Monday, June 29, 2015

Building The 15 - 2015 Free Agent Shopping Guide for Hammond

Milwaukee Bucks general manager was active this off-season given that he already completed two trades.  I made no bones about it that I disliked the decision to trade small forward/power forward Ersan Ilyasova to the Detroit Pistons for expiring contracts and absolutely hated that Hammond traded two draft picks to the Toronto Raptors for backup point guard Greivis Vasquez.

The two trades seem to be inconsistent given that Hammond shipped out Ilyasova's $7.9 million salary for this season for non-guaranteed contracts to presumably give him enough cap space to try to lure in an expensive free agent but then Hammond swallowed up almost all of that cap space when he traded for Vasquez's bloated $6.6 million salary for next season.

Hammond drafted UNLV freshman shooting guard Rashad Vaughn with the 17th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.  All told, assuming that Hammond resigns restricted free agent shooting guard/small forward Khris Middleton and that small forward/power forward Jared Dudley does NOT exercise his early termination option, Hammond will have 18 players under contract for the 2015-16 NBA season even though he only actually has 15 roster spots.

Here is how the depth chart currently shakes out:
- Point Guard: Michael Carter-Williams, Jerryd Bayless, Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Ennis, and Jorge Gutierrez
- Shooting Guard: Khris Middleton, O.J. Mayo, and Rashad Vaughn
- Small Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damien Inglis, and Caron Butler
- Power Forward: Jabari Parker, Jared Dudley, Johnny O'Bryant III, and Shawne Williams
- Center: John Henson, Zaza Pachulia, and Miles Plumlee

Hammond has some wiggle room since at least three of the contracts (Gutierrez, Butler, and Williams) are NOT guaranteed but that also means that Hammond cannot sign more than one or possibly two free agents without trading away players.

Hammond has $12 million in salary cap space for the 2015-16 season but most, if NOT all of that, will be taken up Middleton if the Bucks are able to retain his services.  That means the Bucks will be left with almost no money to shop on the free agent market.  Hammond will most likely create $7 million in salary cap space by cutting Butler, Gutierrez, and Williams.

For better or worse even if Middleton does NOT resign with the Bucks they are all set at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward.  The same could be argued for power forward or center but there is a ton of potential turnover at those spots over the next couple season and those are the two positions of strength in free agency this off-season so the Bucks need to at least take a look.

At power forward there are some interesting expensive veterans: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Kevin Love, Paul Milsap, and David West.  The same goes for center too: Omer Asik, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, and Amar'e Stoudemire.  There are some really enticing restricted free agent options at center too in Bismack Biyombo and Enes Kanter.

There are some more cost effective power forwards (e.g. Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright) and centers (e.g. Cole Aldrich, Robin Lopez, and Greg Stiemsma) about to hit the free agent market but unless Hammond is considering signing Wright, this is NOT the season to make a move on guys like that given how precious roster spots on The 15 are for the 2015-16 season.  Hammond might beed to fill out The 15 with cost-effective backups next off-season given that the Bucks have two restricted free agents (Henson and Pumlee) and four unrestricted (Bayless, Mayo, Pachulia, and Vasquez).  Hammond should always try to balance the short-term and long-term needs of The 15, unfortunately this off-season he painted himself in a corner.

It would be easy to say that it makes sense to break the bank on a couple of sexy names listed above but a number of those free agents will NOT even consider Milwaukee (Aldridge, Duncan, Gasol, and Love) so that already narrows the field.  Of the those free agents that would realistically consider the Bucks, the three most intriguing are DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez, and Greg Monroe.  I am not sure if it is the pull of The Greek Freak and Parker but there are some quality players that publicly said they have the Bucks on the short list of teams that they are willing to meet with. Jordan is reportedly only meeting with four teams (Bucks, Clippers, Lakers, and Mavericks) and Monroe is reportedly only meeting with five teams (Bucks, Celtics, Lakers, Knicks, and Trailblazers).

In terms of realistic moves that Hammond could make, I would offer the max to Jordan, Lopez, or Monroe.  I would even be okay with a sign-and-trade for any of those guys as long as it does NOT involve giving up more than one future first round pick or any of the top-end talent on The 15 (The Greek Freak, Parker, or Henson).  The odds that any of the three actually come to Milwaukee are slim but it is fun to speculate because a stud center would round out The 15 nicely for the Bucks for the next couple seasons.  Plus, it will help me get over missing out on Dakari Johnson (C, Kentucky) as a part of the horrific 2015 draft day trade the Raptors that netted the Bucks an overpaid backup point guard in Vasquez.

