Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 15 - Forever Young...May You Stay...Forever Young

Sorry it has been almost a month since my last post about the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks but things have been crazy for the Green Bay Packers and Manchester City, which has precluded me from posting more about the underwhelming Bucks.  Later today we will know whether the Packers beat the Chicago Bears on the road, which will determine whether the Packers or Bears win the NFC North and host a home playoff game.  Since I am doing everything in my power to distract myself until kickoff of the Packers/Bears game, I decided to post something about the Bucks as a nice reprieve for Cheesehead sports fans.

The Bucks are 1-5 in overtime games so far this season.  Losing that many games in overtime can be chalked up to two different things: inability to make clutch shots or lack of depth.  Given their injury issues, I would chalk it up to lack of depth.  Following their home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves last night, the Bucks are currently 6-24 ahead of their three game road trip out West (Lakers, Jazz, and Suns), which usually means three loses.

The Bucks have a very good chance to lose the most games in franchise history, which was set in the 1993-94 season when head coach Mike Dunleavy lead the Bucks to a 20-62 record.  The Buck suffered a myriad of injuries to almost everyone on The 15 so far this season so even though they did not want to tank this year per owner Herb Kohl's mandate, the Bucks currently have the worst record in the league and it looks like things will only get worse to close out 2013 and start 2014 on their three game West coast road trip.

Earlier this month Kohl held a press conference to say he wants to broaden ownership as a means to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee long-term.  Kohl was a United States Senator from Wisconsin from January 4, 1989 to January 3, 2013 and has owned the Bucks since 1985.  Some thought once Kohl retired from the Senate that he would have more time to focus on the Bucks and the push to get a new arena built in Milwaukee.  I am not against Kohl and his new investors building a new arena in Milwaukee as long as the tax payers of the state of Wisconsin do not have to pay for the new arena.  Presumably any new owners that Kohl would add would have deep pockets, which would allow them to foot the bill for a new arena.  If Kohl and his new investors expect the tax payers to foot the bill, I am fine with the Bucks becoming the new version of the Seattle SuperSonics.

One quick piece of advice for small market NBA general managers before we get to my updated rankings of The 15.  Small market NBA general managers are inherently at a disadvantage because even if they have cap space, they are unable to attract big-time free agents so they need to change how they approach putting together The 15 by giving themselves more roster flexibility.  Following the 2013 NBA Draft, Bucks general manager John Hammond made some questionable moves that essentially handcuffed any roster flexibility on The 15 given that Hammond filled The 15 with guaranteed contracts.  The problem with that approach is that when The 15 goes through a rash of injuries like the Bucks have to start the 2013-14 NBA season, there is no way to bring in short-term help since everyone on The 15 has a guaranteed contract.  That means Hammond cannot cut anyone without fairly significant financial ramifications but if he left a spot or two open on The 15 he could have added undrafted rookie free agents on a rotating basis where warm bodies are needed to fill out the rotation.

With than unfortunate introduction that pretty much shows you how depressing things have been for the Bucks so far this season out of the way, here are my updated thoughts on The 15:

The 15
1. John Henson (PF/C, LR 1)
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 3)
3. Larry Sanders (C, LR 7)
4. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 6)
5. Khris Middleton (SF, LR 8)
6. Gary Neal (SG, LR 4)
7. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 2)
8. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 5)
9. Caron Butler (SF, LR 9)
10. Nate Wolters (PG, LR 10)
11. Miroslav Raduljica (C, LR 14)
12. Ekpe Udoh (PF, LR 13)
13. Luke Ridnour (PG, LR 12)
14. Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 11)
15. Carlos Delfino (SG/SF, LR 15)
2) Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 3): Bucks head coach Larry Drew is finally starting The Greek Freak, unfortunately it took a bunch of injuries to force Drew to play the most exciting player on The 15. Why do I love The Greek Freak?  Check out his drive past Kevin Garnett for an easy dunk as one of many examples from his young NBA career.  The Greek Freak was listed at 6'9" before the 2013 NBA Draft and apparently has the growth plates of a 16-year old so he already grew an inch and a half in the last six months.  Given that The Greek Freak is currently the youngest player in the NBA, there is a good chance that he will end-up growing another inch and a half to be a 7-footer with ball handling and shooting skills of a guard to go along with the defense and rebounding skills of a forward.  The Greek Freak is also making other players on the court better.  Case and point, starting point Brandon Knight doubled his scoring, rebounding, and assists since The Greek Freak joined the starting lineup. Am I excited for The Greek Freak's potential upside?  Let's have Marv Albert give my response.

5) Khris Middleton (SF, LR 8): Before the season I said that I had very low expectations for Middleton.  Most of that was due to the fact that Middleton was projected as a borderline lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft going into his junior season at Texas A&M.  Unfortunately Middleton struggled due to a knee injury and a coaching change but still decided to come out early.  The Detroit Pistons drafted Middleton 39th overall and buried him on the bench throughout his rookie season.  After joining the Bucks this off-season in the Jennings for Knight et al. trade, the team committed to giving Middleton regular minutes so he already appeared for the Bucks more times this season than he did for the Pistons all last season.  Early results are positive as Middleton is the only player to appear in every game for the Bucks this season and is fourth on the team in PER with 14.4.

11) Miroslav Raduljica (C, LR 14): With centers Zaza Pachulia and Larry Sanders out for extended periods of time so far this season, Drew was essentially forced to play Raduljica and he has responded well so far.  Raduljica is currently second on the team in PER with 19.1.  Take that with a grain of salt thought because Raduljica is only averaging 10 minutes per game in 17 appearances (2 starts).  I look at backup centers like backup catchers in baseball, they are necessary but you should never overpay for them.  Injuries aside, the Bucks clearly overpaid Pachulia when they signed him to a three-year, $15.6 million deal.  The Bucks properly paid Raduljica when they signed him to a three-year, $4.5 million deal. I am not saying that Raduljica is better than Pachulia right now but for a team that has no legitimate playoff aspirations, it make much more sense to pay Raduljica $1.5 million than Pachulia $5.2 million to play backup center.

Given how much the Bucks have struggled this season, the only thing to look forward to is the NBA Trade Deadline on Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 2 pm CST.  The Bucks really only have two untouchable players on The 15: John Henson and The Greek Freak.  Besides those guys, Hammond should make everyone else available even if it hurts the Bucks immensely in the short-term in the hopes of building a long-term winner.  I will do my best to work ESPN's NBA Trade Machine to construct a number of ridiculous trades for Hammond that will never happen but are fun to discuss.

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