The Milwaukee Bucks enter the 2014 NBA Draft holding the number two pick in what is being labelled publically as a three player draft, specifically Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. They have a number of needs as do all teams who only win 15 games the previous season but none stands out more than the need for an offensive centrepiece. Luckily the top three picks are all viewed as sure fire offensive centrepieces if not now then eventually for whichever team selects them. Or are they? Outside of Joel Embiid the other two members of the drafts big 3 may not be all they are cracked up to be.
First let me clarify what I mean by an offensive centrepiece on a winning team in the modern NBA. This player needs to be able to function as the fulcrum of the offense where he can bend the opponent’s defense enough to either score himself but more importantly be able to create for his team mates when that defence collapses on him. This ability to "make team mates better" is essential for high usage players if you want to have a successful team.
So what are the options for the Bucks at the number two pick? I am going to remove Embiid from this discussion as he is to me the clear top talent in this year’s draft and should be selected with the first pick as long as his back checks out. If it doesn’t then I do not see the Bucks gambling on him with the second pick either. So that leaves Parker and Wiggins as the two options to consider. They are two very different players with the former possessing the higher offensive skill set, more refined offensive moves, gaudier statistical profile but significantly weaker defensive ability while the latter is clearly the better defensive player, possesses more upside due to his athletic ability but needs further skill development in his offensive game.
One thing they share however, are very low assist rates during their one college season as Parker came in at 8.6 while Wiggins was not much better at 9.1. These assist rates to me are a huge concern if you are drafting either player to be your offensive centrepiece as it is very rare for a primary offensive option to have such a low assist rate on a team that is successful during the playoffs in the NBA. The reason being that during playoff basketball the primary offensive option can be neutralized if they are one dimensional and without the ability to make his teammates better their teams do not usually have Championship or even Finals level success.
A player that Parker often gets compared to is someone that actually shares the low assist rate trait in Carmelo Anthony. This was broken down to a great level of detail by DeanOnDraft and I would recommend you read it if you haven’t already. Melo has a career assist rate of 10.6 and has been relatively successful in both Denver and New York during the regular season but has never had significant playoff success like Lebron James who has a spectacular career assist rate of 20.3. Durant is another potential comparison for Parker as he has a career assist rate of 11.6 but the Thunder only became legit contenders over the previous three seasons and that coincides with Durant averaging an assist rate of 14.4 over that same period.
Im sure at this stage you would raise the Paul George comparison and note that if a top tier defensive team were to be put around Parker then it could work. Well George actually sported a 22.4 assist rate in his sophomore season at Fresno State and has averaged an assist rate of 14.6 throughout his NBA career. So while teams can key on George during the playoffs he does have the ability to create for others even on a team that is so offensively challenged as the Pacers.
Taking all this into consideration I feel that if becoming a legitimate contender is the goal then selecting Parker would be the wrong decision for the Bucks. I haven’t delved too deeply into Wiggins but his offensive limitations lead me to believe that he is an even worse candidate then Parker as he would need to develop his creativity on top of improving his scoring ability which may end up being too much to ask even from some that has the upside he possesses.
So if Embiid is off the board then who should the Bucks select? What if the public perception is wrong and there are actually four players at the top of the draft that are of the same calibre? It appears many scouts believe this and I would echo this sentiment as I feel Dante Exum is as good as these other prospects and would be the best bet for this franchise at the number two spot. I understand the fans concern around Exum due to the relative lack of information available compared to the other prospects. What we do know is he is a 6’6" guard with point guard skills, a lightning first step along with a humble and hardworking attitude. He has been one of if not the best player in the Under 17 and Under 19 World Championships as well as the Nike Hoops Summit where Wiggins, Parker and Embiid were all participants. In todays NBA having a point guard that can break down the defense and create opportunities for himself or his team mates is invaluable. As Exum noted at the NBA Combine he is "a player that likes to beat a man off the dribble and make the defense have to help and open up players. I think that's where I excel in my game."
The final point to consider is the makeup of the Bucks team and while this is only a minor consideration as you should always take talent over need high in the draft, this element again points to Exum being the right selection. Selecting the Australian guard will allow Larry Drew to shift Brandon Knight to shooting guard on offense and cross match him defensively with the opposing teams point guard due to Exums height and ability to defend shooting guards. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a lock at the small forward spot with Ersan Ilyasova providing the floor spacing that a penetrating player like Exum would thrive in. Larry Sanders would be the primary roll option that can be used for either an Exum or Knight initiated pick and roll.
What it all comes down to is who you feel has the stronger ability to develop. Do you believe Wiggins can improve his scoring ability as well as his creativity? Do you believe Parker can improve his creativity? Or is it a better bet to select the player that already can create for himself and his team mates? The choice is yours Milwaukee.