If Hammond misses out on all of the guys above, I will given my advice for how he could bottom feed in mid-to-late July.  In the mean time, buckle up because rumors are going to start flying daily for the next two weeks until players actually start signing with teams on July 9th.  Whatever happens, make sure to check back for full coverage in this space in mid-July.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Building The 15 - 2015 Milwaukee Bucks Draft Pick

This was my fifth year doing a "mock" first round NBA Draft (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) and my sixth year reviewing Milwaukee Bucks general manger John Hammond's performance in the actual draft (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014).

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 2015 NBA Draft.  I only nailed players and team for two out of 30 in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft: Karl-Anthony Towns first overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Jerian Grant (PG/SG, Notre Dame) 19th over all the Washington Wizards.  The Wizards ultimately traded Grant, which just illustrates my point above about how hard it is to marry pick, player, and team correctly.

Although that seems like I did a horrible job, I correctly "predicted" 26 out of 30 players* that went in the first round of the draft.  I put "predicted" in quotes because remember that my mock first round draft is what I would do if I was each team's general manager and had to make each pick without making a trade.  Of the four other guys** that I thought should go in the first round that were NOT taken in the first round, all all of them were drafted by the 36th pick.  That means I am mostly in agreement with current NBA decision makers about what guys should have been drafted by the early part of the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft.  That and the draft is covered so well that it is becoming hard to identify true diamonds in the rough.

I only have to breakdown one pick because Hammond made the worst trade of his tenure, which is really saying something since he made a number of questionable moves during his tenure.  I will give you more detailed thoughts on the trade once I cover the player that Hammond actually drafted in the 2015 NBA Draft.  With out further adu, are my thoughts on the one player that Hammond actually drafted that will be on The 15 next season:

1st Round (17th Overall): Rashad ("Greg") Vaughn
Position: Shooting Guard
Age: 18
Birth date: August 16, 1996
Birthplace: Golden Valley, MN
School: UNLV
Class: Freshman
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 199 lbs
Reach: 8'5"
: 6'6"
Positive Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford)
: Strong/athletic wing, potential scoring machine, already possess a NBA body, attacks the basket, and solid perimeter shooter
Negative Attributes (per ESPN's Chad Ford): Lacks elite length, inconsistent from deep, and not particularly efficient scorer
Other Possible Picks: Sam Dekker (SF, Wisconsin), Bobby Portis (PF, Arkansas), Jerian Grant (PG/SG, Notre Dame), or Delon Wright (PG/SG, Utah)
Twitter: @ShowtimeMr1
Analysis: This feels like a domestic Greek Freak-esque pick by Hammond, which is exactly what he needs to do with draft picks that he actually holds onto instead of foolishly trading them away.  There is no doubt that there are a couple other guys that were available when the Bucks were on the clock that were either more NBA ready (Portis, Grant, or Wright) or would appease the Bucks fans base in the short-term (Dekker) but much like Hammond did in 2013, he swung for the fences.

In 2013 Hammond could have taken more of a sure thing (Tony Snell or Mason Plumlee) but he rolled the dice on the youngest player in the 2013 NBA Draft and got The Greek Freak.  After just two seasons The Greek Freak looks like a franchise cornerstone and future All-Star.  Trust me, I am under no delusions that Vaughn will be as good as The Greek Freak, I just draw the comparison because Vaughn is one of the youngest players in the 2015 NBA Draft much like The Greek Freak was in 2013.  Vaughn was the 19th highest rated recruit in 2014 out of high school and lived up to that hype at UNLV averaging 17.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game over 23 games before a knee injury ended his freshman season.

Vaughn was very impressive in his pre-draft workouts, which helped him show NBA teams that his knee is fully healed.  While shooting 38% from three and 69% from the free throw line his freshman year in college is NOT great, I oddly only see those numbers improving in the NBA given that Vaughn will be the 3rd or 4th shooting option on the floor for the Bucks the next couples seasons as opposed to the focal point of the offense like he was at UNLV.

