With the first official week of draft preparations over, the speculation over what the Milwaukee Bucks will do on June 25 can officially begin.
The list of Bucks interviewees in Chicago certainly provides the strongest set of hints, though the names we've seen so far is a varied enough group: Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Christian Wood, Montrezl Harrell, Justin Anderson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Devin Booker, R.J. Hunter and Cameron Payne. But if there's a recurring theme among that group it might be one of shooting relative to position. Aside from Hollis-Jefferson and Harrell, everyone the Bucks have been linked with has flashed plus-shooting relative to their size, with Booker, Hunter and Anderson in particular looking like potential NBA sharpshooters. So perhaps Jason Kidd was just stating the obvious when he appeared on SiriusXM's NBA channel to discuss the Bucks' draft interests on Friday.
"Would we like a guy who can shoot it? Everybody wants a shooter. We want to find someone who can knock down open threes, or knock down the open shot. So hopefully that guy is available when we pick at 17."
You'd certainly hope that Kidd isn't telegraphing the Bucks' strategy six weeks ahead of the draft, and interpreted in its broadest form he might not be saying that much. Perimeter shooting is of course an area where the Bucks struggled after Brandon Knight's departure: Milwaukee ranked 28th in three pointers made and 24th in three point percentage after the all-star break, a period that overlapped not only with the arrival of Michael Carter-Williams but also slumps and injuries to the likes of O.J. Mayo and Jared Dudley.
Moreover, shooting is more important now than it's ever been; the Golden State Warriors may shoot their way to an NBA title in the next month, and the league has made a habit of setting new records for three pointers made and attempted each year. And oh by the way:
The five teams left in the playoffs all ranked in the NBAs top-7 in 3PT attempt frequency. pic.twitter.com/buJgFQG4Jg— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) May 16, 2015
At a minimum no one's going into the draft looking for bad shooters, and in the Bucks' range there could be plenty of guys who can claim to do what Kidd is looking for.
But does that really narrow things down much beyond the longer list we've already seen? Well, the likes of Booker and Hunter are the obvious names to pop up when talking about "shooters," though the likes of Kaminsky and Turner also bring uncommon shooting ability relative to their position (related: that's why they'll probably be long gone by #17). That's especially interesting to a team like the Bucks, who until further notice are building around a projected starting five lacking three-point range at both forward spots (those Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker guys) and point guard (Carter-Williams).
Then again, therein lies the rub. Players like Booker, Hunter and Anderson don't figure to be replacing any of those guys, and it's expecting a lot to think anyone drafted at #17 will be as good as restricted free agent Khris Middleton any time soon either. So in that regard the Bucks' shooting problems aren't necessarily something they can solve by simply drafting another shooting wing. It wouldn't hurt -- especially if that player is the top talent on the board -- but let's keep in mind that the Bucks' shooting problems essentially begin and end with their most talented young players. Basically everyone else in the 2-4 rotation -- Khris Middleton, O.J. Mayo, Jared Dudley, and Ersan Ilyasova -- actually can shoot. So unless Booker or Hunter is going to teach Giannis, Jabari and MCW how to shoot, their long-term role could be limited to being Mayo's eventual replacement off the bench.
The trouble with shooters
All the talk of shooters also underscores the underlying challenge of translating elite college shooting into the same production at the pro level. That might seem somewhat counterintuitive; shooting a basketball would seem like a skill that translates well from one level to the next, right? Yet for every Klay Thompson, there are many more guys who can't adapt, and just as many lesser shooters who develop that skill over time. Whether it's the longer three point line, more limited opportunities, harder-charging NBA defenses, or some combination of all of them, the NBA is littered with guys who lit up college opponents and can't seem to make an impact at the NBA level.
Just ask Xavier Henry, Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke and Doug McDermott, all of whom were picked in the top 20 in large part due to their shooting. To date all have been below average NBA three point shooters, though historical data suggests that shouldn't be a shock. Simple correlations of college-to-pro stats suggest a fairly weak relationship between collegiate and pro three point shooting, especially compared to assists, steals and blocks. Via the excellent Layne Vashro:
Vashro notes that adding three point attempts and free throw accuracy into the mix provide a fair bit of additional explanatory power -- as much as three point accuracy itself -- though the overall implication is a glass half full situation if you're the Bucks. Drafting a shooter may not prove the solution to the Bucks' perimeter problems, especially if they retain the likes or Middleton and Dudley this summer. But the same unpredictability also provides hope for the perimeter shooting of the Bucks' current youngsters, in particular the 20-year-old duo of Antetokounmpo and Parker. Shooting is one skill that can be developed, something we've already seen with Giannis from midrange and are hoping to see from deep next year.
The trap of drafting for need
So what's the upshot of all of this?
Well, shooting is an increasingly important part of the modern NBA game, and teams would be silly to ignore it at draft time, regardless of how difficult it might be to project. But it's not the only skill needed to win, and a one-dimensional shooter is similarly unlikely to be the best player the Bucks can nab at #17. That's my biggest concern with a player such as Booker -- his pure stroke and quick feet would suggest he could be a really good 3-and-D type, but he doesn't scream "upside" in the way that others do.
So ultimately the Bucks should treat this pick like they have every other pick: Find the guy with the best chance of being really, really good a few years from now and have the patience to let him get there. Who knows, maybe that is indeed a "shooter" like Booker or Hunter. But Eric Nehm summed up the big picture rather well last week:
First round picks should not be used to fill a hole on the roster. Teams essentially control their first round picks for seven years. How likely is it that a team's glaring weakness in 2015 is a glaring weakness in 2020? Or even in 2017 for that matter?
First round picks should be used to draft talented players who have an opportunity to make an impact in the next five years for a championship-caliber team. These players don't need to be superstars, but they should be able to make an impact in a seven-man playoff rotation.
Only three words matter in the first round: Best Player Available.
Granted, "best player available" is much easier said than done, and it's quite possible one guy won't separate from the pack when all is said and done. In that event other factors like fit certainly play some role, but it shouldn't be the dominating factor. Personally, I'd love to see the Bucks add a big like Turner or Kaminsky as a potential long-term solution in the middle (sorry, Zaza and John), but it shouldn't just be a matter of plugging a hole for next year. Kidd's extended commentary from Friday suggests the Bucks are ready to be patient, and their track record under John Hammond suggests they're not afraid to take guys who are raw or duplicative. For the sake of the big picture, let's hope that same sentiment once again guides them on June 25.