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What the Draft Tells Us About the New GM

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Former Bucks GM, and now current Orlando Magic GM, John Hammond, was known for selecting players that were long and raw. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker are the pinnacle of Hammond selections, taking both of them in the Top 15 of their respective drafts. This was new Bucks GM Jon Horst’s first crack at shaping the roster to “Own the Future.”

With a week before the draft and a new GM in hand, it was expected that the Bucks would continue their trend of selecting raw talents in the first round. And they did! The draft did not signal any major shifts in the Bucks philosophy.

The selection of D.J. Wilson is very on-brand for the Bucks, a brand cultivated by Hammond (our fearless co-leader, Mitchell Maurer, touched on this with his Crossroads piece this past Friday). The team picked a long, raw player taken higher than where he was expected to go. Wilson does differ from the Giannis and Thon selections, but only when we dive into the semantics.

Wilson is not an international man of mystery, nor was he a teen at the time of the draft. He has a higher floor than both Giannis and Thon had (have?), and comes to Milwaukee a bit more beefed up than them as well. Wilson is less of a project and could contribute right away, but initially as more of a complimentary player. Still, Wilson’s selection was not a major change from what we saw from Hammond.

As the draft was winding down and bedtimes were fast approaching, the Bucks sold their second round selection and then (thankfully) bought another. The end result was Sterling Brown. The word is that Brown’s selection could spell the end of Rashad Vaughn‘s time in Milwaukee; so far, Vaughn has been a swing-and-a-miss selection from the Hammond Era, and Brown could end up being the reliable sharpshooter coming off the bench that Hammond had in mind when selecting Vaughn.

Draft night was a continuation of the norm that fans and the league had come to expect from the Bucks front office. The changes that happened behind the curtain are where we begin to see management be more open about their decision making process. Efficiency is important in any business, and the front office appears to be using efficiency analytics as the inertia point around which the lineups orbit. Heck, even Horst’s first name, Jon, is a more efficient version of Hammond’s first name, John, so we really shouldn’t be surprised by this:

Wilson checks off a lot of analytical boxes that the front office deems important in building a top team. The fluidity in which Wilson can blend into any position within a lineup while still being useful is paramount for the type of team being built. Horst and Co. do not select Wilson if they didn’t believe he could be a missing link in lineup rotations. That kind of thinking is straight out of the Hammond playbook — get guys in who the staff can build into jacks-of-all-trades.

The second round pick was also made with efficiency in mind. Brown was an effective and efficient shooter from deep during his four years in Dallas:

If Brown is able to keep up with that kind of rate, he will no doubt carve out a spot in the lineup. Brown’s 230 pound frame and tenacity on the defensive end should blend well with the switch-happy Bucks defense, if the quickness of an opposing guard isn’t too much for him. He can bulldog his way into effectively defending a taller forward, but if he’s able to stay in front of guards and body them up, then he becomes useful. One player being able to defend three positions is the efficiency the Bucks need defensively.

The new guy’s first draft stayed within the organization’s historical expectations of what the draft should be about. Horst being candid with analytics is a positive sign; we have seen GMs on other teams be open with using analytics as a decision making tool. If the goal is crafting a lineup of players that can play anywhere on the floor as efficiently as possible, analytics should be the backbone of those decisions. When Jason Kidd trots out a questionable rotation I’ll trust the decision a little more, as frustrating as it can be. Speaking of which, Kidd made the following comments about the future of NBA lineups:

When you talk about today’s NBA, there is no position. Look at the Finals, there is no center.

From the aforementioned Crossroads piece from Friday, the following question was proposed:

Is the path to success leaning further into “positionless basketball” and establishing a large core of players who are interchangeable in the lineup and seek matchup advantages against the opponent?

This is a great thought exercise! Hammond laid the foundation for a position-agnostic lineup during his tenure, and we are beginning to see the results. The ease and fluidity with which top NBA teams can rotate their lineups has been sweeping the league the past few seasons. Give credit to Hammond for building that position-less core the past handful of years.

Horst’s first draft signals a continuation of this path the team is heading on; however, he has a chance to separate himself from his predecessor when it comes time for free agency and negotiating extensions. Hammond threw around money when the salary cap exploded, now the cap has shrunk and pennies need to be pinched. We all eagerly await to see how Horst handles free agency and how contractually creative he can get. The young Bucks are starting to come into their own and Horst can capitalize on the core by being smarter with the checkbook.