Bucks Diary

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bucks fans should applaud Harris' move

I keep reading that, by drafting Yi Jianlian in the face of threats that he will not play in Milwaukee, GM Larry Harris took a huge gamble. I don't see it that way at all.

Yi willingly submitted himself to the draft and therefore the Bucks had the option to select him under the tenets of the collective bargaining agreement. Harris clearly believed Yi was the best player on the board at the time the Bucks picked. Let's assume for the sake of argument that he was right. Had Harris capitulated and passed on Yi, he would have, in essence, voluntarily forfeited the Bucks draft position. He would have effectively moved the Bucks down in the picking order with nothing to show in return. That would have been a breach of his fiduciary duties as general manager.

Instead, by exercising the Bucks right to select the player they believed to be the best remaining on the board, Harris took an important stand for the interests of the franchise. The team simply cannot afford to allow Don Fegan or anyone else to circumvent the draft process. The sanctity of the draft is absolutely vital to their competitive future. The team already has to pay a premium to attract free agents. If they suddenly had to get permission to select the player they wanted, they might as well just close up shop.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Memo to Larry Harris: an analysis of Yi's actual options

Stories are circulating suggesting that if the Bucks do not accomodate Yi and trade him to a large market team as his agent has demanded, then Yi has some unique options he will exercise that will make it painless for him to extinguish the Bucks draft rights. It is said, for instance, that he can simply refuse to sign with the Bucks, return to China for a year, resume play with his old team, and then reenter the NBA draft as soon as the Bucks rights burn out.

I hope Larry Harris understands that is an empty threat that will not work under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. Yi cannot simply return to play in China and still expect to extinguish the Bucks rights to him. If Yi plays in China, it will actually have the effect of extending the Bucks rights to him (I will explain why below). The important thing to understand is that Yi holds no unique leverage over the Milwaukee Bucks. Not by virtue of his unique status as a Chinese athlete, nor his status as a citizen of China, nor for any other reason Don Fegan can cook up. The fact is Yi stands in the exact same place as every other impetuous player who has ever tried to circumvent the NBA draft. And if Larry Harris stays strong, Yi will lose.

Here's the basic "signing period" rule that governs every NBA draftee: a team holds the exclusive rights to sign a player it drafted in the period between the date of the draft and the date of the next draft. If it fails to sign the player during that period it loses that player's rights and he may reenter the subsequent draft. Normally, extinguishing a drafting team's rights is a painful and expensive process for a player to go through, and they are therefore discouraged from doing so.

Yi's agent claims he's different. He is claiming Yi can simply go back to China and wait that year out by temporarily resuming his Chinese career. It won't work. I have discovered a clause in the CBA that makes the "signing period" rule contingent upon the player remaining, essentially, inactive for the entire year between the drafts. If the player decides instead to play for a non-NBA team, as Yi would be doing by resuming his Chinese career, then the rights held by the NBA team that drafted him are extended to a period of 12 months following the time the player's contractual obligation to the non-NBA team runs out. Thus, playing in China would not help Yi, it would just extend the Bucks hold on him. So, clearly, he holds no special "Return to China" leverage in his negotiations with the Bucks. That's a complete myth.

I have also seen it suggested that because Yi is somehow still contractually obligated to his old Chinese team, Don Fegan is planning to use that obligation to apply an additional source of pressure on the Bucks. Here's how it would allegedly work. If the Bucks don't succumb to his demands, then Yi's Chinese team, in cooperation with Fegan, will simply refuse to release him and thus will prevent him from playing in the NBA. This is tacticly and logically flawed. The consequences of such an action would be more detrimental to Yi than the Bucks.

And anyway, it wouldn't work. By my reading of Section 5 of the CBA, entitled "Effect of Contracts with other Professional Teams", if Yi's Chinese team does in fact still hold contractual rights to Yi, and if they should indeed refuse to release him from those rights then that refusal would, again, simply serve to extend the Bucks exclusive signing period. In that case the Bucks would continue to hold Yi's exclusive rights so long as the Chinese contract remains in effect plus the standard 12 month "signing period". So, as you can see, this "Yi's team won't release him" threat is another bit of puffery.

The simple truth is that in order to earn his release from being the Bucks exclusive property, Yi has to sacrifice a year of his professional basketball life. And since that is, by design, a huge sacrifice to make in the limited life of an elite athlete, it is something that, to my knowledge, no modern player has ever been willing to do. As such, the Bucks hold all the leverage in this negotiated game of chicken. And if they hold fast and don't waver, its likely they will prevail.

