Monday, June 30, 2014

Building The 15 - A Quick Look at The 15 for John Hammond or Possibly Jason Kidd Following the 2014 NBA Draft

I planned a short post with advice for how Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach free agency following my review of the 2014 NBA Draft.  With that post in the can Saturday afternoon and ready to run first thing Monday as a little diversion for the start of the work week, news broke late Saturday night that the Bucks and Brooklyn Nets were engaged in serious discussions regarding compensation for the Nets to let current head coach Jason Kidd out of the last three years of the four-year, $10.5 million contract that he signed with the Nets before last season.  Apparently this stemmed from the fact that Kidd approached Nets ownership about an expanded front-office role that included say in roster moves but was rebuffed, which lead Kidd to look for a new employer.

Kidd experienced tons of turmoil as coach of the Nets, which was his first season moving from playing to coaching.  Sure the Nets had an over-priced and older but star drive roster last season but that was a big part of the reason the Nets hired Kidd because he was supposed to handle his "peers" given that he actually played in the NBA for the New York Knicks for the 2012-13 season.  Early in the season the Nets struggled but instead of shouldering the blame, Kidd tried to place blame elsewhere starting with lead assistant coach Lawrence Frank.  Despite being Kidd's hand-picked lead assistant, a little over a month into the season, Kidd made Frank the fall guy when he removed Frank from the bench to instead focus on scouting despite being reportedly the highest paid assistant coach (six-years, $6 million) in the NBA last season.

Prior to this Kidd debacle, the new Bucks co-owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens have handled everything perfectly since they bought the Bucks from Herb Kohl at the end of last season their first official act was to send Mallory Edens as the team representative to the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery, which made for one of the most awkward Twitter situations of 2014 as grown men digitally drooled over Edens.  Although Edens did not deliver the first pick despite the fact that the Bucks had the worst record in the NBA, she will go down as the most memorable thing from the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery.

Even though the Bucks posted their worst record in franchise history, the new ownership group along with the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft gave fans hope that things could turnaround fast next year.  Instead of making flashy moves, the new ownership group went on a grassroots tour where they interacted with fans in-person and online.  The new ownership group openly discussed a new arena but stressed the need to improve The 15.  Instead of replacing coaches or members of the front-office, the new ownership group said they were going to give each group a season to keep their respective jobs.  Trust me, I did not like when Hammond hired Larry Drew as head coach last off-season but do believe Drew and Hammond should have at least one more season.  It looks like Hammond will get another season but I would he shocked if Drew is employed by the Bucks at the end of the week.

Apparently second round pick(s) are being discussed as compensation for Kidd.  Let's not confuse Kidd with the second coming of Phil Jackson.  I am not sure what Kidd has done so far since shifting from playing to coaching to prove that he is a even a quality head coach let alone a guy worthy of being a coach with say over personnel decisions too.  Let's see him handle just coaching before giving him front-office responsibilities too.  Thankfully the current reports are that the Bucks envision Kidd solely as a coach.

Before the 2014 NBA Draft I advised Hammond how to approach restricted (power forward Ekpe Udoh) and unrestricted (power forward Jeff Adrien and combo guard Ramon Sessions) free agents.  Following the draft, my advice remains essentially the same, especially if Hammond and/or Kidd can somehow how get teams to take on some of the bloated contracts on The 15.  Following the 2014 NBA Draft, here is my current depth chart for The 15:

Point Guard (1): Brandon Knight

Shooting Guard (3): Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo, and Carlos Delfino

Small Forward (4): Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Damien Inglis, and Chris Wright

Power Forward (4): John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Khris Middleton, and Johnny O'Bryant III

Center (3): Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, and Miroslav Raduljica

As you can see above, the Bucks already have 15 guys projected to be under contract for next season once they sign their three draft picks so that leaves the Bucks without any real open roster spots.  Thankfully the Bucks have some guys currently on The 15 like Wright and Radulijca with either a low cap number or only a partially guaranteed contract so that gives the Bucks some wiggle room.  Still Hammond's roster construction flies in the face of my theory of leaving the last three spots on The 15 for low-priced, non-guaranteed contracts that that you can churn on a weekly basis, if necessary.  Given that The 15 is currently front-court heavy, I would be shocked if the Bucks did NOT add at least one ball handler given that they are light at that position despite having a number of point forwards on The 15.

In order to have real wiggle room to actually sign free agents though, the Bucks would need to offload some of their expensive contracts without giving up draft picks or taking on more long-term money.  There are four candidates to move: Mayo, Ilyasova, Sanders, and Pachulia.  Last season teams tried to buy low on Ilyasova and Sanders but I would hold onto those guys because I see them being the third or fourth best player on a playoff contender when healthy and with their head screwed on straight.  That means I would trade Mayo's or Pachulia's bloated contracts, pun in the case of Mayo, in a heartbeat.  Unfortunately I see both of those as a long-shot without taking on equally horrible contracts.

I am not sure what the Bucks would do with the salary cap space anyhow whether the Bucks have Kidd in the fold or not because marque free agents are NOT interested in signing with the Bucks since thy do not yet have a Top 10 NBA player and the team plays in Milwaukee.  Thus the Bucks need to lure free agents by drafting superstars that entice free agents.  Thankfully there is hope on that front with The Greek Freak and Parker on The 15.  Right now that is hope more than production but if The Greek Freak and Parker backup their limitless potential with production, the Bucks might actually have a shot to sign marquee free agents.

