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Another Quick Glance at the Current Bucks Rotation

You can tell he wants it, but will he get the minutes he craves? Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
You can tell he wants it, but will he get the minutes he craves? Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The day after the NBA draft, I put together a post detailing my views on what the regular season rotation would look like for the Milwaukee Bucks. Now that the NBA Vegas Summer League has concluded, and we saw some revealing performances from the roster quartet of Tobias Harris, Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Doron Lamb, now's as good a chance as any to take another look.

After inking Ersan Ilyasova to a palatable 5 years/$40 million, the Bucks have not yet signed any other free agents (Randy Foye was heavily rumored before becoming a Jazz(?), as are Jermaine O'Neal and Joel Pryzbilla) or made any trades (Beno Udrih was the main name on the trading block) between the draft and now. Most of us think that the Bucks are/need to be in the market for an outside shooting wing (Carlos Delfino's hurt feelings notwithstanding), so the rotation definitely is subject to change between now and training camp/pre-season.

But it sure is fun to make predictions based on nothing but opinion and speculation. Let's dive in!

First off, let's rebuild the preliminary depth chart by position:

Position Starter Bench 1 Bench 2 Bench 3 Bench 4
PG Brandon Jennings Beno Udrih
SG Monta Ellis Mike Dunleavy Doron Lamb
SF Luc Mbah a Moute Mike Dunleavy Tobias Harris
PF Ersan Ilyasova Ekpe Udoh John Henson Drew Gooden Larry Sanders
C Samuel Dalembert Larry Sanders Drew Gooden Ekpe Udoh

A few more details on this quasi-complete depth chart:

  1. I removed Monta Ellis from the PG rotation, especially after Steve's article praising Beno Udrih's contributions as a backup point guard. Until the Bucks sign another guard, the 1 is strictly for Brandon and Beno.
  2. I still have LRMaM designated as the starting SF, even though his game may or may not fit better as a PF. Bucks' brass has given indications that Luc will return to the 3, none larger than resigning Ersan, pushing Luc back outside with considerable contributions from Dunleavy and Harris as the season goes on.
  3. Minutes were distributed based on last season's usage, players' career averages, players' current trend (relative to their own careers), and depth at any given position.
  4. Lineup combinations are still absent from my amateur analysis, but that's something that the BH Brain Trust will certainly be working on.
As always, the total sum of minutes distributed is 240 (5 players x 48 minutes) and assumes relative healthiness.

Brandon Jennings - 35 mpg: No major change from last time. He's still the main PG and franchise player, for better or for worse.

Beno Udrih - 22 mpg: A slight increase for Beno; Steve might pine for more PT, but I don't believe more will be available when you consider Mike Dunleavy's ability to play SG and the team's continued interest in signing another combo guard.

Monta Ellis - 35 mpg: Still the same as before; Monta and Brandon will be the highest-played players on the roster, especially since they play positions devoid of plentiful depth.

Mike Dunleavy - 24 mpg: Mike Dunleavy is, to be blunt, too important to the Bucks to play less than half the game. Were he a few years younger, he would assuredly be getting starter minutes, but his durability concerns will keep him around this range. What's interesting is that Dunleavy's primary and secondary positions (SF and SG) have potential behind him in Doron Lamb and Tobias Harris. Their strong Summer League showing could have major implications.

Doron Lamb - 0 mpg: Combining his college shooting and his Summer League scoring abilities, Lamb might get a few more chances than I initially expect; if Dunleavy drops off/gets hurt, I'd expect to see much more of Lamb at the 2 with the second unit. Until then, however, he would be a perfect candidate for the D-League if the team carried more than 4 natural guards. More on this later.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: 14 mpg: A potential casualty of the Bucks' Summer League exploits; he's valuable on defense but a liability on offense, making his PT situation interesting to watch. He and Ersan should be the starting forwards, with Luc focusing on setting screens while Ersan spreads the floor. But with Mike Dunleavy firmly entrenched as the team's 6th man and Tobias Harris waiting in the wings, not to mention the perpetual PF logjam, I find it hard to believe that Luc will get more time than what I have allotted.

Tobias Harris - 14 mpg: Not a huge jump for Harris, but he showed some considerable improvement at his perimeter offensive skills. If he doesn't regress there AND improves either his defense or outside shooting, he could eventually usurp the starting position.

Ersan Ilyasova - 30 mpg: He put up starter numbers, got starter money, and has the faith of the front office. He fits in well with all three of the small forwards on the roster, and having a plethora of rim defenders around will help mask his defensive weaknesses. Ersan just needs to shoot on offense, draw charges on defense, and rebound on both ends (basically, be himself), and he'll fit in just fine.

Ekpe Udoh - 16 mpg: The ability to play C next to Ersan and the ability to both think and move over Sanders keep him high up in the big man rotation. He knows his game and his role on the team, which is more than most NBA players can claim.

