Friday, June 27, 2014

The path forward

Having watched a lot of bad Bucks basketball over the past many years I have found there is only one way to stomach it. You have to be able to watch the young players and see a path where they could fit on a really good basketball team, otherwise watching a team lose over and over is just boring. There was a path when Bogut had a healthy elbow and Jennings was a 19 year old scoring point. There was even a path (maybe not to a really good team, but at least an entertaining one) when the Bucks paired Jennings with Ellis in the back court and had Sanders to block shots, letting everyone run and have fun. Obviously neither of those paths worked out because of Bogut's injury, and Ellis' agent was a idiot. Each failure usually leads to a new path, but last season's team was really a void. Even a Bucks optimist like me had trouble seeing how these kids were going to be quality starters on a good team someday, other than Giannis who was a long way away. With the addition of Parker I can start to see a new path. Here is my vision of what a hopeful fan sees as a path to sustained success.

Good NBA teams usually have a rotation of 7-8 really good players, and 3-4 other capable players that just fit what the team needs. A team like Miami that has 3 superstars can get away with having more of the capable players that just fit what they need. The Bucks are not likely to get 3 players of that caliber, so I will focus on a more traditional team rotation. If I'm being optimistic, there are currently 5 Bucks who could fit into a rotation someday, although most of them are young and not there yet. Some of them may never get there, but this is all about seeing a path, not predicting the future.

The path starts with the 2 forwards the Bucks have recently drafted, as you may have imagined. They are young so they still have lots of room to grow, and you can imagine how they may fit someday if they keep getting better. Not all youngsters are going to keep getting better, but again this is about a hopeful path. It starts with Parker and Giannis as the starting forwards. Giannis and Parker can both handle and shoot so they will put perimeter pressure on a defense. If they can defend you can see this duo being very successful for a long time. If they both turn out to be max contract guys, the Bucks will be able to keep them for their 4 year rookie contracts and probably for another 4-5 year deal when they hit restricted free agency. If they are able to have a successful 8 years together in Milwaukee, then maybe when they are 27 and hit unrestricted free agency the Bucks will be able to convince them to stay.

Center is another story. I was not a believer in Sanders as a center before last season and his combination of stupidity off the court and poor play when he was out there didn't improve my opinion. He signed a 4 year extension before last season at a reasonable starting center rate of about 10 million per year, but given his antics last year he seems unmoveable right now. All that said, I do think Sanders is a good enough player to be in the rotation of a playoff team. I don't like him as a starting center, unless he is teamed with another big. He could excel playing next to a Boozer like player, like Noah does in Chicago. Against good NBA bigs he gets bullied, and if the Bucks are going to have 2 smaller/perimeter type forwards I think they need a more traditional center to make up for the rebounding and physicality. My hope is that Sanders plays like his old self this season, and some team in love with modern metrics (who all seem to love Sanders) trades us a traditional center for him. So Sanders counts as one of the 5, but not one I see in the long term path.

The 2 guard position is mostly a void. Mayo and Delfino will hold down the fort at the 2 this year unless the Bucks are able to pull off a trade. Neither player will be with the Bucks past the lengths of their current contracts. My hope is that the Bucks hit a top pick in the Lottery next year and are able to draft a guard next year to fill in here long term.

Point guard is also not a great situation, but not as bad as the 2 spot. Knight came over in the Jennings trade and was supposed to be a more traditional point. When all the veteran Bucks got hurt and they went young (tanked) Knight was forced into a scoring point role. He did score 17.9 per game and shot a respectable and career best 42.2% from the floor, but his 3pt% dropped from 38.0 and 36.7 in his first 2 years to 32.5 last year. He is not a great play maker at the point, and he is a decent but not great defender, but he is only 22 entering his 4th season. He will be a restricted free agent after this year so the Bucks will have a decision to make about him. If he can go back to playing a more traditional point, and allow Parker to take on the scoring load he could be an effective starter. If he can shoot in the low 40s and hit 3s in the high 30s I can see a role for him in playoff caliber rotation. Not the highest praise, but that's what he is.

The last player of the 5 is Henson, who I had hoped would take a big jump last year given the opportunity for minutes with the youth movement. Just looking at the stats, he did get in more games, more starts, more points, more rebounds, and more blocks which all sounds pretty good. For whatever reason he still did not seize the opportunity to move in as a starter. Maybe that was the coaches, but Pachulia and Ilyasova played less than 55 games, and Sanders just 23. All 3 had one of their worst seasons as pros and still Henson couldn't get in there. Henson doesn't have youth on his side like Giannis as he was a polished college Junior when he was drafted and will be 24 this season. Nevertheless I see him in the Bucks path forward. I don't think he will be a starter, but I see him coming off the bench for major minutes. He is too slender to play with big starting centers, but off the bench he can play the 4 or 5 with a 2nd unit. I imagine him in a 5 man front court rotation with Giannis, Parker, and a true center to be determined with Henson and a wing to be determined coming off the bench.

The rest of the team is probably not going to be around long. Ilyasova and Pachulia will play out their contracts if the Bucks can't trade them. Middleton has some promise, but with the forwards the Bucks have invested in, he probably won't get an opportunity. Maybe the Bucks trade him for a backup guard or point so he gets a chance elsewhere. Wolters may have a chance to be one of the 3-4 capable players. I saw a stat about him on that he had a 3.28 assist to turnover ratio, and a plus/minus for the entire season of -26. Considering that the Bucks were outscored by about 700 points this year and Wolters didn't just play in garbage time minutes that stat was interesting.

So that's the Bucks' much brighter future. A better but still bad season this year while Parker, and Giannis develop. They find a combo guard and a wing to come off the bench in free agency, or maybe a 2nd rounder develops. A trade of Sanders and a lottery guard in next years draft and they are off to 14 years of success. Just like that.


  1. Damn, with a team this small and thin, you'd think they'd want to push tempo constantly. I hope to see them go that route. At least a version of the modern day Phoenix squad, if not the Nash led, D'Antoni version of yesteryear. They can't even hope to bang it out with the Indianas, Chicagos, and Memphiss (snakelike) of the world.

    Knight is also so cheap for these couple years on his rookie deal. Wonder if he could be a piece too? Either way, it sure makes that Jennings trade/get out of town free card look like a good decision. What'd he shoot last year, 25%? Nope. 37%. Strokin' it.

  2. Sorry,missed that paragraph about Knight. I agree with you on him, with a little more room for him to be a bigger piece if they don't overpay him. That said, PG is the most replaceable, plug n play position in the league right now. This really is gonna be Parker's team, isn't it?

  3. Agreed. This will be Parker's team from the day he steps on the floor. Not because he is so good, but because there is a total void right now. He seems to have the character to be able to fill that role from day 1 though.