Sunday, January 27, 2013

2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks Midseason Player Rankings

As I discussed in my 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks Initial Player Rankings there was a ton of roster turnover from the start of last season so I thought that might lead to some growing pains but the Bucks actually meshed for the most part.  In fact the biggest continuity issue happened because of a coaching change.  When the Bucks were sitting at 16-16, head coach Scott Skiles and the Bucks "mutually parted ways".  The Bucks named Jim Boylan head coach for the rest of the season and are 7-3 since Boylan took over as head coach, which puts them at 23-19 roughly halfway through the 2012-13 season.

The other big organizational move was owner Herb Kohl giving general manager John Hammond a three-year contract extension.  Going into the 2012-13 season both Hammond and Skiles were working under expiring contracts so there was a good chance that at least one would no longer be with the organization.  Once the Bucks and Skiles parted ways, conventional wisdom was that Hammond would get an extension.  There is no question that Hammond has been a much more effective general manager than he predecessors Ernie Grunfeld and Larry Harris but those guys set the bar so low that so besting those two incompetent general managers is not impressive.  My biggest gripe with Hammond is that he continues to keep the Bucks a borderline playoff team at best aka NBA No Man's Land.  Hopefully armed with some job security, Hammond will make some bold moves at the trade deadline and this off-season to go for it all or bottom out and re-build.

With all the foreplay our of the way, here are my mid-season rankings (initial ranking in parenthesis) of the 15-man roster for the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks taking into account contract, age, position, and running in reverse order:

#15 (13) Drew Gooden (#0, PF/C, 6'10", 236 lbs, Kansas, 11th NBA Season):
Without question the most redundant player on the entire roster since the Bucks have at least five younger and better versions of Gooden (Henson, Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute, Sanders, and Udoh).  Despite that, the Bucks continue to keep Gooden on the roster and actually occasionally play him ahead of some of the younger and better players.  There is virtually no chance a team will trade for Gooden's albatross of a contract.  Bucks fans nee to bide their time till the off-season when we all try to get #AmnestyGooden trending on Twitter to convince the Bucks to finally amnesty Drew Gooden this off-season.

#14 (15) Joel Przybilla (#10, C, 7'1", 245 lbs, Minnesota, 13th NBA Season):
The backup, backup, backup center (behind Dalembert, Udoh, and Sanders) has not seen much playing time in his return to Milwaukee, which I am sure is a little inauspicious personally for Przybilla.  I guess there is a reason why no other NBA teams were clamoring for the Vanilla Gorilla's services during the off-season.

#13 (12) Doron Lamb (20, SG, 6'4", 210 lbs, Kentucky, Rookie):
I don't begrudge Lamb for turning pro despite having another year of eligibility at Kentucky because Lamb was already one of the most prolific long-ranges shooters in the program's history.  I blame the NBA for not having a better minor league system in place to soften Lamb's transition from college to the NBA.  Don't get me wrong, the NBA is making strides to improve the D-League but I find it shocking that every NBA team does not have an entire minor league system in place.  Despite playing limited minutes as a rookie, Lamb is currently the only player on the entire roster with negative win shares this season.  Possessing a negative win share makes a strong case for ranking Lamb 15th but when you factor in age and more importantly contract, you get an appreciation for why Lamb is still more valuable than Gooden or Pryzbilla.

#12 (6) Samuel Dalembert (#21, C, 6'11", 250 lbs, Seton Hall, 11th NBA Season):
Before the season I thought Dalembert was going to give Milwaukee 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).  Thus paying Dalembert a little less than $7 million in a contract year seemed like a bargain.  As it turns out, the Bucks do have one of the best shot blockers in the NBA on their roster (Sanders).  Unless Dalembert can add something offensively, the Bucks might as well play their young centers ahead of Dalembert.

#11 (14) Marquis Daniels (#6, SG, 6'6", 200 lbs, Auburn, 10th NBA Season):
I saw Daniels as a warm body at shooting guard/small forward if younger players struggled (i.e. Lamb with negative win shares).  As it turns out, Daniels actually started 16 games so far this season, which is 6th most on the entire team.  With a strong finish to the season, Daniels has a chance to sign a multi-year contract in the off-season.  Let's just hope the Bucks aren't that team because Daniels has all the makings of landing a John Salmons light type contract.

