Milwaukee has a long road to contention, and though we might have the greatest emerging player in the East we must get value wherever we can find it. We have not managed that essential goal in the past, due to structural chaos, inexperience, and short term thinking in the extreme. This summer we must forge a tangible identity around our superstar and build around that plan.
In the NBA, there’s no asset so valuable as an unprotected first, and so the Bucks have held tight to our perennial pick for a decade. It’s interesting to see what a first round pick is truly worth to our squad. Building a better future means facing the past with the clarity of hindsight. I warn you the past can be painful, though our prognostications are always good for a laugh.
2008 Joe Alexander - 8th - The Bust
That Was Then:
If the Bucks do keep Alexander then they must have felt he was the best guy on the board, and that’s never a bad strategy. It might also suggest the Bucks think Alexander’s strength, size and athleticism give him a chance to play some power forward.
Potential vs Production: I suppose you could put this one down as a pick for potential, though there were other motives at play. The Bucks seemed to truly believe being Taiwanese-born was enough for Alexander to draw mainland Chinese fans to the Bucks as a final extension of the abortive Yi Jianlian marketing strategy.
What we got: The Bucks traded Yi for Richard Jefferson the same day we acquired Slowy Joey. Despite a somewhat fun Dunk contest campaign, he never showed any NBA level talent, and ended up the highest draft pick ever to have their rookie option declined.
2009 Brandon Jennings - 10th - The Solid Pick
That was then:
No one in the draft scared me more than Brandon Jennings...so naturally he’s now a Buck. As one of the highest risk/reward guys in the draft, Jennings was scary to pick and equally scary to pass on.
Potential vs Production: Brandon Jennings took the pioneer’s path in playing for a season in Italy before declaring for the draft, though that road seems diverted with the advent of the G-League. The team drafted Jennings knowing that he was a prep school phenom, but it was a potential move all the way. Better than the productive pick at the time, which would have been Jonny Flynn.
What we got: Fear the Deer, Bucks in Six, and enough value on departure to get back Brandon Knight & Khris Middleton. For all of his detractors, Jennings came in, contributed starting level value on day one, and his trade counterpart continues to pay dividends as the Bucks second best player. For the culture indeed.
2010 Larry Sanders - 15th - The Trainwreck
That was then:
Standing nearly 6’11” with a 7’6” wingspan, Sanders is still fairly raw but nevertheless provides immediate depth at the power forward and center positions ...
At 21-years-old he’s not young by draft standards, but it should also be noted that he only started playing organized basketball in the 10th grade. He’s also by all accounts a terrific kid and hard worker.
Potential vs Production: Larry Sanders came to town a prototypical big with a hint of an outside game, but man was he raw. He was the Ur tube man, the first of many that could be the perfect 5 with 25 extra pounds of solid muscle.
What we got: Sigh. Larry got better every year, providing size and intimidation up front until we extended him. Then he burned himself right out of the league. An off-brand barroom brawl, mysterious injuries, and a drug suspension lead to a buyout for which we are still paying. Wish him the best, but this is almost, almost as bad as it gets in terms of lost value.
2011 Tobias Harris - 19th - The Misused Asset
That was then:
Hammond and company deserve credit for doing what many considered impossible--dealing both John Salmons and Corey Maggette while getting back productive players who are actually owed over $8 million less in aggregate. Of course, the Bucks had to pay for it, dropping back nine spots in the first round, and you can guess there will be lots of fan angst about the Bucks’ decision to pass on better known scorers such as Jordan Hamilton and Marshon Brooks for the younger, less explosive Tobias Harris.
Potential vs Production: As the youngest player in the draft, Harris was all potential.
What we got: Before Giannis, Funky Tobias was the prospect flashing signs of real honest to goodness talent, but he left without a signature moment. We didn’t get the most out of his game, but he seemed on the verge when the man upstairs decided to cash him in for a few games of JJ Redick’s illustrious mercenary career.
2012 John Henson - 14th - The Scapegoat Contributor
That was then:
A day after trading down two spots in the draft to acquire shot-blocking center Samuel Dalembert, the Milwaukee Bucks added yet another shot-blocking big man by selecting North Carolina junior John Henson with the 14th overall pick ...
Henson leaves UNC with a pair of ACC Defensive Player-of-the-Year awards and projects as an elite shot-blocker and solid rebounder at the power forward position. That owes mostly to his freakishly long frame ... though he’s also extremely light for a big man at just 216 pounds.
Potential vs Production: Another pick that was all about the measurements baby
What we have: A solid enough backup big in an era that has no value in big men that can’t score outside. He managed to snag an extension in the Fat Year of 2015, when bad teams lost their damn minds. The cap is the only reason LeBron James is not making a billion dollars a year. John Henson didn’t do anything wrong, he did what we thought he’d do, and sometimes it was enough. He never should have made it past $10 mil a year in this era (or $5 mil), but he’s still contributing to the team six years later.
