Tiering Up: Unscientific groupings of the current Bucks roster

No one is untouchable.

Ray Allen was traded. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was traded. If the Milwaukee Bucks trade Allen and Kareem, everyone should forever be on alert. But not all players are created equal. And some guys aren’t as likely to last on a team past one season than others. That’s obvious.

What’s less obvious is which players fall into what categories. That’s what I’ve been thinking about with the Milwaukee Bucks recently. Who is expendable? On a team with a lot of young players, which players is this team really counting on long-term? And what does long-term really mean?

So I’ve tried to make some sense of it all. Around draft time every year, Chad Ford does this tiering system to try and show which players really stand out from others. He bases the whole thing on countless hours of interviews and conversations, along with a lot of time spent watching the players. Me? I based these rankings on GUT FEEL. NO TIME FOR SCIENCE AND HARD WORK.

Tier 5: Definitely Not The Future

Tyler Ennis, Johnny O’Bryant, Chris CopelandO.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless

If any of them was traded this season I’d pucker my lips and nod my head, turning my face into a rip-off Bob DeNiro face. In other words, I’d give that “oh yeah I can believe that” face.

This face. This is the face of, "Yeah, I could see that."
This face. This is the face of, “Yeah, I could see that” so long as it includes some head nodding.

Ennis and O’Bryant are young, but the Bucks have as much young talent as nearly any team in the league, so it’s easy to see how those two are likely to get lost in the shuffle. Neither has a distinguishing skill and both underperformed when they were given opportunities last season. It’s possible they’ll show something this season, but Ennis is still rehabbing his shoulder after labrum surgery this season and O’Bryant, well, it’d be a shocker if he suddenly seemed like a real capable power forward option. He had miles to go last season.

Copeland’s role of cheap veteran who could out-perform his contract simply can’t go to him again next season. If he plays well, he’ll cost too much. If he plays poorly, the team will move on. That spot seems reserved for a new guy every year. That spot allows the Bucks to hunt for value.

Bayless and Mayo are each in the last year of their respective contracts and are likely to have diminished roles. Milwaukee acquired a younger, more talented and more expensive backup point guard than Bayless in Vasquez. He’ll likely lose out minutes to the ex-Raptor this year. Mayo can probably hold off Rashad Vaughn for playing time this season, but given his price tag and historic inconsistency on the court, Milwaukee seems likely to move on from him after this season, if not during. He does seem to bring some leadership to the locker room, where the players appear to respect and to some degree admire him. But by next season, Milwaukee likely will want some of its younger players to take on increased leadership roles.

Tier 4: It Seems Unlikely They Will Star In An “Own The Future” Campaign Promo

Damien InglisMiles PlumleeGreivis Vasquez

The Bucks truly can’t know what they have with these three. Inglis has never played in an NBA game, Plumlee played only 19 games for Milwaukee last season. He was perfectly adequate when he played, but didn’t set himself apart from Milwaukee’s other young bigs. Vasquez is more of a proven commodity, and the Bucks invested a traded draft pick into acquiring him, so he has a bit more value in the short-term than either Inglis or Vasquez. But he’s probably reached his ceiling.

Tier 3: Potentially The Future

Rashad Vaughn, Michael Carter-Williams, John Henson

It’s absurd for me to try and place Rashad Vaughn into any category in terms of who he is as a player, as I’ve literally never seen him play a meaningful minute of basketball. Yes, I watched a few highlights from his college year and a little bit of his summer league, but none of that really gives much of a sense of how things are going to go for him on the Bucks. His ranking into this tier has more to do with him being a young, presumably talented first round pick locked into an affordable contract in a league where contracts are quickly escalating in price. If Vaughn were traded this season, I’d be very surprised but not completely taken aback.

Carter-Williams seems like the handpicked Jason Kidd point guard. With that stamp on him, certainly he’s going to get significant opportunity to prove that he’s Milwaukee’s long-term point guard of the future. But I’m not sure he’s already there yet. After arriving in Milwaukee, he wasn’t noticeably better or worse than Brandon Knight, the player he was traded for last February. He has an obvious and serious flaw as a shooter though reasonable minds could argue about whether or not that damns his future prospects. There’s been much made of him finally having an off-season to work on his game, so the Bucks are likely expecting significant improvement from him this season. The Bucks have him on a reasonable contract for the next two seasons and his development will probably decide whether or not he’s in Milwaukee past that.

