We're still trying to digest what was one of the more adventurous draft days in recent memory, but for now here's what I think we can conclude.
John Hammond isn't afraid to admit a mistake. Hammond and company deserve credit for doing what many considered impossible--dealing both John Salmons and Corey Maggette while getting back productive players who are actually owed over $8 million less in aggregate. Of course, the Bucks had to pay for it, dropping back nine spots in the first round, and you can guess there will be lots of fan angst about the Bucks' decision to pass on better known scorers such as Jordan Hamilton and Marshon Brooks for the younger, less explosive Tobias Harris. The easier path would have been sticking it out with Salmons while trying to separately move Maggette, but the Bucks took advantage of some curious decision-making by the Kings to pawn Salmons off as well.
We've seen this before. Hammond's first big move was acquiring Richard Jefferson before the 2008 draft, only to dump him for expiring contracts almost exactly one year later. At the time the Bucks were perilously close to the luxury tax, but it was that move which surprisingly set the stage for the 46-win season that followed. Then in 2010 he acquired Maggette for spare parts and re-signed Salmons to four guaranteed years, only to send both packing today--again, one year later. Hammond also made Joe Alexander the highest-drafted player ever to not have his third year option picked up, but making Alexander an expiring deal also helped facilitate the Salmons trade at the 2010 deadline. Too often GMs are afraid to admit their mistakes, opting to hold out in the futile hope a bad move redeems itself. Sometimes it does, but usually it doesn't. So while Hammond has obviously made his share of mistakes, his willingness to swallow his pride and make it right should be applauded (even if it's just a golf clap).
The Tobias Harris/Jon Leuer picks are a sharp contrast to last year's moves. As the youngest player in the draft, Harris is easy to paint as a project who's unlikely to make an impact for a few years. It's very possible--not many 19-year-olds are capable of being rotation players in the NBA. But Harris is a high IQ guy with a good feel for the game, not a raw talent who only looks good getting off the bus. In that sense both picks this year are stark contrasts to Tiny Gallon (immature on and off the court) and to a lesser extent Larry Sanders (immature on the court). It's almost as though the Bucks learned their lesson and decided it was better to just draft more polished, intelligent players from the start, rather than try to mold rawer guys with bad habits into something useful.
That also extends to the Bucks' trade. The Bucks strayed from their comfort zone in adding guys like Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts, talented offensive players who didn't really fit the mold of the prior year's team. It was hoped that the contrast brought by Maggette and CD-R would balance out what was an uncreative Bucks' offense, but in the end it only seemed to muddle the fragile chemistry that was so crucial to the 09/10 team. It's not that Maggette or CD-R were bad guys, but they just didn't fit.
Winners and losers? Be patient. Like any deal involving draft picks, we really won't be able to judge this trade fully until we get a better sense of Harris as an NBA player, which will likely require patience. If Alec Burks, Klay Thompson, Marshon Brooks or Jordan Hamilton become stars, we'll likely look back at this night with serious regret. Odds are none of them become superstars, but there's a reason Thompson and Burks went ahead of Harris, and the Bucks knew the risks when they made the trade. Now they'll have to live with them.
Udrih could be the new Ridnour. Udrih has killed in the Bucks in recent years, averaging 21 ppg over the past two seasons, but the truth is that he's been a surprisingly good player overall, notching a PER between 15 and 16 while racking up TS% figures in the 56-58%. He might not be worth $7 million per season, but he's a consistent guy from mid-range (43-44% four years in a row) and has been a slightly above average three point shooter the past two seasons, though perhaps most surprising is his finishing around the rim. No one will ever accuse the Slovenian of being a great athlete, but he led all point guards in finishing at the rim with a startling 73.6 % (min 40 games, 20+ mpg) in 10/11 after finishing behind only Steve Nash in 09/10 with 71.3%. Hopefully he can teach Jennings a thing or two.
The Bucks' cap situation is in solid shape. It's true that the Bucks wouldn't have had to sacrifice nine spots in the draft to deal Maggette and Salmons if not for the decisions made last summer. Acquiring Maggette and re-signing Salmons long-term were gambles that didn't pay off, but in the end the Bucks didn't pay the hefty price many might have expected. And while they weren't in real trouble before, they're in even better shape now. Starting with the numbers at Sham Sports, here's what the Bucks' current cap looks like if you include Luc Mbah a Moute's qualifying offer (which is the bare minimum to bring him back), Tobias Harris' salary (max 120% of his rookie scale), and Leuer's presumptive minimum deal (possibly more given the Bucks' penchant for getting their second rounders to sign for more up front in return for a third year).
