Joel Embiid has a stress fracture in his right foot. He won’t be working out in Milwaukee. He might fall out of the top five. He definitely has shaken up the plans of teams with a top pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
Naturally, this is the first draft in quite some time in which the Milwaukee Bucks are one of those teams with a top pick. Days ago, it seemed more and more likely that the Bucks would end up with Duke’s Jabari Parker at the number two spot. Alas, Parker is now in contention for the number one pick.
So where does that leave the Milwaukee Bucks?
When Embiid started wowing personnel folks in late May, it looked like the Bucks would be choosing from the trio of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum. But it was less clear who among them would most grab the Bucks. Virtually every draft reporter cradled every statement about what the Bucks might do with something like, “… but they like all four guys, so who knows what will happen.” Now, the Bucks will still have three players available to them, but one will be the hobbled Embiid, and the consensus seems to be that the Bucks are in no position to take a huge risk and select Embiid with a top five pick.
Reports today have also indicated that the Cavs most fancy Parker now that Embiid’s out of their picture. In that scenario, the Bucks would be left to choose between Wiggins and Exum.
But the Bucks taking Exum with the number two selection seems highly unlikely as well. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t end up with Exum, it’s just hard to believe the Bucks would remain at two and take Exum, rather than trade back a spot in an attempt to get something of value out of the Sixers, who so desperately want Andrew Wiggins, if reports are correct.
So this really presents the Bucks with two options:
1. Select Andrew Wiggins with the number two pick
To be fair, if the Cavs, famously erratic around the draft, opted to trade the pick or take Wiggins number one, we could just as easily toss Parker’s name in this sub-headline. But if Wiggins is the guy who landed with the Bucks at number two, it would be a bit comical that things had to go wrong for the Bucks to end up with the guy most fans seem to want.
It seems like most Bucks fans would take Wiggins over Embiid, even if both were healthy and Milwaukee were picking first overall. But at this point, relying on reports, Wiggins seemed a distant third, if not fourth on Milwaukee’s draft board before Embiid’s news broke (no pun intended). From the sound of it, there’s almost no way Milwaukee would select Wiggins over Parker or a healthy Embiid, but the big man’s bad foot seems to open the door for Parker to move up, which could force Milwaukee’s hand.
He may not be the most ready, but he would please the most people in Milwaukee and make for a very athletic, very intriguing wing tandem with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
2. Trade down to get the number three pick and select Dante Exum
Do the Bucks go for the great mystery yet again? A year after selecting Antetokounmpo based on workouts and a few grainy tapes against low level competitiors in Greece, the Bucks could again take a player that the general public knows very little about. We wrote about how Exum stacks up with his competitors earlier today and at length a while back, but still, very little is known about how Exum plays basketball.
One would hope the Bucks, having interviewed him in Chicago and seen him work out in Milwaukee, do have a bit more knowledge to go off than us regular schlubs do, but even so, they can’t have seen him play too much five-on-five.
If selecting Embiid is now too poisonous to consider, solely from a PR standpoint, then taking Exum hardly seems much better. Yes, he’ll be able to play and he has the sorts of measurements that impress on paper, but the Bucks would HAVE to pass on Parker or Wiggins, two guys who thrilled college basketball fans last season, to take him.
Not that the Bucks have looked to curry PR favor when making draft picks lately. Joe Alexander had one good year at West Virginia when his athleticism wooed the Bucks. Brandon Jennings had spent a year in Italy missing shots before he strolled onto the stage (late) in 2010. And Larry Sanders proved he could block a shot at VCU, but that was about all he had proved in the handful of years he spent playing basketball before his selection.
The difference between the picks that landed Alexander, Jennings, Sanders, Giannis and now? Now the Bucks have a top five pick. The top five is the cool table. That’s where the superstars wait for limos to pick them up and escort them to the rooms with hot tubs full of champagne. Everything is first class and expectations are sky high with a top five pick. Top five picks are supposed to change a franchise. Top five picks aren’t supposed to be risky players. They aren’t supposed to be Michael Olowakandi. They aren’t supposed to be Andrea Bargnani. Risks are a bad thing in the top five.
Bet that Milwaukee has superstar on the brain. That’s the lens John Hammond has to be viewing this draft through. He’s said time and time again that he recognizes the importance of a top five pick. He knows this is his big chance. Would he really take a risk on Exum over Wiggins with an opportunity he’ll likely never have again? It’s hard to believe. Unless Exum started tossing in Skyhooks from 50-feet last Saturday, it really seems unlikely that the Bucks would grab him over one of the most sought after recruits in recent memory.
Coming into this draft the Bucks wanted to get a superstar and they aren’t going to let Joel Embiid’s foot change that plan. Will it be Parker, Wiggins or Exum? I don’t know. I’m not sure they know either. But back at the Cousins Center Hammond is sitting down with his team, organizing all of the information they’ve gathered up to this point and plotting out the future of the Milwaukee Bucks. That’s a tough job.
A tough job that didn’t get any easier on Thursday.