The Trouble in Milwaukee

Are the Milwaukee Bucks rebuilding?  General Manager John Hammond doesn’t think so.  In a recent interview, Hammond stated his belief that Milwaukee’s young group of players can develop into a contender.  One can understand the rationale for the question given that the Bucks sit third-to-last in the Eastern Conference at 22-32.  To make matters more complicated, it’s widely believed that head coach Jason Kidd wields great power when it comes to personnel decisions.  Veteran executive Rod Thorn also serves in a consultant capacity.  Hammond, who has held his position since 2008, is right to point out that his team went from 15 victories in 2013-14 to 41 the next season.  Regardless, the current campaign feels like a step back especially after the team’s offseason activity.  There are some elements that could work in Milwaukee’s favor next year, but for the moment the Bucks are a struggling franchise.

What Happened? Points Points Allowed Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Bucks, 2014-15 97.8 (22nd) 97.4 (8th) 102.7 (26th) 102.2 (4th)
Bucks, 2015-16 98.1 (25th) 102.9 (19th) 103.9 (23rd) 108.9 (26th)

Let’s start with the mitigating factors surrounding the current season.  First off, Kidd was forced to miss about a month after hip surgery on December 21.  While Hammond gave his temporary replacement Joe Prunty high praise, the team had to adapt.  It’s also true that point guard Greivis Vasquez has been out for weeks with an ankle injury, but his numbers were hardly overwhelming.  He shot a woeful 34.8% from the field while averaging 7 points and 4 assists per game.  In addition, forward Jabari Parker is playing his first full season after a knee ailment sidelined him for the majority of his rookie year.  Some nights, Parker looks like a future building block, but during other games he has struggled to live up to the hype of a second overall pick.  If Parker keeps developing, next season could be brighter.

Greg Monroe signed a three-year deal with Milwaukee in the offseason.  While considered a max deal, $50 million wasn’t an awful lot of money considering the center’s offensive ability.  On that side of the ledger, he has performed well, scoring 17 points per game and grabbing nearly 10 rebounds.  Nevertheless, Monroe isn’t much of a shot blocker and has taken some of the heat for the team’s poor defensive play..  There’s talk that he might be available at the trade deadline, although I wouldn’t be inclined to deal him.  Then again, it’s widely believed that the only true untouchable in the organization is forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who continues to impress at 21 years of age.

Another man on the move could be Michael Carter-Williams, whose play has fluctuated widely.  He was acquired in a three-team deal close to a year ago in which the Bucks dealt away Brandon Knight.  So far, it feels like the Bucks surrendered the wrong guard.  Knight has certainly been the more effective scorer since the trade.  Milwaukee also gave up last year’s first round pick for the privilege, while receiving guard Tyler Ennis and center Miles Plumlee who have not contributed in major ways.  Back in 2013, the team got Knight and guard Khris Middleton in exchange for Brandon Jennings, which was a reasonable move.  The team didn’t hold onto Knight for very long, but Middleton is averaging nearly 18 points while Jennings has been hurt much of this season.

2015-16 Points FG% 3-Point % Assists PER
Brandon Knight, Phoenix 19.7 42.4% 33.3% 5.1 15.2
Michael Carter-Williams, Milwaukee 11.5 45.3% 28.9% 5.5 14.6

The draft has been a mixed bag over the last several years.  In 2015, the Bucks selected Rashad Vaughn from UNLV in the first round and Norman Powell of UCLA in the second.   Few rookies are excellent out of the gate, but both shooting guards have underwhelmed in limited minutes.  The 2014 selections were the aforementioned Jabari Parker and Damien Inglis, who currently plays in the D-League.  In 2013, the Bucks scored by using their 15th pick on Antetokounmpo, although Ricky Ledo was an unremarkable pick in the second round.  Milwaukee took John Henson in 2012, and he’s still a serviceable big man off the bench.  It’s worth noting that only one of these choices fell within the top ten overall, and that was used to tab Parker.  Going back to Hammond’s hiring in April of 2008, the only other particularly notable draft pick was Brandon Jennings in 2009.  Larry Sanders was a fairly talented 2010 selection, but he ran into trouble off the court and accepted a buyout.

Whether or not he’s the main man now, Hammond has had an impact on the Bucks for years.  Certainly big man Andrew Bogut, who signed a five-year extension in 2008, was a success in Milwaukee.  His final year with the Bucks was plagued by injury, but Milwaukee was able to trade him in a deal for Monta Ellis.  Scorer O.J. Mayo’s three-year contract worth $24 million didn’t start looking bad until this season, his final year.  The Bucks also got the best player in a 2014 swap when Ramon Sessions arrived from Charlotte, but he left via free agency after the season.

Hammond and Kidd have contracts through next season, so it will be interesting to see what happens after that.  Hammond is well known around the league and won Executive of the Year for 2009-10.  However, he was installed by former owner Herb Kohl and the current ownership group hasn’t committed to him long term.  It’s also true that the Bucks have made the playoffs just three times since 2008.  At the moment, the roster is akin to a science experiment where no one is sure exactly what will transpire.  The Bucks will have considerable cap room in the offseason, but they paid a price for it.  Former mainstays like Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley were traded away with no guarantee that big free agents are headed to Wisconsin.

The Bucks have about $52 million committed for 2016-17, so there should be some room for upgrades if the front office can make them.  At the same time, Milwaukee does have some upside in Antetokounmpo and Parker.  Middleton and Monroe should be cornerstones if they aren’t shipped out.  However, the defense has been a major disappointment and Carter-Williams is a definite wild card.  The Bucks could be a playoff team next year, but if the East is this strong again I wouldn’t bet on it.  Milwaukee hasn’t splurged in free agency much over the last few years, which is why Hammond was so excited to land Monroe.  That addition hasn’t helped as much as expected, and the team hasn’t enjoyed a strong record of draft success.  A top ten pick in 2016 could help.  One possible selection is University of Utah center Jakob Poeltl, who could be ready to contribute immediately.  Nevertheless, there’s a lot of uncertainty about this roster going forward.

Front office grade: C

 

photo via llananba