Here's the second installment of our interview with Bucks GM John Hammond. In Part I we covered the arduous process Hammond went through in restructuring the Bucks' front office and coaching staff as well as the aspects of his Detroit experience that he's trying to emulate in Milwaukee. Today we'll get into the Bucks' draft process and the backstory of how the Bucks decided that Joe Alexander and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were the guys they wanted with the 8th and 37th picks, respectively.
As we detailed yesterday, John Hammond managed to have a rather busy April and May, but all the time spent restructuring the front office and coaching ranks left plenty of work still to be done with the most important part of the organization: the roster. As has been all too customary for the Bucks over the past two decades, late June meant another trip to the lottery, but for Hammond it also meant that he had a chance to add a valuable piece to his roster.
Having arrived with assistant GM Jeff Weltman only in April, Hammond admits that he sometimes felt like he was in catch-up mode as the team prepared for his first draft in Milwaukee. Fortunately, director of player personnel Dave Babcock had already been focusing on the Bucks' draft since well before Hammond arrived. "The major burden was on Dave, because in Detroit we were looking more for mid-20 type guys. Jeff and I even remarked to each other how much more prepared we're going to be at this same time next year, knowing further in advance where we were going to pick."
Though the Bucks remained coy about their intent, Hammond acknowledged during the process that their preparation was frustrated by the unwillingness of a number of top prospects to work out in Milwaukee. Still, he maintains that picking two players from the same workout on June 6 was mostly coincidental, especially given the homework the team had done on the lottery prospects.
"When you go that high in the first round and you're a team making a decision on a player like that, I'm not so sure how much the workout is in the final decision-making process. These kind of guys are usually pretty heavily exposed, and you've had a chance to see an awful lot of them."
Fortunately, Hammond happened to see Joe Alexander play in person last December against Auburn, so while many have focused on Alexander's rapid move up draft boards in the last month, Hammond and company knew early on that he would be in the Bucks' lottery mix.
"You can figure out fairly obviously who will be in your range. We all thought there was a grouping of guys. Joe really came on the scene this year, but he had a few blow-up games this year, and I actually had the chance to see one of them in the SEC/Big East.Invitational. And he had a game where, if you want to see Joe Alexander at his best on the collegiate level, that was one of his games. From what I had seen, that game kinda took him over the top and had people saying he could be better than anyone had previously thought."
For Hammond, the Alexander workout was thus less about understanding his game--the Bucks already felt like they knew him in that respect--and more about understanding the complete package.
"[Workouts] can be a part of the process, and sometimes the off-court stuff might be just as important as the on-court stuff. Now you get a chance to get to know the guy a little better and we get a chance to do a psychological evaluation of him. But at the end of the day what Joe Alexander did in his individual workout, I don't think we saw anything where we thought 'wow, I can't believe he can do that.'"
By all accounts, Alexander certainly seemed like a perfect fit. Not only would he fill a positional need at small forward, but he also appeared to have the mix of the athleticism, toughness and work ethic that Hammond and Skiles coveted as they looked to remake the Bucks' soft image. Anthony Randolph in particular might have had more upside, but Alexander appeared to have the total package the Bucks were looking for. Despite that, the team requested that Alexander come back to Milwaukee three days before the draft for one final look.
"We liked him a lot when he came in initially. But we kinda felt like, 'Is this guy about all the things that he presented himself to be?' We didn't have any red flags or major questions about him from a personality standpoint, but we sat down with him for about 45 minutes. And with five of us on one side of the table across from him, I imagine it could have been a little uncomfortable for him. But ten or fifteen minutes into it, you just knew that he's got 'it.' He was really about all those things people said he was.
"Would we have drafted him if we hadn't done all that? Probably yeah, but it was just a little more reassurance for us."
By draft night, there didn't seem to be any question the Bucks were sold on Alexander, but many expected their plans to change when they surprisingly dealt Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons to New Jersey for Richard Jefferson. All of a sudden the Bucks had a former all-star at Alexander's position, and especially with Bayless slipping past the top seven, many expected the Bucks to go in a different direction. But Hammond says that the Bucks weren't unprepared for their sudden change in positional needs.
"We talked about that constantly through the process. And we just felt that if we're going to say that we want one of the best athletes in the draft, one of the toughest guys in the draft, and a guy who stands for all the right things that this organization is going to be built on, then he was the guy for that."
In that way the questions about position were secondary to their preference of Alexander the player, something Hammond can joke about now.
"If you would have asked me two days before the draft what his true position was, I would have said small forward. But then we acquire Richard and sit here the day after the draft, and now I might say he's a power forward," Hammond says with a laugh.
And while he is clearly pleased to have landed Alexander, Hammond also knows that there are no guarantees, especially considering Alexander's relatively late start with competitive basketball.
"That's the question mark about him--what's his feel for the game? He's still raw from the basketball standpoint. He hasn't been through the whole scene. Most of the lottery picks went through the AAU scene, the high competition camps, McDonald's All-America games, and the college games. I guarantee you he's one of the few who hasn't done all of that. And we talked about that. People asked about his overall feel and knowledge of the game. But he's a bright guy, and he's coachable. And if he's coachable I think he can learn."
Meanwhile, in the second round the Bucks had their eye on UCLA defensive standout Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who had joined Alexander, Randolph and Donte Greene in their workout in Milwaukee. Hammond admits that unlike Alexander, the UCLA forward was less of a known quantity before his pre-draft visit to Milwaukee.
"With Luc it was completely different. UCLA is exposed just as much, but I think when you watch UCLA you're watching Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, and then you're saying 'who's this other guy?' We liked what he did at the Orlando pre-draft camp, and I think the workout was a huge factor in us picking him at 37. He came in and worked out against Joe Alexander, Anthony Randolph and Donte Greene, and he kinda knocked us back on our heels a little bit. We really liked a lot of the things he does."
No doubt many fans were surprised the Bucks passed on Memphis swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts, but the Bucks hope that what Mbah a Moute lacks in curb appeal he can compensate for with energy, athleticism and defense.
"Luc does all the little things that help you win games."
How does it all fit together? Check out Part III for the final installment. We get John's view of the current roster, why he was willing to acquire three small forwards in one day, whether he's shopped his starting backcourt, and his views on cap space and the luxury tax.