2nd Round (46th Overall): Norman Powell (SG, UCLA)
Other Possible Picks: Dakari Johnson (C, Kentucky), Michael Frazier III (SG, Florida), Alan Williams (PF, UC Santa Barbara), or Christian Wood (PF, UNLV)
Analysis: Despite the fact that Hammond already drafted a shooting guard when he took Vaughn with the 17th pick, I would have been much happier if he just kept Powell and called it a day.  Instead Hammond traded the 46th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft that he used to draft Powell for the Toronto Raptors and a 2017 lottery protected first round pick L.A. Clipper pick that the Bucks got in the Jared Dudley trade to the Raptors for backup point guard Greivis Vasquez.  If Hammond traded just the 46th pick for Vasquez I would have disliked this trade.  The fact that Hammond somehow included a future first round pick makes this trade an absolute heist for the Raptors.

For those unaware of much about Vasquez, he is a 6'6" backup point guard that played for four NBA teams in his five NBA seasons.  I hate this trade for so many reasons that it is going to tough to boil this down to a few coherent sentences without breaking my computer. I get that the Bucks are targeting long players so Vasquez fits the bill in that department but Vasquez is a below average defender so he does NOT even fit into the system that the Bucks are trying to play.  The biggest problem with the trade is that it cost the Bucks two cheap long-term assets for an expensive short-term asset.  Vasquez is only signed through this upcoming season and is owed $6.6 million.

If the Bucks did NOT have any backup-up point guards on The 15 then you might be able to make a case that Vasquez at least fills a need but the Bucks already have Jerryd Bayless, Tyler Ennis, and Jorge Gutierrez on The 15 so that means the Bucks already had three nice backup point guard options.  Vasquez is a career 36% three-point shooter so it is NOT even like they got a deadly long-distance threat.  If the NBA is moving towards having all 3-and-D players, Vasquez is step back NOT forward.

Obviously I would have held onto the two draft picks if I ran the Bucks.  It is way too early to speculate on a specific player that the Bucks will get in the first rounder from the Clippers in the 2017 NBA Draft.  The Clippers traded away their 2015 first rounder to the Boston Celtics to get Doc Rivers as their coach.  The Celtics took R.J. Hunter (PG/SG, Georgia State) with the pick.  There is no guarantee that a player like Hunter will be there that late in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft but there is no question that Hunter is a more valuable long-term, cost-effective asset than Vasquez.

Turning to the 46th pick. There are a couple of guys that would have fell to the Bucks that would have been very interesting long-term assets according to FiveThirtyEight's Projected Top 50 Players in the 2015 NBA Draft.  Feel free to read the article to get more a flavor for why the Bucks missed out on some quality players that I thought Hammond should have targeted in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft.  Some of the guys the Bucks could still sign as undrafted free agents (Cliff Alexander, Christian Wood, and Michael Frazier III) if the Bucks clear some spots on The 15 but what really bothers me is that the Bucks missed out on a useful backup center that has an outside chance of blossoming into a starter down the road in Dakari Johnson (C, Kentucky).  Let's leave Karl-Anthony Towns out of this because he went 1st overall to the Timberwolves and FiveThirtyEight projects him as the best player in the draft.  Three other guys from Kentucky were drafted in the lottery (Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Trey Lyles) yet FiveThirtyEight has Johnson projected to be more productive in the NBA than all three of those guys.  Unfortunately Hammond gave away his chance to draft Johnson for an expensive backup point guard in his late 20's.

NBA Free Agency starts in less than a week so make sure to check back ahead of that for my updated look at The 15 as well as my advice for Hammond for how to approach free agency since we know he has foolishly spent money like a drunken sailor in the past so he can use some sound advice.

* = I "missed" on Terry Rozier (PG, Lousiville) went 16th to the Celtics, Jarell Martin (PF, LSU) went 25th to the Grizzlies, Larry Nance Jr. (PF, Wyoming) went 28th to the Lakers, and Chris McCullough (PF, Syracuse) went 29th the Nets.

