By picking up a wet-behind-the-ears 18-year-old and a slow, unathletic guard who can’t shoot outside, the Milwaukee Bucks had me brimming with an ear-to-ear smile back in June.
We seemed destined for a last-place season in the Central Division, and the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes were about to begin.
However, the Bucks went out and did something stupid. They became better. A lot better.
In the last three months, the Bucks have gone from a cellar dweller to one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams. Acquisitions such as O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler bring scoring, and the raw talent of Brandon Knight can’t be denied. Plus, locker room cancer Brandon Jennings, one of the worst shooters in NBA history, is finally gone. Also, committing to the talented young nucleus of Larry Sanders and John Henson will pay big dividends in the future.
Sprinkle in veteran leadership with Carlos Delfino and Luke Ridnour, and the Bucks are back to a perennial 7th or 8th seed.
They’ll still be bad, yes, but not as bad as they should be. The only way the franchise can last is if they get the No. 1 pick, land a LeBron-like talent and build for the future. The 2014 NBA Draft features names like Wiggins, Jabari Parker and more, and experts say it may be the best draft since 2003 (LeBron, D-Wade, Carmelo).
My, how my tone has changed. Just a few short months ago, this is a blog I wrote. It bashed the Bucks for such a poor draft. Now, I can live with Giannis whatever his last name is and the slow poke from South Dakota.
Read this old entry from June:
Maybe John Hammond has a trick up his sleeve. Maybe the high-powered Milwaukee Bucks executives know something the public doesn’t. Whatever the deal is, last night’s NBA Draft was another reminder that the Bucks franchise is in shambles and isn’t showing any signs of recovering anytime soon.
The Bucks, who face the likely possibility of losing star players Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings this summer to free agency, picked an 18-year-old project and someone who dominated inferior competition when many wanted proven players.
With the 15th overall pick, the Bucks took Greece-born Nigerian Yannis Antetokounmpo, who at 6-foot-9 dominated opponents in Greece’s second-tier league but still only averaged 9.5 points a game. A first-round draft pick, and that’s all he scored.
Antetokounmpo is a mouthful to say, and we may never pronounce his name right, but we may not have to anytime soon.
At just under 200 pounds, he is extremely skinny and may not play for a few years. He has drawn some Kevin Durant comparisons, and his ceiling is high, but he will not help the Bucks right away.
His ball-handling skills and perimeter game are solid, but the Bucks passed up on NBA-ready guys like Shane Larkin, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Dennis Schroeder.
To me, Antetokounmpo is what Tobias Harris could’ve been for the Bucks.
And don’t even get me started on second-round pick Nate Wolters. Milwaukee traded potential star Ricky Ledo to Dallas for Wolters, who averaged 22 points per game and was a third-team all-American for South Dakota State last year.
While Ledo has the talent and athleticism to be a star someday, Wolters has peaked.
Sure, he dominated in college, but he was playing against the likes of IUPUI, Northeastern Illinois and Oakland.
In an NCAA tournament first-round matchup against Michigan, athletic point guard Trey Burke shut down Wolters, who only scored 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting.
However, there is no denying Wolters’ all-around ability. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound point guard scored 22 points per game, grabbed 5.6 rebounds and dished 5.8 assists.
If Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, both free agents, leave Milwaukee, I can see Wolters starting. But what will happen when Wolters has to defend players like Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose. It won’t even be a contest.
Remember Jimmer Fredette? He dominated college at a small school and was drafted high. He hasn’t really done anything for the Sacramento Kings, though. Wolters could have a similar fate.
Expect a rough time for Wolters in his rookie season.
Bucks GM John Hammond said Friday the team will do whatever it takes to keep Jennings this season. Jennings is a restricted free agent, so the Bucks can match any offer from another team. Ellis already opted out of his contract, so he most likely will be gone.
If I had a choice, I would keep Ellis. While both are low-percentage, volume shooters, Ellis has more size and is a better scorer. Jennings’ immaturity and attitude are red flags, and he clearly doesn’t want to be in Milwaukee.
Hopefully, the Bucks say good riddance to both players and start over.
Another theory for this weak draft is the Bucks’ intentions for next summer.
If the Bucks tank it this year, the 2014 NBA Draft is supposed to be loaded.
With franchise studs like Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker potentially in next year’s lottery, Milwaukee could be looking ahead.
Currently, if Jennings, Ellis and J.J. Redick leave, the Bucks will have a starting lineup of Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, John Henson and maybe Wolters.
If Jennings stays, which Hammond said is “100 percent” likely, switch Jennings with Henson.
This isn’t a team that will compete with the Heat, Pacers, Nets or even Bulls in the Eastern Conference.
Herb Kohl needs to sell the team to an owner who is a basketball guru, and that guy needs to build a new arena and revitalize a struggling franchise.
Milwaukee better figure things out fast, because the sad reality could be an exodus to Seattle, and no true Bucks fan wants that.