On paper, the Milwaukee Bucks are loaded with young talent at the point guard position. On paper, the Milwaukee Bucks are also still lacking anyone who's an above-average NBA point guard.
And there's the rub.
Those facts leave the Bucks in a bit of a weird place heading into the 2015 NBA Draft, which figures to see at least five and perhaps as many as eight point guards drafted in the first round. Depending on your point of view, 23-year-old starter Michael Carter-Williams and 20-year-old Tyler Ennis are either all the youth the Bucks need in the backcourt...or simply not good enough prospects to rely on long term. We'd guess that the Bucks themselves are on the higher end of the "have the faith" spectrum -- after all, they are the ones who acquired these guys -- but we also know the Bucks aren't afraid to draft players who seemingly duplicate existing talent. So until further notice it's probably a mistake to rule out the possibility of Milwaukee drafting another point guard in the first round, especially given that most of the draft's first round prospects have the size required to defend both backcourt spots.
Let's start with a summary table of first round point guard options -- this is the same data that we provided last week in our draft preview, with the "definitely won't be available at 17" guys in gray (D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay) and the mid-first reaches in pink (sorry, Terry Rozier). As a reminder, WARP refers to five-year projected wins above replacement player as calculated by ESPN's Kevin Pelton, while "Vashro" refers to the average expected wins peak projection done by Layne Vashro. No projection system is perfect, but they're excellent reference points to consider, especially when trying to differentiate between otherwise similarly ranked prospects.
Measuring sticks are of course interesting, but they don't mean much without the productivity to back it up. So with that in mind, here's a statistical snapshot of pace-adjusted per 40 minute stats and some key shooting ratios courtesy of DraftExpress:
Casual hoops fans had probably never heard of Murray State's leading scorer before the Chicago draft combine, because, well...Murray State. But Payne's stock has seen a major bump in recent weeks; he posted solid measurables and apparently impressed in team interviews at the Chicago draft combine, which on top of his strong statistical resume has earned him increasing hype as the third-best point guard in the draft. You'd hope that's not news to NBA decision-makers, but for the rest of us, sure.
That resume is readily apparent in the data above. He blew away his peers in terms of scoring volume (23.8 pts/40), scoring efficiently both inside and out while also handing out assists at a high rate. His lower level of competition may have had something to do with that, however, and it probably helps explain his decent-but-not-great projections by both EWP and WARP standards. Payne's lack of top-shelf athleticism is probably also reflected in his low number of attempts at the rim; he was solid there in terms of conversion, but got there at a much lower rate than his peers.
I won't pretend to know Payne's game well enough to have a strong opinion, though it may be a bit academic -- it seems increasingly likely that he'll be gone by the time the Bucks select on draft night anyway. There's been some talk of Payne having a lottery promise already in hand, and, according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, he didn't have additional workouts scheduled as of Friday. Whether he makes it to Milwaukee is unclear, though the Bucks did talk to Payne in Chicago, after which he said all the usual things you might expect. Via Gery Woelfel:
"Milwaukee has a lot of great pieces,'' Payne said. "The Greek Freak (Giannis Antetokounmpo) really took a big step up this season. And I played against Jabari Parker in AAU when I was a junior. He's cold. He can do it all.
"I think the Bucks have the potential to have a big-time season with a couple more pieces.''
On the one hand you can't help but love Payne's combination of volume scoring and playmaking, which is particularly impressive given he's still fairly young (he doesn't turn 21 until later this summer). On the flip side, he doesn't stand out in terms of physical stature or athleticism, which is increasingly a prerequisite for being an elite point guard. So his ceiling may not be more than a middle-of-the-pack starting point, though that would still make him a very good player.
Fans in Wisconsin have probably seen more of Jones than they'd like; arguably his two best games of the season came in Duke's two wins over the Badgers last year. And while he might not be quite that good, those performances did show off the sort of fearless scoring and playmaking that will make him a first round pick on June 25.
Even as a freshman Jones was capable of making big plays when his team needed it, and his numbers have their bright spots: a strong assist-to-turnover rate, a high attempt rate and solid accuracy level from three, and a laser accuracy from the foul line that, in combination, suggest he'll be a good shooter at the NBA level. The fact that he did all of that as a freshman helps explain why his advanced projections are encouraging; he ranked 10th in Layne Vashro's EWP projections and fourth in Kevin Pelton's WARP projections.
On the downside, Jones also measured out as the smallest of the first round point guards in Chicago, and he had a much lower scoring rate (13.3 pts/40p) than his peers. Some of that certainly had to do with the rest of the talent he shared the court with at Duke, though his poor two-point shooting rate (44%) and middling testing numbers (32.5" max vertical) suggest he'll have trouble scoring in the paint.
In the grand scheme of smallish point guards, Jones certainly isn't Chris Paul, but an optimist might see a fair bit of Mike Conley or Ty Lawson upside in him. Still, Jones' physical shortcomings will likely preclude him from cracking the top ten on draft night, and they presumably won't do him any favors in the Bucks' eyes either. Jones' lack of size and length (6'5" wingspan) don't exactly fit the Bucks' backcourt archetype, though a cynic would note that his ability to shoot doesn't either (womp-womp).