Henson is an interesting case. His minutes took a dip last season, but he did seem to have a regular role established. He was Milwaukee’s backup center and he seemed to thrive in that role. He improved as a defender and his role on offense was simplified to “finish around the rim”, after he spent much of the season two years ago as a post-up player. There was talk this summer that Milwaukee was closing in on an extension for Henson that would pay him $10+ million, but pen never made its way to paper on that deal. There’s talk that the team and Henson are close once again, so all indicators are that Henson will be in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future. But as long as he’s in a backup role, which he’ll still be behind Greg Monroe, other teams will likely be knocking on the Bucks door and asking about him.

Tier 2: Core Future Pieces

Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton

The Monroe contract was a boon for the Bucks, but this is a franchise that has seen big acquisitions turn out disastrous in the past. Maybe he carries or plays a big role in taking the team to a new level. But maybe it blows up. It seems like he’s going to be a big, big part of Milwaukee’s plans in the next three years or even the next five … but his contract gives him the ability to opt-out after two years and if things go poorly in year one, he could quickly turn from Milwaukee’s biggest acquisition of all-time to Milwaukee’s big trade target.

Middleton is an inspiration. He worked his way from trade throw in second round pick who had a knee problem to a core piece for a team on the rise. He’s awesome. Good job, Khris Middleton.

What may be controversial about this piece is Parker landing on a tier below Giannis and it may speak to my ignorance about the inner workings of the Bucks organization. Everything the team has ever said about Parker has been beyond glowing. Never have I heard more talk publically and privately about a player’s high character than I have about Parker. He honestly sounds like he drinks milk every night before he goes to bed and then wakes up to volunteer as a crossing guard, but only after he gets in a half marathon that he’s running to raise money for charity. Given the affection everyone seems to have for him, it’s hard to envision the Bucks ever voluntarily moving on from Parker.

But we just don’t know enough about him as a player yet for me to feel as comfortable calling him as close to untouchable as Giannis. Giannis has developed so rapidly and has such an intriguing blend of physical talents that he seems like he’s got a chance to be one of Milwaukee’s top players in franchise history. Parker? He hasn’t had enough of a chance to show he’s going to be more than an average or above average NBA player. That’s a huge difference. Enough of a difference that it seems fair to think of Giannis in a class of his own.

Tier 1: The Entire Future Revolves Around Them

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan llyasova

Players that will never be traded. Bucks for life, you could call these two. As sure as I am about anything, I’m sure that Giannis and Ersan will retire as Bucks. One trade rumor after the next has come and gone over the year and still Ersan Ilyasova remai…

What’s that?

Oh. Force of habit, I guess. My apologies.

Tier 1: The Entire Future Revolves Around Him

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Okay. Ersan is gone. I still can’t believe it. I’m double checking the roster right now, but it sure seems like he’s gone. That leaves Giannis in a class by himself.

What would have to happen for Giannis to go? Nothing short of a season-long suspension resulting scandal. And the most scandalous thing Giannis seems likely to get involved with is maybe toilet papering Sean Sweeney’s house or something.

I’ll probably write more about this in the coming week or so, but Giannis absolutely seems like he has a chance to be Milwaukee’s best player since Sidney Moncrief. At this point, he has too much potential and there’s too much hype surrounding him for the Bucks to even dream of moving on from Giannis anytime soon.

Categories: Bucks Player Features

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4 Comments

  1. I agree with the listing because Giannis is in a tier by himself. I think he has the biggest upside of anyone on the roster. He just needs to develop that killer’s instinct on offense and he will be unstoppable.

  2. PG: Jorge Gutierrez – He will be playing his ass off during the pre-season in hopes of earning a job somewhere in the NBA, but perhaps there’s a possibility that with excellent play by him and horrid play by Bayless he could cause the Bucks to debate keeping him over Jerryd Bayless (not likely to happen).

    F: Marcus Landry – By far the the greatest long-shot to make the team; though, he does bring a similar skill set as Chris Copeland and will likely be squaring off more so against him than anyone else for the possibility of making the team. To do so Landry will need to be pretty much otherworldly-like during the pre-season and in practices while Copeland is the opposite or for the coaches to lose all faith in JOB’s development. These are the only methods in which I can see Landry being kept for the team’s official season roster.

