Pre-Training Camp Player Power Rankings for Milwaukee Bucks
There is no shortage of basketball personnel in Brew City, for the Milwaukee Bucks are maxed out at 15 players heading into training camp.
There are a lot of new athletes in this bunch; of the 15 players under contract, 8 played with different NBA teams last season, two played in Europe and one was an NCAA Summit League standout.
This bevy of talent leaves a lot to be desired for team chemistry and identity.
The core of returning players average three seasons of experience with the five years being the most played among them.
Still, there have been some notable additions like O.J. Mayo and Wisconsin native son Caron Butler.
On paper, the Bucks lack bona fide star power but they make up for that with quite a few guys who can get the job done at their respective positions.
A quick jelling of trust and synergy is going to be vital if this team wants to have back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 10 years.
With so many fresh faces it’s hard to gauge what the exact expectations are going to be.
Roster novelty aside, here’s a ranking of the Bucks' most important players heading into training camp.
1. Larry Sanders
It may be hard for some to agree that a center that averaged only 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds last season is a team’s most important player.
While a rebuttal may have some valid logic, Sanders’ 4-year, $44 million contract extension says that the Bucks’ future will be built around him.
Focusing on the raw numbers is misleading. What’s impressive about Sanders is that his playing time more than doubled last season and he responded very well.
His offensive repertoire won’t put visions of the Dream Shake in anyone’s head, but his 2.8 blocks-per-game to go along with his rebounding show that Sanders is the defensive anchor for this team.
If he continues to progress defensively and develop some reliable offensive weapons, Sanders could elevate himself into the upper echelon of Eastern Conference centers.
While there has been criticism about his work ethic, that talk has not seemed to bother the team’s front office.
Bucks general manager John Hammond hails Sanders as “…one of the top young defensive players in the league…He is a very important part of what we are doing in Milwaukee.”
Sanders has said he’s looking forward to his future with the Bucks.
His new contract does not kick in until the 2014-15 season so he has all of this season to prove his mettle.
2. OJ Mayo
Mayo was acquired via free agency back in mid-July when he inked a three-year deal with Milwaukee for $24 million.
The signing was not without its share of naysayers.
Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop via ESPN questioned both the financial solvency of Mayo’s contract as well as the apparent lack of vision from the team’s management.
Mike Prada of SBNation.com does not think that Mayo is much of an upgrade over Monta Ellis and wonders if Mayo’s improved shooting efficiency will last.
Given the other players on the roster, there’s no question that Mayo was brought in to be the team’s primary scoring option.
Last season was his best three-point shooting year and he posted his second best field goal percentage ever.
Mayo is a threat to score from the outside and can still get to basket on most defenders.
All of the offensive tools are there, so there’s no reason to think that he can’t be the primary offensive option.
Most of the other players on the Bucks are role players who fill in gaps wherever it is needed. There are not any players who will need so many touches that it impedes Mayo’s ability to blossom.
This should be a big year for Mayo since he has now gone from being an option to being the option.
3. Caron Butler
A native of Racine, WI, Butler was very moved at his introductory press conference, lauding the opportunity as a dream come true.
He has been a solid contributor for his entire career averaging 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists over 11 seasons.
Even with the young and fast Los Angeles Clippers Butler was able to keep pace starting 78 games and contributing 10.4 points per contest.
For a team with such a young core and so many other Milwaukee first-timers, Butler’s veteran presence is going to prove very crucial in helping things come together.
General manager John Hammond recognizes Butler's intangibles saying at the team's media event:
"We talked about trying to build a championship-caliber team and we're really excited about some of the young pieces we have on our roster," Bucks general manager John Hammond said. "And, we're not going to stray from that. But, also at that time, we talked about needing veteran players that can help us in that process. A veteran player that can mentor, a veteran player that can help young guys. We know Caron can do that..."
There is some young talent on this team that could use the wisdom of the well-traveled and accomplished veteran; Butler also complements the team’s interior defensive toughness with his physical perimeter play.
This campaign should be a fitting end to a productive career.
4. Brandon Knight
Knight’s acquisition was a part of the fallout between the Bucks organization and Brandon Jennings.
Unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension where Jennings was demanding $12 million and Milwaukee was countering with not $12 million, a sign-and-trade deal was arranged that landed Knight as the new point guard on the block.
It seems like Knight will slide right into Jennings’ starting spot which is why he ranks so high on this list.
He has the offensive tools to contribute consistently as demonstrated by last season's 40.7 field goal and 36.7 three-point percentages, but he lacks the big game explosions that Jennings occasionally had.
What Knight lacks in huge scoring bursts, he can make up with his defensive prowess.
His larger 6’3”, 189-pound frame allows him to contain his regular assignment, better fight through picks and switch to defending shooting guards without giving up too much in length.
Knight will be able to maintain his scoring pace that has hovered at or near the low teens since he began his professional career, but with more spot-up shooters who can hit the three, he should also be able to increase his assist output.
A basketball team can make all the changes it wants in their quest for improvement, but it is all for naught if the point guard spot is not stable.
Knight may not be that much of an upgrade over Jennings; however, he does insure that the Bucks are not losing anything either.
5. Ersan Ilyasova
One of the few, the proud returning Bucks for the 2013-14 NBA season, Ilyasova has had a couple of pretty solid seasons after a rocky, inconsistent start to his career.
Last season Ilysova averaged 13.2 points per game while shooting a doubly impressive 46.2 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Not to be confused with the usual breed of European finesse big men, he also averaged 7.1 rebounds per game as well.
Ilyasova's main contribution will still be his outside shot.
What is really impressive about his three-point percentage is that he nailed 95 of 214 attempts. He is not afraid to pull the trigger, and there is a good chance it’s going in when he does.
