Thursday, January 1, 2015

The 15 - Even Without Parker the Bucks Continue to Win

In my first two iterations of The 15 this year I was much more bullish on the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks than most.  At the start of the season I deemed them a playoff worthy team and I did NOT back down from that in my next look at the team I just hedged by saying that I wanted to see the Bucks beat some better teams before we made them a playoff lock.  Since that post it has been the best of times and the worst of times for the Bucks all in one month.  The worst of times was December 15, 2014 but NOT for the reasons that I mentioned in my inaugural NBA General Manager's Buyers Remorse Day post.  Instead that day rookie small forward Jabari Parker tore his ACL to end his promising rookie season in a road win over the Phoenix Suns thanks to a crazy bank shot by shooting guard/small forward Khris Middleton.  The Bucks could have packed it in for the season but they showed some heart going 4-4 over their next games to finish the calendar year 2014 with a 17-16 record, which is two more wins then they had all last season.  Here are my updated rankings to The 15:

2) Jabari Parker (SF/PF, LR 2): When Bucks general manager John Hammond drafted Parker with the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft it seemed like the ultimate no-lose pick.  If the 1st pick in the draft Andrew Wiggins turns out to be a stud that is NOT on Hammond given that Wiggins and Parker were the consensus top two picks in the draft.  My hope is that this is NOT a Marvin Williams situation where it turns out that some of the guys taken after Parker (Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, etc.) show that there should have been more thought about whether there were other guys worth going in the Top 2 of the draft.  When Parker got hurt he was second on the Bucks in points per game (12.3) and minutes (29.5) but that should not be a surprise since he looked like an NBA-ready scorer during his freshman season at Duke.  What was a pleasant surprise is that Parker was at least serviceable on defense, which is much more than the Bucks thought they were getting in Parker's rookie year given how much he struggled defensively during his lone college season.  I wish Parker a speedy recovery and safe recovery.  No need to rush Parker back form such a serious injury.  I would rather have Parker sit out the first part of the 2015-16 season on the off-chance that it helps him not only decrease the chances of him suffering another catastrophic knee injury but it also allows him to come back at full-speed instead of playing 20 games at 75% to start the season because the Bucks need to look at Parker as a 15 year asset even if he decides to leave after five years.  If you question that theory, ask the Chicago Bulls how they feel about Derrick Rose re-injuring his knee a second time.

The 15 3.0 for 2014-15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 1)
2. Jabari Parker (SF/PF, LR 2)
3. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 3)
4. John Henson (PF/C, LR 4)
5. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 5)
6. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 7)
7. Khris Middleton (SF, LR 9)
8. Jared Dudley (SG/SF, LR 8)
9. Larry Sanders (C, LR 6)
10. Kendall Marshall (PG, LR 10)
11. Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 13)
12. Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG, LR 12)
13. Nate Wolters (PG, LR 11)
14. Johnny O'Bryant III (PF, LR 14)
15. Damien Inglis (SF, LR 15)
9) Larry Sanders (C, LR 6): The Bucks have been without Sanders's services for the last four games due to "illness".  I put that in quotes because Larry Sanders is entering the Tyson Zone (copyright Bill Simmons).  We know that off the court Sanders enjoys fighting and smoking pot.  I am not judging, in fact I think one of those two things should be legal.  Unfortunately for Sanders he plays in a league where neither are legal and there are consequences for both so it will be interesting to see if he ever plays for the Bucks again.  In my my first look at The 15 this season I said this season was going to be a crossroads for Sanders and clearly he is getting to the end of the road.  At this point I am not sure the Bucks could trade him for anything so I might have him ranked too high at 9 but whenever I try to move him further down I get flashes of him turning into a more offensively polished Ben Wallace and pound my head against the keyboard in disappointment at how wrong things have gone for Sanders over the last couple seasons.

11) Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 13): It takes a big man to admit mistakes and I might finally be coming around on Pachulia.  Don't get me wrong, I still stand by my assertion that he is overpaid and was one of the worst moves two off-seasons ago.  I am not sure how much Gustavo Ayon signed for with Real Madrid but I know it is less than Pachulia is making.  So far this doesn't sound like much of a mea culpa but I am getting there.  Certain positions in professional sports are more expensive to fill than you think they should be.  Take backup catcher, because of service time alone most backup catchers make upwards of $1 million a year for catching every 5th day.  That seems like way too much money for their contributions on the field but that doesn't take into account all the intangible things they are doing with the starting catcher and pitchers when they are not in the game.  The same might be true for backup centers too.  I don't think Hammond ever thought Pachulia would be the de facto starting center given how highly (great pun huh) they thought of Sanders but even given all of the issues with Sanders off the court but Pachulia has been very effective in that role.  It turns out that skill set costs a few million more on the open market than I thought but it is has been indispensable for the Bucks this season.

I hope everyone is having a good start to 2015.  Make sure to check back at the end of January for my thoughts on The 15, which will form the basis for my annual NBA Trade Deadline advice post for Hammond in mid-February.