    PF: Johnny O’Bryant (aka JOB) – He doesn’t really stretch the floor like Copeland nor Landry do which doesn’t help endear him to the coaches in filling a role they probably want filled on the team and he certainly didn’t show well last year in very limited minutes; plus, he wasn’t even able to participate in summer league. Again, these things do not help him at all in regards to making the team, but he was a draft pick by the Bucks and this is only his second season so a lot will depend on how the Bucks’ upper brass and coaches continue to view his upside and progression; plus, his pre-season performance might factor into the team’s decision regarding him. Nevertheless, the biggest thing he has going in his favor is his youth.

    PG: Tyler Ennis – It’s too bad he hurt his shoulder and required surgery because he really needed this off-season to work on his shot. Hopefully, he can work on it during the season while riding the bench as well as during next off-season so that next year he can prove that he’s an actual asset and maybe, just maybe he can be show enough to be considered as part of the team’s future core; though, probably only as part of the depth core until the Bucks are forced to make a decision regarding MCW.

    F: Chris Copeland – I believe he will need to show the Bucks during the pre-season that he belongs on this roster. I think the Bucks will be trying to decide between keeping two of these three players: C.Copeland, JOB, and M.Landry after pre-season with two of them having quite an initial upper hand over the third (M.Landry). The fact that Copeland has history with coach Kidd and was sought after by the Bucks likely for the specific reason of allowing J.Parker to be eased back into a prominent (large minute) role bodes well for his potential of making it onto the team’s season roster and having a sizable early season role. If Parker appears to be able to take on a larger role sooner rather than later they may look to see what they could get for Copeland come the trade deadline unless he proves somewhat invaluable as a locker room and veteran leader like Dudley was last year.

    G: Jerryd Bayless – I wasn’t sure Bayless was going to be kept around given a lot of the roster movement the Bucks had this off-season, but I believe it’s mainly due to T.Ennis’ shoulder injury and the fact that he wasn’t terribly impressive with his limited chances to show himself last year. I do think that Bayless will see less court time this year while being asked to be more of a vocal leader verses performer (sort of like J.Dudley from last year); though, there’s the chance that the Bucks may want to feature him a bit leading up to the trade deadline in order to attempt getting some future asset value back in return for his services, but this possibility is likely tied to T.Ennis’ recovery progression and what type of confidence the coaches have in him were he needed to fill-in as well as the type of locker room presence he offers (can Bayless be like Dudley?). Not to mention, there’s perhaps a huge outside chance that Jorge Gutierrez’s practices and pre-season play could cause the Bucks to feel they don’t require Bayless’ services this year and look to move him prior to the season, but I highly doubt this occurs.

    F: Damien Inglis – First, I hope he can prove he’s healthy and more importantly can stay healthy; secondly, I hope we can begin to glimpse (on a more consistent basis) the talent that he clearly possesses. This second thing probably is linked to his confidence level and in that I hope he has little trouble discovering it and growing it despite what looked like real difficulties during summer league; though, that probably stemmed mostly from trying to shack off all the rust while still dealing with a foot that wasn’t fully recovered. I think he has pretty huge upside if he can get things on the right track/path; though, I’m not sure what we can expect from him this year — probably not too much as the Bucks are pretty deep and he’s basically a rookie, but it’d be fantastic if later on in the year his use (if well earned) helped reduce the role of someone like Chris Copeland (given he makes the team) to approximately nothing perhaps leading the team to shopping a vet like him at the trade deadline. Honestly, I look forward to Inglis being more of a bench factor next season verses this season, but there’s nothing like wishful thinking at this point.

    SG: Rashard Vaughn – When our pick came about in the draft I was initially torn a bit between the Bucks picking him (someone with his youth and upside) versus perhaps Bobby Portis or Sam Dekker (just because… Go WI!), but I have to admit that I’m really excited about what Vaughn can bring to the Bucks; plus, I do trust John Hammond. Vaughn likely won’t be a much of a factor this year, but if he can demonstrate his ability to spread the floor and knock down big shots from outside while playing very limited minutes early on in the season he’ll earn more court time as the season progresses and perhaps he could prove to be a real factor towards the end of the year and in the playoffs as a scoring option off the bench. Hell, if he blows the coaches away with how fast he adapts to the rigors of the NBA and doesn’t make many mental errors while maintaining a good level of offensive efficiency I could see a far-fetched scenario where the Bucks looked to dangle OJ.Mayo come the trade deadline to see what they might fetch for him which would open up a lot more playing time for the Rook (extremely unlikely to occur though).

