Friday, November 2, 2012

2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks Initial Player Rankings

As usual, the Milwaukee Bucks are not getting much positive national publicity, which makes sense because they are a borderline playoff team.  That said, with a dynamic back court and a flexible front court, the Bucks have a good chance to surprise the NBA to sneak into the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed.

As I like to do annually, I gave Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond my thoughts on how he should approach the 2012-13 off-season.  I am 99.99% positive that Hammond never read the post, but I like that we were on the same page for at least some of the decisions.

In what is becoming a pre-NBA Draft tradition, Hammond made a trade on the eve of the 2012 NBA Draft much like he did on the eve of the 2011 NBA Draft.  I like the pre-2012 NBA Draft trade more than the pre-2011 NBA Draft trade, but neither were a big haul for the franchise.

The biggest part of the off-season for the Bucks is the NBA Draft because they have a hard time getting big-time free agents to even visit Milwaukee, let alone sign with the Bucks.  As I said right after the 2012 NBA Draft, I think Hammond landed two future NBA starters in John Henson (PF) and Doron Lamb (SG).  That sets the table for what I think will be a promising season, which is exactly what Hammond and head coach Scott Skiles need because they are both in the final year of their respective contracts.

Before we get too excited though, there has been almost a 50% roster turnover since the start of last season.  With only 8 of the 15 players that were on the roster at the start of the lockout shorten 2011-12 NBA season returning to start the season with the Bucks, it is undeniable that the Bucks will experience some growing pains.  Much like I did last year, here is my initial rankings of the 15-man roster of the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks taking into account contract, age, position, and runs in reverse order:

#15) Joel Przybilla (#10, C, 7'1", 245 lbs, Minnesota, 13th NBA Season):
Welcome home Vanilla Gorilla, I always felt like you were the one that got away.  Vanilla Gorilla appeared in 141 games from 2000 through 2003 for the Bucks before being trade to the Atlanta Hawks.  Although the Vanilla Gorilla returns as a shell of the player he was when he left Milwaukee roughly a decade ago, he seems like the perfect backup center option to protect the rim and run the floor for the Bucks.  Add in that the Bucks only signed the Vanilla Gorilla to a one-year, $1.3 million contract and this seems like a low-risk contract even if he is buried on the bench.

#14) Marquis Daniels (#6, SG, 6'6", 200 lbs, Auburn, 10th NBA Season):
The Bucks desperately need a backup guard with some size since they start two guards (Jennings and Ellis) that are barely 6'0" tall so a one-year, $1.2 million contract seems like a fair price to pay for a tall situational defensive stopper.

#13) Drew Gooden (#0, PF/C, 6'10", 236 lbs, Kansas, 11th NBA Season):
The Bucks drafting Henson puts Gooden on amnesty watch.  Although Gooden will probably not be amnestied because that would mean Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl would have to write a sizable one-time check for $20 million to Gooden instead of spreading those payments out over the remaining three years of his contract, the Bucks seem to have a number of younger and cheaper front court options.  There is no denying that Gooden is a quality role player but he should be earning 33% of what the Bucks are currently paying him.

#12) Doron Lamb
(20, SG, 6'4", 210, Kentucky, Rookie):
This feels woefully low for Michael Redd 2.0, especially when you consider that Lamb is earning just $650,000 in the first year of a three-year, $2.4 million rookie contract.  I say just like I pull in a couple million dollars a year.  I am pretty sure that I will never earn $650,000 in one year but I am also not an NBA player so I should have prefaced this by saying in terms of NBA player compensation, Lamb is one of the lowest paid players in the league.  The reason I see Lamb being Michael Redd 2.0 is because Lamb, just like Redd, is a deadly long distance sharp shooter from a major college program.

#11) Ekpe Udoh
(#13, PF, 6'10", 245 lbs, Baylor, 3rd NBA Season):
The Bucks are essentially hoarding athletic power forwards in their unending pursuit for Vin Baker 2.0, which made Udoh more than a throw-in as a part of the Bogut & Jackson for Ellis trade.  So far Udoh has been a little more hype than production but look for him to get more consistent minutes in 2012-13 as the primary backup power forward for the Bucks.

#10) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (#12, SF/PF, 6'8", 230 lbs, UCLA, 5th NBA Season):
For some reason The Prince is entering the season injured, which is something that has always perplexed me.  Does that mean The Prince could have done more rehab in the off-season or is he just really suffering through a long-term injury?  Either way, The Prince cracked the Top 10 because he excels at defending three positions (SG, SF, and PF) in the NBA, which is a rare commodity in the NBA.

#9) Larry Sanders (#8, PF/C, 6'11", 235 lbs, Virginia Commonwealth, 3rd NBA Season):
NBA players usually make "the jump" from their rookie year to their second season, which Sanders unfortunately did not do.  Instead, Sanders will need to make "the jump" from his second to third NBA season because the Bucks have a glut of big-men on the roster.  Add in that Sanders has some rage issues and was left off a recent pre-season road trip for an undisclosed personal issue so we reaching put up or shut up time for Sanders because Hammond might actually decline their option on Sanders like he did with Joe Alexander if Sanders struggles this season.

