You wouldn’t think that the worst team in the league would be particularly interesting, but the Milwaukee Bucks have more going for them (and more decisions to make) than people realize. Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest issues facing the Bucks about halfway through the season:
#1 – Herb Kohl is going to have to change his expectations for this team.
At this point in the year it’s easy to look at Milwaukee’s list of offseason additions and say to ourselves, “Of course this is a bad team,” but by the end of the summer most media were pretty much in agreement that Caron Butler, O.J. Mayo, Luke Ridnour, Zaza Pachulia, Gary Neal and Brandon Knight were all just good enough to keep Milwaukee competitive for a playoff spot in the less-than-impressive Eastern Conference. Nobody expected them to win anything once they got there, but maybe they could sneak in there. Just maybe.
For those familiar with former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, the long-time owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, that shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise since, at 78 years old, he’s sort of made it clear that for as long as he’s alive he wants to see his team be competitive and make the playoffs every stinkin’ year.
The bad news for Kohl is that the Bucks have (and have earned) the worst record in the NBA this season. With only seven victories, they’re the only team in the league not to have hit double-digits in the win column. Head Coach Larry Drew has taken to playing his younger players in what is clearly a lost season at this point, and Kohl is starting to wrap his head around returning to the NBA lottery this summer. It might be a few years before Milwaukee gets back into the postseason, but with some promising young players and a good draft pick on the way, a full rebuild really is the most reasonable way to go. One hopes that Kohl learns to accept this, because it absolutely is what’s coming.
#2 – Milwaukee is going to end up with a franchise-altering rookie.
Softening the blow of those seven lonely wins is the fact that the Bucks are currently leading the pack for the best shot at the #1 pick in this highly-touted 2014 NBA draft class, and that means a potentially franchise-altering rookie is likely on his way. Even if they completely bomb out of the lottery and end up with the 4th pick in the draft, they’ll still have Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle from which to choose, with Dante Exum and Marcus Smart likely worthy of consideration in that range, as well. Any one of those guys has the potential to completely alter the fortunes of a struggling franchise like Milwaukee.
As for who would be the best fit, it’s a bit of a tough call since so many of those guys are primarily post players and that’s just about the only place where the Bucks are loaded with talent. Looking at it that way, Wiggins or Exum fill more holes than the other guys, but it would be hard to pass up on Embiid the way he’s come on this NCAA season. No matter who the Bucks end up with, it will be somebody very, very good assuming they stay on their current course of worse team in the league.
» In Related: The latest 2014 NBA Mock Draft
#3 – Giannis is still growing (in more ways than one).
While they did pick outside of the lottery last year, the Bucks ended up with the extremely gifted Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player that already looks like a star in the making. Since Drew turned the team over to the youngsters and injected Antetokounmpo into the starting lineup, he’s shown real flashes of brilliance despite being the league’s youngest player. Even more interesting is that he’s actually grown over an inch since being drafted back in late June. That puts him at 6’10”, which is Kevin-Durant size for a small forward, making him potentially very dangerous somewhere down the road. Physically he’s one of the most gifted young players in the league, and he’s about as untouchable as it gets for the Bucks at this upcoming trade deadline.
He’s not a star yet, but it’s easy to see something interesting brewing with this kid. If he grows another inch, he’ll be a swingman knocking on the door of seven-feet. Add a little muscle, and he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with for a really long time.
#4 – Larry Sanders is here to stay, despite this awful season.
Sanders, meanwhile, has been just as disappointing as Antetokounmpo has been promising. Not only did he miss a huge chunk of the season’s first half because he injured his hand in a bar fight, but he’s also been an anti-leader in the locker room (he and Gary Neal have had their issues) and on the court (he’s already got two ejections in 2014). Statistically, his averages are down across the board, from points (9.8 PPG last year to 6.5 PPG this year) to rebounds (9.5 RPG last year to 6.6 RPG this year) to field goal percentage (.506 last year to .427 this year) to blocks (2.8 BPG to 1.9 BPG this year).
And the best part: his 4-year, $44 million extension doesn’t even kick in until next year, so Milwaukee has four-and-a-half more years of this nonsense to look forward to.
They could trade him, but he’s in a poison pill year that makes a move pretty much impossible. That’s working under the assumption that a team exists that’s willing to pay the kid that much without knowing if the headaches will continue in new environs. In other words, the Bucks are going to have to move forward with Sanders and hope that he not only gets his groove back, but matures a whole lot very quickly. Otherwise, that contract is going to look like one of the worst under the new CBA.
» In Related: The Milwaukee Bucks salary cap page
#5 – O.J. Mayo isn’t the scorer the Bucks hoped he’d be.
There have been times in O.J. Mayo’s career that we’ve seen the flashes of an elite scorer. When he’s confident and firing on all cylinders, it’s not too hard to see why teams viewed him as a top-three talent back in the 2008 draft.
But since becoming a Buck, Mayo has been really hard to watch. His numbers are down across the board, and while very few of them are career-lows, all of them are at least very close to being career-lows. Milwaukee’s front office talked so glowingly of Mayo before the season that it was easy to buy into him as the team’s primary scorer, but so far he’s been comically far off of that mark.
Milwaukee made a couple of reasonable financial gambles with Mayo and Sanders, but neither of them has even come close to working out. No wonder they’ve got only seven wins.
#6 – Brandon Knight might not be the point guard of the future.
One gamble that hasn’t been an embarrassment was the Brandon Jennings trade with Detroit, which sent out their old disgruntled point guard for a younger, more coachable one with a potentially brighter future.
While he spent a good chunk of the season’s early portions staving off injuries, Knight has since come on as the team’s most consistent scorer. Knight poured in games of 36 and 37 points back in December, and he’s averaging 20 PPG over his last ten games. He’s still young, and he turns the ball over a lot, but to say he’s not promising wouldn’t be fair to one of the few bright spots Milwaukee actually has experienced this year.
The problem with Knight is still the fact that he’s not a true point guard. He’s always been more of a score-first combo guard, and his assist numbers reflect that. That being what it is, it should come as no surprise that Milwaukee’s front office is at least perusing the market for other young point guard prospects. It’s not likely they deal for one, but whatever Knight’s role on this team is moving forward, it might not be starting point guard.
The rest of 2013-2014 isn’t going to offer a particularly smooth ride, but after horrible seasons come great draft picks, and if there was ever a year to be awful, this would be the one. Hopefully there are better things on deck for this struggling organization.
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