    C: Miles Plumlee – Admittedly, I thought his acquisition was going to lead to immediate usage last year and I was proven wrong, but I do believe he’s going to be a contributor this year; in fact, I’ll argue that he’s one of the best 3rd (depth wise) centers on any team in the NBA and the Bucks will find ways to get him some court time even if only minimal amounts, but fairly regularly, this year. His athleticism is extremely impressive and hopefully he can demonstrate more consistency on the defensive side and an ability to protect the rim; his offensive game probably remains a work in progress outside of his obvious ability in the Pick and Role.

    SG: OJ Mayo (aka Juice) – He will likely lose some playing time because of Vasquez’s acquisition and if the rookie (Vaughn) shows he should be granted limited playing time it’ll be even more, but then again if the Bucks decide to play a lot more small ball this year then Mayo could get a decent amount of that playing time back. I think the team really likes having his scoring ability and 3-point prowess available from off the bench which helps to ensure he won’t be moved at any point this season. I also believe he was able to take on a much bigger leadership role last year which helped solidify his position on the team.

    C/PF: John Henson (aka The Gadget) – I’m expecting continued growth and a big defensive presence from J.Henson this year; loved the growth he showed towards the second half and in the playoffs last year. He can and will be a real difference maker defensively coming off the bench. Looking forward to the Bucks extending him prior to the season as it’ll prove to be a cost savings move in the long-run.

    G: Grevis Vasquez – I was all about his addition to the team this off-season as I view him being a truly great fit; I also loved hearing him say recently that he could envision himself being here for a long time; are there any contract extension discussions occurring? Anyways, I anticipate he’ll receive approximately a 35-40/65-60 split of PG duties with MCW early on and a decent amount of time at the two guard position too. The actual amount of court time he’s able to see at SG will likely be influenced by how much small ball the team runs this year.

    F: Jabari Parker – He’ll be brought along slowly to begin the season; limited minutes and perhaps limited role on offense, but as the season progresses so will he. I fully expect him to be a pretty big factor toward season’s end and in the playoffs, but we may need to temper our expectations and wait till next year before seeing Parker get somewhat unleashed. The most important aspects this year for him are to avoid any physical set-backs or anything that would negatively affect his mental confidence level as he’s a key cog of this franchise’s future success.

    G: Michael Carter-Williams (aka MCW) – He could definitely take a huge step forward if he can consistently knock down shots which probably relates more to his mental confidence level verses anything mechanic wise. I hope he’s right when he recently said that his mind being in a good spot right now. I’ll be looking for him to build on early season successes to forge a breakout year efficiency wise which should go hand-in-hand with the team’s success.

    C/PF: Greg Monroe (aka The Moose) – Fact: the Moose is going to be BEAST this year; I just hope it doesn’t come at a cost of the Bucks’ stout defense and the individual offensive growth of other players. I look forward to the team’s coaches meshing Greg’s skills well with everyone else and turning the Bucks’ into a true title contender; also, I hope with great team success he decides to stick around once his current contract plays out, but it might need to come at a hometown discount given others who will need to be addressed by that time.

    SG/SF: Khris Middleton (aka Money) – He might just be our go-to scorer throughout the full year when a bucket is desperately needed despite the continued growth of Giannis and MCW or the addition of Monroe. I’d love to see Middleton take a similar step forward as Jimmy “gets buckets” Butler did last year in that he has the complete package tool-set wise (offensively and defensive); IMO, that requires working on his ability to drive to the basket.

    F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (aka The Greek Freak) – The real great hope of the team. I hope he’s able to take that next step in his development and either flirts with or seizes true superstar-dom this year. He’s the major factor in just how far the Bucks can realistically go this year; hopefully, he’s able to keep a good cool head on his shoulders regarding frustrations like what we saw against the Bulls in the playoffs when he took out M.Dunleavy because the team can’t afford to be without its best player on the court in the playoffs.

    • I should mention that I didn’t list camp bodies PF Jon Horford, PF Josh Powell, and G Charlie Westbrook because I don’t view them as having any chance whatsoever, even in the longest of long-shots, in earning a seasonal roster spot.

  3. I really like this young group and want to see what it can do after it gets a chance to gel a little bit. Having said that, if there isn’t enough shooting, some moves are gonna have to be made. Not sure if MCW will be here long-term, unless we have enough shooters around him.