** = Guillermo Hernangomez (C, Spain) rated 26th but went 35th to the 76ers, Montrezl Harrell (PF, Louisville) rated 27th but went 32nd to the Rockets, Rakeem Christmas (C, Syracuse) rated 29th but went 36th to the Timberwolves, and Anthong Brown (SG/SF, Stanford) rated 30th but went 34th to the Lakers.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Building The 15 - 2015 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 2015 NBA Draft.  Much like I said the last four years (2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014) 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. Minnesota Timberwolves - Karl-Anthony Towns (C, 6'11", 250 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old)

2. Los Angeles Lakers - Jahlil Okafor (C, 6'11", 275 lbs, Duke, 19 years old)

3. Philadelphia 76ers - Kristaps Porzingis (PF, 7'2", 230 lbs, Latvia, 19 years old)

4. New York Knicks - D'Angelo Russell (PG/SG, 6'5", 193 lbs, Ohio State, 19 years old)

5. Orlando Magic - Justise Winslow (SF, 6'6", 222 lbs, Duke, 19 years old)

6. Sacramento Kings - Emmanuel Mudiay (PG, 6'5", 196 lbs, China, 19 years old)

7. Denver Nuggets - Mario Hezonja (SF, 6'7", 200 lbs, Croatia, 20 years old)

8. Detroit Pistons - Frank Kaminsky (C, 7'1", 231 lbs, Wisconsin, 22 years old)

9. Charlotte Hornets - Devin Booker (SG, 6'6", 206 lbs, Kentucky, 18 years old)

10. Miami Heat - Myles Turner (PF, 6'11", 239 lbs, Texas, 19 years old)

11. Indiana Pacers - Willie Cauley-Stein (C, 7'1", 242 lbs, Kentucky, 21 years old)

12. Utah Jazz - Sam Dekker (SF, 6'9", 219 lbs, Wisconsin, 21 years old)

13. Phoenix Suns - Stanley Johnson (SF, 6'6", 242 lbs, Arizona, 19 years old)

14. Oklahoma City Thunder - Bobby Portis (PF, 6'11", 246 lbs, Arkansas, 20 years old)

15. Atlanta Hawks (From Brooklyn) - Trey Lyles (PF, 6'10", 242 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old)

16. Boston Celtics - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (SF, 6'7", 211 lbs, Arizona, 20 years old)

17. Milwaukee Bucks - Delon Wright (PG/SG, 6'6", 181 lbs, Utah, 23 years old)

18. Houston Rockets (From New Orleans) - Cameron Payne (PG, 6'2", 183 lbs, Murray State, 20 years old)

19. Washington Wizards - Jerian Grant (PG/SG, 6'4", 198 lbs, Notre Dame, 22 years old)

20. Toronto Raptors - Rashad Vaughn (SG, 6'5", 199 lbs, UNLV, 18 years old)

21. Dallas Mavericks - R.J. Hunter (SG, 6'6", 185 lbs, Georgia State, 21 years old)

22. Chicago Bulls - Kevon Looney (PF, 6'9", 222 lbs, UCLA, 19 years old)

23. Portland Trail Blazers - Kelly Oubre (SF, 6'7", 203 lbs, Kansas, 19 years old)

24. Cleveland Cavaliers - Tyus Jones (PG, 6'2", 185 lbs, Duke, 19 years old)

25. Memphis Grizzlies - Justin Anderson (SF, 6'6", 231 lbs, Virginia, 21 years old)

26. San Antonio Spurs - Guillermo Hernangomez (C, 6'11", 255 lbs, Spain, 20 years old)

27. Los Angeles Lakers (From Houston) - Montrezl Harrell (PF, 6'8", 253 lbs, Louisville, 21 years old)

28. Boston Celtics (From L.A. Clippers) - Nikola Milutinov (C, 6'11", 220 lbs, Serbia, 20 years old)

29. Brooklyn Nets (From Atlanta) - Rakeem Christmas (C, 6'10", 243 lbs, Syracuse, 23 years old)

30. Golden State Warriors - Anthony Brown (SG/SF, 6'7", 211 lbs, Stanford, 22 years old)

Sorry that I was NOT able to add details of why I took each of the guys above but work and Lil' Cheesehead Sports Nut (again) got in the way.  Make sure to check back later tonight on Twitter @CheeseheadSN and tomorrow in this space for my thoughts on how Hammond navigated the 2015 NBA Draft for the Bucks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Building The 15 - 2013 NBA Draft First Round Preview for John Hammond

As I said in my second round preview for the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA Draft is covered so well that I am pretty confident the first 14 players that will come off the board in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft (in some order) are: Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, D'Angelo Russell, Justise Winslow, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Devin Booker, Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Sam Dekker, Stanley Johnson, and Kelly Oubre.

