The Milwaukee Bucks are less than a week away from making one of the most important decisions in franchise history. For a star-starved organization, holding the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft is an opportunity to land a difference-maker.
With Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid swirling at the top of everyone’s draft boards, the Bucks must settle on the player who can immediately become the cornerstone of their franchise. And deciding who that player is didn’t get any easier when FOX Sports 1/Yahoo NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday that Embiid has a fractured foot that will require surgery.
"All of them are guys that I think, if we talk about the ability to be game-changers today — who knows how quickly they can do that," Bucks general manager John Hammond said before the news of Embiid’s latest injury hit. "It could happen more quickly than we realize. The talk about this draft and it not being what some people thought it was going to be, those comments are made by teams further down in the draft.
"These kind of guys, the Joel Embiids, Jabari Parkers, Andrew Wigginses, these guys all have a chance to be All-Stars in this league and are guys you can build a championship franchise with."
However, for a variety of reasons — let’s keep it to five – it is the Bucks who have more riding on their pick than any team in this year’s draft.
1.The No. 2 pick resides between the bliss of getting your choice at No. 1 and the comfort of having it made for you at No. 3 — or at least it did.
Now that Kansas center Embiid seems likely out of the top two, the Bucks’ pick could be made for them. The Cavs get Kansas swingman Wiggins or Duke forward Parker, and the Bucks take the other guy. Simple, right? Well, maybe, in terms of making the pick but, no, in terms of having the pick be as valuable as it could have been if Embiid were healthy.
"You want the greatest position of strength, for one," Hammond said before Embiid’s latest injury. "I don’t think it comes about necessarily the decision that’s going to be made on the player itself. The position of strength at one is a good place to be, but there’s a lot of power and position at two also. There’s no doubt in my mind we are going to get a very good player there."
Suddenly, No. 2 looks both like a very strong spot in a possible two-star draft and fraught with peril if the only player the Bucks truly wanted goes first.
2. Embiid is a possible franchise changer despite his injuries.
What happens if the Cavaliers pass on Embiid, which seems almost certain now? The Bucks still will have to weigh the massive potential of the 7-foot center versus his mounting injury concerns. Even before the foot issue, conflicting reports spread last week as to how Embiid’s workout in Cleveland went. Some say the center passed his medical examination while others say red flags were raised over the fractured back he suffered late in the college basketball season.
The Bucks saw Embiid up close at a workout in California last month and liked him. Before the foot injury, he was scheduled to work out in Milwaukee this week.
"Seeing him run, jump, pull up, sit up and do everything but throw a softball was really good for us," Bucks director of scouting Billy McKinney said of the viewing in California. "He looked good. He took a hard fall on the court, and I think everybody was wondering if he was going to get up. He got up and continued to look as lively as ever.
"It didn’t appear that there were any signs of issues with his back, which of course will continue to be investigated as we go into the draft."
But if Embiid’s health is too problematic for the Cavs at No. 1, how can’t it be the same for the Bucks at No. 2? Milwaukee knows all too well how injuries can plague a franchise center, as 2005 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut never fully developed mostly due to not being able to stay on the court. Having posted the worst record in the league last season, the Bucks can’t afford their top pick to miss a good portion of his first year. It seems unlikely they’ll take a chance on him, but if they pass they will do so knowing that he could end up as the biggest difference-maker in the draft.
3. The time is now to get the city excited about helping fund a new arena.
This is an important time for the future of the NBA in Milwaukee, as it is no secret a new arena is needed to keep the team in the city. Though whomever the Bucks take at No. 2 won’t carry the pressure of whether the arena gets built squarely on his shoulders, Milwaukee needs someone who will generate a bit of excitement immediately in order to garner support for an arena project.
"When we did talk in Chicago (at the Draft Combine) with a couple of players, a couple players knew what was happening in Milwaukee," Hammond said. "It’s a new day in Milwaukee. We have new ownership, great things are getting ready to happen here. I really believe the new ownership is going to be a large part of the great things that are going to happen, the commitment they are going to have from an overall perspective. I think this pick is another piece in this puzzle."
The sale of the team from Herb Kohl to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens has started the ball rolling in the right direction, but the Bucks need to hit on the No. 2 pick to really begin to change the perception of the franchise and get taxpayers behind helping fund the project.
4. Parker and Wiggins happen to play the same position as Milwaukee’s other franchise cornerstone.
If the Bucks were to draft by position of need, a wing player probably wouldn’t be at the top of their priority list. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s 2013 first-round pick and thought of as an important building block, plays on the wing, just as Wiggins and Parker are expected to. However, the Bucks don’t appear to be factoring in position while making their decision.
"We’ll start with the best player on the board," Hammond said. "I don’t think it is going to come down to position. It’s going to be about who is the best player available with that second pick. You want a high-character person. A guy that you look at and say, ‘He can be a building block, cornerstone of a franchise piece.’ What we are looking for is a piece that will help move us toward being a championship-caliber team. Hopefully this will be a key component in that."
Drafting to fill a position usually burns teams, as the Bucks appear to know that. Picking Embiid would seem to make center Larry Sanders more likely to be dealt, while a surprise pick of Dante Exum would make the future of point guard Brandon Knight cloudy. Antetokounmpo isn’t going anywhere, but that shouldn’t keep Milwaukee from taking the player on top of its draft board.
5. The Bucks have missed often on high lottery picks.
Milwaukee has had six top-10 picks since 2003 and none of them is still playing for the Bucks. In fact, only Brandon Jennings (No. 10, 2009) and Bogut (No. 1, 2005) made much of an impact.
The Bucks took Jimmer Fredette at No. 10 in 2011 but immediately traded him in a package deal that brought in Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston, Beno Udrih and the draft rights to Tobias Harris, the 19th overall pick who was dealt in his second NBA season to Orlando. Joe Alexander, the No. 8 pick in 2008, played just 59 games in a Bucks uniform and was quickly out of the league. Picking Yi Jianlian at No. 6 in 2007 was a gamble that didn’t work out, as he lasted just one season with the Bucks and had just a five-year NBA career.
"We want to be a in position where we can start building this, and I think we need to build it through the draft," Hammond said. "The last real significance we really had as an organization was in 2001, when we went to the Eastern Conference finals. On that team was the No. 1 pick in Glenn Robinson, the No. 5 pick in Ray Allen. That’s what happens. We had a little snippet (of success) a few years ago when we won 46 games and we had the No. 1 pick on that team, Andrew Bogut. That’s who those guys are. In the market of our size, we’ve come to that realization."