The Milwaukee Bucks have done a nice job drafting a core the last five years in the first round, while their second-round selections were hit-or-miss for the most part – as they tend to be. It’s difficult for “small market” teams to attract the best talent via free agency, which makes drafting that much more important when trying to grow a franchise.
The Milwaukee Bucks can thank the last four drafts for their recent rise within the Eastern Conference, as some people think they can improve upon last year’s playoff run and jump into the top four seeds with their rising young stars. How were they able to build a foundation of youth and talent within the last five years?
The 2011 draft was arguably their worst of those last five drafts (although it still resulted in a quality player), with the Bucks selecting Jimmer Fredette at pick 10 before flipping him around for Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston and the 19th pick from the Charlotte Bobcats (which turned into Tobias Harris), and Beno Udrih from the Sacramento Kings. Jimmer was a flop for the Kings, and Milwaukee addressed depth issues across multiple positions and got a young, talented forward in Harris, who was later traded in February 2013. The team also picked Wisconsin big man Jon Leuer at pick 40, who remains in the league in Phoenix.
The 2012 draft is where the Bucks successfully started building their current core, selecting John Henson in the late lottery at pick No. 14. Henson had a high upside at the time, displaying great length and fluidity but seriously lacking strength, which has taken some time to develop. Henson has developed into a big-time shot blocker and finisher around the basket thanks to that tremendous length (7-5 wingspan).
Henson looks to continue to grow in his fourth season as a spot starter or asset off the bench. The Bucks missed in the second round on shooting guard Doron Lamb, who was traded as a throw-in alongside Udrih and Harris in that February 2013 trade for J.J. Redick, big man Gustavo Ayon and point guard Ish Smith.
Arguably the most curious pick for Milwaukee in the last five years was the first-round pick in the 2013 draft. The “Greek Freak” – an uber-athletic, coordinated and unknown 6-9 swingman from Greece – was as big a question mark as there was in the draft.
Now, Giannis Antetokounmpo looks to be one piece of a bright future for the Bucks; a player who can play (and has played) every position on the floor the last few years. However, Antetokounmpo still has a ways to go before taking that next step to stardom, which involves getting a more consistent jumper. Milwaukee whiffed on second-round shooting guard Ricky Ledo, who’s still trying to make his impact in the league.
After finishing with the league’s worst record in 2014, the Bucks landed the No. 2 overall pick, which they used to select a potential superstar in forward Jabari Parker. Parker tore his ACL after just a couple months into his rookie year, but he showed enough to look like a building block for years to come, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 30 minutes per game.
A trio of second-rounders were selected in the 2014 draft in forward Damien Inglis, big man Johnny O’Bryant and swingman Lamar Patterson. Patterson was traded to the Hawks later in that draft, while O’Bryant saw spot minutes as a rookie. Inglis dealt with injuries in his rookie season before showing some promise on the Bucks’ 2015 Summer League team.
This past draft, the Bucks took a chance on upside with Rashad Vaughn, a former five-star recruit and one of the draft’s youngest players. Vaughn still has a ways to go in efficiency and shot selection, but he can create off the bounce and go through hot stretches where he’s capable of making a variety of shots. It might take awhile for Vaughn to make an impact in the NBA, so don’t be surprised if he takes a stint or two in the D-League throughout his rookie season.
The Bucks selected Norman Powell in the second round, but his draft rights were dealt to the Raptors along with a 2017 first-round pick for a strong backup point guard in Greivis Vasquez. Who knows where that 2017 draft pick might land with the Bucks looking to take another leap, but Vasquez should be a very good backup behind Michael Carter-Williams.
Young, athletic and versatile forwards taken in recent drafts have built a strong core for the Bucks’ future. It takes a combination of strong drafting, smart trades and key free-agent pieces to build a contender.
It’s a sign of good things to come when free-agent big man Greg Monroe agreed to sign with the Bucks, giving them another piece on the front line. They practically stole swingman Khris Middleton from division rival Detroit, which might have been their best decision the last five years. All these recent moves have built a foundation of youth and talent that should be tough to deal with for teams in the Eastern Conference for the next decade.