Milwaukee Bucks: Who Makes It out of the Logjam and Starts at Power Forward?
The Milwaukee Bucks are in a pretty decent position heading into this season. They picked up some quality talent in the draft with huge value for where they were picked (thanks to the deepest draft in recent history). They have one of the best backcourts in the NBA (including former Kentucky Wildcat Doron Lamb who was drafted 42nd overall) and a surplus of big men.
It's a wonderful commodity that not many teams boast.
They're going to need every single ounce of that talent if they want to make the playoffs in a very difficult Eastern Conference, where virtually every team got better this offseason. Well, except for the Orlando Magic. They're going to be pretty horrible.
I think the most interesting position battle will take place at the power forward position between newly re-signed Ersan Ilyasova, rookie John Henson, and the effective veteran Drew Gooden.
Ilyasova signed a long-term and very lucrative contract extension with the Bucks, which leads many to believe that he is virtually a lock to start at the four this coming season—and that's not a bad thing. Ilyasova is an excellent player, last year averaging 13 points and 8.8 rebounds per game with 49.2% shooting from the field.
Ilyasova is also very effective from long range, making a three point shot a remarkable 45.5 percent of the time. Ilyasova's player efficiency rating (PER) was 20.5—5.5 points above the standardized average of 15.
Drew Gooden was also great for the Bucks last season, when he averaged 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 43.7 percent from the floor. Gooden also had a very good PER of 18.88, 3.88 points above the average NBA player.
But with the addition of John Henson, one of the best power forwards in this year's incredibly deep draft class, the Bucks have a decision to make regarding their starting big men.
Make no mistake, Henson is the real deal. He's 6'11" with incredible length, he has natural shot-blocking instincts, he's physical in the paint, an excellent rebounder, and has a pretty good post game. While at UNC, Henson averaged 13.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game, and in the previous season he had a jaw-dropping 3.2 blocks per game.
I don't think anyone is going to argue against Henson being the best shot blocker of the three. Both Ilyasova and Gooden only added 0.7 BPG. They're both great forwards and physical players, they just don't have the natural blocking instincts (or length) of Henson.
The Bucks really can't go wrong in their decision on who to start at the four, but my gut says that it's going to be Ilyasova. They're paying him $8 million dollars this coming season (and for several seasons down the road).
So with Ilyasova at the four, what about Gooden and Henson? Both are good enough to start at the four for most teams, yet they're going to have to watch Ilyasova go out and take up minutes, right?
Well, not necessarily.
The Bucks don't have a strong crop of natural centers. The three listed centers on the roster are currently Samuel Dalembert (22.2 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 16.98 PER), Joel Przybilla (16.6 MPG, 2.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 6.03 PER), and Larry Sanders (12.4 MPG, 3.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 13.34 PER).
Dalembert is the best of the bunch, but is a typical low scoring big man. He's a great rebounder and a marginally good scorer and a solid defender. Przybilla is pretty much completely useless on the offensive side of the ball, but can rebound with the best of them (11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes) and block a few shots. Sanders has potential, but still hasn't lived up to being the 15th pick of the 2010 draft.
Gooden can also play center, though his play style is definitely more suited for the four. I think the Bucks should seriously consider putting Henson in at the five as an experiment. He has the size to play center, he has the rebounding abilities, and he definitely has the shot blocking/defensive abilities.
To spread the minutes out between Ilyasova, Gooden, and Henson, don't be surprised to see Gooden and Henson play some center, and don't be surprised if all three of them only average around 25 minutes per game.
Henson is the wild card here. Ilyasova and Gooden have already established and proven that they belong in the NBA, while Henson is just some new kid who can apparently block a few shots here and there. Henson is going to have to prove that he can translate his natural abilities to the NBA, and he's going to have to work his butt off to split time with Gooden and Ilyasova.
This is an excellent problem to have for the Bucks. Too many very good big men, not enough minutes to give out. Combine that with the fact that they have one of the better backcourts in the NBA with Brandon Jennings at the point and Monta Ellis at shooting guard/combo guard, and you have a team that is going to be very dangerous in 2012/13.
A team that could push for as high as the fifth seed in the hyper-competitive Eastern Conference.
The Milwaukee Brewers have been unbelievably disappointing this year, and Wisconsin sports fans are ready to move on from a heart-crushing baseball season. The Green Bay Packers might have some competition for fans this basketball season if the Bucks can live up to their potential.
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