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Solving the Milwaukee Bucks’ Surplus of Bigs
- Updated: June 12, 2014
The Bucks had their fair share of problems last season; They finished with the worst record in the league, everything imaginable went wrong for Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo never came close to playing to the level expected and Ersan Ilyasova’s three point shot eluded him all season long. Along with those issues, going forward one of the main concerns will be trying to balance out the roster and build a winner from the ground up. The Bucks frontcourt is very crowded and is something the team will have to address. Here’s a player-by-player look at how they should go about it.
John Henson – A two time ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Henson came to Milwaukee known for his defense and shot blocking. However, his slight frame has made matching up against some of the bulkier bigs in the league a challenge and he has looked overmatched in certain matchups. Despite that he still has done a nice job swatting shots around the rim. This last season he ranked fifth in the league sending back 1.7 shots per night. He has shown a surprising touch around the rim and this last year averaged 11.1 points a game primarily coming off the bench. If he gets good position in the paint and can get his left handed hook off he can be a consistent scorer. The problem lies when he can’t get to his left hand. The scouting report is out on Henson and teams know that is his most dominant scoring move by a considerable margin. Henson doesn’t have a great jump shot and isn’t nearly as effective finishing with his right hand. If he wants to be a starting caliber NBA power forward he needs to continue to add strength and become a more versatile player on the offensive end. Right now playing alongside Larry Sanders had been problematic with neither Henson nor Sanders having the ability to step out and hit a mid-range jumper with consistency. A reliable jump shot could go a long way in to help accelerate Henson’s growth as a player. He is the most tradeable of the Bucks group of big men and is still on his rookie contract. Just 23 years old with plenty room to grow, Henson could bring back decent value.
Ersan Ilyasova – Ilyasova, currently the longest tenured Buck on the roster, has been a mainstay in the frontcourt for years. In July of 2012 he was re-signed to a five year, $40 million dollar contract extension to keep him in Milwaukee. This extension came following his best season as a pro in 2011-2012 where he averaged 13 points, 8.8 rebounds and knocked down 45.5 percent of his three point attempts. His proficiency from beyond the arc made him a valuable asset and he looked to be blossoming into one of the better stretch four’s in the NBA. Unfortunately this year he took a major step back. Ilyasova never was able to get into a rhythm; both his scoring and rebounding dipped but the most concerning stat was his three point percentage: 28.2 percent, a career low. Ilyasova has always been a streaky player, one whose confidence strongly correlates with his play. He never found that confidence in his shot and the results reflected that. When he is right he can be a very valuable player and as the stretch four position becomes increasingly more popular around the league he still could be a desirable piece for a team looking to add shooting at the four spot. He was rumored to be a favorite of former owner Herb Kohl, who believed Ilyasova had star potential. With Kohl now out of the picture it’s very plausible that the team could be entertaining offers for Ilyasova. At this point though his value is at an all-time low the team may be better off looking for a mid-season deal giving Ilyasova time to improve his value.
Larry Sanders – Sanders had a nightmarish 2013-2014 season, one littered with both on and off the court troubles. In 2012-13 Sanders burst onto the scene and had an exceptional year, particularly on defensive side of the ball. He was one the best players in the league in terms of protecting the rim and interior defense. He finished second in the league in blocks per game and led the league in block percentage. That great season was the catalyst for the contract extension he signed last offseason worth four years and $44 million. In hindsight that looks like a magnificent move on his part and one the Bucks may have wished they held off on. The troubled center not only missed time this season with a thumb injury that occurred in a night club skirmish but also had to serve a suspension from a failed drug test, testing positive for marijuana. When he was on the court things weren’t much better. He regressed back to his pre-breakout season form in the 23 games he was able to play. His future is a major concern for the franchise and his improvement both on and off the court will play a major in the Bucks rebuilding process. Sanders can be an impact player if he can keep his head on straight, one the thing team must strongly consider before pulling the trigger on a move. Like Ilyasova his value is not nearly what it was a year ago, however if the Bucks new ownership feels his antics aren’t worth putting up with he could be on his way out of Milwaukee sooner than expected.
ZaZa Pachulia – The Bucks brought Pachulia in last offseason to provide depth and experience to a team that hoped to contend for a playoff spot. Those aspirations fell well short but Pachulia remained a steady contributor. With Larry Sanders missing significant time Pachulia was forced into a bigger role than expected. He performed admirably and served as a great mentor for some of the younger guys on the roster. He is a true professional in every sense of the word and guy who would fit right in on a contender. He is signed through 2015-26. He figures to be a strong candidate to be traded since he still is a very solid player, one who could offer size and strength down low for a contender. He may not bring back much in return but at this stage in his career with the Bucks rebuilding it may be best for both sides to go their separate ways.
Miroslav Raduljica – Raduljica was discovered by Bucks director of player personal Dave Babcock and was a bit of a surprise when he signed with the team last offseason. Raduljica proved in his limited time that he possesses a nice scoring touch around the basket. He is a big body on a cheap deal and appears to have a little more potential than originally expected. He will never be a star but he has ability to be a contributor off the bench. He is one guy I would look for the Bucks to hang onto with the hope that they may have found a diamond in the rough in Raduljica.
Ekpe Udoh – Udoh is a restricted free agent this offseason, giving the Bucks will have to ability to match any offers. It would be a bit surprising if the team chose to bring him back. He has proven to be nothing more than a role player off the bench with a limited skill set on the offensive end. The Bucks are a team looking to rebuild with young guys with potential, and the belief in Udoh’s is dwindling. The Bucks would be best suited moving on.
Jeff Adrien – Adrien was acquired in a mid-season trade with Bobcats and is now an unrestricted free agent. Despite being somewhat undersized he is an excellent rebounder, however on the offensive end struggles to create his own shot. Similarly to Udoh he has limited potential and may be best served playing on a more competitive team looking for a glue guy like him.
The most ideal scenario for the Bucks would be acquiring another first round pick in this year’s draft or next. The team needs to stockpile as much young talent as possible as they look towards the future. No player in the frontcourt should be off limits if the team has a chance to land another first rounder. If for some reason Joel Embiid falls to the number two pick and is selected by the Bucks, making a move to clear up the logjam in the frontcourt will become a necessity. Ilyasova and Pachulia will be the most likely candidates but the question remains what type of value they will return. Again, with Ilyasova the team would be wise to be patient and hope he can regain his form prior to this past season before looking to move him. He can be one the better stretch four’s in the game and could certainly add a different dimension to a contending squad. While Pachulia and Ilyasova both make the team immediately better the Bucks still are a long way from competing in the East. One way or another the Bucks will have to clear up the frontcourt and moving the more veteran players would seem to be the most logical move for a team in the early stages of the rebuilding process.
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