I am fine with the Bucks drafting pretty much any of the 14 players mentioned above with the exception of Oubre.  I have a particularly strong affinity for the guys in the Top 5 (Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, D'Angelo Russell, and Justise Winslow) because everyone besides Porzingis looks like a borderline lock to become studs in the NBA.  There is zero chance any of those guys will be available unless the Bucks trade-up, which I advise against because they would have to trade either The Greek Freak or Jabari Parker to make that happen.

I also have a particular affinity for the two Wisconsin guys (Kaminsky and Dekker) and both would actually fit in well on The 15 for the Bucks.  Assuming they are off the board, here are the 10 guys (most to least) that Hammond and Company should strongly consider if they are available with the 17th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft:

Bobby Portis (PF, 6'11", 246 lbs, Arkansas, 20 years old) - The 2014-15 SEC Player of the Year is my official reasonable draft crush given his length and outside chance to become Al Horford 2.0.

Jerian Grant (PG/SG, 6'4", 198 lbs, Notre Dame, 22 years old) - Although Grant is NOT quite as long as other guards that I am about to discuss, his ability to play both back court positions is too enticing to pass up.

Delon Wright (PG/SG, 6'6", 181 lbs, Utah, 23 years old) - I know this will get me killed in some NBA circles but I am not at all turned off by the fact that Wright is already 23.  Sure there are guys that are four years younger but I see Wright as a starter next season while some of the younger guys will need a couple seasons before they are ready for significant minutes so the Bucks would get a useful asset that could play at a high level in the NBA for 10 to 12 years.

Trey Lyles (PF, 6'10", 242 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old) - The advanced stats are stacked against Lyles but some of that might have to do with Lyles playing out of position for such a stacked Kentucky team.

Rashad Vaughn (SG, 6'5", 199 lbs, UNLV, 18 years old) - A knee injury cut Vaughn's season short.  Reports from recent pre-draft workouts were so positive that teams are no longer worried about his knee so his draft stock is on the rise.

Kevon Looney (PF, 6'9", 222 lbs, UCLA, 19 years old) - I have visions of Looney as a rich man's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute aka The Prince.  I say rich man's The Price because Looney is much more polished offensively than The Price.  Long time readers of this space know my affinity for The Prince so assuming Looney is healthy, there is an outside chance in a couple seasons that he becomes a nice mix of The Price and Jared Dudley so yes, I like Looney's upside.

R.J. Hunter (SG, 6'6", 185 lbs, Georgia State, 21 years old) - One of the best story lines of the 2015 NCAA Tournament was the father/son, coach/player story of Ron Hunter and R.J. Hunter.  The is no question that Hunter is one of the best pure shooters in the draft but there are big questions about how much defense he can play in the NBA.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (SF, 6'7", 211 lbs, Arizona, 20 years old) - Although Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best defenders in the 2015 NBA Draft, I might be a better shooter than him right now.  Given how much the Bucks struggled offensively last year, Hollis-Jefferson might not be the best fit but given that the Bucks think they can fix MCW's offensive deficiencies, I assume they think they could do the same thing with Hollis-Jefferson.

Cameron Payne (PG, 6'2", 183 lbs, Murray State, 20 years old) - I see shades of Damian Lillard in Payne and the advanced metrics back that up.  Given that the Bucks are going for long, interchangeable parts, I am not sure that Payne is the best fit physically but his offensive upside is too impressive to pass up.

Tyus Jones (PG, 6'2", 185 lbs, Duke, 19 years old) - Much of my discussion of Payne applies to Jones too and the advanced stats are in even more love with Jones than Payne.  I see Jones as a rich man's Tyler Ennis as a rookie.

There are some names that just missed the cut that I would rather see Hammond trade back to get at the end of the first round and get another asset instead of taking with the 17th pick: Justin Anderson, Montrezl Harrell, Guillermo Hernangomez, Cedi Osman, Rakeem Christmas, or Anthony Brown.

