State of the Roster: The Mad Science of the Milwaukee Bucks Experiment


It has been a wild ride this free agency period.

LeBron came home. Carmelo stayed home. Chris Bosh decided to be the Man in Miami while ruining the well-laid plans of the NBA’s craftiest GM.

The impossible dreams of thousands of sports fans were realized or crushed in a few short weeks.

An offseason of volatility saw the Bucks mostly standing pat with their roster. There was no signing of a blandly familiar veteran to the midlevel. Milwaukee didn’t overpay a contender’s sixth man to fade away on its bench.

The first free agency bonanza of the Edens & Lasry era was marked by complacency.

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So far, so good.

The Bucks stuck to their guns in the middle of the first honest rebuild in nearly two decades. Instead of seeking the quick fix in a moderately big name – a strategy that in the past landed the likes of Bobby Simmons and O.J. Mayo – management appears willing to invest in an existing roster that is stocked with youth.

It is an investment the Bucks hope pays off soon, but there’s no mandate of “win now” hanging over the front office this year.

The 2014-15 season is all about development, team building and establishing the slow bonds that build true chemistry.

Looking over the roster, we can start to get an idea of the future of basketball in Milwaukee:

The Youth

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PG: Kendall Marshall, Age 22

G: Brandon Knight, Age 22

SF/??: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Age 19

SF: Khris Middleton, Age 22

SF: Damien Inglis, Age 19

F: Jabari Parker, Age 19

PF/C: John Henson Age, 23

C: Larry Sanders Age, 25

This is the future. This is the core.

Parker and Giannis are the superstars in the making, the hopes of the franchise having been placed squarely on their shoulders. The point of Milwaukee’s offense will be to open lanes and get them the ball. Both players should see a minimum of 30 minutes a night.

How those minutes are used will determine the structure of  the team.

Both Giannis and Parker are players without a defined position. While that might have been a terrifying prospect in the past, in the new positionless NBA it is a real asset. Jason Kidd is willing to experiment with unorthodox lineups to get the most out of his young stars. Parker will feel out both forward spots, while Giannis very well might see time at the point if he passes his training camp audition.

In the backcourt, Marshall and Knight represent very different approaches to the point guard position. Marshall, the pure distributor, has to improve his defense to justify a starting position. Knight is a better defender and a capable scorer, but he might not be a point guard at all.

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It is possible that the Bucks end up following the Pistons lead in sliding Knight over to the 2. Kidd was known to run lineups in Brooklyn that featured multiple floor generals. A starting line featuring Marshall, Knight, and Giannis could be an interesting evolution to that strategy.

On the wings, Middleton and Inglis will be fighting for time behind Giannis. Middleton had a very solid first year for the Bucks – playing all 82 games and starting 64 – after coming over in the Brandon Jennings trade. He showed potential as a future 3-and-D guy off the bench, but it’s unrealistic to expect much more of him at this point.

Inglis is another wildcard. The Bucks still haven’t signed him, but Hammond indicated that Inglis would follow Giannis’ lead and come over – Inglis spent last season in the French Pro A League –  right away. Though he missed Summer League due to a broken foot, he should be healthy in time for training camp. He’ll be buried on this roster but could emerge as the next Luc Mbah a Moute.

If Larry Sanders can put the nightmare of last year behind him, he still has the tools to be a top 5 center in the NBA, even if his days as the face of the franchise are over. He is a terrific rim protector and is young enough to turn it around. He can be the Bucks’ defensive anchor, the menace to the two stars’ sunshine. The alternative is too horrible for me to imagine.

Long John Henson seemed primed for a breakout season for the Bucks last year. Though his numbers were quite good – 11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 26 minutes – many fans expected a little more.

The addition of Kendall Marshall could be the catalyst for the breakout Bucks fans have long awaited, but it will have to come in a reserve role. Henson will be the first big man off the bench.

The Vets

C: Zaza Pachulia, Age 30

SG/SF: Carlos Delfino, Age 31

Relics of the Kohl era, there’s no incentive to give these guys any more playing time than necessary.

Zaza’s combination of physicality and passing distinguishes him amongst Bucks bigs. He will be in the rotation behind Sanders.

Delfino spent all of last season recuperating from a foot injury that required two surgeries. His current condition is unknown, though he has met with a trainer in Milwaukee and is reportedly on schedule to be healthy in time for training camp.

The Inbetweeners

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G: Jerryd Bayless, Age 25

SG: O.J. Mayo, Age 26

PF: Ersan Ilyasova, Age 27

Players who have done enough to stick in the NBA but haven’t established themselves as stars find themselves in a dreaded purgatory. After a steep decline in production last season, both Ersan and Mayo will have to work to earn any minutes they get.

According to reports, the Bucks have been shopping Ersan Ilyasova hard. However, the market for the once-productive stretch-4 is much drier after he hit just 28.2 percent of his threes last season and is guaranteed almost $16 million over the next two years. If Ilyasova can rebound and once again prove his range, he’ll probably remain a Buck. Kidd has been talking up his potential to stretch defenses, so we’ll see whether that is a clever ploy or actual strategy come September.

Mayo showed up out of shape and all but disappeared over the course of the season. He should have use as a scorer off the bench – hell, he should be the starting shooting guard – but now he looks more likely to settle into a permanent reserve role before age 30. A sad state of affairs for the former top recruit.

It is unfair to lump Bayless with those two, but he has bumped around the league enough that it is fair to say he is not a core player. He was a steady presence at both guard spots after getting traded to the Celtics last season, even starting 14 games. Expect to see him in a similar role with the Bucks. He’ll provide playmaking and a little outside shooting off the bench.

The Expendables

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SF: Chris Wright, Age 25

C: Miroslav Raduljica, Age 26

PF: Johnny O’Bryant, Age 21

PG: Nate Wolters, Age 23

Here’s the thing: we’ve just listed 17 players. There are only 15 open spots on an NBA roster. Barring a trade, someone is getting cut. Well, two someones.

Wright is an explosive athlete who belongs in the NBA, but he has a non-guaranteed contract.

Raduljica has NBA size and a surprising finesse game, but he is a step slow and seems destined to seek more playing time in Europe.

O’Bryant was a fan favorite in Summer League, showing flashes of a refined post game. As an unsigned second rounder, the Bucks might not have room for him in a crowded frontcourt.

This might get me in trouble, but Wolters has not done enough to prove that he belongs in the NBA. He is not an explosive athlete, he is not an elite distributor, and he has been a mediocre scorer thus far. He needs to improve his outside shot to have a chance, and he simply did not show much progress in Summer League.

Nate will, in all likelihood, make the team next season. After that, I expect he will get the most DNP-CDs of any player on the roster.