Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Final Milwaukee Bucks Rankings for the 2009-10 Season

The 2009-2010 Milwaukee Bucks were picked to finish last in the Eastern Conference by most national pundits but the Bucks defied all odds to make the playoffs as the 6th seed and took the 3rd seeded Atlanta Hawks to 7 games despite missing Andrew Bogut and Micheal Redd. These stats put the Bucks overachieving in perspective:

- The Bucks won 12 more games this season than last season. That 12 game improvement was the largest improvement in the Eastern Conference and the 3rd largest improvement in the NBA (Oklahoma City +27, Memphis +16, Milwaukee +12, L.A. Clippers +10, and Charlotte +9).

- The Bucks shot 43.6% from the field in the regular season, finishing 29th of 30 NBA teams in shooting percentage edging out the worst team in the NBA, the New Jersey Nets who shot 42.9%.

- The Bucks shot 35.6% from three point range, finishing 12th in the NBA.

- Despite their improved record, attendance was down this season. The Bucks ranked 24th in the league in attendance: 619,453 total for an average of 15,108 per game. Down from 630,976 total for an average of 15,389 per game for the 2008-2009 campaign.

If you are short on time, The Sports Guy (Bill Simmons), succinctly summed up the Bucks season in a recent column: "The Exec of the Year: Milwaukee's John Hammond. Dumped Richard Jefferson's contract, picked Jennings, stole John Salmons from Chicago, nailed the Carlos Delfino signing, maintained his cap flexibility going forward, allowed the "Fear the Deer" era to unfold. That was a clinic on how to keep a small-market team relevant. Had Andrew Bogut not Theismann'ed his elbow, the Bucks absolutely would have beaten Boston in Round 1, and my mom would have been saying to me, "What's up with this Fear the Deer thing?" Alas. By the way, Scott Skiles being the 2009-10 Coach of the Year goes without saying. So I don't know why I said it." (source)

With all due respect to The Sports Guy, if you want a much more in-depth recap of the season through the eyes of Cheesehead Sports Nut, please read on...

In my Milwaukee Bucks 2009-2010 Season Preview I posed the biggest questions facing the Bucks:

Will Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd rebound from injuries?
We know the answer to the artist formerly known as Michael Redd. Bogut rebounded from injury but was lost for the season on a freak injury against the Phoenix Suns. That basically is a long winded way to say "sort of".

How will all of the players mesh with each other (seven players on the roster that did not play for the Bucks last season)?
Very well. In fact the midseason additions of Jerry Stackhouse and John Salmons seemed to improve team chemistry and solidify the Bucks for a playoff run despite finishing the season without the services of Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut.

Will Brandon Jennings become a legitimate starting point guard?
Yes he did. If Jennings continues to improve next season and Bogut returns healthy the Bucks might actually be an attractive destination for top-of-the-line NBA free agent heading into the 2011-2012 season. The Bucks will actually have the cap space to make a move because of all the money coming off the books next season (Redd owed $18.5 million and Dan Gadzuric owed $7.24 million). Before you get too excited, there is a very good chance the 2011-2012 NBA season will start with a lock-out. Plus, cap space and young talent is only a small part of the equation. When I say "Milwaukee would be an attractive destination" I mean purely in a basketball sense. Sadly, Milwaukee will never be able to compete with Miami and LA nightlife, scenery, etc...which has a HUGE impact on where NBA free agents sign.

How many players will Scott Skiles use in his rotation?
Once Bogut went down the Bucks struggled with establishing a consistent rotation, especially when their big men got in foul trouble. You know there are rotation issues when Primoz Brezec and Dan Gadzuric are playing big minutes in the playoffs.

Will the Bucks move one of their expiring contracts (Ridnour, Thomas or Elson)?
Yes and yes, John Hammond laid the foundation for trading expiring contracts by admitting that his first pick as Bucks general manager was a mistake. Instead of picking up Joe Alexander's option for a 3rd year, Hammond declined the option and thus allowed the Bucks to include Alexander's expiring contract in a deal for John Salmons. Very Ron Wolfian of Hammond...when you are wrong just admit your mistakes and move on...don't compound the mistake by holding onto "your guy" when you made the wrong decision.

In my five possible trades for the Bucks post, I correctly identified the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers as potential trade partners but I included the wrong players.

The Bucks traded Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander to the Chicago Bulls for John Salmons, Chicago's second round draft pick in 2011, Chicago's second round draft pick in 2012, and the option to switch first round draft picks in the 2010 NBA Draft (top 10 protected). This trade looks like a straight salary dump for the Bulls so that they can clear cap space to go after the top free agents (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson). Some criticized the Bucks for giving salary cap flexibility to a division rival but with how much the Bucks got in return, the trade makes complete sense. Not only did the Bucks get a stud shooting guard, they get to leap ahead of the Bulls in the 2010 NBA Draft and added two second round picks down the road. Yes, this trade might have helped the Bulls clear space to land a marque free agent but it helped the Bucks make the playoffs and gives the Bucks a ton of roster flexibility for the next few seasons.