I am not a fan of giving the Nets anything more than a bag of balls for Kidd's service as a coach and/or member of the front office.  Plus it will be super awkward to keep Drew as head coach if the Bucks "miss-out" on Kidd.  There is no way that the Bucks are landing one of the marquee free agents this off-season like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony so my advice is to pass on Kidd and let the high-end market settle out before making a single free agent contract offer.  At that point, the Bucks should bottom feed to improve the bottom third of The 15 with rotational players on the cheap.  If any of those guys turn out to be worth having long-term, great.  If not, at least the Bucks are building a cost-effective, flexible roster.  Unfortunately I am not in charge so I see Kidd becoming a member of the Bucks by the end of the week.  Either way, it will be interesting to see how the next few days play out.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Building The 15 - 2014 Milwaukee Bucks Draft Picks

This was my fourth year doing a "mock" first round NBA Draft (2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014) and my fifth year reviewing Milwaukee Bucks general manger John Hammond's performance in the actual draft (2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013).

Usually there are a ton of trades in the first round of the NBA Draft, which makes it really hard to marry pick, player, and team correctly.  True to form, there were a ton of trades in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.  I only nailed players and team for the first two picks out of 30 in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft: Cleveland Cavaliers took Andrew Wiggins (SG, Kansas) and the Bucks took Jabari Parker (SF, Duke).

Although that seems like I did a horrible job, for the second year in a row I correctly predicted 24 out of 30 players* that went in the first round of the draft.  I actually should have predicted 25 but somehow inexplicably left Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh out of my first round mock draft.  I am not as high on Vonleh as others but had him as the 9th or 10th best prospect in the draft so it was merely a brain fart that I somehow forgot to include him in my mock draft.  Of the 6 guys** that I thought should go in the first round, all but two went by the 38th pick and they all were drafted by the 46th pick.

Here is a full breakdown of the four players that the Milwaukee Bucks drafted in the 2014 NBA Draft:

1st Round (2nd Overall): Jabari ("The Franchise") Parker
Position: Small Forward
Age: 19
Birth date: March 15, 1994
Birthplace: Chicago, IL
School: Duke
Class: Freshman
Height: 6'8"
Weight: 241 lbs
Reach: 8'8"
: 7'0"
Positive Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford)
: Super skilled wing, can score from anywhere on the floor, elite basketball instincts and IQ, excellent passer, good ball handler for his size, good rebounder, high character, and great motor
Negative Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford): A good but not elite athlete, can be a liability on defense, can sometimes struggle against long athletic player, and lacks ideal conditioning
Other Possible Picks: Dante Exum (PG, Australia), Joel Embiid (C, Kansas), and Marcus Smart (PG, Oklahoma State)
Twitter: @JabariParker

Analysis: My tweets immediately following the pick don't convey how excited I am about the picks for the Bucks.  Teams hope to not pick in the Top 5 regularly but getting a talent like Parker with the second pick is a rarity since he would have been the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft if he went straight from high school to the NBA.  Plus only three players drafted in the Top 4 since the start of the NBA Lottery in 1985 won an NBA Champion with the team that drafted them.  Two are fairly easy, David Robinson and Tim Duncan as staples of the San Antonio Spurs.  The third is Darko Milicic, which is borderline comical given that the Detroit Pistons won the 2004 NBA Championship despite Darko's services even though they drafted him instead of Carmelo Antony, Chris Bosh, or Dwyane Wade with second pick in the loaded 2003 NBA Draft.

Parker's freshman season at Duke was dissected ad nausea.  There were rumors that Parker had a hurt foot going into the season, which hurt his conditioning so he played heavier than I expect him to play in the NBA.  Even playing heavy, Parker was able to score almost at will last season.  Unfortunately for how well Parker played offensively, he struggled just as much defensively.  There is one hopeful school of thought that if Parker gets in shape, he might actually improve his defense in the NBA.  Even if Parker struggles on the defensive end, let's not forget that the Bucks will most likely start him in the front-court alongside The Greek Freak and Larry Sanders, which will go a long way towards covering up his defensive limitations if he can't improve on that end of the court in the NBA.

Mark my words, if Parker stays in Milwaukee for his entire career he will have his number retired and give the Bucks a legitimate chance to win their first NBA Title since 1971.

2nd Round (31st Overall): Damien ("Musculaire") Inglis
Position: Small Forward
Birth date: May 20, 1995
Birthplace: Cayenne, French Guiana
School: N/A
Height: 6'8"
Weight: 240 lbs
Reach: 9'0"
: 7'3"
Positive Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford)
: Long athletic forward, NBA strength, excellent defender, good rebounder, and strong finisher around the basket
Negative Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford): Needs to improve his jump shot and a bit of a twiner
Other Possible Picks: K.J. Daniels (SF, Clemson), Cleanthony Early (SF, Wichita State), and Jarnell Stokes (PF, Tennessee)
: @DamienINGLIS

Analysis: The Bucks added a muscular version of Parker in Inglis.  Unfortunately Inglis is currently rehabbing a broken foot.  Despite only being 19, if Inglis had a healthy foot he would be a starter on their summer league team and possibly even push for being a part of the rotation next season.  Worst case, I see Inglis as a rich man's The Prince (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute).  Best case, the Bucks bought low on the next European stud.

