Now that we’ve got just a few days to go before the 2015 NBA Draft, things aren’t exactly becoming clearer for the Milwaukee Bucks–and if anything, they’re getting more complicated. Unlike last year when the team had a clear-cut decision with the #2 overall pick, any of a dozen or so players could be in play when the Bucks make a selection at #17 (though the Bucks say they’ve narrowed in on four or five). Unless they make a trade to move up. Or elect to move back in the draft and collect some more assets. I suspect that they’ll make a selection at some point Thursday night, but who knows?
While it’s possible that a trade of some sorts could be in the works following last week’s surprise deal of Ersan Ilyasova for a bunch of cap space, such deals are so difficult to predict that it’s barely worth the time to list all of the possibilities. Instead, let’s operate under the assumption that the Bucks will be selecting at #17–for the time being.
This year isn’t necessarily a situation wherein the team has a huge, glaring need that has to be filled through the draft. While the team could certainly use a dominant big man (and really, what team couldn’t use another at this point?) and will always be looking to add outside shooting, the current state of the roster and relatively uncertain development of its core players lends itself to a “best player available”-type selection.
Those kinds of picks seem to have come naturally to John Hammond in his tenure as GM — granted, the Bucks had been so bad in that span that drafting for need would be pointless anyways — but the takeaway is that we can safely expect the Bucks to take a player if they feel he’s a good value at that point in the draft rather than passing over better prospects to fill a hole in the roster.
With that in mind, a number of players have been identified as potential targets for the Bucks, either through speculation based on potential fit or attention generated through the team’s pre-draft workouts. Here are the most popular picks from (reputable) mock drafts and a look at players the team brought in during its several workouts:
(As usual, thanks to our friends at DraftExpress for their statistics and insight into these players.)
Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas: Portis seems to be the most popular choice for the Bucks, and of the options presented seems best suited to add the frontcourt boost that many suggest that the team will need. At 6’11” in shoes and 7’2″ wingspan, Portis looks suited to play at the 4 or 5, and he’s most noted for his intensity, physical play, and high motor. He’s also shown himself to be an advanced jump shooter for a big man, shooting over 41% on jumpers in his college career. He wasn’t a dominant interior player, but did show enough flashes of skill down low that it’s not inconceivable for him to develop into a plus offensive player with the versatility you look for in a modern NBA offense. For a team looking for supplemental shooting, particularly in the the frontcourt, Portis could provide essential floor-spacing and allow lesser shooters like Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams to operate more freely in the paint.
Defensively, he looks to fit into coach Jason Kidd’s aggressive trapping scheme, as he showed comfort defending both inside and out in space as in college. He wasn’t a great rim protector (1.8 blocks pace-adjusted per 40 minutes, per DX) and lacks the length or leaping ability that you’d expect from elite defenders. But if he plays with the energy and toughness he displayed in college, he could find a place in an up-tempo Bucks attack. Portis headlined one of the Bucks’ workouts last week with a couple of players coming up next.
Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville: Another player known for his aggressive play, Harrell is a bit of a measurables oddity. He stands only 6’7″ in shoes, but a massive 7’4″ wingspan gave him the length necessary to hold his own in the post – at least, in college. While he’s less offensively polished than Portis, Harrell built his reputation as a defender using his physical tools and seemingly boundless energy to stifle opposing forwards and get out to score in transition. If you’re a member of Team #DUNKS like I am, you’ll be a big fan of Harrell’s ability to get down the floor and convert lobs into smashes.
Obviously, the most glaring concern here is his relative height disadvantage compared to most players he’d match up with in the NBA. Last year, I took a look at a selection of power forwards around the league when evaluating Jabari Parker; Harrell would measure up significantly shorter than most of those players but with a longer wingspan and higher standing reach (9’1″) than all but a few. Many people have pointed to Kenneth Faried as a popular comparison given Harrell’s stature and energetic reputation. That seems to be a rather apt comparison, and if the Bucks want to continue to build an army of long-armed manic defenders that love to run, Harrell deserves a hard look.
Justin Anderson, SG/SF, Virginia: If you’re not necessarily sold on just #DUNKS and prefer to rep Team #BUCKETS, Anderson might be your preference. A 45% three-point shooter in his junior year of college, Anderson could be a shot in the arm for a team that’s been seeking additional perimeter scoring all offseason. Speaking of long-armed defensive aces, Anderson was a core component of Tony Bennett’s exceptional defensive unit at Virginia which ranked top-5 in the nation. His solid size (6’6″) and exceptional wingspan (6’11”) for a backcourt player gives him the potential to be one of the in-vogue 3-and-D style players in the NBA given his offensive improvements carry over to the NBA.
While he has demonstrated exceptional shooting, the rest of his offensive game is less polished, which suits him much better as an off-ball player. While the ideal NBA team would be made up of all ballhandlers, this isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker if he can establish himself as a credible threat and stretch defenses out to the three-point line.
Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas: Oubre represents a high-risk, high-reward option should he fall to the Bucks; in a draft rich with 3-and-D prospects, he demonstrates the potential to be an athletic monster on defense and in transition, though an uncertain jump shot and overall unpolished game represent huge question marks for any team that is impressed by his physical tools. If the Bucks do look into him, it’ll almost certainly be as a project with the hope that in several years he’ll emerge as another of the army of long-armed monsters that they continue to load the roster with.
While he was tasked with replacing Andrew Wiggins at Kansas (no small feat in itself), Oubre experienced an up-and-down season in his lone year of college basketball. He couldn’t break into Bill Self’s rotation, playing less than 10 minutes per game early in the season, and only seemed to gain his coach’s confidence as the year wore on. Even after he started to figure it out, it was pretty obvious that Oubre would be a long-term project for the team that drafts him.
R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State: If you’re really, REALLY into buckets, Hunter might be the purest representation of Team #BUCKETS in this draft. He was the focal point of a Georgia State team that made a highly entertaining run in the NCAA Tournament and showed the world that he wasn’t afraid to shoot from… well… pretty much anywhere.
While his actual shooting percentages don’t leap off of the page (he was a 35% three-point shooter over the course of his collegiate career), the volume (over 7 per game) and degree of difficulty on many of his shots showed his potential to emerge as a perimeter threat that’s already shown he’s not afraid to take big shots. He’s older than most prospects in this draft (turning 22 in October) and has a relatively slight frame at 6’4″ and only 185 pounds, but Hunter could very well compliment a team’s primary scoring options as a third option and perimeter threat or as a scorer off the bench.
Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky: Yet another sharpshooter, Booker’s overall impact was somewhat diminished by Kentucky’s platoon system that limited him to just over 20 minutes and 10 points per game. That said, he still shot over 41% from three for the season as a freshman and convinced many scouts that he can be a deadly shooter in the NBA as well. While he doesn’t have the stature or projected defensive potential of a prospect like Anderson, many have pegged Booker as a J.J. Redick-esque role player in the NBA. He’s not likely to be a star, but at a relatively thin shooting guard position, Booker represents a relatively safe bet that most teams seem to be into. His draft stock has risen throughout the process, as he’s now borderline top-10 in most mocks and probably safely out of the Bucks’ reach unless they opt to move up for him (which would admittedly be surprising).
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona: Do you like guys with three names? Hyphens? Defensive aces with questionable offensive potential? What if Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ended up falling out of the lottery? That might be the best comparison you’ll get for RHJ. In conjunction with Stanley Johnson, who’s projected to go a bit higher in the draft, he headlined a strong Arizona defensive unit and was regarded as one of the best defenders in the country.
While he isn’t the best ballhandler and his jumper will make you avert your eyes, the motor and aggressiveness he brings to the game would surely be welcomed on a team like the Bucks that wants to thrive in transition while bringing a welcome edge to the young team. He wouldn’t do much to solve the team’s offensive issues, though.
Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA: Milwaukee Hamilton’s own would likely be a welcome sight to many in the area as Looney made a name for himself in a single year at UCLA, emerging as a top freshman and racking up 15 double-doubles throughout the NCAA season to lead his class. He’s yet another power forward prospect with floor-stretching potential, though he did not separate himself as exceptionally athletic, instead relying on an impressive 6’9″ frame and 7’3″ wingspan to do most of his damage at the collegiate level.
The primary concerns with Looney revolve around his athleticism, conditioning, and his ability to adjust to the increased physicality of the NBA game. His post game is, to put it kindly, a work in progress. While he’s a skilled ballhandler for his size and experience level, he hasn’t yet shown the ability to stand out in the half court. While he certainly has time to improve on the weaknesses in his game, Looney will have to continue to work hard to progress his game and ensure that he can make an impact in the NBA.
Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin: Another in-state favorite (for fairly obvious reasons), Dekker gained a lot of attention for his standout performance in the NCAA Tournament where he shot the lights out of the gym. Obviously, a 6’9″ prospect draining three pointers is going to draw attention, but Dekker has also been praised for his versatility and willingness to work within a Wisconsin offensive system that emphasized team play, unselfishness, and efficiency. However, he also demonstrated limited ability to create off the dribble or show much ballhandling skill within Wisconsin’s swing offense so it’s questionable how he will fit into NBA schemes that demand more isolation play and creation from all players on the court.
Dekker is a player with the potential to grow into the defensive versatility that the Bucks seem to prefer, given that he’s had reasonable success guarding shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards already. While his shooting remains questionable, he still holds the potential to grow into a consistent outside shot to improve his already-diverse offensive skill set. If he does that, he could emerge as a solid rotation player for a good NBA team.
While it’s not nearly as clear-cut a decision as they had last year, the Bucks will have a number of solid options should they elect to stay at #17. While all of these players may not be available or the preferred choice when the team makes its pick, each could be a solid addition to a young and developing Bucks team. We’re solidly into the phase of the draft process where any leaked information is just as likely to be misdirection as it is anything relevant, but we’ll have more updates on the draft and the Bucks’ strategy as the event nears.