TrueHoop: Milwaukee Bucks

ESPN Insider David Thorpe has been keeping an eye on the entire rookie class all season. As a learning exercise, he suggests the rooks study some of the top veterans in the NBA. With that in mind, we asked some of the top rookies who they watch in the NBA. Here are their answers:


Quotes were gathered by ESPN.com writers Israel Gutierrez and Michael Wallace, ESPN Dallas contributor Bryan Gutierrez, and TrueHoop Network bloggers Jovan Buha, James Ham, Andy Larsen, Andrew McNeill, Brian Robb and Kyle Weidie.

In their dreams

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
10:26
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Who do the Sixers dream of drafting? What about the Bucks, Magic and Celtics? And have the Lakers already identified their man? We ask Chad Ford.

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Everybody loves Giannis

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
2:50
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe on why the young Buck, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is not just infectiously likable, but also has MVP-grade potential.

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Recent play of top draft prospects

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
10:05
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The four NCAA freshmen who define the top of 2014 NBA draft -- Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle -- have each faced recent challenges. Chad Ford on who emerges looking best.video

Epic trade deadline

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
2:35
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
ESPN Insider Chad Ford predicts an "epic trade deadline" because of this NBA season's strange set of circumstances where many teams are tanking, and thus are willing to part with talented players.

Chad Ford mocks the 2014 draft

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
2:39
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Can we still call it the Andrew Wiggins draft, even if a lot of teams would draft Joel Embiid higher? Chad Ford on forecasting one of the best drafts in a long time.

The NBA's "global money machine"

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:49
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
In Forbes' 2014 ranking of team values, the NBA is said to have become a "global money machine," with almost every team making money and franchises like the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls worth more than a billion dollars each. Editor Kurt Badenhausen explains.
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Race to the bottom

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
5:01
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Would an injured Kobe Bryant help or hurt the Lakers' chances of a top pick? Can the Pelicans lose enough games to get into the top five so they won't have to give the 76ers their 2014 draft pick? Chad Ford on tanking.

Make way for the Greek Freak

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
1:14
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Milwaukee Bucks rookie sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo talks about ice custards, being the youngest starter in the NBA and his parallel parking prowess.

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Accidental tankers

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
1:53
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Chad Ford says the Kings are in a sweet position to win a top draft pick, even though they've been trying to win games. Meanwhile, simulations show it's increasingly unlikely any team other than the Bucks, Jazz, Cavaliers, Kings, 76ers, Lakers or Magic will win the top pick in the 2014 draft.

 

Natural tanking

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
4:01
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The Milwaukee Bucks had no intention to tank this year, as Kevin Arnovitz has described. But thanks to a rash of injuries, they're atop Chad Ford's Tank Rank.

The Bucks' hobbled march to a bright future

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
10:03
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Larry Sanders border=
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty ImagesAbsent Larry Sanders and several others to injury, the Bucks are winning the race to the bottom.
Not more than 90 minutes before the Milwaukee Bucks’ opener on Oct. 30 in New York, Luke Ridnour and the team’s trainers decided he couldn't play. Despite receiving an epidural cortisone shot 10 days prior, the herniated disc in Ridnour’s back had flared up again.

Playing without him was an inconvenience, but not debilitating. Brandon Knight had earned the starting gig at the 1 for Milwaukee, and the third-year point guard was raring to go. But 1 minute and 45 seconds into his Bucks debut, Knight strained his hamstring pushing the ball upcourt in transition. He promptly checked out of the game, and so began the career of Nate Wolters -- South Dakota State Jackrabbit and No. 38 overall pick in the 2013 draft -- under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden on opening night.

The injuries to the point guard corps were merely the newest installments in the Bucks’ medical drama. Milwaukee signed Carlos Delfino this past offseason under the assumption that the bone fractured in his right foot during the playoffs would be healed for the start of the season. But in September Delfino suffered a setback in his recovery that moved his estimated return date back to around just before the new year. He'd need extensive bone repair therapy.

While Delfino was rehabbing, big man Ekpe Udoh had his knee scoped Oct. 10. He missed the start of the season and didn’t return to the court until Nov. 6.

The Bucks received the worst news of all only three games into the season, when Sanders was lost after tearing a ligament in his right thumb at a Milwaukee club the night of Nov. 3. The pin that protects the ligament reconstruction was removed a week ago, and he's just been cleared for light basketball activity. The hope is that Sanders will return soon after Christmas.

Hours before Sanders found trouble, Ersan Ilyasova aggravated the nasty right ankle sprain he suffered during the preseason. Four days later, Ilyasova had joined Sanders, Knight, Ridnour and Delfino on the shelf (Udoh was just about to make his return). He’d miss six games for the Bucks, then return to play sporadically for the remainder of November. The results have been dispiriting: Statistically, Ilyasova is putting up the least impressive numbers of his six-year NBA career.

The hits kept coming for the Bucks: A week after the Sanders dust-up and Ilyasova, Delfino announced via his website Nov. 9 that he’d need another round of surgery, a procedure he underwent Saturday in Argentina. The team says Delfino will be out at least another eight weeks, but it's possible he won't suit up for Milwaukee this season.

Feel-good story Caron Butler didn't feel so good. On Nov. 15, he flew to Los Angeles to consult a specialist about his tweaked shoulder and missed consecutive blowout losses to Indiana and Oklahoma City. Two weeks later, Butler was sidelined again, this time with a swollen left knee. He isn’t expected back in uniform for another week. Meanwhile, Gary Neal has missed a couple of games because of a foot injury and left Saturday's game against Dallas because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

There's more: Center Zaza Pachulia will be in a walking boot on his right foot for the foreseeable future after suffering a stress fracture a week ago. That leaves the Bucks with a frontcourt rotation of John Henson, Udoh, a hobbled Ilyasova and first-year import Miroslav Raduljica.
 

What does all this mean? Is it an unmitigated disaster or the perfect unintentional way to secure a top-five pick in a prolific draft?

That’s a matter of interpretation.

If you’re owner Herb Kohl, the 5-19 start is a travesty. The Milwaukee Bucks brand might not register nationally, but the team’s annual pledge to put a competitive product on the floor for the community has been compromised.

One of the hallmarks of Milwaukee Bucks basketball has been the promise that if you buy a ticket on a cold winter night, there’s a better than even chance you’ll see a win for the good guys. The Bucks haven’t had a losing home record at the dilapidated Bradley Center since the 2007-08 season, but they’ve treated the local folks to only two wins in 12 games there this season.
[+] EnlargeJohn Henson
Allen Einstein/Getty ImagesJohn Henson has unintentionally benefited from Milwaukee's woes.

The litany of injuries is undeniable, as is the fact that the summer’s projected starting lineup of Knight, O.J. Mayo, Butler, Ilyasova and Sanders hasn’t played a second together. The team doesn’t have a single five-man unit that’s been on the floor for 100 minutes this season. You can boast about the potential of rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and marvel at the length Larry Drew will be able to assemble on the floor once Sanders returns to play alongside Henson and Antetokounmpo.

Yet businessmen tend to be fixated on results -- and 5-19 is 5-19. City governments and those listening to proposals about the construction of new facilities in a depressed urban economy don’t read draft reports or go to NBA salary sites for a rosy picture of the franchise’s cost structure.

A project like the Milwaukee Bucks can’t afford bad morale when it’s up against all kinds of adverse conditions. Last summer, assistant general manager David Morway spoke about how losing, even with the disclaimer that losses can be teaching moments and part of the life cycle of a young team, can become habit, which is dangerous. It’s not just players. Organizations who aren't winning and/or don’t have a definable mission like the one Sam Hinkie has in Philly, can be infected off the court, too. There are a couple of examples on opposite sides of the East River.

But if you’re a pragmatist or, possibly, a cynic, the organization might have lucked into something. Kohl’s mandate to win as many games as possible is born out of noble intentions and menschkeit, but it costs you several draft slots each season and, often, a reasonable chance at a transcendent talent.