John Henson - 8 mpg: The other Summer League All-Star gets a nice chunk of minutes after showing off a capable jump shot and a great lefty hook. His shot-blocking was not as spectacular as advertised, but I see him being a major contributor off the bench as the season goes on. My biggest worry is his free throw shooting, which is inexplicably poor.

Drew Gooden - 8 mpg: The following players have significant skill advantages over Gooden: Ilyasova, Udoh, and Dalembert. With John Henson is right on his heels, not much but scraps are left for our favorite space cadet. The #DrewGooden4MVP movement may turn into the #FreeDrewGooden revolution, especially since fans and ownership alike won't love his dollars-to-minutes ratio.

Larry Sanders - 8 mpg: Again, this is just to start the season, but with Henson playing so well, Ilyasova coming back, and Udoh having a better brain between his ears, Sanders might end up at the end of the bench. If Larry reads this blog (and we all kind of believe that each player has this on his "Favorite Sites" tab, don't we?), he'll take Steve's advice to try to claw his way back into relevance. If not, an extended trip to the D-League could both help clear up the congestion in the rotation as well as help him further slow the game down in his own head.

As an aside, I have a strange gut feeling that the long-term plan with Larry is to try to turn him into a C/PF instead of his current status as a PF/C. With Samuel Dalembert expiring and no prospects in the pipeline (Udoh would probably be worse at center than Sanders), they might want to hang onto a cheap, home-grown talent that knows the system and can run the floor. Again, no real facts to back this up, but you never know...

Samuel Dalembert - 26 mpg: Sammy's getting older, but his effective rebounding and defense, along with status as the only "true" C on the roster keep him firmly entrenched in the rotation. Only injury or a trade would deduct more minutes from him.

* * *

After going through the whole roster, it's easy to see how unbalanced it is. But to further illustrate it, let's put the roster in order of minutes allotted and position played:

Name Position Minutes
Brandon Jennings 1 35
Monta Ellis 2 35
Ersan Ilyasova 4 30
Samuel Dalembert 5 26
Mike Dunleavy 3/2 24
Beno Udrih 1/2 22
Ekpe Udoh 4/5 16
Luc Mbah a Moute 3/4 14
Tobias Harris 3/4 14
Larry Sanders 4/5 8
Drew Gooden 4/5 8
John Henson 4/5 8

Depth is one of Milwaukee's strong points, but are we really deep anywhere other than PF? With six players capable of playing the position (Ilyasova, Udoh, LRMaM, Sanders, Gooden, and Henson), they take up 84 of the team's 240 minutes, which is only 35% of the available playing time. For your PF rotation and minutes at backup C, this isn't bad, but it shouldn't be spread across 6 players. This overage keeps everyones playing time artificially low; you could argue that everyone on the above list besides Ersan could stand to use an additional 10 minutes of PT per game.

Naturally, this causes a major shortage elsewhere on the roster. With Jennings, Ellis, Udrih, and Dunleavy (who's really a SF) as the only players capable of playing either guard spot, they are soaking up an unfair share of the minutes. 116 minutes (or 48% of the team's available minutes) is too much for four players manning two positions, to say nothing of the presumed rotation between the trio of Jennings, Ellis, and Udrih while Dunleavy plays forward. We could add Lamb to the 12-man roster to soak up whatever extra minutes were available, but then which of our big men do we bench?

* * *

Here's the gist of my argument: we need one less PF and one more PG/SG on the regular season roster. The team knows this, despite putting Beno Udrih on the trading block, having pursued several options (including Kirk Hinrich and Randy Foye). The problem is that none of these options worked out, opting to sign elsewhere. Now you're left with a situation where an injury to any of the 3 main guards will force Doron Lamb into a major role, which he might not be yet ready for. Meanwhile, you're splitting minutes at one position between six players when the ideal would be no more than four.

My solution would (of course) be to trade one of the backup 4's (either Sanders or Gooden), either for a pick or a guard. While this would commit the basketball sin of swapping big-for-small, it would level the roster out and prevent the team from calling upon players who cannot contribute at the level necessary for the team to achieve its goal of making the playoffs. If a trade could not be found, then I would implore John Hammond to make good use of the D-League, sending one of Larry Sanders, John Henson, or even Ekpe Udoh, allowing Doron Lamb some time to get acclimated to the team before getting called on for semi-regular minutes.

Even then, my solution doesn't sound all that great since each of these players has something to offer. But since they're all young (the only veterans that don't need playing time to develop are Gooden, Ellis, Dunleavy, and Dalembert), how do you decide who to give time to and who to take it from? Any of our young players could stand to gain from spending time in the D-League, but would they gain more there than they could getting spot minutes with the Bucks?