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Milwaukee Bucks 2021 NBA Draft Primer

The draft is...less than a week away?!

Syndication: Milwaukee Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In the delirium of the Milwaukee Bucks first championship in half a century, I’ve asked myself (and been asked) enough times, “What picks do the Bucks have this year?” that I thought it was worth reminding folks. The answer is the 31st selection in the 2021 NBA Draft that’s scheduled for next Thursday, July 29th. That’s due to Milwaukee trading its first round pick to Houston in exchange for their second and PJ Tucker. Moving down seven draft slots and acquiring a player who helped lead you to a championship? Not bad, Jon.

While the Playoff crunch means the site won’t have some of the typical in-depth NBA draft coverage we’ve done past years, I think y’all can survive it while basking in the glow of this Finals trip. Plus, it’s a reality we’ll have to get used to. The Bucks owe their first round picks to other teams in 2023, 2025 and 2027, with the Pelicans owning swap rights in 2024 and 2026. In fact, the Bucks draft cupboard is pretty cobwebby. Here are the picks Milwaukee currently owns in the next seven drafts:

  • 2021 Second Round Pick (31)
  • 2022 First Round Pick
  • 2023 Second Round Pick
  • 2024 First Round Pick (New Orleans has swap rights)
  • 2024 Second Round Pick
  • 2025 Second Round Pick (From Indiana)
  • 2026 First Round Pick (New Orleans has swap rights)
  • 2027 Second Round Pick

And here are all the picks they owe or won’t have over that period:

For those keeping track at home, that’s eight picks Milwaukee owns over the next seven drafts, with seven either forfeited or traded. At least we have more than we’ve lost! New Orleans of course also has the swap rights for two of those first rounders, but that seems unlikely at this current juncture (although five years is a long time!)

So, long story short, I expect a bit less fervor over draft coverage in the years ahead. But, Milwaukee is also facing the reality of a team well into the luxury tax, staring down a potential repeater tax in the future and short on immediate resources to keep re-tooling around a rather aging roster. We’ll likely see a parade of veteran minimums for several years, but finding a diamond in the draft’s rough would do wonders for providing Milwaukee with a cost-controlled role player that won’t send their tax bill skyrocketing. In that way, this year’s pick and next year’s first round pick may actually loom as semi-important players for Horst to nail.

Turning our sights to this year, the Bucks have a fairly coveted draft slot with Houston’s first pick of the second round. In 2014, Milwaukee found itself in this very spot and drafted Damien Inglis (who I was sure would be outstanding after recovering from injury). They will be hoping for a superior player this time around, but even if a quality first round talent falls to them, that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. As Mitchell wrote in his offseason primer:

Unlike first rounders, second round picks are not subject to rookie scale contracts, meaning that teams have to sign players selected in the back half of the draft using cap space or exceptions. Fortunately, the minimum salary exception is a likely solution (worth about $925K next year for a player with 0 years of NBA experience) for the Bucks, but they cannot offer a single penny over that amount without dipping into their Taxpayer MLE (see above). If a highly-rated prospect plummets down draft boards and feels strongly enough about their value, Milwaukee could find themselves in an impossible situation with a player they picked at #31 overall. This isn’t a likely outcome, but a possible one, and worth keeping in mind.

I’m not sure who would fit this bill, but I figured I’d give a brief history of the last 10 players drafted at 31 to give you an idea of the talent available (H/t to basketball insiders):

It’s not a bad group of players! I remember riding for Elie Okobo back in the 2018 draft actually, but he’s washed out of the league already! You could roughly say four of those picks turned out as solid contributors (Bogdanovic, Crabbe, Osman), with Terry and Claxton’s future still pretty up in the air. The rest either rarely sniffed the court or had their careers derailed by injuries.

It’s a crapshoot, but there’s potential nonetheless. However it plays out, I’d expect possible high grades that evening if Jon Horst goes for one of the Mock Draft intelligentsia’s favorite players who somehow drops out of the first (Terry was a great example last year). Horst’s draft history is mixed, to say the least, but he’s also had so few bites at the apple it’s tough to always evaluate. It’s possible the Bucks could buy an additional second round selection, but I’d expect a rather quiet night for the defending champs next Thursday. On top of that, they still likely want to see what they have in their little-played second round selections from last season: Jordan Nwora and Sam Merrill.

Early next week, we’ll run through several of the prospects that pundits have mocked to Milwaukee at number 31, as well as highlighting a few other potential intriguing players (s/o to StoneAge for getting a headstart) to watch.