2nd Round (36th Overall): Johnny ("The Leprechaun") O'Bryant
Position: Power Forward
Age: 21
Birth date: June 1, 1993
Birthplace: Cleveland, MS
School: LSU
Class: Junior
Height: 6'9"
Weight: 250 lbs
Reach: N/A
: N/A
Positive Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford)
: Traditional power forward, does most of his damage in the paint, excellent rebounder, and strong/physical player
Negative Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford): Just an average athlete, lacks consistency, and has had conditioning issues in the past
Other Possible Picks: Glenn Robinson III (SF, Michigan), Nikola Jokić (PF/C, Serbia), and Walter Tavares (C, Carpe Verde)
: @OBryant_The3rd
Analysis: Hammond could have made the 2014 NBA Draft the draft of the small forward if he took Glenn Robinson III.  Sure that would leave the Bucks with three too many small forwards but the Bucks need to amass talent where ever possible, irrespective of position.  Plus, unless the Bucks make a few trades they have a glut of power forwards on The 15 too so its not like O'Bryant is filling a huge need anyhow.  There is no chance that Ekpe Udoh returns to The 15 now, which could be good news for his book club because I am not sure another NBA team will make him an offer this off-season.  Much like Parker, the Bucks need to do everything in their power to get O'Bryant in shape for next season, which will give him a give him an outside chance to crack the 10-man rotation.

2nd Round (48th Overall): Lamar ("Snowbird") Patterson
Position: Small Forward
Age: 22
Birth date: August 12, 1991
Birthplace: Lancaster, PA
School: Pittsburgh
Class: Senior
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 226 lbs
Reach: 8'3"
: 6'11"
Positive Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford)
: All-around player, good shooter with range, excellent passer for his size, solid rebounder, and very versatile
Negative Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford): Doesn't do any one thing great and not an elite athlete
Other Possible Picks: Alec Brown (C, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (SF, Greece), and Alessandro Gentile (SF, Italy)
: @LP21_
Analysis: The Bucks traded the rights to Patterson for a future second round draft pick via the Brooklyn Nets.  I am not sure what year that pick vests but my guess is that the pick will be earlier than 48th overall but that is just conjecture.  The big miss is that the Bucks could have taken The Greek Freak's older brother Thanasis.  I wholeheartedly support anything that keeps The Greek Freak in Milwaukee long-term.  Don't get me wrong, this is probably an Aaron and Jordan Rodgers situations with Thanasis playing the part of Jordan but why not keep the most physically gifted player on The 15 that was homesick all last season happy?

As I said last year, the Bucks are in desperate need of a spark for the franchise.  Besides going to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001, the Bucks have not won a playoff series since 1989.  Last season was downright painful to be a Bucks fan on the eve of last season coming to a close, the Bucks were sold by long-term owner Herb Kohl to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens.  Given how much the Bucks struggled on the court, they had the best odds to win the NBA Lottery.  Fortunately (you read that correctly) the Bucks "lost" the lottery so they settled for the second pick.  That marks the 6th time that the Bucks have fallen in the last 16 NBA Draft lotteries (remained in the same position eight times and improved only twice).  Once Kansas center Joel Enbiid had foot surgery to insert screws in his foot a week before the draft, the Bucks were focused solely on Wiggins and Parker.  If Wiggins turns out to be a stud and Parker is a bust, the Bucks can blame that on being unlucky in the lottery.  f the reverse turns out to be the case, the Bucks will be a relevant NBA franchise for the next decade.

* = I missed on Noah Vonleh (PF, Indiana) went 9th to the Hornets, Bruno Caboclo (SF, Brazil) went 20th to the Raptors, Mitch McGary (PF, Michigan) went 21st to the Thunder, Bogdan Bogdanovic (SG, Serbia) went 27th to the Suns, C.J. Wilcox (SG, Washington) went 28th to the Clippers, and Josh Huestis (SF/PF, Stanford) went 29th to the Thunder.

** = Jarnell Stokes (PF, Tennessee) rated 18th but went 35th to the Jazz, K.J. McDaniels (SF, Clemson) rated 26th but went 32nd to the 76ers, Glenn Robinson III (SF, Michigan) rated 17th but went 40 to the Timberwolves, Spencer Dinwiddie (PG, Colorado) rated 28th but went 38th to the Pistons, Jordan Clarkson (PG, Missouri) rated 29th but went 46th to Wizards, and Damien Inglis (SF, France) rated 30th but went 31st to Bucks.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Building The 15 - 2014 First Round NBA Mock Draft

I honestly believe that NBA general managers should take the best player available irrespective of position, which means that my first round mock draft is essentially my Top 30 rankings of the players available in the 2014 NBA Draft.  Much like I said the last three years (2011, 2012, and 2013) in my first round mock draft, undoubtedly there will be a ton of trades deeming this "mock" draft essentially useless but I want to get on record what I think each general manager should do with each pick if they kept it:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers - Andrew Wiggins (SG, 6'8", 200 lbs, Kansas, 19 years old) - The presumptive first overall pick heading into the college season had expectations that were borderline impossible to meet, which is why some people thought Wiggins "regressed" this season.  The Cavs shocked the NBA world taking (fat) Anthony Bennett first overall last year, this year they can make-up for that mistake by drafting the best two-way, athletic back court player since John Wall in 2010.

2. Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker (SF, 6'8",  241 lbs, Duke, 19 years old) - The only hole in Parker's game is his defense.  Besides that, Parker can score from anywhere on the court and has the vision and passing ability to find teammates too.  If the Bucks can cover up his defensive liabilities, they could get getting a Rich Man's Big Dog.