The Bucks traded Francisco Elson and Jodie Meeks to the Philadelphia 76ers for Primoz Brezec, Royal Ivey, and Philadelphia's second round draft pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Meeks was the 41st player selected in the 2009 NBA Draft. The 76ers picked ended up being the 37th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. This trade will ultimately come down to whether Meeks or the player the Bucks selected #37 in the 2010 NBA Draft turn out to have a better career.

Before I get to the final rankings, here are the players that appeared on previous rankings but did not finish the season with the Bucks:

Joe Alexander - Forward (Midseason #14 & Preseason #14): John Hammond's first pick as Bucks general manager is really his only mistake thus far.

Francisco Elson - Center (Midseason #13 & Preseason #12): I have absolutely nothing to say about Elson so let's just move on.

Jodie Meeks - Guard (Midseason #9 & Preseason #10): looked to be a solid bench guy, possibly a better shooting Desmond Mason. As I said earlier, Meeks will be compared to whoever the Bucks draft 37th overall in the upcoming 2010 NBA Draft.

Roko Ukic - Guard (Midseason #16 & Preseason #11): brief stay with little impact.

Hakim Warrick - Forward (Midseason #6 & Preseason #1): similar to Ron Wolf and John Hammond, when I am wrong I say I am wrong. As you can see, I listed Warrick #1 in my preseason rankings and #6 in my midseason rankings. In my defense, Warrick has a decent mid-range jumper, great length and freakish athleticism. If Warrick can find the right situation he will become a valuable bench player on a winning team. As long as Hammond didn't burn too many bridges I would completely support the Bucks bringing Warrick back on a one-year deal next year.

Final Rankings for the 2009-10 Season:
As a quick refresher, there are a number of factors that determine each player's value: short-term expectations, long-term expectations, salary, relative strength at each position and swagger. Yes, I know that some of those factors are subjective but that is why they are my rankings.

If you have a ton of time on your hands, take a quick look back at my Preseason or Midseason rankings before reading my final rankings of the 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks. Get is time for the final rankings!

#15 Darnell Jackson - Forward (Midseason NR & Preseason NR): only appeared in one game (9 minutes, 2 points, and 2 rebounds) after being claimed off waivers from Cleveland. Jackson is only 24 years old and has an NBA power forward body (6'9" and 253 pounds), something the Bucks desperately need. Whether Jackson even gets a chance to play for the Bucks in 2010 depends on who John Hammond selects in the 2010 NBA Draft.

#14 Michael Redd - Guard (Midseason #15 & Preseason #2): as I said in a chat recently with Garry D. Howard, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's assistant managing editor of sports, I don't begrudge Michael Redd for getting paid $90 million by Senator Kohl. I blame Larry Harris and the NBA salary structure.

#13 Dan Gadzuric - Center (Midseason #12 & Preseason #15): it is tough call whether Jeff Suppan, Michael Redd or Danny G is the most hated professional athlete in Milwaukee right now. Although all three have been disappointments since signing huge long-term contracts, it took dumb general mangers to offer those contracts. Make no mistake about, I am not trying to get sympathy for any of the aforementioned overpaid athletes. I am just trying to highlight that Larry Harris and Doug Melvin offered the aforementioned obscene contracts.

#12 Primoz Brezec - Center (Midseason NR & Preseason NR): is a free agent after the season. Despite being 7'1" and 255 pounds, Brezec is 30 years old with limited athletic ability. Good for Brezec that he has played 8 seasons in the NBA. Unfortunately if Brezec plays a 9th season in the NBA then some team is in serious trouble. Yes, I ranked Brezec's carcass ahead of Mike Redd and Danny G. It was NOT in was based on each person's actual value to the team.

#11 Charlie Bell - Guard (Midseason #8 & Preseason #13):: in 39 regular season games Bell averaged 6.5 points on 38.1% shooting and 22.7 minutes per games. In 3 post-season games Bell played eight minutes and did not score.

Bell's biggest impact on the post-season was missing the last team meeting as well as the bus before their pivotal game 7 encounter with the Atlanta Hawks. As a result, the Bucks had Andrew Bogut and his broken elbow suit up for game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks instead of Bell. Bell has two years remaining on his contract ($3.8 million in 2010-2011 and $4.1 million in 2011-2012)...thanks again Larry Harris for screwing the Bucks.