2013 Giannis Antetokounmpo - 15th - The Home Run
That was then:
The selection of Antetokounmpo puts me in an odd spot, because my pre-draft argument for supporting the possible selection of Shabazz Muhammad advanced a line of thinking that works against support for a sudden riser like Giannis ...
Without game tape of Giannis playing against NBA-caliber talent, the book on the Bucks’ No. 15 is very short. In the absence of evidence or on-point precedent, even the scouts and GMs have to use their imagination to fill in the gaps. We can all dream, but there’s not a lot of substance to the analysis. It’s impossible to have strong feeling about what Antetokounmpo will become, because the line between talent and skills has been blurred as the young forward prepares to play against athletes that will test him in ways he’s never been tested before.
Production vs Potential: No one knows what possessed our team to take a flyer on the kid from Athens, but he blasted away all expectations. It was potential all the way for the Greek Freak in the early years.
What we have: Not only the best chance at relevance in a decade, the best chance to make history. If any player in the NBA is about to put a team on his back and make it all the way to the promised land, that man is Giannis Antetokounmpo. His value is astronomical, and that’s why there’s no way to get anything close to his value in any transaction.
Giannis is a steal at any price, and that makes him priceless. He is a daunting and wonderful asset, the terror and delight of all GMs who behold him.
2014 Jabari Parker - 2nd - The Snuffed Hope
That was then:
The Milwaukee Bucks’ new era began in earnest Thursday night, and its newest face is Jabari Parker.
The Chicago native and former high school player of the year joins Giannis Antetokounmpo as the new centerpieces of a rebuilding Bucks franchise, a phrase so beautiful we never could have imagined writing it one year ago.
But here we are, and it’s OK to be absolutely thrilled. After suffering through a 15-67 season, Bucks fans deserved this.
Potential vs Production: The Bucks finally drafted a player based on his ability to contribute and his name was Jabari Parker. He was to be our shining beacon, the star snagged on the sly stealth tank.
What we got: Bad Luck Bari. A team can’t do much worse than to get nothing at the end of a top three pick’s rookie contract. I’m not going to dwell.
2015 Rashad Vaughn - 17th - The Clown
That was then:
His shot selection needs a lot of refining ... He’ll provide depth at the SG position, presumably behind restricted free-agent Khris Middleton and bench scorer O.J. Mayo.
The selection of Vaughn came as a bit of a surprise considering some of the other players available at #17, including Arkansas power forward Bobby Portis and Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker. The fit is questionable for Vaughn, who doesn’t seem to align with Milwaukee’s pressuring defensive system, and there were other positions of greater need for the Bucks. But Vaughn’s natural scoring ability is impressive, especially at a young age, and General Manager John Hammond has always prioritized talent over fit in the draft.
Potential vs Production: The Bucks drafted for potential with Vaughn. There’s some argument that they wanted a shooter from day one, but that wasn’t who we were then. Felt like a GM or owner taking a pet despite the lack of fit in Kidd’s, well, I wouldn’t call it a system per se.
What we got: A streaky scorer with low basketball IQ and spotty defensive awareness. Rashad’s production comes with the same grotesque grain of salt as all Bucks in the Kidd era, that he was never given a role and rarely presented opportunities to find one for himself. As we’ve seen from the past decade, this dooms players who did not enter the league with a firm sense of identity. Vaughn clowned his way out of the league. At least we got Tyler Zeller by throwing in a second rounder, proving somebody else wanted to do something with him. He was traded again and promptly waived this February.
2016 Thon Maker - 10th - The Project
That was then:
The Milwaukee Bucks have made a habit of making big gambles on draft night. Thursday night might be their biggest yet.
With the No. 10 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Bucks drafted Australian big man Thon Maker, in the process shocking many observers who thought the highly touted high school big man might slip to the late first or even second round. A 7’1”, 218-pounder with elite physical tools, Maker is considered one of the rawest prospects in the draft, though he reportedly impressed with his perimeter shooting in predraft workouts.
Potential vs Production: Projected late, Thon was a stretch and a reach, which is about what he’s shown so far as an NBA player if you throw in the herky jerk jig of a broken marionette.
What we have: He is a giant X factor in the Budenholzer offense, though he bears no outside value until he either shows a consistent outside or post game. No matter what he does he will be so thin though. Most likely projects as a bench contributor and shot blocking specialist. He could be sucker sweetener in the right deal.