3. Philadelphia 76ers - Dante Exum (PG, 6'6", 196 lbs, Australia, 18 years old) - The most enticing player to come out of Australia since former Bucks and current Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut is even a less known commodity than Bogut was when the Bucks drafted Bogut 1st overall in the 2005 NBA Draft.  At least Bogut played two seasons at the University of Utah before turning pro but Exum is skipping the step of going to college.  With all that in mind, Exum's court-vision and athleticism still makes him the most interesting prospect in the entire draft. The NBA Draft is predicated on taking players with the biggest upside, which feels like a borderline unquantifiable thing but Exum is the embodiment of that notion.

4. Orlando Magic - Marcus Smart (PG, 6'3", 227 lbs, Oklahoma State, 20 years old) - In five years the Exum/Smart comparison will be almost as intriguing as the Parker/Wiggins comparison.  Much like Parker compared to Wiggins, I think Smart's floor is much higher than Exum's but Smart's ceiling is a little lower than Exum's.  Some think Smart hurt his draft stock by going back to school for his sophomore season but I actually think that will help Smart's pro career.  I know it sounds cliche but every scout deems Smart as the most competitive guy in the draft, which bumped him up a few picks on that alone.

5. Utah Jazz - Aaron Gordon (PF, 6'9", 220 lbs, Arizona, 20 years old) - The Blake Griffin comparisons are undeniable.  On the positive side, they are both athletic freaks. On the negative side, they both struggle shooting outside of 10 feet.  There is a bit of front-court logjam at this point so I might be overvaluing Gordon's athleticism despite his inability to score any other way than dunking.  That said, you can teach Gordon to shoot but you can't teach him to be athletic.

6. Boston Celtics - Clint Capela (PF, 6'11", 222 lbs, Switzerland, 20 years old) - Some advanced metrics have Capela not only the best international prospect in the draft but the best front-court player in the entire draft despite the fact that he is still so raw.  The Celtics are teetering on full rebuild mode so the long-term upside at the expense of short-term returns might actually be a positive.  There are shades of the Greek Freak in Capela aka The Swiss Franc.

7. L.A. Lakers -
Joel Embiid (C, 7'0", 250 lbs, Kansas, 20 years old) - I was not as high on Embiid as others even before he had a foot surgery that resulted in him having two screws put in his foot.  That surgery might seal Embiid's fate as the second coming of Greg Oden even before he joins the NBA but I still think it makes sense for a franchise like the Lakers to make a boom-or-bust pick like this since they usually don't have a chance to draft this high.  Sure Kobe will be pissed (when isn't he?) that Embiid doesn't help the Lakers now but the gargantuan extension that Kobe signed to strangle their salary cap doesn't help the Lakers much either so the Lakers should start to plan for the post-Kobe era instead of continuing to pacify their aging former superstar.

8. Sacramento Kings - Doug McDermott (SF, 6'8", 218 lbs, Creighton, 22 years old) - There is no question that McDermott is the best long distance shooter in the draft.  It might be harder for McDermott to get off his shot in the NBA but even if he struggles to create his shot, I see him being a great situational player.  Sure that is not what most teams envision with the 8th pick in the draft but the Kings desperately need a steady player that can score, without baggage.  McDermott is exactly that guy with a slightly lower upside than some of the next few prospects.

9. Charlotte Hornets - Julius Randle (PF, 6'9", 234 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old) - The Hornets went back to their original colors so I gave them a Larry Johnson-esque player to match. It is really hard to gauge if Randle's game will translate to the next level, especially on the defensive end.  Since there are no sure things at this point, I decided to take the guy with the highest upside still available.

10. Philadelphia 76ers - Dario Saric (PF, 6'10", 223 lbs, Croatia, 20 years old) - This might be five picks too high given that Saric is set to play a few more seasons overseas but I had to take a chance on a guy that could be the best point-forward in the NBA in three years.  The reason that I like Saric so much is that I see him as a right-handed Toni Kukoc.  Plus this is the perfect fit for the 76ers as they continue to try to simultaneously stock pile assets as they try to tank.

11. Denver Nuggets - Elfrid Payton (PG, 6'4", 185 lbs, Louisiana Lafayette, 20 years old) - The draft process catapulted Payton from a borderline first rounder to a borderline lottery pick because apparently every team was blown away with his poise at each workout.  I see Payton as a poor man's Exum because despite his length and ability, he is projected to be a less potent scoring scorer than Exum.

12. Orland Magic - Tyler Ennis (PG, 6'3", 182 lbs, Syracuse, 19 years old) - The NBA has a ton of quality point guard, which almost devalues talented players like Ennis.  Despite the glut of talent at the point guard position, Ennis is a very useful player distributing the ball efficiently on the offensive end.  Ennis also possesses the ability to create steals at a very high rate but take that with a grain of salt given that Ennis played in a 2-3 zone defense in college.  Even if Ennis regresses slightly on defense because he is forced to play man-to-man most of the time as opposed to zone in the NBA, given his ability to distribute the ball, I still see him as a potential starting point guard next season in the NBA.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves - Jusuf Nurkic (C, 6'11", 280 lbs, Bosnia, 19 years old) - Much like Capela, advance metrics project Nurkic as one of the best players in the entire draft.  Given all the hype surrounding Embiid, it meant that Nurkic flew under the radar despite having a better low-post game than Embiid.

14. Phoenix Suns - Gary Harris (SG, 6'5", 205 lbs, Michigan State, 19 years old) - Part of the reason I am high on Harris is that he projects to be a very similar player to Suns restricted free agent combo guard Eric Bledsoe. I actually see Harris as the best NBA player to come out of Michigan State in the last decade but take that with a grain of salt since they've failed to produce many quality NBA players lately despite all of their collegiate success.

