Figure 4: What to do at power forward?

As players around the league begin to report to their respective teams to start training for the 2012-13 NBA season, many teams should feel as if they have assembled the team that would give them the best shot at success this year. This year, the Milwaukee Bucks were set on solidifying its low post presence. With that said, have the Bucks put together a solid playoff team or will it be another failed chemistry experiment?

When taking a look at the roster, there are a few things to notice. After years of lacking that inside presence outside of Andrew Bogut, the Bucks have loaded up big time at the power forward and center position. Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Joel Przybilla, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh will all have to share time in the Bucks’ frontcourt at the four or five. Not to mention Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who I’m considering a full-time three for this column.

With all of these players playing between two positions, one of two outcomes seem most likely – a really good one or a really bad one. That’s it.

Really Good Outcome(s):

Rookie John Henson will not have to deal with immense pressure if he struggles. With so many players playing the same position, Henson won’t have to deal with the burden of being heavily relied on at the four. This will allow him to develop at his own pace and become the player he is expected to be without the added pressure of having to be “the guy” right out of the gate. He also will have a slew of veterans to lean on and steer him in the right direction.

In a perfect world, Ilyasova will replicate last season – lead the league in 3-points percentage, save a game with an offensive tip-in and occasionally rebound like he’s a disciple of Dennis Rodman.

Dalembert will pick up the slack defensively where the Bucks lacked so badly last season. He’ll be the vocal leader watching everyone’s back and directing traffic. Sanders will thrive in a limited role, able to use his energy, speed and general athleticism that he’s some how learned to control. Udoh could even take a step forward offensively and become a passable offensive player who’s also always in the right place on defense.

Przybilla will offer his guidance and wisdom to make all of these fantasies reality and Gooden will finally stop driving everyone crazy with plays that leave fans scratching their heads.

At the very least the Bucks appear prepared for injury. Two seasons ago, Gooden missed significant time with a foot injury and left the Bucks scraping the bottom of the barrel to even resemble a team with an inside presence. This year, that isn’t the case. The Bucks will should be ready.

Really Bad Outcome(s):

Oh, but the bad could be bad.

When taking a look at the overall roster, the Bucks have size now, something they severely lacked in the past. Now they have to figure out what to do with all of that size. Unless they are running five power forwards at once, the Bucks may encounter some problems with distributing minutes. Chemistry is what carried the Bucks when everyone was fearing deer. Usually when the word “minutes” comes up, you know that there is potential for someone to become disgruntled.

While depth is good, you don’t want that to interfere with the development of your young players. Henson showed a lot of promise in July and there is a good chance that he could receive ample minutes this season. There is also potential for him to lose confidence if he isn’t playing, which would be a result from the extensive depth at the position. If Henson becomes upset or discouraged, this will set the Bucks back. He needs to play.

This is what we dont want.

Beyond Henson, Udoh and Sanders are both players in need of minutes to grow. Both are in a potential contract year and haven’t necessarily carved out obvious roles.

Przybilla isn’t being counted on for much, but who knows if he even has “not much” left anymore. Dalembert could catch Bogut’s old injury problems and Ilyasova could once again forget how to shoot 3-pointers, as was the case two seasons ago. And Drew Gooden? He could just keep being Drew Gooden and that would be plenty bad enough for many Bucks fans. But if he’s inaccurate with that long jump shot he loves so much, those fans will really have something to complain about.

The potential humanity of it all!

In Conclusion:

The Bucks have found themselves a group that will give them depth at positions where they have been thin in recent years. This is a good thing. The group is balanced, with its offensive guys and its defensive guys. However, one of my personal concerns is the development of  Henson. I see this “log-jam” potentially robbing him of valuable minutes. He certainly has the talent to become one of the better, if not the best, player out of this group. If that is going to happen, he needs to get those minutes. On the other end, the Bucks have tradable players that they could use to bring in some wing players. If that were to happen, minutes for the promising Tobias Harris could decline. Only time can tell.

What do you think? Will the depth at the power forward and center positions help or will distribution of minutes become an issue? What should the Bucks do? Sound off.

Tony Atkins writes for the Milwaukee Bucks blog Follow him on Twitter.

