Arbitrarily graded: John Hammond’s draft picks
We started reviewing John Hammond’s history as the general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks as it relates to the NBA draft on Tuesday. Today, we dig in deeper and analyze how each of his picks performed related to players selected around them and players historically picked in that draft slot.
(A note on the charts: The first chart for each draft pick compares his career PER to the surrounding selections in his draft class. The second chart compares his PER to players selected at the same slot over the past 20 years. The sample sizes greatly vary — and are not marked — so the charts shouldn’t be interpreted in isolation.
For example, Alexander’s career sample size is just 67 games; draft classmate Brandon Rush, whose career PER is similar to Alexander’s, remains in the NBA and has appeared in 329 games. There are other outliers of which to be aware — such as Korleone Young, whose career PER is over 30 but played a grand total of 15 minutes in the NBA. But as a whole, the charts should provide a general idea and supplementary context of Hammond’s overall draft success. Finally, as a reminder, the league average PER is always 15.0. The data is from Basketball-Reference.com.)
Joe Alexander — #8, 2008
Arbitrary, retroactive draft grade: F
Hammond’s inaugural selection as Bucks general manager is easily his worst. Likely enamored by Alexander’s athleticism, combine measurements and vast improvement during his junior season, Hammond used the eighth pick on the West Virginia forward. Despite playing in 59 games as a rookie, Alexander too often looked lost and too little showed improvement. He injured his hamstring prior to his second year, missing all of the preseason and a large chunk of the regular season. Stunningly, just 17 months after selecting Alexander, the Bucks declined to pick up his third-year option — allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent after his second season. A few months before he was set to hit the market, Milwaukee used his contract to match salaries in the Salmons trade, which bolstered the 2010 “Fear the Deer” run. After playing in eight games for Chicago — and despite successful stints in the D-League — he has yet to appear in an NBA game since.
DraftExpress had Alexander’s “Best Case” player comparison as “Super Athletic Matt Harpring.” His “Worst Case” comparison was journeyman Damien Wilkins. Alas, Alexander didn’t even become a journeyman.
Brandon Jennings — #10, 2009
Arbitrary, retroactive draft grade: B-
Jennings was one of — if not the — riskiest selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. Although he was a top-rated player coming out of high school, Jennings unprecedentedly forwent college (in part due to standardized testing snags) to play a year in Italy, where he struggled with his jump shot and posted modest averages. Following the selections of point guards Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Stephen Curry, Hammond rolled the dice on Jennings with the 10th pick.
Jennings set the bar relatively high his rookie season — leading Milwaukee to the playoffs, scoring 55 points in his seventh NBA game and briefly energizing a subdued fan base. However, his development has effectively stagnated since. He’s been a high-volume scorer, but his offensive efficiency has only marginally improved (career 49.5 true shooting percentage). He still can’t finish at the rim or run the fast break effectively. He handles the ball extremely well, but he’s never been known for elite court vision. He’s prone to annual slumps, which seem to coincide with what he perceives as annual All-Star snubs. Aside from playing for steals, he’s never been too engaged defensively. In all, he’s a solid player who was certainly worth the risk and hype in 2010 but not worth the three-year, $24 million contract Hammond wisely avoided last summer.
Larry Sanders — #15, 2010
Sanders was a relative unknown coming out of VCU. Although he was 21 years old, he hadn’t started playing organized basketball until high school, and that reality reared its head at times. His junior year stats — 14.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game — were impressive but not viewed as translatable from the Atlantic 10 Conference to the NBA. But his 7′-6″ wingspan and 9′-4″ standing reach were undeniable.
After two years of inconsistent production and playing time, Sanders broke out in his third season. He started to play within his limits offensively (i.e., stopped taking jump shots), grabbed defensive rebounds at an elite rate (25.8 DRB%), ranked second in the league with 2.8 blocks per game and became something of a cult hero for his ability to not only block and alter shots at the rim but also prevent them. Those efforts earned him a four-year, $44 million contract extension last summer; however, injuries and off-court issues prevented him from living up to the same expectations this season. Still, grabbing an elite defensive center with the 15th pick is something of a coup.
Tobias Harris — #19, 2011
Arbitrary, retroactive draft grade: B+
Harris wasn’t too well known when he left Tennessee as a freshman (sensing a trend?), but Hammond took a flier on the 19-year-old forward with the 19th pick, likely sensing untapped offensive potential.
Harris saw inconsistent playing time under former head coach Scott Skiles. Unfortunately, Milwaukee seemed to exclusively view him as a small forward — either by virtue of practicality, given their glut of power forwards (blocked by the likes of Ersan Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute, Drew Gooden and Henson), or philosophy, since Harris is a “tweener” at 6’9″, 235. Either way, while Harris scored with impressive ease, he struggled with perimeter defense and defensive rotations, which prompted Skiles to bury Harris on the bench (even behind Marquis Daniels). Hammond ultimately deemed him as expendable and shipped him to Orlando as the centerpiece in the ill-advised trade for Redick.