With how I think Hammond should approach the 2015 NBA Draft documented, make sure to check back tomorrow to read my "what each GM should do" mock draft of the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Building The 15 - 2015 NBA Draft Second Round Preview for John Hammond

The Milwaukee Bucks currently hold the 17th and 46th picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.  With how well the NBA is covered, I don't want to step too much on my first round preview or my "Mock" draft but you can almost be assured that the following 39 guys will NOT be available when the Bucks are on the clock with the 46th pick: Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, D'Angelo Russell, Justise Winslow, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Frank Kaminsky, Devin Booker, Myles Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Sam Dekker, Stanley Johnson, Bobby Portis, Trey Lyles, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne, Delon Wright, Rashad Vaughn, R.J. Hunter, Kevon Looney, Kelly Oubre, Tyus Jones, Justin Anderson, Guillermo Hernangomez, Montrezl Harrell, Nikola Milutinov, Rakeem Christmas, Anthony Brown, Cedi Osman, Olivier Hanlan, Chris McCullough, Joseph Young, Terry Rozier, Jarell Martin, Jordan Mikey, Josh Richardson, and Larry Nance Jr.

Despite the fact that the Bucks have nabbed a few starters in the second round of the draft since 2000 (Michael Redd, Dan Gadzuric, Ersan Ilyasova, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute), it is still a crap shoot so I support the Bucks taking any of the 39 guys just mentioned.  If all those 39 guys are gone, here are the 11 guys I like (most to least) so Bucks general manager John Hammond and Company should strongly consider drafting any of them if they are available with the 46th pick:

Dakari Johnson (C, 7'0", 255 lbs, Kentucky, 19 years old) - Backup NBA centers are becoming just like backup MLB catchers, expensive despite the fact that they are borderline part-time employees.  The Bucks are scheduled to pay Zaza Pachulia $5.3 million next season and the Bucks can get the same production from Johnson for 20% of the cost.

Pat Connaughton (SG/SF, 6'5", 215 lbs, Notre Dame, 22 years old) - The surprise combine freak might be an even better baseball player than a basketball player.

Michael Frazier II (SG, 6'5", 199 lbs, Florida, 21 years old) - Projects as one of the best long-distance shooters in the entire draft.

Richaun Holmes (PF, 6'10", 243, Bowling Green, 21 years old) - Arguably the best shot-blocker in the draft helps the Bucks push to be the best defensive team in the NBA.

Alan Williams (PF, 6'8", 261 lbs, UC Santa Barbara, 22 years old) - Projects to be one of the best all-around defenders in the entire draft.

Norman Powell (SG, 6'4", 215 lbs, UCLA, 22 years old) - Although Powell struggled from long distance last season, he put together a string off impressive workouts to show he brings more to the table than being a lock down defender.

Tyler Harvey (SG, 6'4", 181 lbs, Eastern Washington, 21 years old) - I see Harvey as a small school version of Powell.

Christian Wood (PF, 6'11", 216 lbs, UNLV, 19 years old) - Has a chance to be Larry Sanders 2.0 on the court, the question is whether he is the anti-Larry Sanders off-the-court or Larry Sanders 2.0 off the court.

J.P. Tokoto (SF, 6'6", 196 lbs, University of North Carolina, 21 years old ) - The Wisconsin native might have left school a year too early but would give the Bucks a guy that can cover almost any position besides center.  A poor man's Jared Dudley, if you will.

Briante Weber (PG, 6'2", 165 lbs, VCU, 22 years old) - A knee injury makes Weber a risky pick but advanced metrics project Weber as a mid-first round talent so the downside risk is worth the gargantuan upside.

Jonathan Holmes (SF, 6'9", 242 lbs, Texas, 22 years old) - Good but NOT great in all facets of the game.  Reminds me a little of Khris Middleton, which might be too high of praise for a guy that might go undrafted.

With how I think the Bucks should approach the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft documented, make sure to check back over the next couple days to read my thoughts on how the Bucks should approach the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft and my "what each GM should do" mock draft of the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Building The 15 - Ilyasova Trade and How to Handle Dudley & Middleton

I had my post in the can for how Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach the players on The 15 from last season that have decision points that will impact whether they are on The 15 next season since there are only two players fit that description: shooting guard/small forward Khris Middleton is a restricted free agent and small forward/power forward Jared Dudley has a player option for next season.  Hammond threw a little but of a wrench in that when he traded power forward Ersan Ilyasova aka the Poor Man's Dirk to the Detroit Pistons for small forward Caron Bulter and small forward Shawne Williams.  Before I discuss how to handle Middleton and Dudley, let's clean-up the Ilyasova trade.