#10 (7) Tobias Harris (#15, SF, 6'8", 226 lbs, Tennessee, 2nd NBA Season):
Harris looked like he was finally putting things together scoring at least 10 points in six of the first 11 games of the season but after posting 10 points in a home loss to the Chicago Bulls on November 24th, Harris has failed to score in double digits even once.  Harris suffered an elbow injury that caused him to miss seven games and Harris has played sparingly since.  Even when healthy, Harris has only logged 9 minutes in 10 games since Boylan took over as head coach.  If these rankings were only focused on this season, there is no way that Daniels would be ranked behind Harris but Harris is still one of the youngest players in the NBA despite this being his second season in the league so Harris still has time to blossom.

#9 (11) Ekpe Udoh (#13, PF, 6'10", 245 lbs, Baylor, 3rd NBA Season):
Udoh was the 6th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, which was the wrong choice since Greg Monroe was the next player drafted by the Detroit Pistons.  I look at Udoh as the A.J. Hawk of the Milwaukee Bucks, both players are pretty good but will never be great.  If Udoh or Hawk were taken at the end of the first round then they would be much more revered since their high draft status almost undermines their accomplishments.  After starting a few games earlier this season, the Bucks finally realized that Udoh is much more effective as a backup center.  Udoh has the second most blocks on the team basically morphing into the backup version of Larry Sanders.

#8 (5) John Henson (#31, PF/C, 6'11", 220 lbs, North Carolina, Rookie):
Currently Henson is 2nd on the team in PER at 17.5 but that is a little misleading because nine other players logged more minutes for the Bucks this season than Henson.  I understand the Bucks are trying to ease Henson's transition to the NBA since he is a rookie but to have only played Henson in 31 games (started five) of a possible 42 games seems foolish, especially since Henson has played well against quality competition: @ Miami (17 points & 18 rebounds in 27 minutes) and against San Antonio (20 points and 9 rebounds in 23 minutes).  There is no question Henson has some offensive limitations as evidenced by the fact that he is only making 51% of his free throw attempts but the Bucks still need to get Henson more consistent minutes at backup power forward and center.

#7 (10) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (#12, SF/PF, 6'8", 230 lbs, UCLA, 5th NBA Season):
After missing 14 games in November, The Prince finally returned healthy at the start of December and slide back into the starting small forward spot seamlessly.  The Prince is one of the best defensive players on the roster, the question is whether he will make a leap offensively. Although The Prince is still only averaging 7.9 points a game, which is only a .2 point improvement from last season, he looks much more effective on that side of the court this season so look for the Packers to push for a spot in the Top 5 in my final rankings.

#6 (8) Beno Udrih (#19, PG/SG, 6'3", 203 lbs, Slovenia, 8th NBA Season):
If Udrih was under contract for two more years at an annual salary of $7.8 million, he wouldn't crack the Top 10 despite usually being the second guy off the bench.  The fact the Udrih is on an expiring contract, all of a sudden Udrih is a valuable asset, especially since Udrih is shooting over 50% from the floor right now despite only making 29.7% of his three-point attempts.  The NBA is the opposite of the NFL and MLB when it comes to the trade value of players on expiring contracts.  Even if the Bucks are still in the hunt for a playoff spot as the NBA trade deadline approaches, they might try to deal Udrih if they think Daniels and Lamb can fill his minutes.

#5 (4) Mike Dunleavy Jr. (#17, SG/SF, 6'9", 230 lbs, Duke, 11th NBA Season):
A big reason why the Bucks are four games over .500 is their bench, which is in the Top 10 in scoring, rebounding, and assists.  Dunleavy is the perfect role player off the bench, whose value does not translate that well to certain stats as evidenced by the fact that Dunleavy is 8th on the team in PER at 14.5 behind Dalembart.  Dunleavy and Steve Novak (former Marquette Warrior and current New York Knick) are very similar players, earning roughly the same amount of money per season.  The only difference is that Dunleavy is in a contract year while Novak is signed through the 2015-16 season.  Despite loathing Dunleavy for being Dunleavy when he signed with the Bucks and loving Novak for being Novak, I have done a 180 over the last two seasons, so much so that I wonder whether the Bucks will be able to retain Dunleavy at a reasonable prince this off-season.