Categories: The Off Season

Tags: ,,,,,,,


  1. @ @tony
    nice post. I think the bucks have to ship at least one of these guys out, preferably two. The question is when do they do it? A smart move may be to wait until the trade deadline approaches and let go of someone who is performing decently and has some trade value.
    My vote is for Larry and Gooden to go. Larry becomes totally expendable now that we have Udoh, and I think Ersan and Henson can replace Gooden’s offensive production. The problem is the bucks would get nothing in return for either of those two.

    •  @sillybilly  @tony There lies the problem though. Obviously those are the two lowest players on the list for most Bucks fans, but what teams would be willing to take them? Sure, I see a team maybe taking a chance on Sanders just to have another backup big who can block shots, but Gooden? I just can’t see anyone taking his contract. 
      Udoh will likely be the easiest to move, though I would rather we kept him. Teams are definitely interested in him, and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if Hammond moves him if the right wing player is up for grabs. 
      The most important things to me this season are:
      A) Winning. This team NEEDS to have a winning culture to it. Not just so us as fans get to see them in the playoffs, but to give younger players like Jennings hope for the future of the team. They badly need to have some wins under their belt and a playoff appearance.
      B) Young talent needs playing time. We have a lot of young players right now with great talent. More than we’ve had in a long time. Jennings, Lamb, Mbah a Moute, Harris, Udoh, Ersan, Henson… all players worth mentioning, all players who could be something special in their own ways. 

      •  @KBela53  
        at this point I think part of a winning culture would be to let go of sanders. He just isn’t learning how to play the game intelligently and utilize his talents. The Bucks need to be very fundamentally sound to be competitive because everyone knows they can’t compete with the top teams in the talent department. Fundamentals need to be in the culture. Letting a player like Larry stay on the roster despite his clumsy play and lack of progress contradicts what the team should be about. They would be better served by having a much less talented player with a much higher game IQ to take his spot. Maybe they give him 1/2 season more to show he is progressing, but if he isn’t cutting him loose would be a good way to set the precedent of what this team will be about.
        I have a feeling that John Henson’s learning curve will be light years ahead of Larry Sanders.

        •  @sillybilly  @KBela53  Look at Javale McGee though. He was the master of boneheaded play before he went to Denver, and this past playoffs he ended up being the best Nugget on most nights.
          Sanders has similar athleticism. How many players can average 4.3 blocks/36 minutes? Yeah, he averages over 7 PFs in the same amount of time, but you’re almost always going to have issues with developing young players unless you prioritize and develop your most prized pieces and surround them with the right kind of vets.
          Charlotte played it just right this offseason. They have two guys who are their pet young guns: Kidd Gilchrist (SF) and Biyombo (PF/C). They signed two mediocre veterans to give the team some stability, but they also made sure those guys didn’t play the same position as the guys they care about.
          That’s why even though Dalembert probably means like 5 more wins this season, it was a goofy move. The same goes for re-signing mbah a moute. If you don’t give your young guys a chance, they’re always going to suck.

        •  @Maxmax  
          The ceiling for Larry is Ben Wallace, but he’s not getting there. We can’t give him more PT than junk minutes because he is such a liability. He drops passes, takes bad shots, turns the ball over, fouls waaay too much, and gets out of position for defending and rebounding. Yes he is very athletic, but not very skilled (bad hand-eye for an NBAer). Why would we keep him around when Udoh and Henson can do the same things defensively but much more proficiently and with offensive games to boot. Larry is a project and we have 3 other promising young  who PFs that need PT.
          None of the PFs are true centers yet. They can learn a lot from Dalembert, and still pick up some minutes at C cuz I don’t see the Vanilla Gorilla playing all that much. Mbah Moute can play the 3, 4, and probably the 2. He guards superstars pretty effectively. Signing both of those guys was a good move, keeping LS around is not.

        •  @sillybilly I don’t disagree with you about Sanders. He and Gooden are the most expendable PFs we have. The big question is what teams would be willing to take a gamble on him. Udoh will be easier to move, but like I said, I would rather keep him. 
          Sanders is heading into his third year, and Summer League showed just how raw he still is on both ends of the court. Offensively, he’s a dunker and not much else, but still resorts to his God awful jumper more than I care to admit. His hands aren’t good, though he’s a decent passer. Defensively he gets blocks, yes, but of course he also has a horrid foul rate.
          So yes, Sanders needs to go. Especially with Henson already showing more polish on both ends of the court than him despite being considered raw talent, particularly on offense. 