Quick tangent, it becomes harder and harder to decide whether Larry Harris (signing Michael Redd, Dan Gazurich, Bobby Simmons, and Charlie Bell) or Ernie Grunfeld (see my post on the Ray Allen Heist) crippled the Bucks more. Good thing the Bucks are in the hands of a quality general manager finally. What is comical is that Grunfeld is actually still an NBA GM, all be it the guy that grossly overpaid Gilbert Arenas, but still an NBA GM.

#10 Royal Ivey - Guard (Midseason NR & Preseason NR): last season marked Ivey's second stint with the Bucks. At 6'4" and 215 pounds, Ivey is an interesting combo guard. At 28 years old, Ivey is a decent 3rd or 4th guard option off the bench. Ivey might be in the Bucks plans for 2010 if he accepts the veterans minimum.

#9 Jerry Stackhouse - Forward (Midseason #10 & Preseason NR): you can't underestimate the impact Stackhouse had on the Bucks after signing in mid-January. The Bucks were sorely missing a veteran presence outside of Kurt Thomas and Michael Redd this season and once Redd went down, the Bucks wisely moved to add Stackhouse. In the regular season Stackhouse averaged 8.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 20.4 minutes in 42 games. In the playoffs Stackhouse averaged 7.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 20.6 minutes in 7 games. Stackhouse reminds me a lot of Craig Counsell (utility infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers). If Stackhouse is willing to accept the veterans minimum, the Bucks should bring back Stackhouse purely for his leadership...any production he provides is just an added bonus.

#8 Luke Ridnour - Guard (Midseason #5 and Preseason #9):: was a great mentor for Brandon Jennings and a huge spark plug off the bench for the Bucks this season. Ridnour struggled in the playoffs firing air balls left and right. Turns out the air balls were justified since Ridnour was playing with a broken bone in his left wrist most of the playoffs.

Ridnour made $6.5 million last year and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Although Ridnour was a big spark off the bench, Ridnour turns 30 next season and is on the downside of his career. The Bucks are contemplating whether to offer Ridnour their mid-level exception for next season. If the Bucks can sign Ridnour to a one-year deal at the mid-level exception then it is worth bringing him back. If Ridnour is looking for a multi-year deal then as hard as it might be, the Bucks should let Ridnour walk similar to how they let Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva walk last offseason. As John Hammonds knows much better then his predecessors (Harris and Grunfeld), sometimes the best contracts are the ones never offered.

#7 Kurt Thomas - Center (Midseason #11 & Preseason #7): when Bogut went down at the end of the season, Thomas stepped up big. At 37, Thomas is no spring chicken but his tenacity is undeniable. In a couple of the Bucks playoff games in Atlanta. Thomas was mixing it up with the crowd. Much like Ridnour, Thomas becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Bogut is expected to be fully recovered next season but Thomas would be a great back-up center option, especially if he would agree to return for less than the $3.8 million he made last season.

#6 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Forward (Midseason #3 & Preseason #4): is the perfect hybrid small/power forward in Scott Skiles' system. The Price (Google it if you don't get the reference by now) doesn't take a lot of shots and plays lock down defense. As a result, The Price routinely draws the best offensive non-center on the opposing team. I almost put The Prince higher for his defense alone but as you will see, the Bucks had a quality top 5 last season.

#5 Ersan Ilyasova - Forward (Midseason #4 & Preseason #8): despite looking eerily similar to an over-sized alien, Ilyasova flat out produced this season in his NBA return. One of the only positive things Larry Harris did as general manager of the Bucks was draft Ilyasova #36 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft (same draft Larry Harris took Bogut #1 overall).

As a rookie in 2006-07 Ilyasova averaged 6.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 14.7 minutes in 66 regular season games (started 14). Ilyasova went back to Europe to work on his game, which turned out to be a wise move. Ilyasova had an NBA coming out party in 2009-10 averaging 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 23.4 minutes in 81 regular season games (started 31).

Ilyasova earned $2.1 million last season in the first year of a three year deal that pays him $2.3 million in 2010-2011 and $2.5 million in 2011-2012. That is an absolute steal by NBA terms if Ilyasova continues to play like he did last season.

#4 Carlos Delfino - Guard/Forward (Midseason #7 & Preseason #5): speaking of bargains, Delfino is almost as big of a steal as the Ilyasova. Hammond acquired Delfino from the Toronto Raptors in a one sided sign-and-trade. Delfino signed a three year deal worth $10.5 million as a part of the deal. It is not that surprising Hammond wanted to acquire Delfino because Hammond was in the Detroit Pistons front office when they drafted Delfino in the 2004 NBA Draft.