15. Atlanta Hawks - Nik Stauskas (SG, 6'7", 207 lbs, Michigan, 20 years old) - The run of college shooting guards from Michigan continues.  I really vacillated between whether I like Harris or Stauskas more, ultimately I gave the nod to Harris based on athleticism despite the fact that Stauskas is a better shooter than Harris.

16. Chicago Bulls - Jordan Adams (SG, 6'5", 209 lbs, UCLA, years old) - Another advanced stats darling pushed Adams higher in the draft than others might expect.  The one knock on Adams is his defense but any guy that plays for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will improve defensively, which makes Adams particularly enticing for the Bulls given his limitless offensive abilities.

17. Boston Celtics - P.J. Hairston (SG, 6'5", 229 lbs, North Carolina/NBDL, 21 years old) - After spending two years at UNC, Hairston played last season in the NBDL.  Worst case, Hairston can provide instant offense off the bench with a chance to develop into a starting shooting guard down the road.  Best case, Hairston develops into a stud starting NBA shooting guard.  I think the former is more likely but that is still good return on investment in the middle of the first round.

18. Phoenix Suns - Jarnell Stokes (PF, 6'9", 262 lbs, Tennessee, 20 years old) - The knock on Stokes is that he is a little undersized to play power forward but he still rebounds and blocks well despite being undersized for his position.  Stokes also possesses impressive low-post skills, which makes him an interesting prospect that could turn into an impressive scorer in a few years.

19. Chicago Bulls - Adreian Payne (PF, 6'10", 239 lbs, Michigan State, 23 years old) - Tom Izzo's run at Michigan State of getting every player that stayed four years in the program to the Final Four finally came to an end with Payne.  Despite not going to a Final Four, Payne developed into a quality two way player that can even knock down shots behind the arc.  Although Payne is already 23, power forwards that can hit three-point shots consistently are becoming a premium in the NBA, which makes Payne a very valuable commodity.

20. Toronto Raptors - Zach LaVine
(PG, 6'6", 181 lbs, UCLA, 19 years old) - A combo guard that shoots a little too much right now to be a true point guard hurts his stock slightly but if LaVine can develop a better shot or at the very least better shot selection in the NBA, I see him as a borderline starter in a couple years.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder -
Rodney Hood (SG, 6'9", 208 lbs, Duke, 20 years old) - If the Thunder actually draft Hood then the James Harden comparisons will start flying around.  Hood is slightly longer than Harden and less of a slasher but both are lefty scorers that struggle to rebound and defend.  I am not sure whether Hood will ever develop into a quality defender but that might not matter if he scores in the NBA like he scored in college.

22. Memphis Grizzlies - James Young (SF, 6'8", 213 lbs, Kentucky, 18 years old) - Kentucky head coach John Calipari is truly a modern marvel if he is landing what amount to Fab Five-eque recruiting classes every year without breaking the rules.  Young strikes me as the perfect example of a player that could use another year in college to continue to develop his three-point shot before going to the NBA, unfortunately the one downside to these recruiting classes are that players are almost forced to leave after one season to make way for the next wave of five star high school recruits.

23. Utah Jazz - Shabazz Napier (PG, 6'1", 175 lbs, UConn, 22 years old) - I get some flashes of T.J. Ford when I watch Napier, most of that is based on his small frame as opposed to his success on the court though because Napier already has a much more accomplished career than Ford if you just compare Napier's collegiate resume to Ford's collegiate and professional resume.  If anyone can overcome size limitations, it is Napier.  If the Jazz actually draft Napier, look for Trey Burke to get traded.

24. Charlotte Hornets - T.J. Warren (SF, 6'8", 220 lbs, N.C. State, 20 years old) - With how fluidly Warren scores, it is somewhat puzzling how much he struggles defensively.  Warren needs to focus on his defense and three-point shot in the NBA because for how flawlessly he scored in college, sometimes that does not translate as well to the NBA.

25. Houston Rockets - Kyle Anderson (PF, 6'9", 230 lbs, UCLA, 20 years old) - The advanced stats like Anderson's versatility to play as a point-forward that rebounds well.  Oddly that makes Anderson a potential focal point offensively.  The Rockets already have a ball dominate scorer in Harden so it would be interesting to see if Harden and Anderson could co-exist.  On talent alone though, Anderson is a very enticing prospect.

26. Miami Heat - K.J. McDaniels
(SF, 6'6", 195 lbs, Clemson, 21 years old) - The knock on McDaniels is his inability to score from long-distance.  Luckily McDaniels projects as one of the best defenders in the entire draft though so worst case he plays as a defensive stopper while working on his three-point shot.

27. Phoenix Suns - Glenn Robinson III (SF, 6'7", 211 lbs, Michigan, 20 years old) - Given my affinity for Big Dog, I have a hard time being rational about his son's ability.  Taking away my bias though, most scouts project Robinson to a similar play to his father with more defensive ability though not quite as polished on the offensive end.

28. L.A. Clippers - Spencer Dinwiddie (PG, 6'6", 205 lbs, Colorado, 21 years old) - Reminds me a lot of former Colorado shooting guard Alec Burks .  Oddly Dinwiddie is a quality combo guard that excels from outside 10 feet but struggles to create opportunities close to the rim so he needs to focus on being a shooting guard as opposed to a point guard unless he can improve his ability to score at the rim.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Jordan Clarkson
(PG, 6'5", 186 lbs, Missouri, 22 years old) - Much like Dinwiddie, Clarkson is a combo guard too but Clarkson should focus more on being a point guard instead of shooting guard.  In fact, you could somehow combine Clarkson and Dinwiddie as one player you might have the best combo guard beside Exum in the entire draft.