Harris has flourished with ample playing time in Orlando, primarily positioned at power forward. In 88 games with the Magic, Harris has averaged 15.5 points on respectable efficiency (53.6 true shooting percentage) and 7.4 rebounds per game. It doesn’t appear he’s going to be a star, but he’s cementing himself into a legitimate NBA starter — which is no small feat for a 19th pick.
John Henson — #14, 2012
Thanks to UNC’s high profile in college basketball, Henson was fairly well known coming out of college as a junior — but since he was accompanied by a star-studded cast, his production was often overlooked. At the 14th slot, Hammond opted to select Henson over the more polished power forwards, namely Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger.
Henson didn’t wait long to make an impression his rookie year, dropping a 17-point, 18-rebound performance in just 27 minutes against Miami in November. Despite inconsistent playing time, he followed that with other impressive feats: a 20-point, nine-rebound game against San Antonio, a 17-point, 25-rebound, seven-block game against Orlando and a 28-point, 16-rebound game against Oklahoma City. He rebounded aggressively (19.3 TRB%), showed off his go-to lefty hook and posted an impressive 18.2 PER. (Note, however, that PER tends to overvalue stat-stuffing big men — such as J.J. Hickson and Anthony Randolph – without giving much thought to defense, aside from misleading measures like blocked shots and steals.)
Henson failed to make much of a jump this past season. His minutes doubled, but his per-minute production decreased. While his offensive efficiency improved (from 49.7 true shooting percentage to 54.3), he rebounded less, defaulted to his lefty hook more and at times looked disengaged on the court. “He can almost sleepwalk through a double-double,” Hammond told 1250 WSSP recently. It’s also worth questioning whether Henson is truly a power forward or center, because his skill set (including a lack of a jump shot) can be redundant with Sanders. Regardless, this upcoming season will be a big one for Henson. The potential and value are certainly still there.
Giannis Antetokounmpo — #15, 2013
Fourteen teams passed up on Giannis, who was nothing short of a mystery man on draft night. Aside from maybe Utah (Trey Burke) and Philadelphia (Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel), those teams should not have passed up on Giannis. Who knows how Antetokounmpo develops from here, but his potential is undeniable. Hammond’s willingness to draft risky, high-upside players is embodied here — and in an extremely underwhelming draft class, it appears to have paid off.
Luc Mbah a Moute — #37, 2008
Arbitrary, retroactive draft grade: A-
While Hammond tends to target high-upside, boom-or-bust players in the first round, he seems to go after players with one or two defined skills in the second round. Such is the case with Mbah a Moute, whose defensive skill was unquestioned but whose true position and offensive skill were of concern.
Those concerns turned out to be quite founded, but Mbah a Moute contributed immediately as a rookie, appearing in all 82 games and averaging 25 minutes per game. His production since has been steady, though his durability has been hampered by knee issues of late. He can slow down just about every guard and forward in the NBA for impressive stretches, and he’s a solid rebounder. Although he occasionally flashes decent footwork in the post, his offense never really developed. At times, his height hinders his ability to play power forward and his errant jump shot impedes floor spacing at small forward. Yet, teams can rarely do much better than obtaining a nice, polished role player like Mbah a Moute in the second round. Last summer, the Bucks acquired two future second-round picks for Mbah a Moute from the Kings, who soon swapped him for Derrick Williams.
Jodie Meeks — #41, 2009
Meeks had one important skill coming out of Kentucky: three-point shooting. He shot 40.6 percent on eight three-point attempts per game his junior season. But he struggled with his shot through 41 games in his rookie season, which prompted Hammond to move him in an extremely odd, if not entirely pointless, trade. Amid their “Fear the Deer” season, the Bucks shipped out Meeks and Francisco Elson for Primoz Brezec, Royal Ivey and a future second-round pick. Sure?
Meeks has developed into a valuable role player and well-rounded offensive threat for the Lakers. At 26, he just finished best season of his career, in which he started 70 games, averaged 15.7 points per game, shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc and posted an elite 60.1 true shooting percentage. Unfortunately for Hammond, that production is four years removed from Milwaukee.
Darington Hobson (#37) and Tiny Gallon (#47) — 2010
Arbitrary, retroactive draft grade: D-
The 2010 Draft showed that Hammond isn’t immune to the challenges — and at times, futility — of the second round. Many players who drop to the second round don’t pan out in the NBA. Some don’t make it past their rookie season. Some are never even offered a contract. Some are drafted simply to be stashed overseas, where teams can monitor their progression and lure them back at a later date. Of the 30 2010 second-round selections, only 19 have actually played in the NBA and only three — Landry Fields, Lance Stephenson and Jeremy Evans — have appeared in over 82 games. In short, if your team comes out of the second round with a legitimate NBA player, it’s a bonus. The Bucks failed to do that in 2010.
Hammond had three draft picks at his disposal. He used the first on Darington Hobson, a lanky forward who could skillfully handle the ball, the second on Jerome Jordan, a seven-foot center, and the final on Tiny Gallon, a raw power forward and high school classmate of Jennings. Jordan was traded on draft night to the Knicks for cash considerations. The 19-year-old Gallon, who was essentially pushed into the NBA draft due to NCAA violations, was cut prior to the season. He struggled in Summer League, where he shot just 36.8 percent and averaged 4.0 turnovers and 4.6 fouls in just shy of 20 minutes per game. His maturity and work ethic were also raised as concerns when the Bucks released him. He has yet to play in an NBA game, though a strong showing in the D-League this past season may provide him another opportunity.
