Tuesday, June 5, 2007

How the Prospects Fit the Bucks

I'll be trying to post a bunch of draft-related stuff in the next few weeks, but let's start by framing the draft in terms of the Bucks current personnel and how the top prospects might fit in.

While Oden/Durant going 1-2 is a no-brainer, there's a group of five or six players (changing daily of course) who could go anywhere from 3-8. Larry Harris has already dropped the obvious "we'll take the best player available" (BPA) line, but what GM doesn't say that? Of course you're going to say you'll take the guy you think is the best player, the problem being that you can easily make arguments for any number of players. At this point you have to put the following guys in the mix as possible picks at the sixth spot, with Horford being the only one who stands out as being a no-brainer should he fall to the Bucks. While each has at least a couple strong arguments for being taken at the 6 spot, there are obvious questions for each of these guys as well. In no particular order (click for DraftExpress' scouting report):

It's stupid to think team need won't play a role in who the Bucks take, especially when you can make a case for so many players having the best upside. So what do the Bucks need, and how would these guys fit in?

No, Bogut hasn't set the world on fire, but once we missed out on the top pick the idea of picking a true center in the draft went out the window. A guy like Horford (or maybe Noah) who can provide spot minutes at center would definitely be useful, but with Gadzuric making $6 million next year it seems a backup center isn't at the top of our need list.

Power Forward

I still want to give Charlie Villanueva a chance to prove himself this year, but it seems obvious that his lack of physicality is a problem when paired with a non-shotblocker like Bogut. Rationality suggests that the Bucks would prefer not to pick up Skinner's $6 million option, so taking a big in the draft would make that move easier.
  • Horford's toughness and rebounding fits the Bucks' needs rather perfectly, while Noah's energy, length and defensive potential could also work, though his perceived lack of strength might be a problem. I wouldn't expect Horford to be a great defender as a rookie, but he would immediately be able to replace Skinner as the token guy who gets stuck trying to guard the opponents' top post player. Curiously, the Bucks are not even working out Noah.
  • Brandan Wright and Yi probably have a higher ceiling than either of the Florida bigs, but are the Bucks willing to gamble on potential? Wright could eventually become a dynamic all-around player, but his slight frame and flaky reputation will likely make him a work in progress his first couple seasons. Yi's skills are undeniable but his ability to adjust to the NBA is a question and he might never be even an average defender, which would seem to be a bad combination for the Bucks. Yi especially seems like a poor complement for the Bucks' existing personnel.
  • Jeff Green and Julian Wright could potentially play PF in the NBA, but it seems most would peg them as natural SFs at this point, especially given Wright's lack of bulk.
Small Forward
Bobby Simmons showed up at camp last year supposedly healthy and ready to make up for an injury-plagued first season, only to miss the entire season with mysterious heel issues. The talk is that he will be ready to play in '07/08, but the draft could go a long way to showing just how confident the Bucks are that he will be back. Ruben Patterson was a valuable contributor but it's difficult to say whether the Bucks bring him back; his monstrous cap hold ($11+ million) makes it prohibitive to keep his Bird rights, so if they want to use their cap space on other FAs he'll have to be renounced. My guess is he could be back if we are short a body at SF and he's willing to play for $3-4 million per. Ersan Ilyasova had some nice moments last year, but appears a long way from being a legit starter; I have to think he'll re-sign for maybe two years and $2 million per. There's also some debate about whether he'll be better off as a 3 or a small 4.
  • Green and Julian Wright are similar in that neither projects to be great in any one department, but they do almost everything pretty well. For a team like the Bucks that need defenders and not go-to scorers, potential "glue guys" like them certainly could provide a needed boost. Wright might have a little higher ceiling, but Green is more experienced and already has an NBA body. Moreover, LeBron's playoff explosion requires every team in the East to ask--how the heck are we going to guard this guy for the next decade? It's not to say either guy can guard LeBron, but having an intelligent, defensive SF will be of some use.
  • Corey Brewer certainly deserves a mention as an SF, as he's considered a better overall prospect than Green and Wright. While tall and a college 3, he's still a beanpole at 185 lbs so might project to the 2 position more than the 3.
Shooting Guard
With Michael Redd on board this would seem to be less of a need. However, it's worth noting that with Simmons' injury Redd actually played most of his minutes at SF last year (with Bell starting at SG). My best guess is that Mo Williams and Charlie Bell are both brought back, and it's worth noting that Bell was asked by the Bucks to work on his PG skills this offseason, though that could be as insurance against Mo leaving. Either way if Bell is brought back he and Simmons will be the most logical options to spell Redd.
  • Brewer is the only 2 who's in the discussion at the 6 spot. He's a long, active defender who plays the smart defense the Bucks backcourt has generally lacked. The 2/3 is relatively interchangeable so where he plays is likely dependent on who he's playing with. While he won't block a lot of shots, he's good at crowding his man, and getting in passing lanes. His outside shot is solid if unspectacular and if he can improve his handle and off-the-dribble game he could certainly be an all-star. He's unselfish, is great in transition and like Horford and Noah has earned the tag of a "winner" by playing well in big games. While Bell is a good defender, he doesn't have the size against taller swingmen and might be better used as the backup PG.
Point Guard
Easily the biggest question mark for the Bucks. As it stands, Mo Williams is an UFA, Charlie Bell is a RFA, and Earl Boykins has a player option for $3 million. Boykins' decision will likely be the deciding factor in whether the Bucks have more than the MLE to sign free agents this summer. Given he's a 31-year old coming off a career-year statistically (14.6 ppg, 4.4 apg) and will have a hard time matching those numbers as a possible third-stringer this coming season, it's possible he'll opt-out to get a longer-term deal, even if it means sacrificing some money this coming season. While Earl can fill it up from time to time, he's a 5'5" guy who prefers to shoot rather than pass--not exactly the best fit for a team that already has scorers but struggles defensively.

