What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago the draft was a fun distraction following the Bucks' best season in almost a decade, an opportunity to hopefully add rotation depth to a roster that won 46 games, stretched the Hawks to seven games, and looked bound to improve behind the emerging core of Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut. Sunshine! Rainbows! Puppies!
Alas, all those warm-fuzzies didn't last beyond November, as the Bucks were beset by injuries from the first day of camp, stumbled out of the gate, and struggled all season to find even the middling consistency required to make the playoffs in the NBA's Eastern Conference.That now leaves the Bucks in the more familiar position of playoff outsiders, clinging faintly to their scant lottery hopes as a summer of uncertainty beckons. And so it goes.
While a year ago the Bucks felt relatively little pressure to add an impact player from their #15 position in the first round, the stakes have necessarily been raised in 2011. Part of that stems from the Bucks picking earlier in the draft (likely 10th if the lottery goes as expected), but it's also driven by a need for reinforcements at virtually every position. The Bucks were starved for athleticism, scoring and shooting on the wings, which will put guys like Alec Burks (an athletic slasher), Jordan Hamilton (a proven shooter/scorer), and Kawhi Leonard (versatile athlete) in the mix. But they also lacked size and athleticism next to and behind Andrew Bogut, which brings a number of Euro bigs and domestic guys like Tristan Thompson and the Morris Twins into the picture. And then there's the point guard position, where Brandon Jennings saw his infallibility revoked after an up-and-down sophomore season. It seems less likely that a player like Brandon Knight slips to them, but it's always possible. Bottom line: the Bucks aren't talentless, but like most lottery teams they're also in no position to sacrifice talent for need.
Needless to say there's plenty of homework to be done. Last year the Bucks held eleven workouts at the Cousins Center between May 17 and June 23, so presumably the timeline this year will be comparable. One difference might be in the volume of potential second rounders who are brought in, as the Bucks had two second round picks going into their workout period and acquired a third in the week leading up to the draft. This time around, Milwaukee has just its own 40th overall pick.
We'll be bringing you much more on the players vying for the Bucks' affection over the coming weeks, but for starters let's begin with the process itself:
May 8: Deadline for underclassmen to withdraw. Much has been made of the NCAA's unilateral withdrawal deadline, which forces underclassmen to decide within ten days of the early entry deadline whether or not they will return to school. That leaves precious little time for players to formally test the waters, and the NCAA's recent decision to roll the deadline back to April 12 essentially wipes out the process altogether.
Either way, the deadline came and went last weekend with only one potential lottery pick opting to return to school after initially declaring--Kentucky forward Terrence Jones. The bigger blow to the draft's depth came weeks ago when Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones all opted to return for their sophomore seasons, not even testing the waters. All three were potential top five picks, making the 2012 draft all the more stacked.
May 17: Lottery night. Feeling lucky? If you're the Bucks, probably not. Just like in 2009, the Bucks will have only eleven chances out of 1,000 to snag the top spot in the draft, giving them slim odds of leaping into the lottery-determined first three picks. Because the lottery is conducted beginning with the first pick and the winning teams' combinations are removed from the remaining possible outcomes, the Bucks' odds of getting the second (1.3%) or third pick (1.6%) are slightly higher than the first pick (1.1%). No team with odds that long has ever won the lottery, though the '93 Magic (1.52%) and '08 Bulls (1.70%) were close.
It's no surprise then that John Hammond isn't expecting a miracle in New Jersey, though finding Brandon Jennings at number ten two years ago will at least provide some hope of adding immediate help later in the lottery. While it's most likely that the Bucks stand pat at number ten (87.0%), there's also a chance a team behind them lucks out and breaks into the top three. The likelihood of dropping one spot is 8.9%, while the odds of two teams in the eleven to fourteen range leapfrogging into top three are 0.2%. And yes, it's possible that all three lottery-determined picks are snagged by the best of the worst, but the odds of that are less than 0.1%.
May 18-22: Chicago Pre-Draft Camp. Nothing embodies the zaniness of the draft more than the annual meat market known as the pre-draft camp. While teams conduct their own workouts throughout May and June, Chicago offers a one-stop shop for the top 50 or so domestic prospects to get measured every which way and for teams to interview their favorite prospects--often for the first time.
May 23-24: Group workout in Minneapolis. The first big workout of the draft season was mostly a dud last weekend in New Jersey, but the 40-player mega-workout last year in Minnesota was more successful in attracting first round talent, with nearly every team present.
June 11-13: Adidas EUROCAMP in Treviso, Italy. The European equivalent of the Chicago camp, the EUROCAMP figures to be a fairly big deal this year since so many European-based players are projected in the first round. The invite list isn't out yet, but you'd guess some of Europe's most promising talents will be there--which is saying a lot since Jonas Valanciunas, Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, and Donatas Motiejunas are likely lottery picks and Davis Bertans could join them in the first round.
Hammond and Jeff Weltman were just in Europe a few weeks ago watching Valanciunas, Vesely, and Motiejunas, so the Bucks are well into their global due diligence. Bertans and Biyombo were also stateside for the Nike Hoops Summit last month, and all the players except Kanter have been playing high-level ball in Europe for at least a couple years. Having been ruled ineligible to play at Kentucky this season, Kanter is probably the biggest mystery of the bunch, though he dominated the Hoops Summit last year with 34 points and 13 boards. In case you're scoring at home, no draft has ever seen more than three internationals drafted in the lottery.
June 23: NBA Draft in New York. Hope springs eternal?