(Here is a guest post by soon-to-be regular contributor Preston Schmitt. Preston is a third-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s majoring in journalism and, potentially, history. He also writes about Wisconsin sports at-large at the blog Wisconsin Sports Retort. Follow him on Twitter at @pdschmitt1)
In the weeks leading up to the 2012 NBA draft, Bucks General Manager John Hammond reiterated Milwaukee’s need for more size on the roster. Meanwhile, he also stated the Bucks would take the best player available to them at the 12th pick. The two philosophies seemed like a slight contradiction, with the center position widely considered a weakness in this year’s draft, and speculation ensued.
The Racine Journal Times’ Gery Woelfel reported that centers Tyler Zeller, a low-upside post player out of North Carolina, and Meyers Leonard, a raw project from Illinois, were Milwaukee’s two top draft targets. ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford altered his mock draft by shifting his Bucks pick from Leonard to Washington guard Terrence Ross to Leonard, again, in a matter of a few hours. Then there were reports of the Bucks looking to trade up in the draft with their sights set on another Tar Heels post player,
Larry Sanders Ekpe Udoh John Henson. And, if that wasn’t enough, there was talk of the Bucks trading down, because they were so impressed with Syracuse center Fab Melo, who they brought him in for a second visit. Now that we have all of our bases covered, I’ll simplify all the scuttlebutt (word choice h/t to Gery Woelfel): Milwaukee seemed destined to select a center.
My greatest fear (as I have well documented on Twitter), was the Bucks simply drafting for need and selecting the best player resembling a center left on the board. My month-long anxiety now appears to be all for naught, after Milwaukee’s NBA Draft Eve trade with Houston. The Bucks cleared the power forward logjam and dumped some spare parts – Jon Brockman, Shaun Livingston and Jon Leuer – to obtain veteran center Samuel Dalembert, cash considerations and a future second-round draft pick. The Bucks moved down in the draft, yet again, by swapping their 12th pick with the Rockets’ 14th pick. At least Milwaukee didn’t trade down 12 spots this year for Stephen Jackson’s services. Progress!
There are several intriguing implications resulting from the trade, aside from the obvious one – the Bucks finding a quality, efficient stopgap at starting center. There are some trivial storylines, like the Bucks no longer having incentive to win the “Kwame Brown lottery.” Milwaukee will also not have to ask Drew Gooden to play out of position at center, so we may see less of his futile attempts at protecting the rim. More importantly, Dalembert’s acquisition improves Milwaukee’s salary structure. The 31-year-old center has a $6.7 million expiring contract, which means the Bucks will have a whole lot of spending cash next summer. The contracts of Ellis (assuming he opts out), Udrih, Dunleavy and Dalembert are all set to expire after this season, totaling $29.3 million of expiring money. In addition, this trade likely means the Bucks won’t go after centers Chris Kaman and Spencer Hawes, who are both in line to be highly overpaid in free agency.
However, perhaps the biggest silver lining from the trade is Milwaukee’s presumably altered draft strategy. At the very least, by moving down to the 14th pick, the Bucks could be drafting without Zeller, Leonard and Henson on the board. Even if one or two of those three big men are there, the acquisition of Dalembert should lessen the Bucks’ motivation to pick one of them because of need. With a frontcourt already consisting of Dalembert, Sanders, Udoh, Gooden, Mbah a Moute and, potentially, Ilyasova, the “need” for a center – to make the annual run at the 6th-8th seed – may no longer be pertinent.
Now that doesn’t mean the Bucks won’t target or draft a center with the 14th pick. Milwaukee may very well seek their center of the future, which Dalembert doesn’t provide at age 31, and snag Leonard or reach for Melo at 14. It’s safe to say Zeller, who would have been the better fit to fill the center need immediately, and Henson, who will almost certainly be off the board at 14, will not be the Bucks’ first-round selection.
The Bucks – a team severely lacking upper-echelon talent – need to swing for the fences at 14 and draft the best player available. Selecting the “best player available” is a rather subjective phrase, but I define it based off upside, potential and skills. Using that as a qualifier, the only two big men the Bucks should consider at 14 are Leonard and Terrence Jones out of Kentucky. The 20-year-old Jones does everything on the court reasonably well, but doesn’t particularly excel at any facet of the game. Jones (6’9, 252) projects as a power forward at the next level, which is a position the Bucks just weeded out by trading Leuer and Brockman.
Even if Terrence Jones and Leonard are on the board at 14, I’d still prefer the Bucks to take a long look at the talented wings who might fall right into Milwaukee’s lap. If Jeremy Lamb from UConn falls, he’d be the no-brainer selection. The 6’5 guard put up impressive numbers in his sophomore season, posting 17.7 points per game on an efficient 59% true shooting percentage. Lamb also has the ability to be a force on defense due to his uncharacteristic length, with a 6’11” wingspan and 8’6” standing reach. He also has touch from the perimeter, where he shot in the mid-30s from beyond the arc during his two-year career.
The other wing player to look out for is Terrence Ross. The big (!) guard, at 6’7, is a pesky defender who would fit nicely in the guard rotation to offset the Bucks’ small starting backcourt. He’s also a pretty efficient scorer, with a 56% true shooting percentage, and can shoot from range, hitting 37.1 percent of his three-point attempts last season. A big knock on Ross is his age, already 21 years old, and his lack of aggressiveness going to the hoop. Ross averaged just one free throw attempt per game his freshman year and less than three attempts per game his sophomore year. DraftExpress lists Jason Richardson as Ross’ best case player comparison, which seems reasonable. A player of Jason Richardson’s caliber, though a bit one-dimensional, is still a solid value pick in the middle of the first round.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if the Bucks took a flier on Baylor’s Perry Jones III. Jones possesses endless potential, but teams have shied away from him considerably because of his lack of work ethic during college. He’s also a bit of a tweener, as he may not be able to spread the floor as a small forward and would need to add muscle to play power forward.
So, to review, here’s my ‘wish list’ of prospects (who could realistically be there) at 14, in order: Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Ross, Meyers Leonard, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones III.
Other prospects to keep an eye on, who I could see the Bucks reaching for at 12, include Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State PF – 6’11, 233), Royce White (Iowa State PF – 6’8, 261) and Moe Harkless (St. John’s SF – 6’9, 207).
At the end of the day, I probably won’t be too ecstatic about any player the Bucks grab at today’s draft. There’s usually a pretty darn good reason why a player wasn’t selected in the high lottery. From a franchise perspective, I’ll be even less optimistic. When you’re selecting at 14, it’s yet another reminder that you’re simply mediocre. The Bucks will probably be back at next year’s draft in roughly the same position. But, even that won’t be quite enough to suck the fun out of NBA draft night. It’s the one night where fans of every NBA team have hope and optimism. And, at the very least, I’ll sleep a little better tonight knowing the Bucks won’t be desperate to draft for need.