Friday, February 21, 2014

Building The 15 - First Look at 2014 NBA Draft

The 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend and the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline are both now in the books.  The only participant in the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend for the Milwaukee Bucks was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who played in the 2014 NBA Rising Stars Challenge and participated in the NBA Skills Competition.  Sadly it looks like the The Greek Freak is the only player currently on The 15 for the Bucks that has a chance to play in the actual NBA All-Star Game down the road.

Bucks general manager John Hammond did not follow my advise for how to approach the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline.  Instead, Hammond traded guards Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour to the Charlotte Bobcats for guard Ramon Sessions and power forward Jeff Adrien.  The Bucks look no better or worse on the court following the trade and Bucks owner Herb Kohl saved a little less than $4 million over the next two seasons in the trade.  Unfortunately Hammond could not flip any of the other expiring contracts on The 15 (small forward Caron Butler or power forward Ekpe Udoh) besides Ridnour for draft picks or buy-low players with high upside.

There are three ways for general managers to build The 15 in the NBA: free agency, trades, or the draft.  Since the Bucks are a small market team we know they will never be able to add a franchise player via free agency and there is a minuscule chance that the Bucks could luck into a franchise player via trade so the best way for the Bucks to land another franchise player is through the draft.

The Bucks currently have the worst record in the NBA so almost all the focus for Bucks fans will turn to the much ballyhooed 2014 NBA Draft.  The good news is that barring a drastic turnaround following the All-Star break, the Bucks will finish with the worst record in the NBA this season.  Over the last 14 seasons, only two of teams with the worst record ended up with the first pick in the NBA Draft because even if you have the worst record you still only have a 25% chance to land the top pick in the draft.  Luckily even if the Bucks don't get the top pick, if they finish with the worst record in the NBA, the latest they can pick is 4thin the 2014 NBA Draft.

The last time the Bucks picked first overall was the 2005 NBA Draft when they had the 6th best odds of getting the top pick.  The consensus going into the 2005 NBA Draft was that it was a two person draft so the Bucks had to choose between center Andrew Bogut and small forward Marvin Williams.  It turns out that the Bucks smartly choose Bogut over Williams but missed out on two stud point guards in Deron Williams and Chris Paul that went with the next two picks.

How does this all map to the 2014 NBA Draft?  The consensus going into the college basketball season was that small forwards Jabari Parker (Duke) and Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) would go in the first two picks of the 2014 NBA Draft, in some order.  As the college season started to play out, center Joel Embiid (Kansas) worked his way into consideration to go first overall as well.  Besides that, power forward Julius Randle (Kentucky) and point guard Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) look like strong candidates to go fourth and fifth in some order.  Despite having a decent season on the court, Smart hurt his chances to stay in the Top 5 when he got into an altercation with a fan in the stands during a game that resulted in a three game suspension.  The wild card of the 2014 NBA Draft is Australian combo guard Dante Exum.  May be it is my bias towards loving all things Australia but even leaving Smart's spat with a fan aside, I still like Exum's upside much more than Smart's.

Exum is the only player that has officially declared for the draft.  Assuming the rest of the guys just discussed declare for the 2014 NBA Draft, right now I see those six guys going in the first six picks.  Assuming that everyone we expect to declare for the 2014 NBA Draft does in fact declare, right now I see Aaron Gordon (F, Arizona), Dario Saric (SF, Croatia), Noah Vonleh (PF, Indiana), and Tyler Ennis (PG, Syracuse) rounding out the Top 10 in the 2014 NBA Draft.  There will be plenty of time to break down each of these guys in more detail.  Here is how I would currently rank the ten guys (best to worst): Parker, Embiid, Wiggins, Exum, Randle, Gordon, Saric, Smart, Ennis, and Vonleh.  I was tempted to rank Embiid ahead of Parker but Embiid has been going through some injury issues and looks to have a bad temper.  I see Embiid as a more polished offensive version of Larry Sanders but not sure whether his temper will undermine his skills.

Sure the Bucks would rather choose first instead of fourth but I would be happy with the Bucks getting any of the guys I have currently ranked in my Top 4.  That means if the Bucks finish the season with the worst record in the NBA but still only get the 4th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft they would land Exum unless Parker, Embiid or Wiggins fell for some reason.  Sure picking 4th would be a huge disappointment if the Bucks ended up with the worst record in the NBA but as you can see that is not all the talent that is projected to be available at the top of the 2014 NBA Draft.

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