Shortly after the Bucks drafted Hobson, it was announced that he would need surgery on both of his hips and miss his rookie season. The Bucks released him a few months into his first season, only to re-sign and cut him again the following season. He only appeared in five games with the Bucks, and it was clear he had lost some athleticism and fluidity since the surgery. He’s had a few stints in the D-League and overseas since leaving Milwaukee.
Jon Leuer — #40, 2011
Leuer wasted little time making an impression as a rookie. He scored in double figures in six of his first 13 games, including a 14-point, eight-rebound performance in the home opener. But as the season wore on, his production and playing time wavered. Despite averaging 14.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per 36 minutes and shooting over 50 percent from the field, Leuer was — albeit reluctantly — deemed disposable in order to acquire Dalembert the following summer. “We had no intention of moving Jon [Leuer],” Hammond told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The only reason we did it was because it was the only way to make the salary structure work to complete the deal.”
The Rockets, who had to clear space on their roster to sign Omer Asik to an offer sheet, waived Leuer less than a month after the trade. The Cavaliers claimed Leuer and then traded him midseason to the Grizzlies, who were primarily looking to shed salary in the deal. He has shown some flashes in Memphis. Leuer averaged a career-high 13.2 minutes per game this past season, shooting 49.2 percent form the field and 42.6 percent beyond the arc. He should be able to stick around in the league for a while as a situational stretch four.
Doron Lamb — #42, 2012
Arbitrary, retroactive draft grade: C-
Like Meeks, Lamb had one sure skill coming out of Kentucky: jump shooting. Also like Meeks, he struggled with his three-point shot during his rookie season and was promptly traded (Lamb joined Harris in the trade that brought Redick to Milwaukee).
Lamb’s three-point shot has started to come alive in Orlando. In 77 games with the Magic, Lamb has shot over 41. 4 percent from the three-point line. However, the rest of his game has yet to progress much — he has converted on just 39.5 percent of shots inside of the arc and doesn’t bring much in the realms of defense, rebounding and passing. He only appeared in 53 games last season for a 23-win team, so he’ll likely to have to piece it together soon to stick in the league long term.
Nate Wolters — #38, 2013
Arbitrary, retroactive draft grade: B
Following a promising rookie season, Wolters appears to be another nice find in the second round. Hammond actually traded up for Wolters on draft night — sending the 43rd pick (Ricky Ledo) and a future second-round pick to the 76ers, who selected Wolters with the 38th selection — so he clearly saw something he liked. Wolters’ jump shot remains a work in progress, but his floater, perimeter defense and court vision lay a pretty nice foundation.
In addition to past success with the draft, there are certainly other factors that are prompting Marc Lasry and Wes Edens to give Hammond a final test run. Hammond and his staff have been scouting prospects all season, and it would be a tremendous task to bring in a new front office and expect them to be adequately prepared for a draft in which the Bucks have four picks. Furthermore, Edens and Lasry weren’t officially approved of ownership until May 15, so they had a late start on the evaluation process. There’s no need to fire and hire a general manager simply for the sake of doing it, and a fuller pool of candidates may be available next summer. Hammond is only under contract through 2016, so it wouldn’t be wise to rush and commit to a lateral-move general manager for even longer than that.
Hammond’s front office has also been willing to innovate. In 2010, they hired Jon Nichols to incorporate analytics into basketball operations (a position now held by Michael Clutterbuck, Milwaukee’s director of basketball analytics). The Bucks were one of the first 10 teams in 2012 to utilize the SportVU camera-tracking system, to which every team now has access. And Milwaukee is now on the cutting edge of other technologies, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe:
The team’s medical staff has partnered with an outside consultant to develop a software program that tracks individual biological data for each player — which muscles are strong, which are weak, and what those findings mean for related muscles and joints. They’ve used the information to craft individual offseason workout plans for every player on the roster — a first for the team, according to John Hammond and David Morway, the team’s GM and assistant GM, respectively.
The team also hopes to start using small wearable devices from the company Catapult that track player movement and biometric data during practices, Hammond says.
Finally, Bucks fans will see what Hammond can do with Kohl’s “win-now” shackles removed (though, ironically, the team will likely have to win some games for him to keep his job). It appears he will be allowed to truly build through the draft — not, as in the past, committing to youth during the draft and then turning around and sabotaging those efforts by making token acquisitions via free agency and trades. Rather than reassembling the facade of a “competitive” roster each offseason, perhaps the Bucks will skip the shortcuts and build a team the right way.
Hammond: We have to build through the draft. I’m really encouraged by the thoughts of our new ownership. They see that vision. #BucksDraft
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 21, 2014
It’s debatable whether Hammond really earned the opportunity to see what he can do without a restrictive mandate, but it appears he will get the chance. He has the NBA Draft to thank.