The debate over whether Mo is the answer at PG deserves its own 100-page dissertation, but it seems as though signing a 23-year old Mo for $7-8 million per makes more sense than renouncing Mo, Ilyasova and Bell to spend $11 million per year on the soon-to-be 31-year old Chauncey Billups (who, let's be honest, is most likely re-signing with Detroit anyway). At this point I have to think they will be able to bring Mo back if they want to, so expect TJ Ford's 4-yr, $33 million deal from last season to be something of a benchmark in Mo's deal. While he could sign with another team, the only teams with significant cap space (Charlotte, potentially Orlando) don't need a PG. So the Bucks do have some leverage in that they're the only ones who can pay Mo what he probably deserves. Charlie Bell is working out this offseason in Milwaukee and doing appearances for the team, with all signs pointing to a new deal in the range of $3-5 million range per season.
  • Conley is the only PG who the Bucks could take at 6, assuming of course the Hawks and Grizzlies ignore their huge holes at PG and go with bigs at the 3/4 slots. Acie Law and Javaris Crittenton are also options if they trade out of the top ten. While Conley doesn't have great size or much of an outside shot, he's strong, lightning quick and offers the two things most people wish Mo had: a pass-first mindset and a ball-hawking defensive style. I think he's eventually going to be a top 5 PG in the league, but there's no guarantee he'll be an upgrade over Mo Williams and taking him puts the Bucks in a rather awkward position entering free agency. While they would be able to work out a sign-and-trade for Mo that could net them a solid veteran and/or a future pick, their bargaining position in a trade would necessarily be somewhat compromised because the writing would be on the wall that they didn't want to bring Mo back. On the other hand, if you think Mo is a threat to leave, then picking Conley also guarantees we have a legit starting PG come November, and having both guys on the roster wouldn't exactly be disastrous. Still, drafting another PG leaves Larry Harris more work to do in shoring up the frontcourt via free agency, which is easier said than done.

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