The Bucks of now and the problem with the Centers of the 2012 NBA Draft

Yeah, my man can dunk, but will he know where to be when Monta Ellis gets beat off the dribble?

Yesterday I used “Could Meyers Leonard be part of the solution for the Bucks at center?” as a headline. Also I spelled Meyers without the first “e” because I didn’t do a very good job proof reading and I generally didn’t know a ton about this dude.

With that in mind: Today, I say no to the aforementioned headline question.

I didn’t want to influence your thought though, and I wanted to put in some more thought (also: research) regarding the player, the position and the purpose of Milwaukee’s next season before I decided on an actual thought and a feeling I could really believe in regarding a potential marriage of Meyers Leonard and the Milwaukee Bucks.

I’m not saying Leonard can’t be a productive player. I think he can be. And I think Tyler Zeller could be one too. They’ll both likely have careers that turn out good enough or even impressive as far as I can tell.

That doesn’t help the Bucks right now though and as far as I can tell, it’s all about right now, isn’t it? Isn’t that what this whole upcoming season is all about? Making the playoffs, shaking some cages and the like? That’s what the Monta Ellis trade was all about, wasn’t it? Now the Bucks have these two guards that can score and people often say Milwaukee’s   is dynamic. So the playoffs are the goal again.

I have my doubts that Leonard or Zeller can help make that dream a reality. Not that I’m necesarily against drafting someone who could blossom eventually. I liked it when Milwaukee grabbed Larry Sanders, a potential guy, two years ago and Tobias Harris, a super young guy, last year. Those were guys who seemed like they would eventually blossom and the Bucks absolutely seemed to go with the, “We’re drafting the best guy available” thing. That’s just fine.

But it seems bizarre to run a franchise with one direction in mind and then completely disregard that direction come draft time. It seems pretty important that in this draft, especially in this draft where there’s probably a bit more talent than there hast been in three seasons or so, the Bucks get a guy who can come in and play some productive minutes.

I’m not entirely certain we’re going to see that out of Leonard. Not necessarily because he isn’t talented, but for what he needs to be to get minutes, I don’t think he can be that guy.

Milwaukee could really use an anchor of a center defensively. We saw that all season and I pointed that out yesterday. Physically, Leonard passes the eye test to be that guy. But this quote is pulled from his Draft Express profile:

A big key for him defensively will likely the mental side of things and how well he can focus and bring consistent energy on each possession and pick up on team defensive concepts.

Hmm. Is he going to be able to handle the speed of the NBA after just two years of college right from the get go? Leonard is likely to spend at least one season missing rotations, going for blocks a split second too late and generally picking up fouls that come as a result of the NBA being the NBA.

It’s not that there aren’t any big men who have ever come in and made a difference defensively as apart of a unit right away, it’s more that I really don’t think Leonard is one of the dudes who can do that. Emeka Okafor? Yeah, he had that talent. Joakim Noah? A little bit, to a certain degree had that ability. But those were guys who played plenty of games in college, guys who came in regarded as high hoops IQ type of guys. Their ceilings were a little lower because we felt like we knew them, but they probably have both exceeded expectations because of their IQs.

Even Tyson Chandler, a player Leonard said he likes to emulate himself after, took about four years before he really started to grasp the game on the defensive side. Sure, he was making the larger leap from high school, but Chandler is a leader type. He works hard. He studies. He gets it. And it took him a while to get it.

The same generally goes for Zeller. Maybe he’s a bit more ready to the mentality and speed of the NBA, but is he actually going to be able to manage a game defensively from the center position? It took Andrew Bogut years to do that. That’s why guys like Joel Anthony and Kurt Thomas stick around. They know exactly what the hell is going on back there and where to be at all times.

Will Scott Skiles stand idly by while Leonard or Zeller make mistakes nightly that could be harming the team? Not if Leonard isn’t in the right position he won’t. Skiles showed no hesitation to sit someone who seemed to be playing very well in Jon Leuer last season when he had other players that could come in adn give the team some minutes. Surely Skiles won’t stand for playing Leonard or any other rookie just for the sake of development with the team fighting for a playoff birth night after night next season.

I’m not saying Skiles is right or wrong, I’m just saying what he’s shown he’ll do. He goes with the guys he’s more comfortable with. That’s how Ekpe Udoh started grabbing up the minutes many of us thought Larry Sanders would have late last year. Udoh knew where to be, that’s kind of his thing as a player. He rotates well and plugs in gaps. That’s what the Bucks want out of a center. Think Ervin Johnson more than Joel Przybilla if you want a somewhat relevant example.

So while Leonard and Zeller will probably be just fine in the league, I’m not sure they’ll be just fine as members of the Milwaukee Bucks. Likely not next season at least. If the Bucks want to draft another player that can play a few minutes and get some good work in practice and potentially put it together down the road, the big man could fit just fine.

But that wouldn’t exactly be a playoff push move, would it?

