Are the Milwaukee Bucks Closer to Success Than Most People Think?

Jim CavanContributor IJuly 7, 2014

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, of Greece, looks on against the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter of the Nuggets' 110-100 victory in an NBA basketball game in Denver on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

During the 2013-14 season, the lineup most frequently used by the Milwaukee Bucksper (subscription required)—featured Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Nate Wolters, Zaza Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova.

Not surprisingly, these same Bucks finished the year with 15 wins and came to within a Ping-Pong ball or two of landing the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

Milwaukee may be a full four or five years away from realistically contending in the Eastern Conference. But you wouldn't know it by the slew of moves blipping across its radar screen:

Indeed, these are not the moves of a team content with spending the next half-decade bolted to the basement.

True, it doesn't take the second coming of R.C. Buford to leak information intended to paint your organization as serious free-agent players. If anything, it's surprising more lottery-bound teams don't explicitly employ this strategy.

But one look at Milwaukee's potential-laden roster proves just how close the Bucks may be to making a move up the Eastern Conference ladder.

Morry Gash/Associated Press

You start, of course, with Jabari Parker, the 19-year-old phenom from Chicago whom the Bucks nabbed with the No. 3 pick in June’s draft.

If Andrew Wiggins was the lottery's diamond in the rough, Parker was its surface-strewn gold—the kind of find one scoops up and exchanges right away. Wiggins has the upside; Parker has nowside.

Then there's Giannis "Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo, the 6'9" shooting guard/small forward (you read that right) whose ungodly growth spurt portends a truly frightening future for the rest of the NBA. He, too, is just 19.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Next up: Larry Sanders, the mercurial center as known for his shot-blocking prowess as he is for his outspoken statements on a certain smoke-able plant (per

At point guard is Knight, the 2011 lottery pick whose first three seasons have been middling at best...until you remember he's only 22.

Middleton, also 22, nearly doubled his scoring output from years one to two while charting one of the NBA's best marks from downtown (41 percent).

As if the Bucks needed more length and athleticism, throw John Henson—23, a double-double machine waiting to happen—into the mix.

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 23: Ersan Ilyasova #7 of the Milwaukee Bucks gets introduced into the starting lineup against the Sacramento Kings on March 23, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Round it all out with veterans like Pachulia, O.J. Mayo, Carlos Delfino and Ilyasova—sure to rebound from a slump year in which he shot a woeful 28 percent from three-point range—and you have the makings of a team destined to be competitive even if the playoffs aren't in its immediate future.

Unless, that is, Milwaukee opts to trade some of its veterans for cheaper, younger assets or possibly draft picks.

The man tasked with turning these raw ingredients into an edible product is none other than Jason Kidd, whose recent, much-publicized departure from the Brooklyn Nets—a soap opera punctuated by a front-office power play gone awkwardly awry (via Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski)—resulted in his landing in Milwaukee under majority owner and longtime friend Marc Lasry.

What's more, the Bucks don't look to be done fortifying the roster. Per ESPN's Marc Stein, the team has already showed interest in Jeremy Lin, Eric Bledsoe and Greivis Vasquez, any of whom would stand to replace the promising but inconsistent Knight.

But could the Bucks be moving a bit too quickly? Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster sure thinks so:

One of the biggest mistakes the Bucks have continuously made over the years is overpaying for mid-range talent that doesn't move the needle instead of waiting for a max player who can actually make a difference.

Even if Milwaukee would have a hard time recruiting elite talent, finding better uses for the cap space should be easier than ever. Teams all around the league are going to be avoiding the luxury tax, so franchises that can take on bad deals in exchange for draft picks will be in high demand.

The Bucks can be one of those teams, just like the Utah Jazz did this past season with the Golden State Warriors in the Andre Iguodala deal. Instead of signing a few players who likely won't make a difference, the Bucks would be wise to load up on draft picks, which are essentially lottery tickets. You never know when a Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to fall to you, after all.

So just how good can—or should—the Bucks really be? When you have a team towing this much youth and inexperience, predicting player productivity is bound to be loser's bet. Milwaukee will show signs of a team on the brink of competitive contention, and it will flame out in mysterious and confounding ways—just as any baby-faced squad has always done and will always do.

For his part, Antetokounmpo sees the rudiments of a team on the rise. From an interview with NBA Greece (translation h/t to Frank Madden of Brew Hoop):

It will be much better. We were able to get some important pieces through the draft and I think the Bucks are gonna make 2 or 3 more moves and, thus, we will have a much better team. And don't forget we got older too,we matured a little bit. Me, Nate, Brandon, Khris and John. I think that getting more experienced and better will help us have good results.

It's a bit early to pencil in the Bucks as possible playoff crashers. Then again, should free-agent superstars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh take their talents westward, the East's balance of power might be compromised enough to make a postseason appearance eminently possible.

Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

Whatever the resulting timetable, the Bucks have clearly turned something of an organizational corner—from the epitome of perennial disappointment to a team loaded with youth, talent and upside.

Milwaukee has never been much of a free-agent destination. And a few solid seasons aren't about to change that.

What Bucks fans must hope for, then, is that Milwaukee's new ownership can strike draft-day lightning more than once and—if the tinder's lined up properly—finally set the NBA ablaze.