Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins are expected to be the crown jewels of the vaunted 2014 draft class.
If the season ended today, the 5-17 Milwaukee Bucks would finish with the league’s second-worst record.
Of course, we’re barely through a quarter of the season, and more than four months of basketball are yet to be played, but teams that start as poorly as the Bucks have tend to remain on that track. Is it too early to start salivating at the thought of gaining a top pick in June’s loaded draft? Yes. Absolutely. Are we going to do it anyway? Of course we are.
The question of how talented this draft will ultimately end up being is difficult to discern more than six months before it takes place (June 26). We know it’s shaping up to be the best in a decade, but it has the potential to be one of the two or three best of all time. Players like Gary Harris (Michigan State), James Young (Kentucky) and Wayne Selden (Kansas) are top five talents – in most drafts, that is – but should they opt to declare after this season, there’s a chance they could fall out of the lottery (Selden is currently NBADraft.net’s 14th-best prospect) completely.
The elite talent at the top is astounding, but the depth of the first round could be unprecedented. However, it’s this depth that may ultimately cause some players thought to be surefire one-and-dones to stay another year in college before declaring, essentially letting the talent pool regress to the mean in hopes of securing a higher draft position next year. Names like Aaron Gordon of Arizona or Perry Ellis of Kansas would be lottery locks in most drafts, but that’s far from the case in 2014.
Even if Milwaukee finishes with the worst record in the league, it’s far from a guarantee that they’ll land the top pick. No team with the worst record has accomplished the feat since Orland in 2004, and since the lottery moved to its present format in 1994, just three teams with the best odds to win have done so: Philadelphia in 1996 (Allen Iverson), Cleveland in 2003 (LeBron James) and Orlando in 2004 (Dwight Howard).
You may recall Milwaukee winning the 2005 lottery after entering with the sixth-best odds (Andrew Bogut). Portland did the same in 2007 (Greg Oden), while the Bulls won the following year with the ninth-best odds (Derrick Rose). Cleveland won in 2011 with the eighth-best chance (Kyrie Irving).
So, again, a top pick isn’t guaranteed, but the Bucks are on pace to finish somewhere around 17-65 – easily a poor enough mark to score a considerable number of ping pong balls. But that’s assuming they keep losing at their current rate, which many believe will improve when Larry Sanders returns. It’s also assuming Dan Gilbert’s son doesn’t show up and magically gift Cleveland its third number one pick of the post-Lebron era, which in my book is more concerning than Sanders potentially throwing a wrench in Milwaukee’s losing ways (sidebar: Milwaukee has to send Giannis as its lottery representative, right? Him or Bango. Or both).
Only time will tell where the Bucks will ultimately pick. In the meantime, five members of the Behind the Buck Pass staff make their case for which players Milwaukee should target on draft night.
*Guidelines: Assume that all prospects expected to declare for the draft do so and are available to select. Also assume Milwaukee enters the draft with its current roster.
1. Jabari Parker, G/F, Duke (Fr.)
For a myriad of reasons, the Bucks absolutely cannot afford to whiff on a high pick in this draft. Not only do I see Parker as the best player in the draft, I also see him as the safest pick. Sure, Wiggins is more athletic and has the higher ceiling, but Parker is close behind in both regards and has arguably the highest floor of anyone in the draft.
Through nine collegiate games, Parker is averaging 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a block-and-a-half. Remind you of anyone? The Carmelo comparisons are no exaggeration. In his one season at Syracuse, Anthony averaged a strikingly similar 22 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and one block per game. But Parker is doing it on 55 percent shooting from the field and 47 percent from three. Anthony shot just 45 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Parker’s numbers are likely to regress as Duke enters ACC play, but he’s averaging 24 points and 6.5 rebounds against the Blue Devils’ four major conference opponents thus far. He’s a perfect fit for a Milwaukee team in desperate need of help on the wing, and Parker already appears capable of playing up to three positions at the next level.
