In a seemingly impossible turn of events, it has become even more crowded inside for the Milwaukee Bucks. When Milwaukee left for Vegas Summer League last Sunday, they did so with Darnell Jackson seemingly in line to split the majority of minutes at the power forward position for the week in Vegas. Of course, Jackson was fighting an uphill battle to stay on the roster come October, much less earn any minutes. But it seemed he’d be in line to prove himself in Vegas.
And after his first game, Jackson seemed like he was heading for a bright week. He scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds and looked like Milwaukee’s most polished player. Yet still, as good as Jackson looked, he was still low man on the totem pole that’s become the Bucks power forward situation. He was the most likely to move, and moved he will be in the coming days … for another power forward?
What’s interesting about the Bucks upcoming acquisition of Jon Brockman is that they are getting a player more talented than Jackson and with more of a rotation player ceiling. Brockman could step in and give the Bucks a solid rebounding, hustling power forward for 15 minutes-per-game starting tomorrow if need be. He’s without question better than Darnell Jackson.
And that only leaves things more complicated today than they were yesterday when it comes to the Bucks big man rotation. But not necessarily in a bad way. The depth the Bucks have merely gives them a variety of options for the time being. I’ll go through each of the Bucks options at power forward and attempt to make their probable role a bit more clear.
The mainstay: Drew Gooden
Gooden has the inside track to start opening night for the Bucks. If anything, the versatility Larry Sanders displayed throughout summer league, may have cemented this even further. Sanders often lined up at center for the Bucks in Vegas, giving some legs to the idea that both he and Gooden could split backup center minutes for the Bucks. If Sanders shows he can capably backup Andrew Bogut, as well as play next to him, it probably makes it that much easier for the Bucks to start Gooden.
In addition, Gooden’s contract will likely give him the right to fail his way out of the starting lineup and it also leaves him as the most secure Milwaukee Bucks power forward by default; he cannot be traded until December 15th of next season since he signed a new contract this off season.
The new prospect: Larry Sanders
Heading into Vegas, most weren’t sure if Sanders would have a shot at playing time this season. With an already crowded and young power forward situation, it seemed like Sanders may spend a year largely riding the pine getting adjusted to the speed and strength of pro basketball. But Sanders performed very well in summer league and may have surpassed Ersan Ilyasova as the Bucks most coveted young big. As shocking as his court awareness was on defense, it was the shooting touch Sanders displayed on occasion that was one of the biggest surprises last week in Vegas.
If he can knock down shots with some consistency in training camp and early season games, Sanders could be in line for big minutes. He’ll earn some time on his shot-blocking and rebounding alone. His defense and athleticism were his strengths coming out, but few players that have his athletic gifts are so in control of themselves and able to use them so to their advantage the way Sanders did in summer league.
The old prospect: Ersan Ilyasova
Excitement over Larry Sanders has, to a degree, left Ilyasova a forgotten man. Of all the Bucks bigs, he’s the only one who’s shown a consistent 3-point stroke in the NBA, and that’s something that the Bucks think he’ll improve on going forward. Ersan’s hustle game and rebounding ability do have their limitations though. He’ll never be the athlete that Larry Sanders is and while he gives great effort on defense, he has to rely heavily on getting to the right positions and drawing charges. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it makes it difficult for him to stand up to the best power forwards. It’s hard to guard Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudamire simply by drawing a charge or giving good effort.
Ilyasova is still an intriguing enough prospect that it might make him the most likely Bucks player to be moved. If the Bucks are dangling the contract of Michael Redd in order to get back what they consider a final piece, Ilyasova is the type of player any team will want back in order to sweeten the deal. If the Bucks think that Larry Sanders is their power forward of the future, they likely won’t have much hesitation in including Ilyasova in a deal that they think makes them better.
The swiss army knife: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
The versatility of Mbah a Moute (LRMAM) will never have done him as well as it could this year. It’ll be tough for LRMAM to see a lot of minutes at the four. If the Bucks want to go small, he could still see a few minutes here and there next to Sanders, Gooden or Bogut at the four, but the sheer options and his size limitations would seem to limit his playing time up front. Offensively, LRMAM is without question more effective finishing easy plays inside than he is shooting 15-20 foot jump shots on the perimeter, but I’m sure that’s not news to LRMAM.
It’s likely the Bucks informed him before this off season that they’d be looking to address the power forward position. Hopefully with that in mind, Mbah a Moute has been working on his perimeter skills, as some room could still be open for him at the three. Everyone knows LRMAM is going to be out there mainly for his defense and with this added depth, they’ll be able to deploy their stopper with lineups that mesh well with his offensive limitations. His ability to guard any position on the floor makes it easy to envision their being 15-20 minutes-per-game available for him next season, one way or the other.
The hustler and The project: Jon Brockman and Tiny Gallon
If the Bucks enter the regular season with their roster looking like it currently does, it’s difficult to envision much time for either of these two. Both will be eligible for the D-League, though I wouldn’t bet on Brockman going down to work on his game. He’s already an NBA rebounder and he probably won’t be launching jumpers any time soon. Brockman could just work his way into Scott Skiles rotation as so many undersized hard working forwards have done before him. Adrian Griffin? Malik Allen? Those guys were no more talented than Brockman. Skiles will make sure none of his guys are taking anything for granted.
Gallon could use the work on his game at the lower level. He could get a better feel for the NBA 3-point line and work on limiting the turnovers that haunted him this summer. Gallon was forcing things a bit in Vegas, but did show tremendous potential as a rebounder. At 19-years-old, Gallon has loads of time on his side. A year in the D-League or, if the Bucks so choose, on the end of the bench, wouldn’t do him much harm.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com