Things have really changed in Milwaukee with the Bucks in the span of an offseason. After the Bogut trade, the main complaint with this team was about the lack of depth in the frontcourt and now they have a mess of similar players best suited to play the power forward position. Currently the Bucks have seven players on their roster officially listed either as a power forward or a center and with the center position basically owned by Samuel Dalembert — and to a lesser degree, Joel Przybilla — that means that there’s a big battle of a competition for minutes at the power forward spot.
With his recent five-year, $45 million contract extension, it appears that Milwaukee is giving the keys to Ersan Ilyasova to run the power forward position, but there’s uncertainty that he’ll be able to replicate his production from a season ago. When you look at Ersan’s advanced statistics or if you watched him on a daily basis last season, you can tell that he really began to shine after the All-Star break when he got the starting gig after the Bogut trade.
For example, both Ersan’s field-goal percentage and three-point percentage skyrocketed after the break (FG% went from .429 to .552 and 3Pt% went from .388 to .508 during that time.) Will he be able to maintain the production he had last season? We don’t know, but his grasp of the starting position is the only certain thing about the power forward job.
The extension of Ersan Ilyasova will lower the expectations that a lottery pick usually gets, but Bucks fans are still going to be expecting big things out of the rookie out from North Carolina. My honest first opinion after his selection was that he was a defense-only player like Udoh and Sanders, but my opinion changed after he flashed a surprising offensive performance in Summer League. John showed off an impressive left-handed jump hook that will be absolutely unblockable thanks to his 7’5 wingspan and a 9’4 standing reach.
John Henson should be competing with either Ekpe Udoh or Larry Sanders (we will compare those two later in this article) for backup time. I am somewhat worried that Henson won’t get much playing time because of the reputation that Scott Skiles doesn’t play rookies. That stigma has been basically true for Skiles’ first four seasons, except when he played Brandon Jennings in 2009-10 out of necessity. I’m projecting Henson to be the main backup behind Ersan and grab about 15 minutes per game, but Skiles could end up burying him on the bench like he did with Tobias Harris last season.
Ekpe Udoh Vs. Larry Sanders
This competition will be the battle of training camp because the loser could potentially be traded or dropped into the abyss of a job that is being the twelfth (or worse) man for the Bucks. Neither one of these players has yet to live up to expectations after being a first-round draft pick in the 2010 draft, but Larry Sanders has a shorter leash than Ekpe Udoh. The reason why I say that is because Sanders plays like a rabid dog who goes after everything on the court. Unfortunately, that mindset usually leads to him fouling his opponent an awful lot (he committed 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes).
Udoh, on the other hand, is a more fluid and intelligent player who knows where he should be on the court at all times. Larry is extremely athletic but still doesn’t know how to use that athleticism. Udoh knows his role which is to be a defensive specialist who can occasionally help out offensively. Both of these guys block shots as well as most big men in the league, but with the additions of Henson and Samuel Dalmebert there really isn’t a need for four players who are blocking machines. If I had to choose one of these two players, I would choose Ekpe Udoh because he produces far better than Sanders.
The final Bucks power forward is also the most polarizing one, especially since he signed a whopper of a five-year contract back in the summer of 2010. That contract has made him the center of attention from bloggers and local sports talk hosts around the state, but he’s yet to live up to expectations in the two seasons since due to injuries and his somewhat limited defensive game. To take a positive spin here, Drew Gooden is a pretty good offensive player with a solid mid-range game. But the emergence of Ilyasova and possibly John Henson (and his lefty hook) could make Gooden an expensive, obsolete power forward.
His impending irrevelance raises a natural question: Is it time for the Bucks to say goodbye to Drew Gooden? Like most Bucks bloggers and fans, I think the time has come for us to send Gooden away, mainly because of the aforementioned surplus of young power forwards. He still has three years and about $20 million left in his contract — three years which coincide with the prime seasons of Udoh and Ilyasova and the maturation of rookie John Henson. Despite his hefty contract I think he still is a tradable piece because of his skills on offense: his 20.4 PER made him the second-most efficient Buck behind only Ilyasova.
If you’ve read to this point in this opinion piece you already know how I would fix this PF situation for the Bucks, but let me recap in case you forgot: Feature Ilyasova (as a starter), Henson, and Udoh. Use Larry Sanders, if necessary, but in a last-resort way — he plays out of control too much. Last but not least, the situation with Drew Gooden has been on the minds of Bucks’ faithful everywhere, but his time in Milwaukee is done.
To sum up, unless Ersan repeats his performance last year or Henson develops a reliable offensive game, these players are just going to be good enough not to be be a waste of roster space yet not enough to propel this Bucks team forward.