2. Andrew Wiggins, G/F, Kansas (Fr.)
Without a doubt, Andrew Wiggins has the highest ceiling of any player in the draft. He’s going to be a very good NBA player; we know that. At best, he’s an even more athletic Paul George. But I also see him as a higher risk than Parker (forgive me, but he has some Gerald Green in him). The question is whether Wiggins possesses the playmaking instincts to develop into the mega-star he’s capable of being. He’s quietly played very well at Kansas, but the gap between he and Parker has been closed. Right now, Wiggins’ best asset is his freakish athleticism, and until he becomes more physical and develops improved court vision, Parker is the better choice. That said, no one – and I mean no one – in Milwaukee will be complaining if Wiggins is the choice.
3. Dante Exum, G, Australia
Exum is still a mystery to a lot of NBA fans, but the 6-6 Australian is widely considered the top combo guard available. Milwaukee needs help at all positions, and adding an athletic player who can play both guard spots would be a major boost to a backcourt lacking elite size. Exum is a natural scorer, and with a 6-9 wingspan, has all the makings of an elite perimeter defender down the road. He’ll need to add considerable mass, but in terms of potential, Exum is right up there with Wiggins and Parker.
4. Julius Randle, F, Kentucky (Fr.)
I almost went with Kansas’ Joel Embiid here, but I think Milwaukee is committed to going forth with Larry Sanders as the franchise center, and he and Embiid are very similar talents. Therefore, Randle is the choice. With all the hype surrounding Wiggins and Parker, the Texas native flew under the radar for the most part before arriving in Lexington. That is, until he single-handedly willed Kentucky back from an early deficit to come within a few baskets of knocking off Michigan State.
Randle is far and away the top frontcourt prospect in the draft, and he already has the strength and ferocity necessary to bang with the Griffins and Aldridges of the world. However, I have one major concern about Randle, and it’s something that’s plagued a number of great college players upon entering the league: he’s a bit of a tweener. If Randle were two inches taller, I’d likely have him atop my list. But at a generous 6-9, he’s a slightly undersized power forward and often plays more like a small forward. Randle’s NBA comparisons range from Chris Bosh to Zach Randolph to Michael Beasley (all lefties, like Randle), but I think the Beasley comparison is most accurate. Randle is comfortable bringing the ball up the court and shooting from outside, but he has a penchant to let these abilities detract from his true strengths – scoring inside and rebounding. In the right system, Randle could be an All-Star within three seasons – which is why I included him at number four – but if he’s used improperly he could be Beasley/Derrick Williams 2.0.
1. Andrew Wiggins
Earlier this week, the Kansas Jayhawks lost their third game in four tries. The major knock on Wiggins thus far has been his lack of assertiveness, but come clutch time Wiggins drilled two quick threes to bring the Jayhawks within five. Florida eventually closed out the contest, but a mere nine games into his collegiate experience, Wiggins’ forward strides are already apparent. He’s typically seen as a slashing type and likely wouldn’t have taken those big shots — let alone the second of the two, a deep, contested triple from the left wing — at the beginning of the season.
Imagine a starting frontcourt of Wiggins, John Henson and Larry Sanders. It is very conceivable that Wiggins and Henson would score ALL THE POINTS IN THE WORLD and everyone would forget about Sanders’ offensive woes, allowing him to play a Tyson Chandler/defense-only type of role. Wiggins would also give the Bucks a definitive go-to guy in clutch situations. If Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nate Wolters continue advancing on an upward trajectory, Milwaukee could have a solidified 1-through-5 line-up full of youth for the foreseeable future. The situation becomes potentially more advantageous for the Bucks if Caron Butler can be convinced to re-sign with the franchise after this season to serve as Wiggins’ mentor while coming off the bench.
2. Dante Exum
Not only has Exum seen a massive uptick in his stock since last winter, but the early success of Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams can only help Exum’s case. The two point guards have comparable measurements (MCW: 6’5.75″ with shoes, 6’7.25″ wingspan, 184 pounds; Exum: 6’6″ with shoes, 6’9.25″ wingspan, 188 pounds) and that kind of length, in those combinations, don’t come along everyday. Given time, Exum could create the kind of havoc on the perimeter that Sanders created in the paint circa 2012-13. He’s no slouch on the offensive side of the ball, either, already owning steady footwork, a reliable turnaround jumper and range extending to the three-point line.
