So I managed to get my knee-jerk reaction post out of the way on Thursday. After a longer period of reflection and meditation, I've come to the conclusion that both Brandon Jennings and Jodie Meeks filled a major need on the Bucks, even further than some people let on.
First off, Jodie Meeks may or may not have been the best player available at 41. He certainly emerged on the national stage at Kentucky, averaging nearly 24 ppg with 46% shooting. Additionally, he hit 40% of his three-pointers and 90% of his free throws. The man can flat-out score the basketball.
The Bucks easily could have drafted a big man in an attempt to shore up their depth up front. After all, besides Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva, the 4 and 5 positions are pretty weak. Joe Alexander and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute need to be allowed to play their natural position more often than not, and drafting a rookie would have at least kept them from moving out of position. (Quick aside: I know that Mbah a Moute played the 4 almost more than he played the 3, and with surprising success. I know he can play the 4, I just don't think he should play it regularly.)
While a second-round pick can't exactly be counted on to provide solid bench play, I would completely understand if the Bucks went big at 41. But they didn't, opting instead for Meeks. Why? Because he fills a major need.
The Bucks' second unit is weak on scoring. While Charlie V came off the bench semi-regularly, there isn't anyone outside of Michael Redd, Ramon Sessions, and Andrew Bogut that can get consistent points. This weakness is further highlighted by the Richard Jefferson trade. If Redd gets 20, Charlie V gets 15, and Bogut and Sessions get 10 a piece, who's going to get the rest of the buckets? Alexander, Gadzuric, Ridnour, Bell, and the rest aren't scorers. Meeks is a scorer.
But he's not a scorer like J.J. Reddick, where everything came on shooting. Nor is he like Adam Morrison, who played against weak competition. Meeks can get points driving, off screens, spotting up, and from the line. If he gets enough minutes, I am confident that he would average somewhere between 8 and 12 points on the second unit.
But people don't want to wonder about Jodie Meeks and how he translates to the NBA. The hype is all about Brandon Jennings, and rightfully so. The prep-star-turned-European-pro is easily the most promising/most frustrating player coming into 2009. He's Anthony Randolph, Julian Wright, Gerald Green, or any other uber-athletic player who doesn't directly translate into the NBA.
This is not to say that Jennings will end up a two-bit rotation player that plays for five teams in six years because he's constantly being tacked onto trades as a "prospect". In fact, I think Jennings' saving grace is his position; he's a point guard, not a wing player. His ability to dribble, pass, and run the team put him above the other freak athletes that have flooded the NBA since the late 90's. But only when he puts it all together on the court. However, while he is currently no more than another unproven prospect, Jennings also fills a major need on the Bucks.
He makes them interesting.
The last time the Bucks were interesting was when Bill Simmons openly lobbied for the team's general manager vacancy. Before that, it was when
they were screwed out of lost the 2001 Conference Finals to Philadelphia. Before that, it was in the 80's, when they were a good team that simply didn't achieve great success.
Think about the draft picks and trades that constructed the 2008-09 team. Andrew Bogut at #1 was somewhat interesting to non-Milwaukeeans, but only because of the debate between him and Marvin Williams. Bogut was the safe, smart choice, whereas Williams was the boom-or-bust pick. The Bucks played it safe. The exchange of T.J. Ford for Charlie V was widely considered a coup because they went big for small. However, Ford's injury history made him a liability, and pawning him off elsewhere was a convenient exit. The Bucks played it safe. Even last year, when they traded for Richard Jefferson, the primary motivation was to jettison the overpaid Bobby Simmons and the vastly overrated Yi Jianlian. Keeping Simmons' contract would have crippled their salary cap, and keeping Yi would have stunted the development of other young talent. The Bucks played it safe.
I have no problem with making conservative moves to slowly build a consistent winner. I hate giving big contracts to players who can't live up to them (Dan Gadzuric) or trading for players that haven't done anything in their careers on the basis of potential (Desmond Mason). But at a certain point, a team is going to need to take a risk to eventually push them out of mediocrity and into contention.
Jennings is that risk. He is that push. Look at the way he plays the game, and you can tell he's unlike anyone Milwaukee has ever had. His flair is sometimes construed as arrogance, his confidence for cockiness. Does he have a big ego? Probably. Will it get in the way of his development? Possibly. Will it make people pay attention to the Bucks?
Jennings isn't even that bad off the court. He doesn't run his mouth the way a young Allen Iverson or Tyrus Thomas did. He doesn't get himself into bad situations like a young Rasheed Wallace or Jason Williams did. He's said all the right things to all the right people throughout his career. Whether it's from good judgement on his part or sound advice from his handlers, he figures to continue this trend.
But avoiding trouble off the court is easy in Milwaukee. That's likely part of the reason Gilbert Arenas hates the city so much. The best thing Jennings can do to make the Bucks interesting is take his talent and build his career here. He needs it to validate skipping college for Europe. John Hammond needs it to forge his legacy as a general manager. Scott Skiles needs it to keep his job. Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut need it to ensure their stay in Milwaukee was worthwhile. And we need it so when people learn we are Bucks fans, they will respect us.
Brandon Jennings can fill these needs. Let's hope he holds up his end of the bargain.