We’re one week away from the 2023 NBA Draft, and the Bucks only own one second-round pick: the very last one at number 58 (the Sixers and Bulls forfeited their second-round picks due to free agency tampering). The Bucks’ first-round pick—which would have also been last in its round at 30—is with the Clippers, routed there from the Rockets, who acquired it for P.J. Tucker back in 2021. Nevertheless, after some comments from GM Jon Horst about acquiring a first-rounder being “not unforeseeable” a few weeks ago, it appears that Milwaukee may indeed be trying to get into a more favorable position and land a new rookie, according to The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie:
The Bucks, Suns and Cavs have explored potential opportunities to move up into the late 20s and 30s, sources tell @Sam_Vecenie.— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) June 15, 2023
Why? Due to the depth of prospects on the wing and potential NBA-ready, older rotation players.
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Citing league sources, Vecenie believes the Bucks are exploring ways to get into the late first/early second “due to the depth of prospects on the wing and potential NBA-ready, older rotation players.” While then mentioning the caveat that every team looks to do this, he suggests keeping an eye on them.
Certainly, the idea of another young wing prospect to join MarJon Beauchamp and/or an NBA-ready rotation player, likely meaning one who played several years of NCAA ball, is an attractive one. Every year, teams pass over longer-tenured and more decorated college players in favor of the younger, one-and-done types based on their potential. Also every year, one of these older—but still young!—guys turns out to be an immediate quality contributor. Names like Indiana’s Andrew Nembhard (four years of college) at pick 31 and Memphis’ David Roddy (three years) at 23 stick out from last year’s class.
Going back to the 2019 draft, the list of players drafted between 25–40 and played at least three years of college hoops include Quentin Grimes, Herb Jones, Payton Pritchard, Ayo Dosunmu, Xavier Tillman, and Desmond Bane. Obviously, Bane presents perhaps the best-case scenario for picking at the end of the first, but it’s hardly rare to find a quality role player in that range. Most fans recall that Malcolm Brogdon was picked by Milwaukee at 36 in 2016 after four years at Virginia, immediately winning Rookie of the Year and going on to an impressive career, winning Sixth Man of the Year this past season after moving to Boston from Indiana.
Speaking of Indiana, no team holds more picks in this year’s draft than them, with their own selection at seven plus ones acquired from other franchises at 26, 29, 32, and 55. While the last of that quintet isn’t of interest and the first very out of reach, those middle three could be gettable. The Pacers and Bucks have a fair bit of recent trade history beyond their participation in February’s Jae Crowder-George Hill-Serge Ibaka-Jordan Nwora deal, notably involving picks in the exact area we’re talking about. In 2021, the Bucks traded down from 31 to acquire two seconds from the Pacers, used on Georgios Kalaitzakis and Sandro Mamukelashvili. In July 2019, Milwaukee received Indy’s 2020 first plus two future seconds in the Brogdon sign and trade. The first ended up at 24th but they sent to New Orleans in the Jrue Holiday trade, and the 2022 second wound up at 35th, eventually with the Lakers after a couple deals.
All this is to say that the Pacers seem like the most likely target here, should Horst want to jump into the late twenties or thirties. Indy is on track to have ample cap room this summer; even if they hold onto their three first-round picks, they would end up nearly $18m below the projected $134m salary cap with their twelve players under contract and three rookies. So they could acquire any of Milwaukee’s salaries short of Holiday’s or Giannis’ (and Khris Middleton’s if he opts in) without sending any salary back in return. That would also generate some tax savings for the Bucks, swapping out a larger veteran salary for a rookie-scale or near-minimum salary, should the acquired pick be in the second round.
The other team with three selections between 25 and 40 is Charlotte, owning the rights to Denver’s at 27 plus two others at 34 and 39 (they also own the 41st pick, for the record). Like the Pacers, they too control five choices in this year’s draft. Unlike the Pacers, the Hornets seem more likely to go over the cap this summer: they have $91m committed to ten players plus the $10.7m earmarked for the player they will select second overall, but will want to keep the cap holds for free agents Miles Bridges, Kelly Oubre, and P.J. Washington on their ledgers in order to bring them back. Still, they could also acquire salary—as much as nearly $32m without shipping any out—then use Bird rights to retain any or all of the aforementioned trio.
Finally, Sacramento owns the 24th and 38th picks this year, and yes, their cap situation would allow them to assume salary without sending any back in a trade. However, they owe their 2024 first-rounder to Atlanta on account of the Kevin Huerter trade, and due to the NBA’s Stepien rule, they cannot trade their first-round pick this year until after the selection is made. Though their first is likely to stay put, they may be interested in moving that early second since they also pick at 54th.
Of course, there are other teams in the 25–40 range beyond this trio: the Grizzlies, Jazz, and Clippers (who have the Bucks pick, as mentioned) in the first, then the Pistons, Spurs, Celtics, Magic, and Nuggets in the second. Utah also owns multiple firsts (three), then San Antonio and OKC each own two seconds in addition to their lottery picks. Meanwhile, those are Boston and Denver’s only draft choices in 2023, so perhaps they want to hang onto them. Among those clubs, San Antonio, Detroit, Orlando, and Utah could take back salary without sending any out, and how. Utah could have a good $63m in cap room this offseason if some of their holdovers opt out, while the others could have between $30–33m themselves.
As far as who the Bucks could send out in a deal to acquire a late first or early second, the prime candidates are certainly Bobby Portis, Grayson Allen, and Pat Connaughton. Only eight Bucks currently have guaranteed salaries next season, and two of them (Middleton and Jevon Carter) can opt out and hit free agency. I could squint and see a contender like Memphis, or maybe even an up-and-comer desiring a high-level veteran role player being willing to offer up their pick in the late twenties for Portis. The other two’s valuation seems much more in line with an early second. Holiday and Middleton are certainly worth more than a late first, but if a team holding one also offered some quality young talent alongside the pick, Horst might listen.
We’ll see in the coming seven days if these rumors have any teeth, and in the meantime, we’ll take a look at some prospects who might be available around here. Jackson profiled three targets for the 58th selection the other week, but one of them’s stock has risen quite a bit since then to the point where he’s now being mocked as high as the mid-twenties, and it’s a name familiar to many Milwaukeeans: Olivier Maxence-Prosper.
As always, if news of a pre-draft trade drops anytime before—or during—next Thursday evening’s festivities at Barclays Center, we’ll be on it at a moment’s notice.