        •  @Maxmax  @sillybilly I get what you’re saying, and I do like the McGee comparison. I’m just not too optimistic about Sanders at this point. We knew he was raw talent when we drafted him, but he’s shown so few signs of actual improvement that it’s hard to see him ever living up to his potential. And it’s even more difficult envisioning the Bucks giving him the playing time to see him improve when Udoh and even Henson are playing better than him.

        •  @KBela53  @sillybilly I’m not sure why you both are talking about winning. This team’s goal should not be to win. It should be to find and develop talent. Realistically, what is the most success you could see the Bucks having this season? IMO, 48 wins and a first round exit. In fact, the Bucks have hovered between 26 and 46 wins for 11 straight seasons now, not once advancing past the first round. Are first round exits good? Shouldn’t the team strive for more?
          If anything, the Bucks should be striving to lose so that maybe they can find a player with true all star talent via the draft. Lord knows, Milwaukee is not Miami or New York or LA. No superstar is going to move to here voluntarily.
          Maybe Sanders isn’t the talent to develop, but Dalembert is 31 and has a reputation as a whiner. He is not a leader. He is not someone who, if Udoh or Sanders or Henson breaks out, will sit proudly on the bench applauding their success. Mbah a Moute is a good player but is entirely replaceable, and like Dalembert is too old to expect any breakthroughs. If you really wanted a veteran center to council and guide the youth, you already got one: Przybilla. If you want a wing player to guide your youth, you already have Mike Dunleavy.
          Trial by fire has been the method that most teams have had success with in developing players. Durant shot 28% from three his first year. He scored 20 a game but took tons of shots to get there (which is why Seattle only won 20 games). People worried he was a flop. He still played 35 MPG.

        • Couldn’t agree more that our young guys should be playing, but putting Henson and Udoh at center probably wont do much to help their confidence or development when neither of them are true centers, have experience at that position, or will likely be playing there in the future. They’ll get some back up minutes at C, and if Gooden weren’t in the way could see more time at PF. We’ll see how Dalembert pans out. Apparently things were rough for him in Houston, but he’s had a pretty good career overall. I personally think he’ll be a good fit.
          “Mbah a Moute is a good player but is entirely replaceable”. Totally wrong, he is one of the premiere defenders in the league. Maybe he doesn’t start every game, but It would be a long shot for the Bucks to find another player that can guard LBJ or Kobe as well as LRMAM can.
          IMO the Bucks should be balancing the development of young players with an effort to win right. A winning culture goes a long way in developing players. There was heated debate on this blog about this topic in the past (read comments on posts about Ilyasovas contract). Many fans are of the opinion that being on the brink of the playoffs or exiting in the first round is in actuality the worst thing a team can do regarding their ability to obtain the talent needed to contend for a title. So for these fans getting a top 5 draft pick should be the unquestioned goal for any team without a superstar anchoring their roster. But then where would that leave the league? a bunch of teams trying to tank? only a few can be the worst teams. Also, how much certainty is there that getting one or two top 5ers will make your team a contender? Judging from history this strategy works only in rare cases.
          On the flipside a lot of fans just want to see the team fight with what they’ve got right now, imprint a winning culture on their young players, and pick the right players wherever they end up in the draft (stars are found in the mid to late first round and second round as well).
          -“the Bucks have hovered between 26 and 46 wins for 11 straight seasons now”. True but now the Bucks have more young talent, better management, a better coach, and fingers crossed less season-ending injuries to key players (Bogut and Redd) than they did in that stretch. Im optimistic but of course it won’t be easy for this team to become above average given either of the above strategies.

        •  @sillybilly I think the proper strategy is to be a crap team until you have a potential superstar or a core of young, good players. I feel like at any given time, the NBA would (and does) have about 5 teams that are legit title contenders, 15-20 teams that have established something of a core and are working towards title contention, and 5-10 teams that are in the process of tearing apart a team in decline and mining the draft. It’s not like 90% of the league would be intentionally sucking.
          I don’t even know why I wrote “would be” because it’s an NBA reality. The way the league is setup right now, unless your team is in a desirable location or is already a contender, there is no other way to get a great player. Even the Knicks, in spite of being in probably the best city in the country, have failed in their attempts to build a great team while eschewing the draft and player development. For all the hoopla of Carmelo and Stoudemire, they have one playoff win in 2 seasons. You can say that system sucks and should change, but while it exists, you have to build a team the way it instructs you to.
          Besides, losing doesn’t mean sending your players out there and saying, “play badly.” It just means having lots of young players and seeing who shows you something and who doesn’t. I guess I understand the desire to watch good basketball, but for me, it’d be more satisfying to watch a bunch of young guys trying to figure out how to win, improving every day, than to watch a team win 40 games year after year.
          I suppose some might even say Brandon Jennings is still 22 and Ellis is really good. In that case, I have to agree to disagree. Jennings is still young so I suppose there is still some hope of him improving, but Ellis is a volume scorer. Thinking he’s going to take you somewhere is the same as thinking any of the dozens of other volume scorers are going to take you somewhere. Corey Maggette, Jamal Mashburn, Jerry Stackhouse, ANtoine Walker, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis… Players who score a with middling to low efficiency are always around and always seem to lead their teams to middling to bad records.

