In this three-part series, Behind the Buck Pass contributor Paul DeBruine examines the best and worst-case scenarios for each of the Bucks’ position groups. Paul is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and can be found on Twitter @pdebruine.
Part II – Forwards
Best Case: Delfino brings a credible long-range threat to the starting lineup. He is more selective with his 3-point shots this season, reducing his attempts from behind the arc to around 4.5 per game, down from the 6.3 per game he hoisted last year in Houston’s fast-paced offense. By taking more efficient shots Delfino’s 3-point percentage rises to around 40 percent. He remains a tenacious defender who creates problems for opposing small forwards who lack athleticism.
Worst Case: Delfino has trouble regaining mobility due to the foot fracture he sustained during last years playoffs with the Rockets. His 3-point shooting remains stagnant – around his career average of 36 percent – and he takes a few shots away from more efficient players like O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight. He is unable to effectively guard most small forwards on the perimeter and his starting spot comes into question, with Khris Middleton becoming the more appealing option.
Best Case: Middleton plays well in the minutes he’s given and by mid-season he’s pushing Carlos Delfino for the starting small forward spot. Middleton improves his 3-point shooting percentage, raising it closer to the 36 percent he shot his sophomore year at Texas A&M (as opposed to the 31 percent he shot last year with the Pistons). He uses his athleticism and length (6-7 with a 6-11 wingspan) to pester opposing small forwards and becomes the 3-and-D player that is so coveted in today’s NBA.
Worst Case: Middleton remains an average player off the bench. He is okay defensively but not the impactful player the Bucks were hoping for on that side of the ball. His 3-point shooting percentage stalls at the 31 percent he shot last year. Even though Middleton does not progress from last season, he still gets a decent amount of playing time due to the lack of other viable options at small forward,
Best Case: Antetokounmpo is able to carve out a small niche in his first season. His playing time is relatively small but he does well in the minutes given to him. He shows good potential on the defensive end, using his length (6-10 with a 7-3 wingspan) to disrupt shooters. On the offensive end he gets out in transition and is able to score some easy points on fast breaks.
It is clear that Antetokounmpo is overwhelmed by NBA competition. He is unable to break into the rotation and ends up being shelved until next season.
Best Case: Henson parlays his outstanding Las Vegas Summer League performance into the regular season. He is able to be a dominant offensive rebounder, leading the league in that category for the 2013-2014 season. These rebounds create easy shots for himself as well as for finding open shooters around the perimeter. His midrange jump shot progresses throughout the season making him a threat to hit open jump shots. On the defensive end, the bulk he added in the off-season – he’s gained 10 pounds since last season ended – helps Henson become stouter and secure more defensive rebounds. He uses his length (7-6 wingspan) to alter shots at the rim, with he and Larry Sanders forming one of the East’s top defensive tandems.
Worst Case: Henson’s Las Vegas Summer League play was somewhat fools gold. He remains a good prospect but doesn’t take the leap everyone in the organization was expecting. Henson comes off the bench and is productive in 10-15 minutes of playing time, much like last season, but when given more minutes his efficiency tails off. On defense he is still able to use his length to alter shots but the muscle he added isn’t enough to keep him from being pushed around down low.
Best Case: Ilyasova starts getting legitimate starters minutes (36 a game) and in turn scores 18-20 points per game. His 3-point prowess stays at the elite level it has been the past 2 years, hovering above 44 percent. He becomes more active on the board, averaging almost 12 a game with at least 4 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end, leading to easy shots around the basket. On the defensive end he is able to mask his deficiencies and be a slightly below average defender.
Worst Case: Ilyasova remains productive, playing around 27 minutes per game as he has the past two seasons. The determining factor in maintaining his role is on the defensive end, where teams exploit him and minutes must be given to better players on that side of the floor like Ekpe Udoh and John Henson. His 3-point shooting and rebounding remain strengths, especially for a stretch 4, but regresses to the 38-40 percent range.
Best Case: Udoh remains a valuable frontcourt player for the Bucks. When he’s on the floor, Milwaukee surrounds him with viable scoring options so the offense isn’t stalled by his limited offensive game. Most of Udoh’s contributions therefore come on the defensive end. His rebounding is sub-par but better than last year’s output. He is an impact shot blocker around the rim and remains a good help defender – doing this all while Sanders rests on the bench.
Worst Case: Udoh is such a liability on offense that it is hard for him to see consistent minutes in a rotation that includes Sanders, Henson, Ilyasova, and Pachulia. He remains a good defender and enters the game when the team needs to stall the opposing offense and the normal rotational players aren’t getting it done.