Delfino, a 27-year-old from Argentina, averaged a career bests in points (11.0), rebounds (5.3), assists (2.7), and steals (1.1) while appearing in 75 regular season games (starting 66). Much like Ilyasova, if Delfino continues to put up numbers like last year, he will be grossly underpaid by NBA standards.

#3 John Salmons - Guard (Midseason NR & Preseason NR): as I discussed above, the Bucks acquired Salmons from the Chicago Bulls on February 18, 2010. Salmons went on to average 19.9 points in 30 regular-season games with the Bucks, leading the team in scoring 16 times. The Bucks went 25-12 (including the playoffs) with Salmons in the fold and made their first playoff appearance since 2006. In 7 playoff games, Salmons averaged 17.0 points despite being limited to 8 and 11 points in his last two playoff games.

Salmons has a unique body and game for a shooting guard. At 6'6" and 207 pounds, Salmons length creates match-up problems for other teams because he is a shooting guard that is as big as a small forward. The only knock on Salmons is that he turns 31 next season, which means he is probably on the downside of his career at this point. Unfortunately Salmons is not Steve Nash who is like a fine wine that keeps getting better with age.

Salmons holds a $5.8 million player option for next season which gives him the right to opt out of before July 1st. Here are some choice quotes form Salmons, you be the judge whether you think he will opt out:

- "Milwaukee has been great and the teammates have been great. In my eight years in the league, this is probably the first team I felt like was 100% a team. I felt like we played as a team."

- "I felt like the coaching staff was great, one of the best I've had. We played hard. I feel like this is one of the only teams where there wasn't a lot of agendas on the team; everybody played together. Everybody knew their role and did their job.

- "We got wins like that and it was fun to play on a team like that."

If Salmons does opt out, the Bucks would lose the exclusive negotiating status they now hold. Based on Salmons impressive play after joining the Bucks, odds are he will opt out to sign an extension before a new CBA changes the salary structure in the NBA. The only way I see Salmons refusing to opt out is if the Bucks offer a healthy extension. Current rumors are that the Bucks offered a three year, $27 million extension which would lock Salmons down for four years at $32.8 million...may be a little rich since he will be 35 years old at the end of the deal but probably still worth it.

#2 Brandon Jennings - Guard (Midseason #2 & Preseason #6):: burst onto the NBA scene with a 55-point performance in only his 7th professional game, which were the most points scored in an NBA game this entire season. For a reap of Jennings' historic performance, check out my post on it here.

Jennings started all 89 Bucks games this season. For the regular season Jennings averaged 15.5 points, 5.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.28 steals. For the post season Jennings averaged 18.7 points, 3.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.14 steals.

When the Bucks drafted Jennings #10 overall most NBA pundits thought that it was a reach but if the NBA gave a redo on the draft he would probably go 4th or 5th overall. Despite his injury, Blake Griffin would still go #1 because of his upside. Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry would go next. The only question is whether a team would take Ricky Rubio or Brandon Jennings next.

Jennings was criticized for his lack of maturity before the draft but with a season under his belt, Jennings is already speaking like a veteran:

- "The day I got drafted, I said I wanted to make the playoffs. You probably looked at me like I was crazy, but I back up a lot of stuff I talk. Just the fact that we got here makes me want to work harder. Winning is everything to me."

- "This summer I'll work out, get stronger and come back a totally different player."

#1 Andrew Bogut - Center (Midseason #1 & Preseason #3): had his best season averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game (second in the league). Although Bogut was robbed of an all-star appearance this season, he got an even higher honor when he was named third team all-NBA. Bogut was the first Buck to make an All-NBA team since Michael Redd was third-team All-NBA for the 2003-'04 season.

For a more in-depth look at Bogut, look at my previous Wednesday What Happened - Andrew Bogut's Season Ending Injury from April 7, 2010. Much like Redd, Bogut's season was cut short for the second straight year. Redd disappeared after his injury, while Bogut stayed in Milwaukee to be the ultimate teammate/cheerleader. Furthermore, Bogut said all the right things after going down with another season ending injury:

- "There are still a lot of areas in my game to work on. I want to work on my jumper and be consistent with it because I think it will open up the game."

- "I want to take the next step next year and hopefully become an all-star."

What's Next?
John Hammond has some big decisions coming up:
- Should he offer Salmons an extension?
- Should he offer Ridnour, Stackhouse, Thomas, or Ivey contracts?
- What should he do with three draft picks in the 2010 NBA Draft (#15 instead of #17 because of the option acquired in the Salmons Trade, #37 acquired from Philadelphia, and #47 the Bucks original second round pick)?

With baseball kicking into high gear I am going to shift to more Brewers coverage but check back in June when the off-season starts to heat up for the Bucks for full coverage of free agency and the 2010 NBA Draft.

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