        • “15-20 teams that have established something of a core and are working towards title contention” would this not describe the Bucks? If the bucks dont have a “core” then I’d like to know which of the 15 middle teams have any semblance of stars that are likely to compete with the Heat or Lakers because I certainly dont think there are 15 of them. 
          If the Bucks play all of their young guys they will still probably be a middling team, I don’t see them dropping too low in the W column.  and sure Pryzbilla can teach these guys a lot mentally, but Dalembert is still in well enough shape to bang down low in practice and teach these guys the physicality and tricks of the trade for the position. He’s a proven product in that regard and hopefully aspects of his game rub off on Henson. Dalembert averages around 20 minutes, probably helps us win 5 more games. He’s really not going to have a huge impact on our draft position either way, and wont hog all of the minutes away from the youngns.  So what was your point exactly?

        •  @sillybilly 
          Dalembert: +5 wins
          Ellis: +8 wins
          Mbah a Moute: +3 wins
          In 10/11, that was the difference between getting Kyrie Irving and getting Brandon Knight. One looks to be a future top 5 player, the other’s ceiling is decent starter.
          It’s great if you want vets to play a little and practice hard and set a good example. KD had Earl Watson and Kurt Thomas his first year. Combined, they were maybe worth 2 wins compared to minimum salary dudes, but I’m sure they taught Durant many-a-lesson both on the floor and in practice.
          Once the Wolves committed to a rebuild in Love’s 2nd season, they had Brian Cardinal and Ryan Gomes. Scrubs, journeyman. Still, I imagine they contributed psychologically to Love’s development.
          Both those guys, however, despite having shite teams for several years, developed fine.
          Then there are foolish teams like Orlando, who catch lightning in a bottle by winning Dwight Howard and rather than allowing themselves to lose and adding some cheap talent in the draft, immediately broke the bank on second rate players like Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Steve Francis. It’s no surprise that despite Howard being probably the second best player in the league, they had a one year peak — getting swept in the finals after winning a weak east — and then sucked again.

        •  @Maxmax 
          Kyrie Irving is good, but top 5 player in the league thats a bit of a stretch at this point. Unless the cavs can now pull a bona-fide BAMF from somewhere they have no chance at contending and will probably have a hard enough time beating the Bucks, and a also a hard time getting a top five draft pick. I mean, once again what is your point?
          You can argue that the bucks should let the young guys play all the minutes no matter what, but for what purpose? movin up a few spots in the draft and hoping we land a player that could someday be as good as Monta Ellis? nonsense. When the next Durant or LBJ or brow comes along and your team has some chance to land him, then you do whatever is necessary to get him. Not every draft has that kind of talent, and you’ve gotta be at absolute bottom of the league to qualify. Im not sure the Bucks can endure too many non-competetive seasons and realistically expect to stay in MIL or not get contracted. Outside of those rare draft-prospects who will unquestionably be stars its more of a crapshoot. The correlation between draft position and nba accomplishment isn’t as strong as you might think.
          If you don’t think Henson playin behind Dalembert/Ilya and Lamb playin behind Ellis will help their games at all then yea ok. But I think it will help a lot. I think Tobias Harris is ready to burst at the seams because he’s been working so hard to please the coaches and prove that he deserves minutes. Depth-chart competition often motivates people and puts a better product on the floor.

    •  @sillybilly  @KBela53  Thank you. Also, to note. Larry Sanders is taking over Squad 6 (Or whatever it is), does that make him a LITTLE more valuable? 

      • PattiRafalskiDavison

         @ByTonyAtkins  Absolutely!  Larry Sanders would be a great match for Squad 6.  I think it’s a match made in heaven.  I see endless possibilities there!  Larry!  Larry!  Larry!

