Mar 12, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward D.J. Wilson (5) celebrates in the closing seconds of the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big Ten Conference Tournament championship game at Verizon Center. The Wolverines won 71-56. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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The Milwaukee Bucks made a pair of selections in the 2017 NBA Draft, taking D.J. Wilson in the first round and Sterling Brown in the second round. How should the Bucks be graded on their draft night?
The Milwaukee Bucks are on the brink of something great. With a true budding superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a handful of quality complementary pieces, this team has the outline of a contender. With the right moves over the next few seasons, the Bucks can reasonably contend for a trip to the NBA Finals.
To do so, they need to capitalize on their opportunities along the way, and the 2017 NBA Draft was one such opportunity. If they continue to follow their trajectory upwards, the 17th pick may be the lowest draft selection they make in a while.
They entered the draft only a week removed from uncertainty in their front office. General manager John Hammond left for the same role in Orlando, and the Bucks chose not to hand the job to GM-in-waiting Justin Zanik, but instead elevated 33-year-old Jon Horst to the role.
In his first draft as general manager, Horst was out to not only improve his team but also show ownership and a skeptical basketball community that he was up to the task.
With the draft in the books and the Bucks’ new young players looking up apartment listings in Milwaukee, we can make knee-jerk reactions to how they used their resources. Did they pick the right players to help them move up in the Eastern Conference hierarchy? Or will they look back and wish they had gone another route?
Mar 19, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward D.J. Wilson (5) is defended by Louisville Cardinals forward Jaylen Johnson (10) during the first half in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
No. 17 – D.J. Wilson
When John Hammond was the general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, he targeted length and defensive upside with almost every pick he made. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the greatest example of this, but other recent draft picks include Thon Maker, Malcolm Brogdon and Rashad Vaughn.
With a new general manager in place, it was unclear whether the Bucks would continue with the same focus or present a new philosophy. One draft in, and it seems like it’s par for the course in Milwaukee. Carry on Team All-Length:
D.J. Wilson, a redshirt sophomore out of Michigan, was one of the longest prospects available when the Bucks made their first pick at 17. With a 7’3″ wingspan and a 9’1.5″ standing reach, Wilson has the frame Milwaukee covets in their young players.
A wing in high school, Wilson went through a major growth spurt over the past few years to reach his current height of 6’10”. This meant Wilson transitioned into a role as a big for the Wolverines, but he brought his wing skill-set to the role. More than the average power forward or center, Wilson can put the ball on the floor or stroke it from deep.
When Jabari Parker went down with his second torn ACL in three seasons, the lack of two-way bigs on the roster was revealed. Specifically at the 4, Parker’s replacements were either Mirza Teletovic — a stretch-4 with little defensive foot speed — or John Henson, a lengthy defender who cannot stretch the floor. Spencer Hawes, Michael Beasley — their options lacked two-way impact.
That is where Wilson comes in, as a high-upside backup to Parker and/or Thon Maker. If either fails to reach their potential, either from injury or development, Wilson could start one day for the Bucks as well. Although not a freshman, Wilson has only one year of high-level play at his position, leaving a vast range of upside ahead of him.
He is far from a sure thing, however, as his late rise up the draft board belies a lack of elite potential throughout his earlier days as a player. Wilson was a poor rebounder at Michigan, shying away from the contact-heavy duties of a big man such as crashing the glass and banging in the post. While his role as a stretch-4 will take him out to the perimeter, he needs to add toughness to fill the defensive role the Bucks will require of him.
Overall, Wilson fits the Milwaukee archetype, and their history of player development suggests they can get the best out of him. That being said, there were other prospects on the board with higher upside that could have increased the talent ceiling for this roster, so there is pressure on the organization to see Wilson reach his highest potential.
Mar 17, 2017; Tulsa, OK, USA; USC Trojans guard De’Anthony Melton (22) guards Southern Methodist Mustangs guard Sterling Brown (3) on a shot during the first half in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at BOK Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
No. 46 — Sterling Brown
Last season the Milwaukee Bucks had one of the steals of the draft, finding point guard Malcolm Brogdon in the second round and seeing him earn a starting role by the time they hit the postseason. A long, rugged defender, Brogdon was a perfect fit on both ends of the court for the Bucks.
Milwaukee may have struck gold again with this year’s second round pick, SMU’s Sterling Brown.
Sources: Milwaukee is acquiring Philadelphia’s No.46 overall pick for Sterling Brown.
Originally holding the 48th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Bucks sold that to the Los Angeles Clippers and in turn acquired pick no. 46, which they used to select Brown. As draft experts whispered to each other about sleepers, many pegged Sterling Brown as a player to watch:
Brown brings two clear strengths to the table – length and shooting. The former is a Milwaukee necessity, and understandably so; the modern NBA demands switching, positional versatility and the ability to contest on a hard closeout. The Bucks are perfecting the league’s most aggressive defensive scheme and it’s unlocked by the length of those players executing it.
The senior out of SMU checks that box, measuring at 6’6″ with a 6’10” standing reach. A solid frame, good strength and a tenacious nose for the ball will help Brown catch on as a bench forward at either position, able to defend at least 2-4.
Offensively Brown is limited as a creator, with poor playmaking skills and a limited arsenal around the rim. But beyond the arc he is a sharpshooter, knocking down 45 percent of his triples. Even more so than the accuracy was the frequency, as he launched nearly five attempts per game.
At SMU Brown didn’t have to be “the guy” on offense and he thrived in his role. On a team with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton, Brown doesn’t have to step out of his role either, and he can flourish off the ball spacing the floor. While almost every college player faces an adjustment with the NBA three-point line, he should adapt quickly and be able to start hitting shots his rookie season.
This late in the draft the options are limited, and yet the Bucks managed to snag a player with a defined future in the league that also fit perfectly their team ethos and needs. Yet again the Bucks may end up with the sleeper of the draft. This was a tremendous pick.
Jan 21, 2017; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward D.J. Wilson (5) celebrates after he dunks in the first half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Milwaukee Bucks go into the draft every year with a unified organizational philosophy, and every year they come out with players who fit that philosophy. No team is going to hit on 100 percent of their draft picks (even the Warriors missed on Nemanja Nedovic), but by sticking to their core plan, the Bucks hit more than they miss.
That’s the confidence they can bring to the table after drafting D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown Thursday night. Both players can shoot and have the length to be plus defenders. That means they will upgrade the team on offense and fit the scheme on defense. Again, the Bucks had a plan and they executed it.
That doesn’t mean they made perfect picks. Players such as Harry Giles or OG Anunoby were passed up at 17; despite injury concerns, both of those players have a higher talent ceiling than Wilson. In the second round the pickings were more slim, but would a guard such as Edmond Sumner or Monte Morris have been a better choice?
Those questions are impossible to answer this close to the draft, and it would be unfair to Milwaukee’s development staff to make definitive statements this early in the process. The Bucks have a history of growing players and empowering them to reach their potential, and if they do that with Wilson and Brown, they will have the contender they are striving for.
But as things stand in the hours immediately after the draft, the Bucks should be applauded for sticking to their philosophy, but not praised for executing draft coups. If both develop then they should form a solid forward pairing off the bench for Milwaukee, with Wilson’s ability to score inside offsetting Brown’s weakness at the rim, while Brown’s strong rebounding skills for his position help to offset Wilson’s relative weakness on the glass.