30. San Antonio Spurs - Damien Inglis
(SF, 6'8", 240 lbs, France, 19 years old) - The Bucks finally mined a quality European player from the draft getting The Greek Freak with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, which is something the Spurs have been doing for over a decade en route to five NBA Championships since 1999.  Most pundits project Inglis as a second round "draft and stash" steal, which makes him the perfect Spurs pick in the first round that they can plug in a few years from now as a regular contributor.

Cheesehead Chick, Sug, E-Dogg, and I are going to see James Taylor tonight at Ravinia so I will only have sporadic internet access, which means I will most likely be watching the 2014 NBA Draft on delay tonight.  Either way, check back later tonight on Twitter @CheeseheadSN and tomorrow in this space for my thoughts on how Hammond navigated the 2014 NBA Draft for the Bucks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Building The 15 - 2014 NBA Draft First Round Preview for John Hammond

Generally I believe that general managers should take the best player available irrespective of positional need with a few caveats.  For example, the Green Bay Packers have arguably the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers so when the Packers are on the clock, especially early in the draft, they should devalue quarterbacks slightly given that Rodgers is on The 53.  I do not have any of those caveats in the NBA, which means that if I were Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond, I would always take the best player available irrespective of positional strength on The 15.

Plus its not like Hammond has a ton of high-end talent currently on The 15.  Given that it looks like the Greek Freak is the only potential all-star on The 15 so the Bucks can use help at every position, including The Greek Freak's wing position.  The Bucks struggle to attract marquee free agents so Hammond needs to add studs to The 15 via the draft.

Hammond was scheduled to pick in the mid-to-late teens in my last three previews of the first round of the NBA Draft (2011, 2012, and 2013) so we are in uncharted territory given that the Bucks are schduled to make the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.  The Cleveland Cavilers pick first for the third time in four years as the NBA continues to try to compensate them for losing LeBron James to the Miami Heat.  With all that out of the way, the Bucks are essentially in a no lose position right now given all the top-end talent in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Kansas center Joel Embiid.  Never has an injury loomed so large over an NBA Draft than Embiid's foot surgery.  A little over a week ago it looked like Embiid was going 1st to the Cavs, which meant that the Bucks would be able to choose between Kansas shooting guard Andrew Wiggins and Duke small forward Jabari Parker.  Given that Embiid went from potentially being the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon to the second coming of Greg Oden, it looks like the Cavs now have to choose between Wiggins and Parker or trade the pick.

No matter what the Cavs do, the only way the Bucks mess up the 2nd pick is if they choose Embiid.  Otherwise, the Bucks are in the position to take either Wiggins or Parker without having to even consider Embiid at this point.  There is an outside chance that the Bucks would consider Australian point guard Dante Exum but that seems short-sided given that Wiggins and Parker are two of the most enticing prospects to join the NBA since the 2003 NBA Draft that included the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade.

On the court I favor Wiggins slightly over Parker based on the fact that Wiggins has a slightly higher upside than Parker.  Plus Wiggins actually plays defense while Parker barely even attempts to play defense.  The only thing that mitigates that is the fact that although the ceiling for Parker is slightly lower than Wiggins, I think the floor is much lower for Wiggins than Parker.  Both players should average 20 points a season at some point in their career, the question is whether it will take Wiggins a few more years than Parker since Parker is much more polished on the offensive end than Wiggins.

Recently rumors spread that Parker threw his work out in hopes of landing with the Bucks instead of the Cavs because of Milwaukee's proximity to Parker's hometown of Chicago.  There are very few players that actually want to go to Milwaukee so I want to believe that Parker wants to play in Milwaukee but let's not forget that Parker is trying to choose between Cleveland and Milwaukee, its not like Parker said he would rather player in Milwaukee than Los Angeles.

If I were the Cavs, I would draft Wiggins just because of his potential upside.  Fortunately for the Bucks, I see the Cavs being less aggressive so I see them taking Parker given the lower floor.  Before you bet money on that pick though, let's not forget that the Cavs took (fat) Anthony Bennett instead of Indiana combo guard Victor Oladipo with the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft so although it seems crazy to take anyone besides Wiggins or Parker, you only have to look at the last NBA Draft to see the Cavs do something crazy.

While we are looking back at previous NBA Drafts, let's not forget that when the Bucks took center Andrew Bogut with the first pick in the 2005 NBA Draft that the choice was between Bogut and small forward Marvin Williams.  The Bucks took Bogut first and the Atlanta Hawks took Williams with the second pick.  The next two picks are two of the best five point guards of the last decade: Deron Williams and Chris Paul.  With Embiid out of the picture, the real question is whether Wiggins or Parker is second coming of Marvin Williams.  If the Bucks think either of those guys are and that is the guy that falls to the Bucks, I totally support the Bucks pulling the trigger on Exum.

I ranked the Top 10 players in the 2014 NBA Draft in late February in my first look at the 2014 NBA Draft this way: Parker, Embiid, Wiggins, Exum, Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Arizona power forward Gordon, Croatian small forward Dario Saric, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis, and Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh.  All that matters now is that I rank my Top 2 as Wiggins and Parker.

