The Bucks hosted their second and third pre-draft workouts this week featuring several prospects in consideration with the team’s first-round selection at No. 17.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Arizona), R.J. Hunter (Georgia State) and Justin Anderson (Virginia) were the three big names who worked out at the team’s practice facility Tuesday. They were joined by Derrick Marks (Boise State), Royce O’Neale (Baylor) and Terran Petteway (Nebraska), all of whom project as second-rounders, at best.
Wednesday’s workout was headlined by a pair of power forwards in Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) and Bobby Portis (Arkansas), as well as projected first-round point guards Terry Rozier (Louisville) and Jerian Grant (Notre Dame). Two relative unknowns – Brad Waldow of Saint Mary’s (CA) and Ziga Dimec of Slovenia – rounded out the group.
It’s no secret that Milwaukee would like to add perimeter shooting this offseason, and given the Bucks’ limited roster flexibility, the draft may be the best way to do so. Hunter and Anderson both entered the draft process with reputations as elite marksmen, and both are projected to come off the board somewhere in the 15-to-25 range. Devin Booker (Kentucky) and Kelly Oubre (Kansas) are two other players who fit the profile of the three-and-D guy Milwaukee covets, but at this point it looks as though both could be gone before the Bucks’ pick rolls around.
In Anderson, the Bucks would add an NBA-ready player who shot a staggering 45.2 percent from three last season at Virginia. At 6-6, 227 pounds, Anderson can play the 2 or the 3 at the NBA level, and he was a big part of one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. DraftExpress currently mocks Anderson to the Grizzlies at No. 25.
While Anderson may be the better all-around player, Hunter is more of a true “shooter” in the sense that he’ll pull the trigger without hesitation from just about anywhere inside halfcourt. The son of Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter — he who famously tore his Achilles celebrating and subsequently produced the most GIF-able moment of the NCAA Tournament — R.J. was the face of a strong mid-major team that relied upon his shooting and playmaking ability on a nightly basis.
Usually the focus of opposing defenses, Hunter shot just 30.4 percent from three as a junior last season, a concerningly low number considering his high volume of attempts (7.4 per game). Of the 88 players in college basketball who attempted at least 200 threes last season, Hunter ranked second-last in shooting efficiency. But the numbers don’t seem to have teams too concerned. Hunter’s range has never been in question, and neither has his confidence as a shooter. He made nearly 40 percent of his threes as a sophomore, and it’s key to note that many of his attempts entailed a high degree of difficulty. At the NBA level, he won’t be the primary focus of defenses, which should lead to more clean looks.
According to DraftExpress, scouts love his mechanics, and Hunter measured in at 6-5 in shoes with a 6-10.5-inch wingspan at the Draft Combine, which should help make up for some deficiencies on the defensive end. Hunter is currently projected by DraftExpress to come off the board at No. 21 to the Mavericks.
Hollis-Jefferson, a mainstay on Sean Miller’s back-to-back Elite 8 teams, certainly doesn’t fit the profile of a shooter, but he may be the best defensive wing in the draft, drawing comparisons to Kawhi Leonard (probably a little generous) and Bruce Bowen (more accurate). The All-Pac 12 First-Team selection already has an NBA body and is an exceptional leaper who finishes well around the rim. Away from the basket is where he struggles, however, as he’s uncomfortable in the mid-range and hasn’t shown signs of developing a three-point shot (20.7% 3Pt). Those offensive limitations will scare some teams away, but if a few players higher up on their board are unavailable, the Bucks may give Hollis-Jefferson a long look.
“The Bucks have pretty much an even team, some young some older,” Hollis-Jefferson told Bucks.com. “They like to play in transition, they like to defend. They’re a top five team in defense so I know i fit well in that category, being athletic, being able to run, defend and get stops.”
Milwaukee switched its focus, at least partially, to the frontcourt in Wednesday’s workout, bringing in two hard-nosed power forwards in Portis and Harrell to compete against one another.
The Bucks haven’t tipped their hand as to who they may favor at 17, but Portis seems to be emerging as one of the primary candidates. According to the Journal Sentinel, Portis had dinner with Jason Kidd on Tuesday night — read into that what you will — and the team reportedly likes his ability, at 6-11 with a 7-2 wingspan, to play both the power forward and center positions. With Ersan Ilyasova now out of the picture and Zaza Pachulia‘s deal expiring next summer, adding depth up front would make sense.
“[Portis] is a guy that can play 4 and 5,” Bucks director of scouting Billy McKinney told the Journal Sentinel. “He can play inside. When he was at Arkansas he played on the perimeter a lot. He can make outside shots. He can initiate offense from the elbows, which a lot of teams do, including us. He can also post up inside. Playing against Harrell today, you can see they both have a tremendous amount of toughness.”