Some of Milwaukee’s scoring droughts this season are the product of not having any players on the court that can create their own shots. This is something Exum does en masse, using his length and a bursting first step to either make a path to the basket or create space. An additional bonus: Exum seems equally adept at set and off-the-dribble shooting. While he fits more of a lead guard role than that of a traditional point guard, paired with either Antetokounmpo (who often brought the ball up court and initiated the offense with his pre-NBA club) or Wolters (sliding Exum over to the shooting guard position), the Bucks would still be able to run traditional sets. Having already exhibited a willingness to put his teams in Australia before individual gains, Exum could be the rare superbly-talented-glue-guy.
3. Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State (So.)
Smart is as much of a known quantity as is available in the 2014 draft, even if he is just in the beginning of his sophomore season at Oklahoma State. A lack of three-point shooting is concerning, but at no point will anyone doubt the amount of heart Smart puts into the game. He’s a clear-cut leader, which is something that could benefit the Bucks right now as much as any apparent basketball skills. Smart is scrappy at 6’4″, setting picks and ferociously attacking the rim, unafraid of creating contact with opposing or the hardwood as he hustles to chase down loose balls. He does a little bit of everything, and his 200-pound frame allows him to play stingy defense (2.9 steals, 0.6 blocks per game) that is equal to his offensive production (current averages: 19.7 points per game, 3.8 assists per game). Smart rebounds reasonably well for a guard, managing 4.9 boards per game, but as a result of his tenacious, sometimes wild play, Smart will also need to temper his turnover habit (2.9 per game) in order to be a successful point guard in the NBA.
4. Jabari Parker
I don’t particularly like including Parker because of the Bucks’ continued glut of big men, but he certainly passes the eyeball test, looking as good as advertised and filling the role of Duke’s premier player. Parker gets the nod here over Julius Randle because of his offensive production. Randle has proven to be an exceptional rebounder against college competition, but playing for Kentucky in the SEC doesn’t always create the toughest of games.
Parker shows shades of 2011-12 Ersan Ilyasova in terms of his ability to shoot the triple, letting loose 3.3 per game and sinking 46.7 percent of them to contribute to a 54.8 percent total shooting percentage (63 TS%, 60 eFG%). Not to say that shooting is the extent of Parker’s offensive array — he also tallies 1.8 assists per game and prefers to make the smart play rather than the selfish one. His top-tier confidence makes him a consistent crunch time performer and willing scorer, but Parker’s basketball IQ also allows him to find the proper spots on defense resulting in 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game as well as 7.8 rebounds. Selecting Parker would likely mean trading at least one of Ilyasova/Henson/Ekpe Udoh, but it would also provide the Bucks with someone less streaky than O.J. Mayo to step up in big moments.
While Andrew Wiggins has the most upside of any player in this draft, Julius Randle is probably the best fit for the Bucks (assuming Giannis is the future at SF). Randle is also the most sure bet and the most NBA-ready. He’ll be able to come in and average a double-double as a rookie and already has some nice post moves and gives great effort when on the floor. His defense needs a little work, but that can be improved if he focuses on it. If the goal is to win a title, though, Randle may not be the best choice.
2. Andrew Wiggins
Wiggins is the best two-way player out of all of the elite prospects (Wiggins, Randle, Parker, Exum, Smart, and Embiid). He uses his athleticism well when playing on-ball defense, though he can still use some work off the ball. He has good shot mechanics and is a freak athlete. The one thing the Bucks will have to do is figure what to do with Giannis if they go with Wiggins. They would probably have to make Giannis become a stretch four since a (possibly) seven foot two guard is ridiculous. The NBA is transitioning into a more position-less league, though, and honestly figuring out how to get the two on the court together is a good problem to have.