While no one knows for sure what the new CBA will look like, the Bucks could likely fill out a 15 man roster while staying right around the current soft cap level of $58 million. If the cap stayed at the same level--not likely, but let's go with it for now--they would project to have a decent amount of cap space in the summer of 2012, and by 2013 they have just $28 million in committed salary.
The Bucks have too many point guards. Scott Skiles has always shown an affinity for pairing up ballhandlers in the backcourt, but my guess is that even he won't find a use for four point guards. At this point we'd have to assume that Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih will be one-two on the depth chart, but beyond that it's less clear. Udrih will certainly play alongside Jennings at times, and Shaun Livingston's size at 6'7" also creates opportunities for Skiles to go with multiple point guards--in fact, including Dooling the Bucks now have three PGs 6'3" or taller on the roster. But I'd guess either Dooling or Livingston will be shipped out, in all likelihood for a backup big man or a wing shooter.
The Bucks still need a big and could use another wing, too. Relatively speaking I think the Bucks' shooting needs have been a bit overblown--they weren't good from deep (18th in threes made per game and 24th in 3FG%), but they were much better at shooting threes than making layups, where they were once again dead last by a wide margin. That's a big reason why I was hoping the Bucks would go for a scorer over a pure shooter in the draft, but it turns out the Bucks really didn't get either. Jackson by himself made more threes per game (1.8) than Maggette (0.4) and Salmons (1.1) combined last year, but the latter were both more accurate than Jackson, who made a below-average 34% and has shot the same over his career.
Up front, the Bucks remain rather small behind Andrew Bogut, though they were never likely to snap up a quality defensive big man where they were picking in the draft. Larry Sanders showed he could play the five against guys who weren't real offensive threats, but he's still a bit light in the shorts to hold his own with the NBA's best big men. Drew Gooden is stronger and has played plenty of center in his career, but his defensive numbers there have generally been abysmal, and so long as he starts with Bogut we're unlikely to see him play much five. And then there's Jon Brockman, who draws charges like a champ but is simply too short to legitimately defend centers for more than short stretches. I don't think anyone is expecting the Bucks to add a big name to back up Bogut, but they need someone who's big and can guard the post, whether it's via free agency or by trading Ersan Ilyasova/one of their PGs. Plenty of warm bodies could fit the bill: Kwame Brown, Nazr Mohammed, Kyrylo Fesenko and even our old friend Kurt Thomas will be on the market.
Darington Hobson may be the odd man out. There have long been hints that last year's 37th overall pick could return to the Bucks this year following surgeries on both hips, but the drafting of Harris would seem to make that less likely. Harris may be the most similar player to Hobson in this year's draft, as both guys were versatile college hybrid forwards who relied more on savvy than athleticism or pure shooting ability. Assuming Mbah a Moute returns, the Bucks would already be at 14 roster spots, leaving just one spot to add a shooter or a legit center to back up Bogut. Unfortunately Hobson doesn't fill either need.
The casual fan doesn't seem to know much about Harris, but all the draft experts seem to love him. I know very little about Harris' game other than what I've read and seen in clips, but it's rather encouraging to hear almost universal praise of the pick from Chad Ford (#14 on his top 100), Jonathan Givony (#8), and John Hollinger (#8). I always root for the Bucks to go for the home run, so I can't say I was particularly excited with the pick when it happened, though in truth no one at #19 really seemed worth being excited about--especially when you consider the historical production of players outside the top 10-15. Every year it's easy to get excited about guys in June when they've never played an NBA game, but reality has a funny way of setting in once the games begin to count. We spend six weeks getting charged about guys who were good in college, ignoring that few of them will ever be more than solid rotation guys in the NBA, and when we don't get what we want we're ready to put a brick through our flat screen. I totally get it, but keeping things in perspective is important as well. No one the Bucks picked--whether at 10 or 19--was likely to be an instant impact player or starter next season, and I'm not sure Harris is any less suited to being a productive pro than the flashier picks many of us had our hearts set on.