2017 DJ Wilson - 17th - The Lanky Clown
That was then:
He’s 21 years old, but there’s definite room to grow with solid coaching. Offensively he has some raw skills that need some refinement and a shot that should be solid. Defensively, if he can pick up the Bucks complex system, he should be able to contribute right away, and he could eventually become a great defender if the versatility he showed in college translates and if he tightens up some fundamentals.
Potential vs Production: Maybe I’m harsh on Lanky Smoove, but this seems less like a pick for any kind of schematic value and another bizarro miss by a new GM. I could say that Wilson was a potential pick, but he hasn’t shown value outside of the G-League and he’s redundant with better players that he needs to learn to emulate. To get value he needs to play, and he may not play because he lacks value.
2018 Donte DiVincenzo - 17th - The Roleplayer
This is now:
With the advent of these larger playmaking wings in the NBA, DiVincenzo almost seems like a new kind of tweener. Too big to be a pure point guard, too small to be a playmaking wing, his sole contribution to the team may be shooting. Of course, that’s a necessity for any team, particularly the Bucks who are likely done trotting Jason Terry out after last year.
What I do know, is that the draft has too much variance for me to feel comfortable calling any pick “safe.” Anyone can be a bust, so I’d rather Milwaukee hadn’t chosen a flash-in-the-pan scorer who entered this process as a fringe first rounder before individual workouts.
Potential vs Production: He might not be more than an off the bench scorer at this point, but that’s a role that Bucks seem to finally respect, and shooters who accept their role have a place on every NBA team. Could the DiVincenzo era be a turning point in Bucks history? Only those who stay tuned will find out.
Backcourt - Brandon Jennings (PG), Rashad Vaughn (SG), Donte DiVincenzo (SG)
Wings - Joe Alexander (SF)
Frontcourt - Larry Sanders (C), John Henson (PF-C), Tobias Harris (SF-PF), Jabari Parker (SF-PF), Thon Maker (C), DJ Wilson (PF?)
Godmode - Giannis (drafted as 6’9” wing)
Ranking the picks in terms of value to the Bucks
2. Brandon Jennings
3. John Henson
4. Tobias Harris
5. Thon Maker
6. Donte DiVincenzo
7. Larry Sanders
8. DJ Wilson
9. Jabari Parker
10. Rashad Vaughn
∞. Joe Alexander
Trends and Observations:
The average position of Bucks picks over the past decade was 13.5. This is late lottery land, the true home of the Bradley Center Bucks and a direct product of Win Now. At 13-14, the sure bets have dried up and every pick is a crap shoot for weak FOs. This range separates the great teams from the pretenders. It also allows poor GMs an excuse, they can take their pet on house money and let it ride on potential.
The Bucks have drafted in the 17 slot three out of the last four years. Giannis pushed us into guaranteed playoff territory, and that makes getting value out of the draft that much harder. It’s not that much farther back than our typical selections in the past, but in terms of lost value even a lottery protected pick seems to have more appeal than one guaranteed to go 18-23. Uncertainty is our surest asset, and Giannis sets a high floor.
The Bucks have traded down in the draft to get their man while using their assets to dump previous mistakes. Those mistakes are dead weight veterans that we sign or extend whenever there’s cap space. The Bucks do not acquire picks. The Bucks do not trade up. Eric Bledsoe was the player that the team deemed worthy of opening the vault.
The Bucks draft domestic. We have not valued shooting. Short term memory stats like combine measurements matter. We are not worried about age on either side of the spectrum. Length is seen as shorthand for defense. Thin players are expected to bulk out to become NBA serviceable, which might be giving Wisconsin cuisine a little too much credit. This leads to a self-fulfilling archetype, despite years of trying we never managed a full flotilla of tube men.
We tended to take the project over the guy who is NBA ready, which was disastrous in the Kidd era. The idea that Bud’ll Fix It is a major source of hope for every young player that survived last season’s purge.
We as fans are not omnipotent. We were confused at best about Giannis, possibly the best Buck in history. On the other hand, we tended to feel that Jabari Parker was the surest of bets, a plug in and pay me star in the offing. In the era of the wing, the Bucks selected none in the first round, unless you’re counting Giannis.
The average NBA career is around 5 years, or the rookie deal plus a little under an extension. Three of these players are already out of the league and another may be on the way out if we drop him in August. Only two that are not on their rookie contracts have stayed their entire career with the team, and only one is a starting level contributor. The Bucks have to hit at a more consistent rate, if half of this group had become decent starters, especially wings, we’d have a pile of assets & more depth than any number of chaff vet signings.
It feels good looking back when your team nails a draft pick. A home run fills you with giddy nostalgia, the kind you get from watching something you love grow in this world. A bust bums you out. When Jennings is one of the better feeling first round picks in the past decade, you know you’ve got some work. The key to why Jennings feels so good is that we managed to accrue sustained value even in departure. Far too often we held out and ended up with a palmful of sand.