That said, as long as Hammond takes Wiggins, Parker, and Exum with the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, I see this draft as being a huge win even if Hammond does NOT follow my advice for what to do with his three second round picks.  This post was a long way of saying that the only way Hammond bungles the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft is by taking Embiid.  Sure Embiid could workout long-term but the Bucks could get a much less risky asset than Embiid that will be useful in both the short-term and long-term with the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

With my advice for how Hammond should approach the first and second round of the 2014 NBA Draft out of the way, I am going to turn my advice to all NBA general mangers so make sure to check back tomorrow for my first round "mock" draft of what each general manager should do if they kept each pick they currently own in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Building The 15 - 2014 NBA Draft Second Round Preview for John Hammond

Yesterday I covered how Milwaukee Bucks general manger John Hammond should approach the restricted (power forward Ekpe Udoh) and unrestricted free agents (combo guard Ramon Sessions and small forward Jeff Adrien) that were on The 15 for the Bucks last season.  Even if Hammond ignores my advice and lets all Adrien and Sessions walk, he still has 12 guys under contract for next season.  Hammond currently holds four picks in the 2014 NBA Draft: 2nd, 31st, 36th, and 48th.
Sure some of those 12 guys have non-guaranteed contract but given all the picks that Hammond currently holds in the 2014 NBA Draft, I would totally support Hammond packaging a few of the second round picks to move into the mid first round.  The chance of that happening are slim so much like I did the last few years (2011, 2012, and 2013), let's get to my advice for how Hammond can navigate the second round.

Since the Bucks finished with the worst record in the NBA last season, they hold the 31st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, which is the first pick in the second round.  With how well the NBA Draft is covered, you can almost be assured that the following 25 guys (Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Clint Capela, Tyler Ennis, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, P.J. Hairston, Gary Harris, Rodney Hood, Zach LaVine, Doug McDermott, Shabazz Napier, Jusuf Nurkic, Jabari Parker, Adrien Payne, Elfried Payton, Julius Randle, Dario Saric, Marcus Smart, Nik Stauskas, Jarnell Stokes, T.J. Warren, Andrew Wiggins, and James Young) will no longer be available at the 31st pick.  If any of the 25 guys just mentioned are available when the Bucks go on the clock with the 31st pick, I totally sign off on Hammond drafting any of those guys.  If all of those guys are gone, here are the guys I would target with the 31st and 36th picks:

Glenn Robinson III (SF, 6'7", 211 lbs, Michigan, 20 years old) - Big Dog is my favorite Buck of all-time, so I obviously somewhat blindly love his son too at this point too.  I actually see Big Dog Jr. as an all around better two-way player than his father.  Given that Little Dog plays better defense than Big Dog but is NOT as offensively polished as Big Dog.

Damien Inglis (SF, 6'8", 240 lbs, France, 19 years old) - Much like The Greek Freak last year, although Inglis is one of the youngest players in this year's draft, he actually looks ready to contribute next season in the NBA because of his defense and rebounding ability.

Nikola Jokic (PF, 6'11", 253 lbs, Serbia, 19 years old) - I am on record as calling current Buck Ersan Ilyasvoa a poor man's Dirk.  Although the Jokic/Dirk comparisons are not as strong, if Jokic can continue to improve his shot, it will help him overcome his athletic limitations to serve as a quality stretch four.

Mitch McGary (PF/C, 6'10", 250 lbs, Michigan, 22 years old) - This is purely a value proposition because I would be shocked if McGary dropped out of the first round despite is off the court issues.  You know if the Bucks draft McGary he is rooming with Larry Sanders on the road.  Oh and their favorite road trip will be against the Denver Nuggets.

Walter Tavares (C, 7'3", 265 lbs, Spain, 22 years old) - Is Gheorghe Muresan a reasonable ceiling for Tavares?  If so, I see Tavares contributing in the NBA after a couple more years of seasoning.  NBA teams can't wait too long though given that Tavares is already 22 years old.

Spencer Dinwiddie (PG, 6'6", 205 lbs, Colorado, 21 years old) - A serious knee injury really hurt Dinwiddie's draft stock. But even if next season turns out to be a lost season for Dinwiddie, I still like the Bucks rolling the dice on a guy that has mid first round talent when healthy.

Artem Klimenko (C, 7'1", 228 lbs, Russia, 20 years old) - Every year there are at least five guys in the NBA Draft like Klimenko that project as solid backup center in the NBA before they ever play a minute in the NBA.  Sure most of them turn out to be replacement-level at best but that is exactly why I hate teams overpaying backup centers like the Bucks did last year when they signed Zaza Pachulia to a three-year, $15.6 million contract.  I would much rather cycle through a couple Klimenkos instead of overpaying Pachulia.

Jerami Grant (SF, 6'8", 214 lbs, Syracuse, 20 years old) - The rare Domestic "Draft and Stash" guy could be a steal for the Bucks given his unlimited athletic ability.  Sure that athleticism will need to be honed but going into the season Grant looked like mid first round pick so as long as the Bucks think they can fix Grant's shot, he is a steal in the early second round.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo (SF, 6'6", 205 lbs, NBDL, 21 years old) - The Bucks drafted his younger brother Giannis with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.  It looks like Giannis is a future all-star so even if the Bucks think taking Thanasis is purely a goodwill gesture that helps them keep Giannis long-term, I totally sign-off on the move.  If Thanasis turns out to be a slightly shorter version of Giannis, we might be looking at the steal of the draft.