This was a salary dump that gives the Bucks essentially useless salary cap space that I hope they sit on unless they can somehow lure a top-end free agent.  I don't want to step on my free agency preview for Hammond that I plan to post early next week too much but unless the Bucks can attract a potential NBA All-Star (think DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, etc.) then I say sit on the sidelines for free agency because the last thing the Bucks need to do is overpay mediocre players to fill spots on The 15 given all the upcoming money they will presumably need to commit to Middleton, The Greek Freak, Jabari Parker, and possibly MCW.  The salary cap space is most likely useless given that mega NBA stars never sign with the Bucks as free agents unless they already play in Milwaukee (think Big Dog, Ray Allen, and Michael Redd).

In terms of the actual players involved, I still think Ilyasova is a Poor Man's Dirk so given that he is scheduled to earn $7.9 million this season and has what amounts to a team option for next season since only $400,000 of his $8.4 million contract is guaranteed, I would have much rather just kept Ilyasova, especially because the Bucks couldn't even beat a future second round pick out of the Pistons in this deal.  Bulter had a cup of stale coffee with the Bucks that lasted 34 games in the 2013-14 season before being waived, which was NOT what Butler expected to happen given that his presence on The 15 for the Bucks that season was being dubbed as a coming home party for the Racine native.  Don't get any grand illusions about Butler rectifying that in his second go round given that the Bucks will waive him before July 1st to get rid of his $4.5 million non-guaranteed salary for next season.  The Bucks can hold tight on Shawne Williams for now because his $1.4 million salary does NOT have a July 1st guaranteed date so he might be a useful, cheap bench guy depending on what happens in the 2015 NBA Draft and free agency.

With my analysis of the Ilyasova salary dump trade out of the way, let's turn to Middleton and Dudley.  The easier case is Dudley because he holds the cards since it is a $4.25 million early termination option so there is NOT much advice I can give Hammond other than to entice Dudley to NOT exercise his early termination option.  Dudley was clearly a useful locker room presence last season and occasionally provided some on-court production given that he can play and defend any position on the floor besides point guard. If Dudley opts out, my guess is that he would do that just to add a couple years at roughly the same average salary per season to his deal but it only takes one irrational team to inflate Dudley's market value.  There is no way that Dudley ever signs another mega-deal but given that the salary cap is going to skyrocket in a couple seasons, I could see a borderline playoff team overpaying Dudley.  Although I like Dudley, the Bucks should NOT get in a bidding war if he exercises his early termination option because next off-season they have a ton of potential free agents so The 15 could go through a pretty drastic makeover in the next 18 months.  Dudley would be a nice person to help smooth over the changes to The 15 but NOT if that price is over $5 million per season.  Let's see if Dudley actually terminates his contract.  If he does, the ceiling I would go on Dudley is three-years, $15 million.

That leaves the most interesting decision for Hammond this off-season, which is how to handle Middleton.  If I am Middleton's agent, I don't want to overplay my hand too much because Bill Simmons sadly formerly of coined the phrase "a market max player".  Feel free to read his entire take but basically it means that since the salary cap is going to skyrocket the next few seasons, there are guys that are NOT max guys that will get paid like max guys because a few years from now that contract will look reasonable given the jump in the NBA's salary structure cap thanks to the influx of cash from their new television deal.  If Middleton is willing to sign for $10 million a year or less, make the deal and move on.  If Middleton is actually holding out as "a market max player" then the decision is much more nuanced.

I assume that Middleton will be looking for between $12 and $15 million per year so let's break this down a little more.  Middleton has only played three NBA seasons but his PER has gone up each season: 11.43 in 2012-13, 12.55 in 2013-14, and 15.70 in 2014-15.  Middleton looks like the perfect 3-and-D given his body-type (6'7" and 225 lbs) and three-point shooting ability (above 40% shooter for his career).  With all the good news out the way, there are two caveats to making Middleton "a market max player".  One, I question if this year-over-year improvement is sustainable for Middleton long-term.  Two, with all the guys the Bucks might have to pay in the future, it might make sense to move Middleton for future draft picks and expiring contracts.  Given that the Bucks have such a hard time attracting free agents, I would sign Middleton to a long-term contract as long as it does NOT exceed $15 million per season.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for the start of my 2015 NBA Draft preview when I given Hammond names of guys that he should reasonably target with the 46th pick in the 2nd round of the 2015 NBA Draft.