Up until the last couple weeks of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks remained in the playoff hunt for the final spot and a trip to get abused for four games by the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the Bucks finished the year 34-48, there were a few key factors that make this record misleading.
First and foremost, shooting guard Michael Redd battled two different injuries that caused him to miss 49 games last year. A sprained ankle in November caused him to miss 14 games and on January 24th, Redd tore his ACL, which ended his season indefinitely.
Not to be forgotten was Andrew Bogut, who played in just 36 games this year after a stress fracture in his back ended his year. Bogut was averaging career highs in field goal percentage and rebounds before he went down with the injury.
The Bucks went 12-11 when both Redd and Bogut played and after Bogut went down with his season ending injury (Redd had already been out for the year), the Bucks went 10-21 without their team leaders. The majority of the teams in the league would have a hard time competing without their best outside shooter and best big man. Redd and Bogut were arguably the two best players on the team and the Bucks visibly struggled because of it.
Coming into next year, both are expected to be fully recovered and healthy to begin the season. Two players that may not begin the season in Milwaukee are free agents Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions.
Villanueva took over as the team leader when Redd and Bogut went down with their injuries and had a career year. He posted career highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and free throw percentage and kept the Bucks’ playoff hopes alive up until the final two weeks of the season.
Sessions, everyone’s favorite fantasy basketball point guard sleeper, posted very solid numbers as well. Sessions took over the starting role at the end of January and saw his numbers increase even more.
The issue starts when talking about what to do with Villanueva and Sessions. On one hand, you have Villanueva who was the Bucks best player last year and was the glue that held the injury-depleted team together. He is 25 years old and seems to be coming into the prime of his career.
On the other hand, Sessions has proved that he can be a starting point guard in the NBA and, at only 23 years old, has a very bright future ahead of him. When the Bucks brought in Luke Ridnour, they thought they were going to have their starting point guard, but Ridnour has turned out to be just a solid back-up.
Villanueva will be more costly than Sessions, and general manager Scott Hammond has made it clear that it does not look like both players can be re-signed. Also, the Bucks will not be big players in this year’s free agency signing so it looks as though they can focus on keeping their in-house players.
Villanueva is more important to Milwaukee’s success and I believe he will be the player that the Bucks keep. Sessions is showing early signs of being a Jason Kidd-type player but at this stage in the game, Villanueva is a better player. Another reason that Villanueva will be re-signed over Sessions is looking at the NBA Draft and which positions will be available for the Bucks come June.
In my most recent mock draft, 11 point guards were taken in the first round. This draft class is one of the deepest in recent memory at the point guard position and, with the Bucks projected to pick tenth, a franchise point guard will be available when it is their turn to select.
Leading the rankings at the point guard position is 19-year-old Spaniard Ricky Rubio.
After dominating the Redeem Team in the Olympics, Rubio got the national attention he deserved. His strength lies in his passing and the way he runs the floor in transition. He is very raw and may take a few years to pan out, but his ceiling is as high as anyone else’s in this draft.
There is almost no chance that Rubio slips to number ten for the Bucks, but the next three point guards on my list are pretty much ranked the same and could be available depending on who slips. Brandon Jennings, the point guard who chose Italy over Arizona, enters the draft as my second highest rated point guard. Jennings is more of a scorer than a passer which might not make him the ideal fit in Milwaukee, but his overall talent and potential is something the Bucks could use right away.
In my mock draft, I had the Bucks selecting Syracuse point guard Johnny Flynn. Something about him makes me believe that he is going to be the next great point guard in the NBA. The way he leads his team with such confidence, despite being just a sophomore, is unbelievable. He finishes at the hoop with power and has an improving jump shot.
Ty Lawson is a step behind Flynn in my book, but that is no knock on the North Carolina point guard. Lawson had an amazing season and tournament that ended with a National Championship and looks to be a sure fire lottery pick.
As it pertains to the Bucks, Rubio would be the best fit for the Bucks based solely on him being the best point guard. After Rubio, Flynn and Lawson both distribute the ball excellently and can become leaders on the court. They both differ from Jennings who is more of a combo guard, but there is a good chance one of these four will be taken by the Bucks if Sessions is not re-signed.
If Sessions is re-signed and Villanueva is let go, there is a huge hole left at the power forward position. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute proved that he is capable of playing a good 25 minutes a night but is not a starter.
Unless the Bucks win the Lottery, Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin will not be available anywhere else. After Griffin, Arizona power forward Jordan Hill is the next best option. While I see him going in the top five after his much improved 2009 campaign, he would be a great pick for the Bucks to team up with Bogut in the frontcourt.
James Johnson out of Wake Forest is a project that has a lot of upside because of his athleticism and strength.
DeJuan Blair is an interesting prospect because he does not quite have the athletic game style that you look for in an NBA power forward. He is as hard of a worker as you will find in the draft, but his height might be a concern.
The Bucks have the 41st selection in the draft and the second round is loaded with height. I have the Bucks taking Temple shooting guard Dionte Christmas but other big men of note are Xavier’s Derrick Brown, Arizona State’s Jeff Pendergraph, and North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough.
If the Bucks can stay healthy next year and hit on a good point guard in the draft, there is reason to believe the Bucks can fight for a playoff spot next year. Richard Jefferson and Joe Alexander are holding down the small forward position and, despite some rumors, there is a good chance Jefferson stays put in Milwaukee.
Redd and Charlie Bell formed a solid shooting guard combo with Keith Bogans, and Luke Ridnour gives very solid minutes at the point guard position. Scott Skiles is a good enough coach that he can get the Bucks to where they can potentially be next year: the NBA Playoffs.