Categories: Draft Talk

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  1. A couple of points here.. Obviously I have stated before that Skiles doesn’t like to play rookies until they demonstrate that they can handle their defensive responsibilities.. that is not a secret.. but when did we become the Miami Heat? Is this a championship or bust season? Our two best skill players are 22 and 26.. since when is it a rush to get a guy like Meyers developed? As a fan i am excited about guys like Leuer and Harris.. and I am excited about seeing Brando and Monta getting a full training camp to see how well they work together.. So many games come down to a couple of possessions and having even a so-so athletic 7-footer as a back stop can totally change another teams approach to scoring.. Omer Asik anyone?

    • and I don’t think the Tyson Chandler comparison is apt.. Chandler was a 220 lb. 18-year-old high school kid.. Leonard is a 250 lb. 20-year-old with two years of college experience under his belt

  2. I guess I’m just confused as to what the objective of the Bucks is.  Just to make the playoffs?  They don’t have to have a project big man in order to nab an 8th seed.   With a draft as deep as this one, it would seem to me to be more advantageous to just take the best available player.  If that’s Zeller or Leonard, fine.  But if all you are going to get from Zeller is something you could get from a journeyman free agent center, wouldn’t it make more sense to draft an upside guy like Perry Jones?

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  4. I think the Bucks number 1 objective is to get a new stadium built so they can stay in Milwaukee, in order to do that they need help from public funding and it’s alot easier to get public funding from fans if you have a winning product. I think that is why the Bucks have been hesitant to rebuild because they cant really afford to wait 3 years and hope they hit the lotto once or twice.
    I agree with phish 100% I’m a strong advocate for Perry Jones. If the Bucks draft a Center I want it to be Fab Melo since he is the only one who would immediately address their needs. Leonard could end up being a solid starter someday but I dont think he is ever going to be a dominant shot blocker. Fab Melo will enter the league as a guy who will be able to block and alter shots right away.
    As I’ve said on several occassions this FA class is littered with Centers..Hibbert, Lopez (restricted and not worth offering contracts to) Kaman, Javale Mcgee (Restricted) Spencer Hawes. All of those guys could come in and be the Bucks starting Center right away….I truly think that despite McGee being a complete Knucklehead that he is so talented that he is worth being overpaid and the Bucks should throw 8-10 Mil at him because I doubt Denver matches.
    Stiemmsma, Asik (Justin mentioned b4) Mahinmi, Marcus Camby, Nazr Mohammed, Robin Lopez, Hasheem Thabeet, Przybilla, Jason Thompson, Jordan Hill, Mareese Speights. Are some other solid Centers availible in Free Agency right now, several of them offer immediate help in post defense.
    After Declining Livingston’s option the Bucks should have roughly 12-13 million in cap space and their MLE. Plus they still have their amnesty clause.

  5. I have to take another minute here and express something.. there are a lot of very knowledgeable people on this blog, and that’s why I can’t understand why there are so many asking for Perry Jones. He doesn’t bring anything the Bucks need.. Is he a big? sort of, but he plays like he is 6’7″ and thinks that he is Kevin Durant(his own words) What does he bring?:
    A post presence: No, unless you consider staying at the high post a post presence.. He doesn’t set up on the block very well and once he gets there he has almost no low post moves
    A defender: No, and if you think Scottie not giving Leonard minutes because of defensive lapses could happen then wait until he gets a look at PJ3
    A rebounder: No. He only had fifteen 10+ rebound games in two years at Baylor, regularly getting outrebounded by Quincy Acy (who is 6’7″)
    Mental Toughness: No
    Leadership: No
    Team chemistry: No. He was extremely annoyed this year with Quincy Miller taking away his shine, and doesn’t talk very fondly of him when interviewed
    Hard work: Ehhh. This one is interesting because I haven’t heard that he doesn’t work hard, but if the proof is in the pudding then Jell-o is gonna be extremely pissed off
    I was just as excited about PJ as everyone coming out of high school, but he hasn’t reached even close to the potential that we all saw.. He is extremely talented, but does he know or even care?

    •  @JustinNixon I think everything you said about Jones is accurate but many of those negatives about his game are things expected of a player who plays the 4, and Jones is not a 4 he is definitely a 3. If there weren’t so many proven Centers availible in Free Agency this season I would rather see Leonard or Zeller selected but I think with all the Big men availible in the FA market who have already proven something in the NBA it’s worth taking a guy like Jones.
      Taking Zeller is probably the safest pick because he is the most polished and experienced of the three and he’s gotten the better of Leonard in the workouts from what i’ve heard. Leonard is a more imposing physical specimen and could potentially blossom into a quality NBA starting Center where Zeller has most likely already hit his ceiling. One thing I dislike about Leonard is his body language during interviews. He seems nervous he’s often looking down away from the camera/people interviewing him and touches his neck often and just overall does not look comfortable. It’s a very subtle thing but this can be attributed to a lack of confidence, does not mean that it translates onto the court but I think it’s something that still warrants a bit of concern.