#4 (2) Monta Ellis (#11, PG, 6'3", 185 lbs, Lanier High School, 8th NBA Season):
Ellis leads the team in scoring (18.8 points per game), is second on the team in assists (5.6 assists), and second on the team in steals (1.8 steals per game) but also leads the team in turnovers (3.0 turnovers per game).  Ellis basically is the Quentin Tarantino of the NBA.  Ellis is a high volume shooter while Tarantino make gratuitously long movies.  Both could easily change their method, in Ellis's case he could stop shooting so many three-pointers while in Tarantino's case he could shorten his films.  That all seems simple enough on its face, but that might come at the expense of something great.  In Ellis's case he finally made a three-pointer after going 0 for 4 at home against the Golden State Warriors, which turned out to be the dagger to sink his former employer.  In Taraentino's case the last kill scene in Django Unchained, which was 140 minutes into the movie, was glorious.  Last night against his former team is a perfect microcosm of why I've changed my mind on Ellis so many times since the Bucks acquired him from the Golden State Warriors.  Despite only shooting .250 from three-point land, Ellis hit a deep three with a player in his face to seal the game.  I am more convinced than ever that Ellis is destined to be the irrational confidence shooter as the 4th banana on a championship team not a high volume shooter as the second banana that he currently is for the Bucks though.

#3 (3) Ersan Ilyasova (#7, SF/PF, 6'10", 235 lbs, Turkey, 5th NBA Season):
The Poor Man's Dirk is finally starting to play like the Poor Man's Dirk.  Ilyasova began the season in the starting lineup but struggled.  Former head coach Scott Skiles took Ilyasova out of starting lineup but that didn't seem to help much.  I get that Ilyasova needs to be play better whether he is starting or coming off the bench, especially considering that he signed a four-year, $32 million contract in the off-season but sometimes coaches need to keep starting players even when they struggle.  Once Jim Boylan took over as head coach, he made it a priority to get Ilyasova playing better.  The results have been quite impressive with Ilyasova on an absolute tear the last week.  Despite a somewhat uneven season, Ilyasova is 4th on the team in scoring (averaging 10.6 points per game) and second on the team in rebounding (averaging 6.3 rebounds per game).  If Ilyasova continues to flourish under Boylan look for the Bucks to sign Boylan to a contract extension before the end of the season.

#2 (9) Larry Sanders (#8, PF/C, 6'11", 235 lbs, Virginia Commonwealth, 3rd NBA Season):
I like to think that I deserve the credit for Sanders's drastic improvements from his sophomore to junior season in the NBA.  In my initial rankings for this season I wrote this about Sanders: "we are 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".  Trust me, there was never any comparison between Sanders and Alexander, I was just trying to highlight that younger players need to starting preforming on the court to fulfill some of the promise that goes along with being a first round pick.  Sanders leads the team with 128 blocked shots (3.1 blocks per game), 350 rebounds (8.5 rebounds per game), and a PER of 18.7.  Still not convinced, national media outlets agree with me as well, Sanders finished 22nd on ESPN's 25 under 25 list earlier this year.

#1 (1) Brandon Jennings (#3, PG, 6'1", 169 lbs, Oak Hill Academy, 4th NBA Season):
After finishing 17th last year in ESPN's 25 under 25, Jennings finished 20th this year.  That is less of an indictment on Jennings since he is playing as well this season as he did last season and more to do with his competition raising their level of play.  Speaking of that, earlier this week Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving were named the eastern conference all-star reserves at guard after Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade were named starters.  Some people claimed Jennings was "snubbed" but that is silly since both deserve to make the team ahead of Jennings.  Absent injuries or roster expansion as LeBron James suggested:

Jennings outplayed Holiday earlier this week at home before the all-star reserves were announced.  After the all-star reserves were announced, Irving clearly outplayed Jennings on the road.  Jennings has a ceiling of a poor man's Allen Iverson, which is higher than Holiday but lower than Iriving. Either way, if Jennings becomes a poor man's Allen Iverson, it would be fun to watch for the next decade.

I hope that you enjoyed my midseason player rankings for the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks.  Check back over the next few weeks for my 4th annual NBA trade deadline advice for John Hammond (2010, 2011, and 2012) with an assist from ESPN's NBA Trade Machine.

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