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
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.
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
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
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
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…
Oh. Force of habit, I guess. My apologies.
Tier 1: The Entire Future Revolves Around Him
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.