  2. Either Ersan or Gooden will be grossly overpaid as a backup power forward. One of them (I’m looking at you, Drew) has to go. With our current backcourt, we have more than enough shooters and almost enough passers. The power forward needs to be a defensive specialist (Henson, Udoh), a rebounding machine (Ersan), a high efficiency scorer (Ersan again, possibly Henson), or someone who can put the other team in the bonus in under 30 seconds (Sanders). Gooden is only insurance against an injury and of the group of fours on the roster, he’s the most likely to end up injured – not a great combination. Probably should have amnestied him this summer.

  3. MasterbatingestBear

    Leave Gooden alone.  Gooden, unlike most Bucks players the past two seasons, actually looked like he cared about the outcome of the game.  He also carried this team offensively for long stretches of the season.  He’s a serviceable PF, and is probably above average offensively, and last but not least, Gooden has (sadly) been one of our best players.  You act like he’s been Jon Brockman, awful. 

    • I would love to leave Gooden alone, but as long as he is a member of the Bucks, I can’t. Too many mental errors, too many injuries, and most importantly, too much money for a backup four.  Unless he regrows that soul patch on the back of his head, I see nothing interesting about him.

      •  @BuckNuggets @Vandon @MasterbatingestBear  You all have valid positions. I believe that he isn’t THAT bad. He is definitely serviceable and has been.. when playing. However, the amount of money that he is paid coupled with the fact that he’s one of many at power forward now makes him a bit expendable don’t you agree? … Jon Brockman was alright for what he was paid I think.

        • With small market teams like the Bucks, almost everything boils down to cap flexibility. Jon Brockman had a very cap friendly contract (as well as good youtube videos) so yes, he was worth his deal. Gooden has (I think) three years still left on his deal at about six million per season. As a backup, that’s just way too much for way too long. Bringing in Priz and Sam is fine because they have reasonable contracts. If the season isn’t going according to plan, they can deal Sam’s expiring contract and add a draft pick. I don’t think it’s always about tanking to get a top five pick, but getting the most out of the guys they do draft. At the end of this season, the front office should have a pretty good idea about what they want to do with Jennings because they have seen him play tons of minutes for four seasons. We’re into season three of the Larry Sanders era and still don’t have a clue about him. Give him 15-20 minutes a game at center this season (it’s not like the NBA is loaded with true centers anyway), and find out what he’s capable of. If they lose a couple more games because of it, so be it. The biggest thing is to stop signing mediocre players to long deals that prohibit trades or resigning good young talent.

        • @BuckNuggets
          The bucks have a storied history of signing mediocre players to long contracts. I mean that’s pretty much been their MO. Here’s to hoping Hammond has learned his lesson.
          I hope Monta plays well this season, a smart move would be to offer him up for the best draft pick we can get at the trade deadline. Same goes for Jennings actually, they’re both good but won’t make us a contender and can give us the highest return for picks/other talent.

    •  @MasterbatingestBear Sure, Gooden has played pretty well. But he can most definitely be upgraded, hopefully Henson can develop into his replacement. 

    •  @MasterbatingestBear Gooden is a good scorer and rebounder. Not a bad passer either. But he’s a power forward, competing at a position with younger players who are paid much less besides Ilyasova and are much more talented. 
      He’s not the worst player ever, no. And who knows, maybe this season he’ll be good since he won’t see any minutes at center. But for all the positives he brings to the court, his awful defense makes it difficult for me to like him. The contract doesn’t help either.

  4. Look.. chances are that Gooden and Sanders aren’t going anywhere, so we just have to hope that Gooden just makes better decisions with the minutes that are afforded him.. He will play.. can’t say the same about Sanders who will be our top garbage player this year

  5. PattiRafalskiDavison

    We don’t HAVE to get rid of anyone!  We don’t have any outrageous contracts by NBA standards.  Gooden is paid $6M, not $20M.  Let the rookies and veterans work (practice) together and Skiles will reward the players with the most effort and best Bball IQ get the minutes.  If production drops off, your minutes will drop off.  He doesn’t punish rookies for being rookies any more than he rewards veterans for being veterans.  I like this mix and I’m looking forward to seeing the cream rise to the top!

    •  @jtshoopsblog Which is better, building a mediocre team that loses in the first round year after year. Or developing young players who could possibly point a team in the right direction?