Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The 15 - What else is there besides Jabari & The Greek Freak?

The 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks start the seasons on the road tonight against the artists formerly known as the Charlotte Bobcats.  Although it is just a season opener on the road, today could go down as one of the most important moments in franchise history given that for the first time in almost a decade there is real hope that the Bucks will actually be relevant at a national level.  With all due respect to long time former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, most of that optimism stems from the fact that the Bucks have new majority owners in Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry along with ton of local minority owners that seem to want to build a long-term NBA title contender, even if that involves some non-playoff growing pains, instead of just being an occasional fringe playoff contender.

We are less than a year into the new ownership group's tenure but the team already looks in great shape given that Bucks general manager John Hammond added two potential franchise players via the last two drafts.  Hammond drafted The Greek Freak with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and Jabari Parker with the 2nd pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.  Sure the new ownership group stubbed their toe when they acquired Jason Kidd as their new head coach without involving general manager John Hammond in the process but if that is the biggest misstep of the new ownership group, the Bucks are in good hands.

There are nine guys on The 15 for the Bucks to start the 2014-15 season that were on The 15 at the end of the 2013-14 season: Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton, Zaza Pachulia, Larry Sanders, and Nate Wolters.  That means there are six guys from the final 2013-14 team that are no longer with the organization: Jeff Adrien, Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica, Ramon Sessions, Ekpe Udoh, and Chris Wright.  Hammond replaced those six guys with six other guys via trade (Jared Dudley), free agency (Jerryd Bayless), a waiver claim (Kendall Marshall) and the 2014 NBA Draft (Damien Inglis, Johnny O'Bryant III, and Jabari Parker).  I gave a detailed breakdown of my thoughts all the moves above in late August and I've seen nothing since to change my thoughts other than that I am liking the Dudley trade more and more everyday.

Sure The Greek Freak and Jabari will ultimately determine whether the Bucks actually turn into a perennial playoff contender but there are some other very talented guys on The 15 too so here is my look at a couple of other players on The 15:

3) Brandon Knight (PG): There is a school of thought that unless you have a potential Top 5 point guard (Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, John Wall, or Russell Westbrook) that you do NOT overpay point guards because the difference between the sixth and twenty sixth point guard is not that big.  I have no grand illusions that Knight will turn into the best point guard in the NBA but given his diverse sill set, I do think he is a player worth paying fairly big long-term money.  The question is how much money will Knight command.  Based on last season, it looks like Knight could be a franchise point guard with a decent chance to be a Top 10 point guard.  Worst-case scenario, Knight is a combo guard that is a 3rd or 4th option on a really good playoff team.  Knight can become a restricted free agent this off-season.  In terms of potential comps for Knight's extension, a couple of good comps on the low end are Jeff Teague's four-year, $32 million contract and Mike Conley's five-year, $40 million contract.  A couple of good comparisons on the high end are Jrue Holliday's four-year, $41 million contract and Ty Lawson's four-year, $48 million contract.  Since I am not related the Knight, I would much rather see the Bucks get Knight signed to a deal like Teague's or Conley's but if Knight performs well this season I could see him pushing for a much more expensive extension and possibly even a max deal.  Yeah, you read that correctly that Knight might be a max player, especially given the upcoming spike in NBA revenue thanks to their new national television contract, which will result in a huge jump in the salary cap.  Knight bet on himself by not agreeing to long-term extension before the season with the Bucks.  My guess is that the Bucks and Knight ultimately work out a long-term deal in the off-season, the question is whether Knight has a below average season to hurt his market value or a great season to push his value into the max stratosphere.

The 15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF)
2. Jabari Parker (SF/PF)
3. Brandon Knight (PG)
4. John Henson (PF/C)
5. Larry Sanders (C)
6. Ersan Ilyasova (PF)
7. Khris Middleton (SF)
8. Nate Wolters (PG)
9. Jared Dudley (SG/SF)
10. Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG)
11. O.J. Mayo (SG)
12. Kendall Marshall (PG)
13. Zaza Pachulia (C)
14. Johnny O'Bryant III (PF)
15. Damien Inglis (SF)
5) Larry Sanders (C): Speaking of expensive contract extensions, this is the first year of Sanders' four-year, $44 million extension.  Sanders is tied with JaVale McGee as the 16th highest paid center this season. Right now, based on how Sanders fought off the court and played on the court last season, he is no where close to being the 16th best center in the NBA yet the Bucks received a number of calls to see if Sanders was available last off-season.  I don't know what teams were offering but my guess is that teams were trying to buy low on Sanders given how far his stock fell.  Given Sanders's impressive defensive skills and his improving offensive abilities, if he can keep his head on straight he might turn into a steal at $11 million a season.  That or Sanders could continue to get into trouble off the court, which will hamper his growth on the court.  If that happens, Hammond will not only regret that he signed Sanders to an expensive extension but he will be even more disappointed that he double-down when he didn't move sanders when he had the chance.  Hey now Larry, the ball is in your court.

12) Kendall Marshall (PG): I thought it was a no brainer to claim Marshall off waivers from the Los Angeles Lakers given that he would cost the Bucks a mere $915,243 for his services this season.  That seems like a pittance by NBA standards for a backup point guard.  The Bucks decided to guarantee Marshall's contract at the start of the season despite the fact they could have held off till January 10, 2015 to guarantee his contract for this season.  Sure the odds are low that the Bucks would have cut Marshall this season but why not keep the flexibility until early 2015 in case there are a ton of injuries that would necessitate making a move since the Bucks already had 14 guaranteed contracts on The 15 before they guaranteed Marshall's contract.  I guess now The 15 should be called The (Financially) Guaranteed 15.  Given that everyone on The 15 is expendable besides The Greek Freak and Jabari Parker this move seemed borderline ridiculous.  That was until I realized that Marshall’s agent is Alex Saratsis.  I've never heard of Saratsis until today and the only reason that I learned about Saratsis is that he is The Greek Freak's agent so that move was clearly a courtesy by the Bucks to get in the good graces with Saratsis given that the Bucks are going to have potentially franchise altering negotiations with him over the next few years.

I am not a huge fan of season predictions but feel an obligation to make a quick one given that this is a season preview of The 15.  Despite the fact that almost everyone thinks the Bucks are going to be one of the worst teams in the league, I actually think they will fight for the 5th or 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  If Hammond makes any moves, make sure to check out my thoughts in this space, otherwise check back in a month when I have my updated rankings for The 15.

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