With the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, unless one of the players I already discussed in this post is still available, I would make a San Antonio Spurs-esque Euro "Draft and Stash" guy.  Given all the guaranteed contracts already on The 15, there is a very good chance that if Hammond actually drafts guys with the 31st and 36th picks that one or both of those guys turn out to be a Euro "Draft and Stash" guy anyhow but there is an even better chance that the 46th pick turns out to be a Euro "Draft and Stash" guy.  Guys that fit that criteria that you can reasonably expect to still be available with the 48th pick are: Vasilije Micic (PG, 6'4", 185 lbs, Serbia, 20 years old), Bogdan Bogdanovic (SG, 6'6", 200 lbs, Serbia, 21 years old), Alessandro Gentile (SF, 6'6", 200 lbs, Italy, 21 years old), Cristiano Felicio (PF, 6'9", 240 lbs, Brazil, 21 years old), Nemanja Dangubic (SG, 6'8", 193 lbs, Serbia, 21 years old), and Michalis Kamperidis (PF, 6'9", 230 lbs, Greece, 20 years old).

If Hammond takes some of the advice I just dispensed, hopefully the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft will be the antithesis of what Hammond did the last time he had three second round picks. For those that forget, Hammond selected the pu pu platter of Darington Hobson, Jermone Jordan, and Keith Gallon in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft.  If that is what Hammond does in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft, it will be his last as the general manger of the Bucks.

With my advice for how Hammond should approach the 2nd round of the 2014 NBA Draft out of the way, make sure to check back tomorrow when I discuss what the Bucks should do with the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Without burying the lead, the Bucks cannot go wrong as long as they pass on injured Kansas center Joel Embiid but make sure to check back tomorrow for a more lengthy discussion.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Building The 15 - How to Handle 2014-15 RFA's & UFA's on The 15 in 2013-14

Welcome to the start of my off-season advice for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond.  In years past I wrote one long post (2011, 2012, and 2013) but much like I did in my seven-part off-season advice for Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, I wanted to break down how Hammond should Build The 15 for the 2014-15 season into multiple posts.  NBA free agency officially opens on July 1st but rumors are already flying around.  Given that Hammond currently possesses four picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, I will reserve my advice for how Hammond should approach players that were not on The 15 for the Bucks last year till after the draft.  Instead I will focus on how Hammond should approach the restricted and unrestricted free agents that were on The 15 for the Bucks last season.

Let's start with the only restricted free agent on The 15 for the Bucks last season, power forward Ekpe Udoh.  The Bucks acquired Udoh from the Golden State Warriors right before the 2012 NBA Trade Deadline when they traded Andrew Bogut (C) and Stephen Jackson (SG/SF) for Monte Ellis (SG), Ekpe Udoh (PF), and Kwame Brown (C).  After a promising end to the 2011-12 season as a member of the Bucks, Udoh has been very underwhelming ever since.

In fact the most impressive contribution Udoh made to the City of Milwaukee last season, despite the fact that he was essentially in a contract year, was off the court with his book club.  On the court Udoh posted the lowest PER on the entire team, which is disappointing given that Udoh was the 6th player selected in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Warriors. At the time it seemed like the Warriors reached when they drafted Udoh but just to add insult to injury, two of the next four players taken in the 2010 NBA Draft after Udoh were Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe and Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George.  Hindsight is always 20/20 but Monroe and George looked like much better NBA prospects than Udoh even before the 2010 NBA Draft, which frankly makes the Udoh pick a head scratcher.

The Bucks hold a one-year team option on Udoh for next season.  Given that picking up Udoh's team option would cost the Bucks almost $6 million, there is no way in the world that the Bucks should tender Udoh.  In fact I am not sure Udoh is even worth keeping on one-year, veteran minimum deal no matter what players Hammond selects in the 2014 NBA Draft.

With my advice to let Udoh walk out of the way, let's take a look at the unrestricted free agents that were on The 15 for the Bucks last season.  Hammond needs to be very cautious with how they deal with their unrestricted free agents: combo guard Ramon Sessions and small forward Jeff Adrien.  I say Hammond needs to be cautious because of his penchant to overpay borderline starters in free agency. Case-and-point, last off-season Hammond signed shooting guard O.J. Mayo (three-year, $24 million) and center Zaza Pachullia (three-year, $15.6 million) to expensive contracts despite the fact that both are borderline starters.

Neither Sessions or Adrien are worth breaking the bank but each are somewhat useful, at the right price. Sessions is an interesting player given that he posted an 18 PER last season.  Unfortunately for Session, the Bucks have two younger combo guards in Brandon Knight and Nate Wolters that if they continue to implement will need extensions soon, which cuts against Hammond offering Sessions an extension.  I would offer Sessions the mini mid-level exception that amounts to a two-year, $5.5 million contract.

Possessing one above average skill makes a player at least somewhat enticing to keep on The 15.  For Adrien, his above average skill is rebounding, which helped him post a robust 18.4 PER last season.  I have no grand illusions that Adrien will turn into a franchise guy but the fact remains that he is a really useful player given his rebounding prowess.  I would offer Adrien a three-year, $4.5 million contract with no money guaranteed. That allows the Bucks to keep Adrien under contract at a relatively cheap price with no salary cap ramifications if they cut him.  Best case the Bucks bought cheap on a rebounding machine, worst case the Bucks either cut or use Adrien as a cap filler in a future trade.

Sure the above decisions are important for Hammond but the key to building the Bucks is the NBA Draft.  Besides the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Hammond also currently has three picks (31, 36, and 48) in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft too.  Make sure to check back tomorrow for my all important preview of the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft.