Posted by Andrew Shi
It's an open secret that a bevy of teams, mostly in the Eastern Conference, are in rebuilding mode (read: tanking). The General Managers of the 76ers, Celtics and Magic have to be lauded for their savvy accumulation of draft picks and high-ceiling youth. However, there is one team that has been overwhelmingly ignored, perhaps because they were originally expected to contend for mediocrity -- a bottom seed in the playoffs--but instead sunk to last in the whole league: The Milwaukee Bucks. Little has been said in regards to their future, but in a few years time they could easily be a dominating team in the East. Here's why.
This Year's Draft:
Quite simply, the Bucks will end this season in dead last, assuring them a top three pick. In all likelihood, they'll be in the same spot again next year. Not much can be said about next year's draft yet, however; the Bucks are just about guaranteed a franchise-changing player in this year's loaded draft. Two potential all-stars in the next two years does not sound too bad.
Their Current Youth:
Giannis Antetokounmpo, better known as the Greek Freak, is named such because of his exceptional size, wingspan and athleticism. When he was drafted last year, he was deemed a long-term project. However, he has shown flashes of brilliance that augur well for his high upside. He is already considered a future all-star.
The second year player John Henson has been an absolute stud for the Bucks so far, posting a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.3. For a comparison, that puts him above Kyrie Irving, Pau Gasol and John Wall. While his shooting range may be limited and his free throw percentage objectively abysmal, he can make his baskets and crash the boards for rebounds.
Larry Sanders, who had a breakout season in 2013, may be the x-factor of the Buck's future. After signing a generous contract, Sanders fell apart and all his stats have dropped. If Sanders can regain his former shape, the Bucks will have a top-ten center with plenty more upside and room to grow. However, if Sanders continues to take advantage of his guaranteed contract, the Bucks will be facing a financial albatross that will severely hinder their ability to rebuild.
Brandon Knight also deserves a nod. While his upside and ability to lead a franchise to a championship is questionable, he is starter-worthy and is posting a PER of 15.8
The other player that should be mentioned is the rookie Nate Wolters who, during a spate of team injuries, was able to successfully prove himself a worthy floor general and will make for a productive backup.
The Bucks currently enjoy the status of one of a few teams under the cap and will be clearing another $19 million at the end of the season. Much of that will evaporate with Sander's new paycheck and the rookies they sign, but with the glut of rookies they have on cheap, the Bucks can look forward to accumulating enough cap space to potentially sign an all-star free agent in this offseason or the next. To pull this off, the Bucks will have to shed the contracts of OJ Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova or Zaza Pachulia. These are all serviceable players but are currently overpaid and do not meet the current needs of the Bucks. Ideally, the Bucks could trade these players away to contending teams for draft picks or expiring contracts, though the Bucks do have quite the pile of second round picks if other teams need incentive. If the Bucks can shed these contracts, they'll have the room to sign an all-star to lead a young team overflowing with potential.
The path for the Bucks is far from guaranteed. Shedding the aforementioned contracts will be difficult, and Sander's future productivity in consideration of this currently lackluster season is highly questionable. Furthermore, Milwaukee is a small market, unwilling to splash cash like the Nets or Lakers, and has never been much of an attraction for all-stars. However, between their youth, the rookies they'll pick up at least in this draft and the potential cap space they could acquire, the Bucks could be looking at seriously contending in just a few years.