The Bucks have some promise on the roster. Sanders has the opportunity to grow into one of the five most valuable defensive players in the NBA. We need to see more of Antetokounmpo to make a legitimate estimate of his potential, but from the ground floor it looks like a vaulted ceiling. With the front-court depth depleted, the Bucks are asking a lot of Henson and he’s delivering consistently. He doesn't currently have the stretch to be a logical counterpart to Sanders up front, but the learning curve is on a steep upward ascent.

No one in good conscience can say injuries are anything but bad -- they cause victims pain in the present and anxiety about the future. But unintended consequences can have benefits. Speaking of Henson, his smart, confident voice is growing louder in a locker room that needs some young guys who express a belief in what might be possible in Milwaukee. The Oklahoma City model is referenced a lot, but one thing that’s commonly left off its list of characteristics is how the young Thunder core took ownership of the enterprise, even when they were losing a ton of basketball games.

There were questions coming into the season about how much action Antetokounmpo would see. The injuries to Delfino and periodic absence of Butler have wedged the door open a little bit more. People around the league have been surprised by what Khris Middleton has demonstrated in big minutes as a starting small forward.

But the Bucks need another big talent before this thing becomes real, and if current trends continue, they’re in prime position to add one through the June draft. There’s a good deal of irony at work, namely that a team that promised to make every attempt to be competitive is the Eastern Conference’s least. Sometimes serendipity is better than brilliance.

Jared Dudley: Why would you not tank?

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
3:51
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
video Clipper Jared Dudley was on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio with Adam Schein talking about tanking. The conversation kicked off with a discussion of a current GM's recent admission to ESPN the Magazine that he and his owner planned to tank.

Some of what Dudley had to say on tanking:
  • "Last year in Phoenix, I mean, they didn't use the word 'tanking' but we were out of the playoffs, it was over. ... We tried different lineups. Why did we try different lineups? Well, because we wanted to see what guys they were going to keep this year, which they basically have kept no one so far. So you try different lineups knowing that the consequences, if you lose, well, it’s fine because it helps you. They never said, 'Hey, let’s tank.' Charlotte Bobcats, they never said, 'Let’s tank.' But the actions you do, it kind of insinuates it. And we understand it because you want a higher pick. You’re going to try and tell me instead of winning five or seven extra games you lose out on Andrew Wiggins but yet you are still the bottom of the barrel? No, you’re going to want to get the worst. So I don’t blame the GMs. I blame the system, how it is set up."
  • "How I would do it? I would make it equal percentages for every non-playoff [team]. ... [Now] if you have the worst record, you get at least a top-four or -five pick. So no matter what, in this draft, imagine when LeBron, Carmelo and Wade were there that year. If you were one of the worst teams you were guaranteed at least LeBron, Wade, Melo or Bosh. You were going to get a superstar. And that’s what they think this draft is going to be like. So I would put the other 11 teams all equally so it makes teams have to go out and play to try to win for their teams. I mean, how it is set up now, if I was a GM, me personally, if my team could not make the playoffs or win a championship, why would you not tank with how the system is now?"
  • "I’m just surprised that someone would come out and say it so blatantly, the only thing is they just did it anonymously so, in a way, they still were a coward about it. We understand that’s it. And, to be honest with you, it’s very tough with the system how it works. Because, let’s just be honest, if you’re a Charlotte Bobcats, you’re a Milwaukee Bucks, you’re a, I don’t know, another team like that, how do you get a superstar? Is any superstar going to go there? Because it’s not like you can offer him more money. It’s not like it's baseball where they say, 'Hey, you know what, I want this guy, I’ll give you $30 million more than the Knicks.' So how do you get those guys? They’re not going to come there and you trade them, if they are in the last year of their deal, the only thing they are going to say is, 'We’re not going to sign the extension.'

The new Bucks

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
12:41
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond chats with Kevin Arnovitz about the Bucks' 18-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, who's generating buzz around the league. Also discussed: frozen custard.



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What matters from NBA preseason

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
3:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Most of preseason doesn't matter much. But from Dwight Howard doing the little things to Giannis Antetokounmpo blowing minds ... David Thorpe has found some exceptions.

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