Considering the team’s current collection of talent, Milwaukee will be relying on the Turkish big to be their reliable second scoring option behind Mayo.
He managed to score at least 18 points on 27 different occasions during the 2012-2013 season.
That ability to step up and lead will be crucial when the team needs an offensive shot in the arm.
6. Carlos Delfino
Delfino’s return to the Bucks does not seem like much of a return since his one season with the Houston Rockets was preceded by three seasons in Milwaukee.
It makes the one year he played in Space City seem more like a pit stop than an actual change of scenery.
The detour was not all for nothing though as Delfino posted his second best three-point percentage (37.5) and best year from the free-throw line hitting 85.7 percent of his foul shots.
Those numbers, along with his eight seasons of experience, have Delfino pegged as being a veteran presence that can help lead and produce for the second unit.
His primary role will be to anchor the bench scoring which should come naturally since he performed that duty quite well last season.
Delfino’s chance to contribute may be delayed, however, due to offseason foot surgery he had to repair a broken bone.
This recovery time will certainly hit the team’s bench scoring pretty hard, but Butler should be able to help the team manage until Delfino’s return.
Once he is officially on the court, the Bucks will have a very capable offensive weapon among the reserves.
7. Zaza Pachulia
Pachulia was another free agent signing when he accepted a three-year, $15.6 million deal.
His job will definitely be to provide Sanders some quality rest at the center position.
Pachulia is more than capable of contributing to the team’s success, and the beauty of it is that he can do it in very subtle ways.
This Georgian has become an epitome of crafty over his 10 NBA years.
Not one to ever dominate, Pachulia always finds a way to help give his team the advantage.
His basic numbers are not that impressive; last season he averaged a ho-hum 5.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
Looking at him actually play and you’ll see that while he does not score much, he takes quality shots. While he’s not crashing the boards for every rebound, he does a good job of keeping his man from getting to the ball.
If Sanders is the new face and future of the Bucks franchise, Pachulia will be the one who imparts some of the intangible wisdom that will help the young starter evolve.
8. Luke Ridnour
Ridnour is another product of a busy Bucks offseason brought in via a three-team trade back in mid-July.
It was this acquisition that started the pattern of Milwaukee looking for experienced veterans with which to surround their young core.
Ridnour is expected to be the primary back-up point guard, and he fits the build perfectly.
His experience gives the team a veteran who can keep things stable when the second unit is on the floor, and he can fill in as a starter with minimal disruption.
Ridnour could have been higher on this list if all signs pointed to him being a part of the long-term plan; however, there are quite a few combo guards on the roster as well as a promising rookie.
More than likely, this will be a short second stint as Milwaukee will probably let him walk when his contract expires next summer and use the cap space for something a bit more permanent.
9. Gary Neal
Neal made quite an impression on the NBA world with some pretty stellar scoring in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Doing what any sensible athlete would do, he decided capitalize on his newfound recognition and received a contract from the Bucks that will pay him $3.25 million over the next two seasons.
Neal may seem like a NBA novice with only three years to his playing credit, but the 28-year-old also played for three years in Europe after leaving Towson University.
Being a guard with a penchant for hitting open three-point looks, Neal will be another reserve player expected to provide some scoring for when the starters are resting.
He also brings in a wealth of maturity having played for the great Gregg Popovich the last three years.
These assets should serve the Bucks well as they hope for this team to quickly develop some chemistry.
10. Ekpe Udoh
Udoh saw a decent amount of floor time last season and should continue on that same pace as he enters this season as the primary back-up power forward.
With an offensive skill set that is still a work in progress, Udoh will be the defensive anchor for the Bucks’ bench.
Last season he averaged 1.1 blocks and 3.3 rebounds per game in just 17.3 minutes of playing time.
Even his physical attributes are skills in themselves. His 7’4.5” wingspan is enough to make any slasher think twice before trying to drive into the lane.
These are the qualities that probably keep Udoh ahead of the other young bigs on the team’s depth chart.
The expectations will still be pretty modest as the forward continues to develop, but there will definitely eyes watching to see if the right strides are being made.
11. John Henson; 12. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Henson is another young forward who saw some limited action last season.
In his 13.1 minutes of play he managed to contribute six points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
It’s hard to see exactly where Henson will fit in with this totally overhauled roster, but it’s probably safe to say that he may slide a little further down the bench this year since he hasn't shown the defensive aptitude that Udoh has.
Antetokounmpo is an exciting prospect from Greece.
He is 6’9” and listed as both a guard and forward.
Draftexpress.com notes in a scouting report based on a live game observation that Antetokounmpo regularly brought the ball up the floor and facilitated his team's half-court offense.
His length and skill set suggests that he can play from shooting guard all the way up to power forward.
Being such a young prospect, however, means that Antetokounmpo will probably spend two or three seasons working to get his body NBA-ready and learning as much as he can from his more experienced teammates.
13. Khris Middleton; 14. Miroslav Raduljica; 15. Nate Wolters
Middleton finds himself on the back end of a small forward log jam as he is placed squarely behind Butler and Delfino in the rotation.
A very capable scorer, it may be his fate to sit and wait for the older players ahead of him to move on before he gets any real opportunity to show what his game consists of.
Raduljica signed with the Bucks in late-July.
Although he is only 25, his European career spans seven years.
Raduljica will be a third string center who will sit more than he plays as he learns the NBA game.
To his benefit, he has a former European player in Pachulia to help ease his transition.
With a NCAA career average of 21 points per game and 34.2 percent three-pointer efficiency, he definitely seems like he has the goods to contribute.
His level of collegiate competition may make his coaches hesitant to put him on the floor anywhere outside of garbage time.
Wolters has an uphill climb in the NBA.