Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid has emerged as a candidate for the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
This is the first in a six-part series of top prospect previews from Behind the Buck Pass staff writer Zack Flipse. Follow Zack on Twitter @WisSportsPulse.
Much ink has been spilled over potential Bucks picks in the upcoming draft. If you’re like me, most of it is getting a little repetitive. With the draft still more than four months away and the Bucks rarely giving us much else to talk about, let’s take the draft conversation to the next step.
In this six-part series, we’ll take a look at how each of the top prospects would affect the Bucks’ team outlook.
Disclaimer: The purpose of these pieces is not to suggest the Bucks draft for need, but rather to see how the best player available will change the roster going forward.
It’s looking quite likely that the Bucks will finish with the worst (beset?) record in the NBA and earn the highest odds at the top pick. This guarantees them a top four pick. The top four on my big board are Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, and Jabari Parker. We’ll include Marcus Smart and Julius Randle because we can.
For the sake of the series, we’ll assume the following: The Bucks do not re-sign Caron Butler or Luke Ridnour, they do not give Ekpe Udoh a qualifying offer and they find a new home for disgruntled sharp (“sharp”) shooter Gary Neal. The remaining players under contract would be:
PG: Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters
SG: OJ Mayo
SF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carlos Delfino, Khris Middleton
PF: Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson
C: Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, Miroslav Raduljica
This leaves four open roster spots, and the Bucks have four picks in the 2014 draft.
So let’s dive in with our number one prospect.
Joel Embiid, 7’0”, 250lbs – Freshman, Kansas
Embiid has climbed big boards to the more-or-less consensus number one pick. But for the Bucks, drafting Embiid would add another center to an already crowded frontcourt. His addition would probably mean another deal would follow soon after – either opting to part ways with Raduljica or trading Sanders.
Moving Sanders may be the best option, because paying him $11 million to come off the bench/block Embiid’s minutes doesn’t make sense long-term. Playing Sanders at power forward gives Milwaukee the same spacing problems it’s already struggling to figure out with the current Sanders-Henson pairing and depletes some of Sanders’ defensive value by taking him away from the basket more frequently.
If Sanders plays better, as he has in the past couple of weeks prior to suffering a fractured orbital bone, he could garner decent trade value. The Bucks would still be looking for either a true point guard, sending Knight to a sixth man role, or a better/younger shooting guard.
Of course, the notion of moving Sanders and finding valuable return is all speculation at this point. But then, why else are we doing this?
The Warriors have dangled Klay Thompson in trade talks before, and they are in desperate need of a rim protector, especially given Andrew Bogut’s injury history. A Sanders-for-Thompson deal would definitely benefit both teams, but even if the Warriors were willing to part with their sharp shooter it’s difficult to make the money work.
Sanders’ $11 million contract far exceeds the $4.4 million due to Thompson next season. If the Warriors included the under-performing Marreese Speights ($3.7 million) and about $2 million more in salary (the equivalent of Jermaine O’Neal’s current deal), this could work. For me to do it, though, I’d want a 1st round pick from the Warriors, too.
Rajon Rondo, another player regularly dangled as trade bait, could be another potential target. A Rondo-for-Sanders trade could be done relatively straight up, and would address both teams needs. The Bucks may be a little less interested in this trade simply because Rondo will be 28 soon. And chancers are the Celtics would balk at the initial offer of giving up their franchise point guard for an underachieving center.
Trading for a guard with a piece like Sanders, who in this scenario has been replaced by Embiid, would allow them to fill the other guard spot in free agency. The Bucks could conceivably throw money at Lance Stephenson (unrestricted), Eric Bledsoe (restricted), or Kyle Lowry (unrestricted) if they were interested. Unfortunately, Milwaukee is far from a premier free agent destination.
An ideal roster with Joel Embiid could be:
PG: Bledsoe, Wolters
SG: Thompson, Knight, Mayo
SF: Giannis, Delfino, Middleton
PF: Ilyasova, Henson
C: Embiid, Pachulia, Raduljica, Speights
In 4-5 years, Milwaukee could acquire three potential All-Stars (Bledsoe, Giannis, Embiid), two of whom will still be on very affordable deals (Giannis, Embiid), as well as a capable sixth man in Knight.