Milwaukee Bucks: Grading Jon Horst’s eventful tenure as general manager

Jun 19, 2017; Milwaukee, WI, USA (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports)
Jun 19, 2017; Milwaukee, WI, USA (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports) /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Jon Horst, Mike Budenholzer
Sept 20, 2019; Milwaukee, WI, USA (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports) /

It’s been over four years now since Jon Horst was promoted to general manager by the Milwaukee Bucks in June of 2017.

Since then, of course, the Bucks have gone on to have their most successful stretch of years in decades, culminating with an NBA championship. For a GM to take a team and turn it into a championship contender, they had to do a lot of things right. But there are also going to be a lot of bumps along the way. Many have questioned some of Horst’s decisions in his four years running the Bucks, but there has also been a lot of praise along the way as well; mainly his NBA Executive of the Year award win following the 2018-19 season.

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No player, coach, general manager, executive, etc., is going to be perfect, and there will always be a move or two (or more) that fans and media will look back on and say they should have done something differently.

So let’s review Horst’s process to winning an NBA championship and grade his success in the three main areas of a general manager’s job: drafting, free agency, and trades.

Most general managers have a strong point in those three categories and an obvious weak point, and Horst is no exception.

One move that isn’t in that group was the hiring of Mike Budenholzer. Although many have their opinions on Budenholzer, there’s no question he’s the best head coach the Bucks have had in a long, long time — even prior to the championship.

There have been a lot of moves in Horst’s tenure to work through, so let’s start to unpack.

Reviewing Jon Horst’s record at the draft in his Milwaukee Bucks tenure

Not to spoil too much, but this is easily Jon Horst’s biggest weak point as a general manager through his four years as Bucks GM.

Since the 2017 NBA Draft, here are his draft picks in order:

  • D.J. Wilson (2017 1st round, 17th overall)
  • Sterling Brown (2017 2nd round, 46th overall; acquired from Philadelphia)
  • Donte DiVincenzo (2018 1st round, 17th overall)
  • Jordan Nwora (2020 2nd round, 45th overall)
  • Sam Merrill (2020 2nd round, 60th overall; acquired from New Orleans)
  • Sandro Mamukelashvili (2021 2nd round, 54th overall; acquired from Indiana)
  • Georgios Kalaitzakis (2021 2nd round, 60th overall; acquired from Indiana)

DiVincenzo is pretty clearly the best player of this group, and it’s not particularly close, as I’m sure most people would agree. After that, it’s probably Brown, who found relative success with the Houston Rockets last season and is now with the Dallas Mavericks.

Looking back at the 2017 NBA Draft, there were a few players taken after Wilson, who you’d rather have seen the Bucks select. John Collins was taken two picks later, Jarrett Allen was taken five picks later, and OG Anunoby was taken six picks later. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but even at the time, people were surprised by the selection.

I would say Brown was a solid pick looking back on it, with only Monte Morris of the Denver Nuggets being a discernably better player taken after him.

In Horst’s defense, Wilson and DiVincenzo are the Bucks’ only two first round picks in his tenure, so he hasn’t had a ton of opportunities to show his full drafting prowess. They did have a first round pick in 2019 but used it to trade Tony Snell’s contract, a first in 2020 but used it in the Jrue Holiday trade, and exchanged their 31st overall selection in 2021 for four additional second round picks, two of which they used in the Grayson Allen trade.

The Bucks do own their 2022 first round pick, and I’m hoping Horst actually uses the pick to select a player. Milwaukee is obviously in win-now mode, but having young, cheap, and productive players is the best way a team can maximize their window.