Draft preview: Guard logical pick for Bucks in first round

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — One glance at the seven players under contract with the Milwaukee Bucks and it’s not difficult to see the team’s positions of strength.

With just one guard on the roster, backcourt and wing players take top priority as John Hammond prepares for his sixth NBA Draft as Milwaukee’s general manager.

“If you do look at our roster, the center spot and the power forward spot, it’s probably not a real logical position for us to choose someone in the draft at that position,” Hammond said. “But if it’s the best player (available), we’ll do what’s the right thing to do for us long term.”

The draft, which gets underway at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night, is as wide open as it’s been in recent memory. Sitting with the No. 1 overall pick, Cleveland was still thought to be deciding between a couple of players as late as Wednesday night.

Whomever the Cavaliers choose with the first pick will start the dominoes falling into place with teams with the top five picks. After that, Hammond feels the draft could go in a number of different directions.

“After that, it’s wide open,” Hammond said. “But hey, you’re always optimistic. Could you get as good a player at 15 as you could at 7 through 10? Maybe we can. Time will tell if that happens.”

Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a player the Bucks have shown significant interest in, but he is projected to go earlier in the draft. San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin and California’s Allen Crabbe are shooting guards likely to be available when the Bucks pick at No. 15.

If Milwaukee decides to go with a point guard, Miami’s Shane Larkin, Dennis Schroeder of Germany and Isaiah Canaan of Murray State are three potential selections.

Last year’s three-guard rotation of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick all have uncertain futures with the team. Ellis already has opted out of the final year of his contract to join Redick as unrestricted free agents, while Jennings is a restricted free agent.

Hammond has a history of trading down in the draft and has moved back in the last two drafts. The Bucks went from 10th to 19th in a 2011 trade, while they dropped from 12th to 14th last season and still got the player they wanted in John Henson.

Because the Bucks have just seven players under contract, they would be hard pressed to move up. Larry Sanders and Henson are two of the franchise’s building blocks, while Ersan Ilyasova likely wouldn’t be moved without the right offer. That leaves Ekpe Udoh, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ish Smith and Drew Gooden, none carrying a great deal of trade value.

“We do have some good young assets we really value, and it would be almost impossible for us to move some of those assets,” Hammond said. “We consider those keeper pieces but we can still be creative.”

There’s also a possibility where the Bucks have a player projected to go much earlier in the draft fall to them. Talented UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammed could leave Milwaukee with an interesting decision to make should he fall to No. 15.

Because this year’s draft is going to have so many moving parts with many moves anticipated, the Bucks can’t narrow a board down to a few names and have to be ready for anything Thursday night.

“If you are in that top grouping you can probably narrow it to one or two guys and know that probably that guy is going to be there,” Hammond said. “In the middle of the draft where we’re at, it can be a little unsettling. But it’s a process and we all work through it.”

The one certainty of Thursday night’s draft is its importance to Milwaukee’s future. The first two parts of the Bucks’ plan will be revealed with their two picks, as the team moves forward in building a roster for next season.

“The first step will be Thursday night in the draft,” Hammond said of the team’s reshaping of the roster. “It’s not daunting; it’s an opportunity. We look at it as an opportunity to make ourselves better.”

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