage I’ve watched suggests that he might be able to single-handedly blow up plays at the NBA level. Adding a wing like that would be a signal of intent for the Bucks and could produce some pretty interesting lineups with Giannis, Middleton, Parker, and Henson. Could opposing teams even play a point guard?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmqHutlsgOI

#36 & #38

As mentioned earlier in the article, it would not be a surprise if a player from this range emerged as one of the better picks in the draft. The difference in talent just does not appear to be that steep. Because it’s the second round, I’m going to handle these selections like quick hits: detailing the player, then the fit. 

Kay Felder out of Oakland is an absurdly athletic, but undersized (5‘8), score first point-guard. Given the Bucks’ length elsewhere, he’d be worth a shot and could add value off the bench. 

I can’t resist the idea of Thon Maker and Giannis teaming up, even if it’s a bit impractical. Maker is probably two-to-three years from making an NBA impact if he ever makes one, but has the potential to be a disruptive defender with a 9‘3” standing reach and good lateral quickness. Could be another swiss army knife in the Bucks’ collection if he ever ‘figures it out’. 

Malcolm Brogdon is a fantastic, smart defender at the combo guard position. His 6‘10” wingspan is ideal. He’s not explosive and his jumper is a little bit weird, but if he can reliably knock it down, he’d be a great de facto “point guard” with Giannis handling the ball. Brogdon is incredibly NBA ready. He does the little things and has a tremendous work ethic and basketball IQ, meaning he could be a leader for a team that seemed to lack definition. In the video below, he shows his ability to defend Brandon Ingram, awesome! 


Stephen Zimmerman could be a great value pick in the second round. He doesn’t have the range of Ellenson, but other that that, I’m not sure why he’s considered much worse. Ellenson has a much stronger build, but NBA strength and conditioning should help Zimmerman bulk up. Reminds me of a Zeller.

I could see those four players working out really well for the Bucks. Other players they’ve been linked to, Chinanu Onuaku, Robert Carter, and Dejounte Murray, all have issues (undersized, can’t rebound, can’t shoot, respectively) that’d make me surprised if the Bucks picked them up. They could work for other teams, but adding them would only contribute to the Bucks’ problems.

If the Bucks make an inspired selection, they could find themselves right back on track, but they need to display flexibility in the war room and on the court to make it work. This team was better than the sum of its parts in 2014, and worse than them in 2015. Ever since they dealt Brandon Knight, they’ve been unable to stretch or attack defenses from the guard position, and since they acquired Greg Monroe they’ve been unable to defend opposing offenses. A quick sequence of poor transactions can take an NBA team from the precipice of contention (the Bucks were 30-23 in 2014 before dealing Knight) to the outside looking in. Milwaukee needs to make the most of this draft to get themselves back on track. 

The Draft Order and Team Needs

1. Philadelphia 76ers
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics (From Brooklyn)
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
6. New Orleans Pelicans
7. Denver Nuggets (From New York)
8. Sacramento Kings
9. Toronto Raptors (From Denver)
10. Milwaukee Bucks
11. Orlando Magic
12. Atlanta Hawks (From Utah)
13. Phoenix Suns (From Washington) - Second 1st Round Pick
14. Chicago Bulls
15. Denver Nuggets (From Houston) - Second 1st Round Pick
16. Boston Celtics (From Dallas) - Second 1st Round Pick
17. Memphis Grizzlies
18. Detroit Pistons
19. Denver Nuggets (From Portland) - Third 1st Round Pick
20. Indiana Pacers
21. Atlanta Hawks - Second First Round Pick
22. Charlotte Hornets
23. Boston Celtics - Third First Round Pick
24. Philadelphia 76ers (From Miami) - Second First Round Pick
25. Los Angeles Clippers
26. Philadelphia 76ers (From Oklahoma City) - Third First Round Pick
27. Toronto Raptors - Second First Round Pick
28. Phoenix Suns (From Cleveland) - Third First Round Pick
29. San Antonio Spurs
30. Golden State Warriors

37. Houston Rockets (From New York)
42. Utah Jazz
46. Dallas Mavericks
55. Brooklyn Nets (From Los Angeles)

No Picks: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards

Edited by Brian Kang, David Kaptzan.

SQuiz
Which team originally drafted Khris Middleton?
Created 6/9/16
  1. The Utah Jazz
  2. The Detroit Pistons
  3. The Los Angeles Clippers
  4. The Portland Trailblazers

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