#8) Beno Udrih (#19, PG/SG, 6'3", 203 lbs, Slovenia, 8th NBA Season):
Although a $7.8 million expiring contract feels a little rich for a backup combo guard, it could be just the bargaining chip the Bucks need to be competitive at the trade deadline.  The Bucks only have $40 million on the books for the 2013-14 NBA season so they are in a position to take on some long-term contracts.  One piece of advice for Hammond though, if you are going to make a Richard Jefferson or Stephen Jackson-esque trade, just keep Udrih.

#7) Tobias Harris (#15, SF/PF, 6'8", 226 lbs, Tennessee, 2nd NBA Season):
Every time I think of Harris I keep stewing over the fact that the Bucks should have drafted Kenneth Faried instead of Harris, give me another decade and I will get over it.  Leaving aside my man crush for Faried, despite no longer being a rookie, Harris is still one of the youngest players in the NBA so at times his game reflects his age.  Apparently Harris put on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle in the off-season, so I am interested to see if the now muscle bound Harris is more assertive this season than he was last season as a rookie.

#6) Samuel Dalembert (#21, C, 6'11", 250 lbs, Seton Hall, 11th NBA Season):
The Bucks traded Jon Brockman (PF), Jon Leuer (PF), Shaun Livingston (G), and the 12th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to the Houston Rockets for Dalembert, the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, a future second round pick, and cash considerations.  As I said right after the trade was announced, I wish the Bucks could have held onto Leuer but now that seems like a small price to pay for the Bucks to protect the rim with their first legitimate shot blocker not named Andrew Bogut since Dan Gadzuric's back-to-back 100-plus block seasons (2003-04 and 2004-05).

#5) John Henson
(#31, PF, 6'11", 220 lbs, North Carolina, Rookie):
If I had to buy one Bucks jersey, it would be a #31 Henson jersey.  Yes, I could be overrating Henson much like I did with Leuer last season but being a two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year is a pretty nice thing to have on your resume.  Trust me, those defensive skills will translate from college to the NBA but the question is whether that will happens this year or take a few seasons.  I am thinking the former is much more likely than the latter, but again I am an unabashed Henson fan so let's see him get healthy and play some regular season minutes before I get too excited.

#4) Mike Dunleavy Jr. (#17, SG/SF, 6'9", 230 lbs, Duke, 11th NBA Season):
When the Bucks signed Dunleavy, I thought it was a horrible signing.  Just a  year later, I am not too big of a person to admit I was completely wrong.  This season Dunleavy is earning $3.75 million in the final year of a two-year, $7 million contract that will go down as one of the most cost-effective free agent signing of Hammond's tenure.

#3) Ersan Ilyasova (#7, SF/PF, 6'10", 235 lbs, Turkey, 5th NBA Season):
This off-season the Bucks signed Ilyasova to a five-year, $40 million contract that is really a four-year, $32 million contract since the final year of the deal is a team option.  If I had to bet, I would bet big money on the fact that the Bucks actually pick up that option for the 2016-17 NBA season because as I've said many times, Ilyasova is a Poor Man's Dirk.

#2) Mona Ellis (#11, PG, 6'3", 185 lbs, 8th NBA Season):
Ellis is set to earn $11 million this season and holds a $11 million player option for the 2013-14 season so much like his current general manager (Hammond) and coach (Skiles), Ellis is essentially in a contract year.  I see this season either going really well or really bad for Ellis but not anywhere in between.  Thus I can see Ellis flaming out and getting traded before the trade deadline for thirty cents on the dollar or finally meshing with his teammates so well that he actually picks up his option for next season or declines his player option just to re-sign with the Bucks.  I know that is not a very specific prediction but I am just trying to illustrate how much of a spread there is between his ceiling (commits to the Bucks long-term) and floor (doesn't finish the season with the Bucks), which will have a huge impact on the franchise for the next five years.

#1) Brandon Jennings (#3, PG, 6'1", 169 lbs, Oak Hill Academy, 4th NBA Season):
Speaking of having an impact on the franchise for the next five years, the Bucks and Brandon Jennings could not agree on a contract extension before the Halloween deadline.  That means Jennings is now set to become a restricted free agent after this season so the Bucks can match any offer Jennings receives.  Basically that means the Bucks kicked the can down the road instead of locking down Jennings, which makes sense.  If Jennings has a huge season then the Bucks will give him a max-deal but if Jennings struggles then the Bucks will let another NBA team set the market value for Jennings to determine whether that fits within their budget.

I hope that you enjoyed my initial player rankings as an appetizer to the Bucks opening their 2012-13 season.  In one of the oddest professional sports scheduling oddities of my lifetime, this marks the 28th straight year the Bucks open the season on the road.  This year the Bucks travel to Boston to face the Celtic.  Although a number of my comments above touch on my contractual thoughts on most of the Bucks, check back Wednesday for my thoughts on the most overpaid and underpaid 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks.

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