Thursday, April 17, 2014

The 15 - In Giannis We Trust

Welcome to the 4th and final installment of The 15 for the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks.  The 2013-14 season for the Milwaukee Bucks mercifully came to an end following their franchise record 67th loss of the season 111-103 to the Atlanta Hawks at home.  This season has been such a bust that I actually enjoyed my post about how Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline as well as a look at the trade that Hammond actually made much more than my traditional The 15 posts.  If you are a glutton for punishment and missed my first three, make sure to check them out: Walking Wounded..., Forever Young...May You Stay...Forever Young, and All-Star Break Thoughts.

Besides the end of the 2013-14 season, today marks a huge changing of the guard as Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry purchased the Bucks from long-time owner Herb Kohl.  Given that the Bucks have been stuck in neutral for almost a decade, a change in ownership was way overdue.  I am sure Kohl is a nice man but his decree that the Bucks "stay relevant", meaning teeter on the playoff/lottery bubble, is short-sided.  All sports fans but especially NBA fans want a winner, not one with a 0.00001% chance of winning an NBA title.

There are bound to be some bumps in the road over the next year as the new owners exert their influence over the franchise.  Thus if I was general manager John Hammond or head coach Larry Drew, I would make sure that I am checking around the league in case the ownership group decides to blow things up.  We will have months to speculate on how the new ownership group should proceed.  For now, I am going to do my best to put the painful 2013-14 season for the Bucks in the books.

Since I am sure most of you tuned the Bucks out a long time ago, let me quickly catch you up.  The youth movement is in full effect.  Going into the off-season last year it was clear that the Bucks were going through some type of re-build, which is why I thought it made much more sense to hire a lesser known first time head coach instead of a re-tread head coach like Larry Drew.  Thankfully by the end of the season Drew finally realized he had to play the young guys, given that the Bucks were going to lose anyways, too bad he didn't realize that months earlier so that some of the young guys could have more game in-game repetitions under their belt going into next season.

Well with all of that uplifting background out of the way, here are my final rankings of The 15 for the abysmal and injured 2013-14 Bucks:

The 15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 1)
2. John Henson (PF/C, LR 2)
3. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 3)
4. Larry Sanders (C, LR 5)
5. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 4)
6. Khris Middleton (SF, LR 6)
7. Nate Wolters (PG, LR 7)
8. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR  10)
9. Miroslav Raduljica (C, LR 11)
10. Chris Wright (SF, N/A)
11. Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 13)
12. Carlos Delfino (SG/SF, LR 15)
13. Ramon Sessions (PG, LR N/A)
14. Jeff Adrien (SF, N/A)
15. Ekpe Udoh (PF, LR 14)
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 1): Right now The Greek Freak is the only true franchise player on The 15 with a legitimate shot to make an All-NBA Team, which makes him a no-brainer for the top spot on The 15.  Sure The Greek Freak only posted a 10.8 PER in his rookie season but there were a million endearing moments in The Greek Freek's rookie year on the court (a block followed by a crafty assist & a block followed by a great dunk) and off the court (impressive soccer goal & anecdote about running to a game after sending money to his family). There is no question that the Bucks bought low on The Greek Freak when they drafted him with the 14th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.  The question is whether the Bucks can surround The Greek Freak with another franchise player from the 2014 NBA Draft to give the Bucks a duo worth paying to watch for the first time in almost a decade.

5. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 4): The Poor Man's Dirk turned into the Homeless Man's Dirk this season.  Thankfully Ilyasova has a little fire in his belly, which was evidenced by the fact that Ilyasova punched Sacramento Kings forward Reggie Evans in the stomach.  Unfortunately an ankle injury cut Ilyasova's most forgettable season besides his rookie year with the team short.  The Bucks still owe Ilyasova $7.9 million each of the next two seasons while 2016-17 is essentially a team option since only $400,000 of his $8.4 million salary is guaranteed for that season.  I am a total Ilyasova apologist evne after last season. Sure Ilyasova struggles defensively but with the quality defenders that the Bucks are amassing, in Ilyasova the Bucks have a quality offensive option that is slightly overpaid next season that worst case turns into a great expiring contract the following season.

8. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR  10): I was not a fan of the Mayo signing last off-season, which was even before Mayo reported overweight and ambled through the season.  At times Mayo can score at will, which makes him enticing and frustrating all at once given that he only shows his upside in short spurts as opposed to sustained periods of time.  The Bucks need to decide if Mayo is redeemable, otherwise they are going to hide him all next season until he becomes an enticing expiring contract following the 2015-16 season.  The Mayo contract is just the kind of middle-class NBA contract that the Bucks need to avoid.  I know that the Bucks cannot attract marque free agents.  Instead of overpaying average players, they would be much better off playing out the string with guys signed to cheaper, non-guaranteed deals.

10. Chris Wright (SF, N/A): The Bucks gave auditions during the second half of the season to three guys (small forward Tony Mitchell, shooting guard D.J. Stephens, and small forward Chris Wright) on 10-day contracts.  At first blush, Mitchell looks like the best of the bunch given that he posted an insane 31 PER but keep in mind he only played 10 minutes for the Bucks.  Selfishly I like Wright the most because of how exciting of a player he was at the University of Dayton, which is my Father In-Law's favorite sports team.  Leaving my family bias aside, when I watched Wright in college, I thought he would be a late first round pick.  Wright ultimately went undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft but still appeared in 24 games for the Golden State Warriors in the 2011-12 NBA season.  Wright went through training camp for both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 NBA seasons but failed to make The 15 for an NBA team to start either of those seasons.  In each of those seasons Wright excelled in the NBA D-League though.  This season the Bucks finally took notice and added Wright to The 15 on a couple 10-day contracts that helped him earn a a multi-year contract with a minuscule signing bonus.  Depending on how the off-season goes, Wright's spot on The 15 is tenuous given that his contract is essentially non-guaranteed.  I keep getting flashes on his athleticism in college as I write this so I am convinced more than ever that if the Bucks keep Write on The 15 next season they are buying low on a guy that could be the 9th or 10th guy on The 15 next season.

One final note, take the rankings of Sessions, Adrien, and Udoh with a grain of salt because their rankings are hurt by their contract situation.  Sessions and Adriens are set to become unrestricted free agents, which drops their value dramatically while Udoh is set to become a restricted free agent.  Udoh has been underwhelming the last couple seasons so no need to discuss him any further.  Unlike Udoh, on talent alone, Sessions and Adriens look like viable NBA players but my guess is that Sessions will be too expensive for the Bucks while Adriens will lose out to the glut of front-court players the Bucks already have on The 15.

Thankfully the Bucks will be able to add another potential franchise player early in the 2014 NBA Draft, which will drastically improve The 15 for the 2014-15 season, so make sure to check back for my detailed thoughts on how the Bucks should proceed to improve The 15 to make next season.

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