3. Marcus Smart
After dealing with Brandon Jennings for four seasons, Bucks fans would be delighted to have Smart on the roster. For one, the kid is extremely mature. His ability to analyze his game and realize that another year of college was best, while passing up the potential to make millions, exemplifies this. He’s also 6-5 and plays solid defense, both of which are the antithesis of Jennings’ style. The ability to put out a Sanders-Henson-Giannis-Smart lineup would be a defensive force (so much length!). Smart needs to show that he can sustain his improved shooting, but so far he’s passed the test in that department.
4. Jabari Parker
Here’s one way to display how great this draft class is: two years ago, Parker was touted as the best prospect since LeBron. Then he got injured during his senior season of high school, Wiggins reclassified, and Randle lit up the summer circuit. Now, Parker may not be drafted in the top five, considering how the league has treated elite big men prospects (Embiid) and the relative unknown of Dante Exum. Parker is the best scorer of this bunch, but he might also be the worst defender. Luckily, with his athleticism, the only thing holding him back on defense is putting in the work to get better. And luckily for the Bucks, every single one of these players is a franchise cornerstone.
1. Jabari Parker
Jabari is Carmelo Anthony 2.0 but has far fewer weaknesses in his game than the Knicks’ star. His soft shooting touch and superior size make his game incredibly efficient and sustainable for years. He may not have the same athleticism as other prospects, but he’s not a poor athlete by any means. Jabari would be the perfect cornerstone for the Bucks for years to come.
2. Dante Exum
The young Australian has tantalizing size and athleticism, especially for the point guard position. Though he hasn’t been seen nearly as much as other prospects, his upside would be worth the risk, particularly if the Bucks don’t land the first or second pick in the draft.
3. Andrew Wiggins
Before the college season started, Wiggins was the consensus top pick in the draft. Though his stock has cooled a bit, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a can’t-miss prospect. Wiggins has the athleticism missing from Parker’s game, but doesn’t have the same outside touch. Though I have Wiggins third, I would love him on the Bucks’ roster. He could become an All-Star incredibly soon if his shot and ball handling skills improve.
Would I pick Doug in the lottery? Hell no. But McDermott’s game provides excellent value that would be great for the Bucks long term. He’s a much better version of Ersan and gives off the impression of a great secondary option on a contender. If the Bucks could somehow swing a trade for a later pick in the first round Doug’s game as a stretch power forward would be a great addition to this rebuilding franchise.
Just don’t Pick Julius Randle. In a draft with so much talent I see Julius as being the riskiest pick. He could turn into the All-Star many believe he will become. However, in watching him play versus college competition, he reminds me of Michael Beasley. I don’t think his size and game as a power forward will translate well to the NBA. Sure, Beasley has some glaring personal issues than Randle does not, but from a purely basketball standpoint his game just seems too risky in an absolutely loaded draft class.
1. Julius Randle
2. Andrew Wiggins
3. Marcus Smart
4. Jabari Parker
If the Bucks see Julius Randle’s freakish, 6-9, 250-pound frame staring back at them on draft night, I think it’s going to be hard to pass up a potential 3-4-5 combination of Antetokounmpo-Randle-Sanders as your future. That being said, if the Bucks are high on John Henson (despite a significantly lower ceiling than Randle, he has indeed impressed in his limited minutes), I think any of the next three choices are all more-than-needed pieces to help Milwaukee. Wiggins, of course, has the highest ceiling – a Paul George-esque talent able to play the two or three. Despite the lack of a real jumpshot, Marcus Smart would be able to play the 1 or the 2 effectively for the team and should allow O.J. Mayo to play within the context of the offense more, as opposed to being forced to create his own shot when he’s shown he isn’t quite capable of doing so. Parker is likely the most NBA-ready, but I’d argue that out of the three ahead of him, he has the lowest ceiling.
Of course, this is draft is absolutely loaded. Joel Embiid is the only player the Bucks will probably cross of their draft board because his projected position with the Bucks is already occupied by Sanders. A team has to have a lot of problems to be in the lottery, so picking based on “need” is short-sighted (see: Anthony Bennett on the Cavaliers). I hope the Bucks realize this and simply take the best player available; I think that player is Julius Randle.