Milwaukee Bucks: The 2005 NBA Draft and the roads not taken

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 24: (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 24: (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

15 years ago today, the Milwaukee Bucks held the first overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, leaving them with the choice of selecting either Andrew Bogut or Marvin Williams.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a way of winning the first overall pick in NBA Draft through unlikely odds.

Perhaps the lucky charms that then-Bucks general manager Larry Harris had on the night of the NBA Draft Lottery helped the Bucks land the first overall pick 15 years ago today for the 2005 NBA Draft. That occurred despite the fact that the Bucks had just a 6.3 percent chance of landing the top selection after finishing with the sixth-worst record for the 2004-05 season.

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For Harris, the unlikely scenario of getting the first overall pick stood as a professional highlight as he told the New York Times following that year’s lottery:

"“Professionally, this is probably the best day for me,” Harris said. “I don’t know if I’ll sleep tonight. A 6.3 percent chance to win, being a math major, I didn’t think we had much of a shot at it. But it is a heck of a day for the Milwaukee Bucks.”"

Coming away with the top prize in that draft came not a moment too soon as the Bucks were struggling to find an identity following the end of the ‘Big 3′ era just a couple of seasons earlier. The question would be who the Bucks felt would be the fundamental building block to their aspiring turnaround at the time.

Despite a class that featured a future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, All-Stars in Danny Granger and Deron Williams and a future NBA champion in Andrew Bynum, the Bucks’ consensus was set on two players: Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams.

On one side, Bogut had just finished his star turn at the University of Utah where he averaged double figures (20.4 points, 12.2 rebounds) as a sophomore and was the Naismith Player of the Year for the 04-05 campaign. Williams, on the other side, was an athletic phenom who, despite not starting a game for the University of North Carolina, played an integral role in their NCAA title-winning season that year.

In the week leading up the draft, Harris, more or less, showed his cards when he divulged that it was either the Australian international or the athletic Tar Heel that organization were considering at the top slot. While all of the Bucks’ scouting had been done at this point, the crucial workouts and visits to Milwaukee for both Bogut and Williams both showed the paths that the Bucks could have taken.

Milwaukee’s brass wined and dined both and gave the two top projected picks a glimpse into the potential futures during their respective visits to the city. Williams had even celebrated his 19th birthday during his weekend in Milwaukee ahead of his life-changing draft that stood days away.

But while it was deemed to be a two-horse race, so to speak, between Bogut and Williams, word was getting out that the Bucks had their full attention centered on the seven-footer over the rangy, versatile forward. Williams certainly felt as much as he said the following a few days ahead of the draft:

"“It does seem like Milwaukee is heading toward Bogut a little bit,” he said Monday, “but I don’t blame them. Andrew’s a great player. He’ll be good for Milwaukee.”"

So there was very little surprise when the Bucks made their affinity for the Aussie known when they selected Bogut with their first overall pick, leaving Williams to fall to the Atlanta Hawks at the second spot. As fate would have it, the best laid plans for both Bogut and Williams didn’t come to pass in either of their original landing spots due to a variety of circumstances.

Bogut’s time in Milwaukee was summarized by the Bucks’ considerable struggles and when the Bucks were looking to be on the rise during the 2009-10 season, the Australian suffered a career-altering injury late into the year that shuttered that pretty quickly. With the Hawks, Williams struggled to find his footing and develop a skill package to go along with his clear athletic chops.

It was elsewhere that both Bogut and Williams found their niches and have been able to enjoy lasting careers as solid winning role players. In Bogut’s case, that made him an NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors. And in the ultimate full circle moment, winning a title is what the 34-year-old Williams aspires to do with the Bucks after having joined them through a buyout earlier this 2019-20 season.

Through it all, it was the Bucks’ selection of a largely unknown 18-year-old Ersan Ilyasova with the 36th overall pick in the second round that has arguably given the Bucks the stability they were seeking 15 years ago.

Of course, Ilyasova didn’t possess the ceiling that many envisioned for both Bogut and Williams. Along with that, the Turkish forward played multiple seasons, first on assignment in the D-League, Milwaukee and then overseas with FC Barcelona, before being able to mold and season his game into being the complementary piece that he still stands as today in his third stint with the Bucks.

Per Basketball-Reference, Ilysasova has the 10th-highest amount of win shares of players selected in the 2005 NBA Draft, trailing Bogut, who stands in eighth, and Williams at fourth.

All these years later, the Bucks have taken an incredibly circuitous route towards getting back to success. Missing out on a generational talent like Paul undoubtedly stings, but so does essentially seeing Bogut’s time in Milwaukee get squandered in hindsight, even with knowing some of the circumstances like injuries were out of the Bucks’ hands.

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The hard truth is that all NBA teams don’t have the gift of hindsight when they’re on the clock in the draft and that goes for teams standing atop of the draft order as the Bucks did 15 years ago too. Sometimes, you’re forced to play the cards you are dealt. Or, in this case, some ping pong balls.