Consider Grant the experienced yin to Jones' youthful yang. Due to turn 23 this fall, Grant used his size and savvy to unstoppable effect inside the arc (57% shooting on twos, 73% at the rim), all while piling up more assists per minute than anyone else in our sample. Not surprisingly he's an adept pick-and-roll player, which is always a good thing in today's NBA. And oh yeah, he can do this.
That said, the data on Grant isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Due in no small part to his age, his EWP and WARP projections are the worst of anyone in our sample, and his scoring rate lags somewhat behind most of his peers as well. Though he was a solid three point shooter in his first three seasons, he converted a disappointing 31.6% as a senior.
If Grant was 19 he'd probably be a lock for the top five, but as an elder statesman he seems more likely to land somewhere between the late lottery and low 20s. That would put him squarely in the Bucks' range, though it's anyone's guess if a player like Grant would seriously tempt the Bucks given the other options at play. While he's much more likely to be the next Keyon Dooling than Russell Westbrook, his combination of size, athleticism and ability to play both backcourt spots could earn him consideration. Not working in Grant's favor: while fellow old man Delon Wright looks great by advanced stat projections, Grant looks terrible.
It's not common for statistical projection models to like older prospects, but Delon Wright is not your typical older prospect. Boasting elite size and savvy, Wright did basically everything well for Utah last season: he's the only guy in our sample who averaged better than six rebounds and six assists per 40 minutes, and he also led the group in both steals and blocks (two stats with good correlation to NBA success). Though he's not an elite shooter, he's a plus-defender also became a solid spot-up shooter from deep last season (35.6%), got to the rim more than anyone else in our sample (49% of his attempts), showed good touch from the foul line (83.5%) and was the most efficient scorer among PGs overall (61.9% true shooting). In short, there may not have been a more underrated point guard in America last year, and both WARP (9th) and EWP (8th) love him too.
Still, the concern is that Wright doesn't have much more room to grow, which is why most teams likely view him as more of a bench combo guard than a future starter. Though his perimeter shooting improved, his per-minute numbers barely budged from his junior to senior seasons at Utah, and he's not a top-shelf athlete either (see his 31" max vertical). Considering his relatively low usage rate at Utah, that might suggest his upside would be as a two-way game manager rather than high-caliber starter.
Wright has "late first round steal" written all over him, though his lack of youthful upside takes some of the shine off his strong statistical projections. Which leads us to the all-important question: since he'll most likely be on the board at #17, would the Bucks actually take a chance on him in the middle of the first?
On the one hand, his size and defensive versatility would make him a perfect fit for Jason Kidd's pressuring style; though he's probably not a good enough shooter to play off ball, you can certainly see him sharing ball-handling duties at either backcourt position. But all his positive attributes might not be able to overcome the nagging sense that he'll never be a good NBA shooter, a category where he lags behind basically everyone else in our sample. That seems to be an especially pressing concern for the Bucks, though if prior form holds they may not let it dissuade them from taking a player they deem the best on the board.
George de Paula
Should George de Paula be considered a realistic option for the Bucks at #17? Could George de Paula be the sleeper star of the 2015 draft? Wait, is George de Paula even a real person?
All of those are reasonable questions surrounding de Paula, this year's resident long-limbed mystery man who -- in typical Brazilian fashion -- alternatively goes by George Lucas (!) and Georginho (!!). However, unlike mystery box predecessors Giannis Antetokounmpo and fellow Brazilian Bruno Caboclo, the toolsy de Paula is a point guard rather than a forward, and he also took steps to demystify himself by showing up for scouts at both the recent Nike Hoops Summit and Chicago combine.
As you might guess, he's much more about upside than productivity for now. He only turned 19 last week, which combined with his incredible physical tools (7'0" wingspan, the second-widest hands at the entire combine) make him much more of a project than someone you'd expect to contribute next year. Among other things, his lefty set shot isn't a major threat from deep, and while he's shown strong playmaking instincts and defensive potential, he looks a bit upright on tape (the curse of being 6'6"?) and showed plenty of rough edges at both the Hoops Summit and in scrimmages against older players in Chicago.
Who knows? There have been more than a few jumbo-sized project point guards to land in the NBA, but size and tools alone aren't enough to become a quality NBA player (Nemanja Nedovic or Javaris Crittenton anyone?). Heck, MCW has seen that firsthand, and he's on the more successful end of big NBA point guards. The good news for de Paula is that length has never been more coveted by NBA teams, and the Bucks are the prime example of how valuable perimeter length and switchability can be.
Still, shooting and playmaking are just as important, and those are skills that de Paula would seem to be a long way from mastering. As a result it's probably not surprising to see de Paula projected as a late first rounder at best, with the possibility of sliding through to the latter half of the second round.Teams like the Bucks' will presumably consider him too raw and risky for the mid-first, but those fears fade quickly for more established teams willing to take bigger risks late in the first or bad teams looking for upside in the second.