Harrell, the rugged Louisville forward whose drawn (mostly accurate) comparisons to Kenneth Faried, was forced to leave the workout early after spraining his left ankle.
“It was like a round of Mortal Kombat out there,” McKinney said. “Those guys really played hard. That’s his (Harrell’s) style of play. Portis is a very physical player although he played a lot on the perimeter this season for Arkansas.”
Portis’ ability to step out and stretch the defense would be a welcomed addition for a Bucks team that dealt with major spacing issues last season. With three non-shooters in Milwaukee’s starting lineup, opposing defenses were able to more frequently shade toward the lane, clogging up passing and driving lanes. While Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams are expected to improve as jump shooters this offseason, adding more shooting is rarely a bad idea.
“I’m very encouraged just to come here and see how everything works,” Portis said. “Coach (Jason) Kidd was talking to me last night at dinner and was telling me they need a stretch 4 to come out and make shots and score the basketball.”
The reigning SEC Player of the Year, currently projected to the Bucks by DraftExpress, averaged 17.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while leading Arkansas to the SEC Championship Game and a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s unclear just how interested Milwaukee might be in Harrell, whose offensive game is still a work in progress after three years under Rick Pitino. He excels at finishing underneath the hoop (65%FG at the rim) but doesn’t offer much outside of 10 feet. Harrell measured in at just 6-7.5 in shoes at the Combine, but he owns a freakish 7-4 wingspan and probably has the highest motor (buzzwords!) in the draft. The Faried comparison is accurate, right down to the dreadlocks, though Harrell isn’t quite the rebounder Faried was at the college level, when he led the nation with 14.5 per game as a senior (still the most since Tim Duncan‘s 14.7 per game in his final year at Wake Forest).
As a rookie, Harrell will likely be asked to be an energy guy (think Jeff Adrien) more than anything else. He’s nowhere near polished enough on offense to shoulder much of a scoring burden, but he did show noticeable improvement in his three years at Louisville. While he’s not a good jump shooter, he’s shown that he’s not afraid to at least be a threat in the mid-range, and he even knocked down nine three-pointers this past season. Perhaps most encouraging is his improvement at the free throw line. Harrell will never be a guy you want shooting in crunch time, but he raised his free throw percentage 14 points from his freshman (46%) to his junior (60%) season.
Harrell’s ankle injury doesn’t appear to be anything serious, though the team is yet to offer an update. Rozier, his college teammate for two years, was not overly concerned.
“He’ll be fine, trust me,” Rozier told Bucks.com. “I played with him for two years; he’ll be fine. Next week he’ll be on his feet, same energy type of guy, very competitive. He’ll be fine.”
Neither Rozier nor Grant have been frequently mentioned as potential targets for the Bucks, though both players are consensus mid-to-late-first-round prospects. Milwaukee has Michael Carter-Williams, Jerryd Bayless and Tyler Ennis all under contract on guaranteed deals next season, so point guard isn’t exactly an area of need. Of course, the Bucks could always make a move this offseason, but as of now, bringing in Rozier and Grant feels like an insurance move in case the team’s first few options are off the board.
That said, both players enter the draft with impressive college pedigrees. Rozier, like Harrell, is a fierce competitor with a seemingly endless supply of energy on both ends of the court. The 21-year-old sophomore, who spent a year in prep school before enrolling at Louisville, was the heart and soul of a gritty Cardinals team, averaging 17.1 points to go with 5.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists. The knock on Rozier is he’s struggled in half-court settings, and his shooting can be wildly inconsistent. At 6-2, he’s also slightly undersized but compensates with a rangy 6-8 wingspan and 38-inch vertical. An excellent, hard-nosed defender, Rozier figures to find his way onto the court as a rookie, even if his offensive game isn’t yet where it needs to be.
Grant is the more polished prospect, having spent five years under Mike Brey at Notre Dame. He’ll be 23 before ever logging a minute in an NBA game, so his upside is somewhat limited but his floor is among the highest of any player in the draft. After having his junior season cut short 12 games in due to an academic issue, Grant returned as the best senior point guard in the nation, garnering First-Team All-America honors and leading Notre Dame to within seconds of a Final Four berth.
At 6-5, he has excellent size, and while he’s not an elite athlete, he’s certainly springy enough to succeed at the pro level. Grant, the son of 11-year NBA veteran Harvey Grant, was among the nation’s most efficient guards, shooting north of 47 percent from the floor and turning it over on just 14 percent of his possessions. Three-point shooting remains a question mark, however, as Grant knocked down only 31.6 percent of his attempts last season.
The Bucks will host another group of prospects Thursday before holding what will likely be the team’s final workout Monday.
The NBA Draft is Thursday, June 25 from the Barclays Center in New York City.