I always know when it’s middle to late June, because certain strange things seem to happen. My upper lip starts to sweat continuously and my shoulders begin tensing up as if something earth-shattering is about to happen. Yep, that must mean the NBA Draft is just days away and I’m starting to get seriously excited. What’s going to go down at Thursday’s draft is a mystery right now and the suspense, frankly, is killing me.
But to understand what the future might hold, it might help to understand the past. Back in the Bucks’ inaugural season (1968), the draft had 21 rounds. Yes, 21 excruciating rounds. The baby Bucks selected 12 players, including eventual 1971 championship starter Greg Smith. The Bucks were also awarded a few expansion players like passing wizard Guy Rodgers, who was probably our best player in 1968.
The 1969 draft is the “one that changed everything” with the selection of Lew Alcindor. (I’ll have more on him later.) Incredibly, from 1970 to 1975 the draft was a big zero for the Bucks. The team selected 58 players and not a single one made any significant impact on the franchise. Nobody, unless you consider the 1972 selection of Julius Erving, who opted to play for the ABA, and was never seen in a Milwaukee jersey.
In 1976 the team selected multiple time All Star Alex English out of a crop of 12 other players. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, English enjoyed most of his best years with other teams. Bad luck? Well, consider this: from 1978 to 1992 Milwaukee totaled 93 draft picks, which resulted in the fruits of just Sir Sidney Moncrief (1979) and Paul Pressey (1982). That’s it. An incredibly dry drafting spell.
In the early/mid 90’s, things picked up with the selections of Vin Baker, Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen. But the team was stained by the 1998 “selection” of Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki was taken with the 9th pick and then traded to the Dallas Mavericks in a pre-arranged deal. The embarrassment of that trade was it exposed Milwaukee’s incompetence in scouting the best overseas players, and Nowitzki turned out to be a true franchise player. Milwaukee had essentially traded Dirk for journeyman Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor. Former Bucks coach Don Nelson knew who he was negotiating with when he pulled off that deal.
Since then, the draft has been mostly hit and miss for the Bucks. For every Michael Redd there’s a Joe Alexander. Yi Jianlian was a lot of hype but no substance. Brandon Jennings splashed excitement but had no staying power. Andrew Bogut spent as much time with the medical staff as on the basketball floor.
So, without further ado, here’s (subjectively) the Milwaukee Bucks’ four best drafts in franchise history.
1977 draft — #1 overall pick Kent Benson, #3 overall pick Marques Johnson and #11 pick Ernie Grunfeld. Any draft that produces Marques Johnson is a winner. Ironically, Indiana Hoosier center Kent Benson was seen by most as the unanimous top pick in that year’s draft. It turned out he was not a very good player, but he was a key member of the trade that secured the Bucks Bob Lanier in 1980, so bless his heart.
Grunfeld was a disappointment as a player but he did manage to make his name in the front office, most notably for being the Bucks’ GM who traded Ray Allen for 30 games of Gary Payton and journeyman Desmond Mason. Not all that impressive.
Since Marques Johnson went on to be a five time All Star and a fantastic player, the 1977 draft was a big success. He put up numbers in the range of 25 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists with regularity. Then in 1984, the Bucks traded him in his prime under seemingly strange circumstances. He’s possibly the best player in Bucks history (so far) not named Kareem.
1996 Draft — #5 pick Stephon Marbury, but Marbury was traded on draft night for Ray Allen. Allen went on to be arguably the most important member of the 2001 “Big 3” squad which led Milwaukee to the Eastern Conference finals. While a Buck, Allen was named to the All Star team three times. He ranks even higher because of what he did after he left Brewtown. When all was said and done, Allen was a 9 time All Star selection, a 2 time NBA champion and the finest three-point shooting guard of his time. He was just plain tough on the perimeter. And he consistently said he loved Milwaukee and never wanted to leave. That gets him brownie points.
2013 Draft — #15 pick Giannis Antetokounmpo. What else can be said? He is potentially Milwaukee’s first true franchise player since Lew Alcindor. A true freak of nature (like his nickname!). 6’11” with ability to handle like a 1, score like a 2, defend the 3 as well from the 4 spot, block shots like a 5 and still has considerable “upside.” The sky is the limit for possible MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.
1969 Draft — #1 pick overall Lew Alcindor and 4th round pick Bob Dandridge. The Mother Lode. Here’s what the Bucks landed:
The ‘69 Draft launched the Milwaukee Bucks franchise to what it is today. The successful coin flip (with the Phoenix Suns) to determine who got the top draft pick that year separated the Bucks from the fate of a long list of NBA small market teams. Many are long gone today. Rochester Royals, anyone? I could write 10 articles on Alcindor but I will say this: the minute he stepped on the floor for the Bucks the team and the city were never the same. Kareem (named since in 1972) was universally acknowledged as the best college player ever, and many expected him to be the best ever to play in the NBA. He was Wilt, Russell, Dr. J and the Big O all wrapped up in one player. Expectations and hype were ginormous and Kareem exceeded it all. He was the best player in the NBA for at least 11 straight years and arguably more. He was truly incredible.
Bob Dandridge: What a catch in that same 1969 draft! ‘The Greyhound’ was a terrific 18 pt/8 reb small forward who battled the league’s best forwards for years. He won two NBA championships, one with the Bucks and the other with the Washington Bullets. He was considered one of the top 5 small forwards in the league for much of the 70’s; Bobby D, Kareem, and Oscar formed Milwaukee’s first “Big 3.”
Well, I’m stretching but I’m going to go with the 2016 draft of #10 pick Thon Maker and #36 selection Malcolm Brogdon. Why? Pure potential. They both showed they could play last year, and they’re likely going to get plenty of opportunity this coming season to show it wasn’t a fluke.
Random Kareem factoid
So much has been written about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But dig this: in 1986, he was named First Team All-NBA for the 10th time. What many don’t know is at the time Jabbar was a staggering 39 years old. No player that age or older had ever been named First Team All-NBA. The next oldest First Teamers? None other than Michael Jordan and Karl Malone, who were both selected at the tender age of 35.