The Gasol Parallel

The one great hope I have for Yi is that he will develop into a player like Pau Gasol. If that happened, he would be a steal for the Bucks at number 6. Exploring that line of thought, I went back into the archives of nbadraft.net looking for the scouting report that preceded Gasol's entry into the Association in 2001. When I found it, and read it, it made my day.

Almost all of the strengths, and more encouragingly, all of the weaknesses that I attributed to Yi in my last post were also attributed to Gasol when he began his NBA career. Moreover, they both shared almost identical physical makeups and skill sets. And Gasol has developed into a stud power forward. Therefore, I see no reason why the same could not hold true for Yi. Maybe there is hope in BucksNation after all.

That made my weekend. I can finally give this issue a rest.

A Profile of Yi's Game

Like most Bucks fans, I'm struggling to get my mind around this Yi Jianlian pick. I've never seen him play and, until yesterday, basically had no interest in him. Thus, I'm trying to acquire an understanding of his game, and what made the Bucks value him so highly that they would pick him knowing the headache they will have trying to sign him.

In my quest, I have relied almost exclusively on one outstanding site -- draftexpress.com. Their scouting reports are superior to anything else I've found on the web. They provide not just empty platitudes about Yi, but actual hard information and statistics. They are extremely thorough in their work, and I can't recommend them highly enough.

I've taken their copious profile of Yi's game and condensed it into a list of positives and negatives that might help us understand what type of player he is. Let me make one comment before you digest this list. Prior to the draft, I saw Yi often compared to former Buck Toni Kukoc. If you look at the information provided below, however, that doesn't hold. Yi clearly lacks the basic ballhandling and playmaking skills that made Kukoc valuable. In fact, outside of their obvious physical similarities, they are totally different players.

With that said, here's my condensed profile:

Size: He’s 7 feet tall, has an impressive wingspan, and he weighs 250 pounds, all ideal attributes for an NBA power forward.
Consistent scoring: Though he has a limited offensive game, he has been able to produce points no matter what the competition.
Good spot-up shooting: Statistically, his best shot is the spot-up jump shot. He knocks that down at an over 50% average.
Hands: According to draftexpress.com, Yi has “great hands”. I’ve never been able to pin down what that means, but it probably means he can catch the ball when it is passed to him.
Finishing around the rim: He is very good at finishing in close (provided he is unfettered). Whenever he is near the hoop, he will look to dunk the ball.
Offense facing the basket: Yi is very comfortable facing the basket on offense. This, of course, can be a double-edged sword. Tall players who prefer to face the basket normally also shy away from the low post.
Athleticism: Yi is said to be a very fine all-around athlete; he can leap, and he has an outstanding first step that allows him to get by almost any comparably sized player.

Pussified: Apparently he shies away from physical play, “crumbling” whenever there is contact. Thus, he doesn’t finish well after drawing contact, and he too often gets pushed around on the court.
Weak upper body: One of the reasons he gets pushed around is that he clearly lacks upper body strength.
No Range: Outside of 20 feet, Yi is a very poor shooter, converting under 20% of his international three point attempts.
Shoddy dribbling: I was under the misconception that Yi could handle. Apparently he cannot, rarely using more than one or two dribbles at any time.
Poor fundamentals: It sounds like Yi has been relying almost exclusively on his superior size and athleticism to dominate the Chinese league, and as a consequence his fundamental skills (boxing out, playing solid defense, timing his blocks, dribbling, passing) are all severely lacking.
Poor decision maker: Yi does not take care of the ball and is turnover prone. He makes poor decisions regarding when and where to pass the ball, and doesn’t react well to defensive pressure.
Limited offensive repetoire: At this stage in his career, he relies almost solely on a handful of rudimentary moves.
Defending the post: whenever Yi is asked to defend the post, especially when matched against a physical opponent, he is helpless. He is easily overwhelmed by contact, and indeed often shies away from it.
Rebounding technique and production: He doesn’t rebound very soundly, preferring to rely on his height rather than on technique.
Overall Effort: Yi’s effort level, on defense, on the boards, etc., is often inconsistent and generally lacking.

Yi to ask for trade today

According to SI.com, the representatives for Yi Jianlian will formally request a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks sometime Friday. It appears the player's agents were serious when they said they did not want their client to don the Green and Red. To them I say, in the immortal words of Bub, "Think again, moose breath".

If I were Larry Harris I would absolutely and categorically refuse such a request on the spot. Harris was right to defy their original efforts to avoid a selection by the Bucks, and having done that, it is imperative now that he sticks to his guns. Giving in to the ridiculous demand at this point would do nothing but harm the Bucks and set a dangerous precedent that, once established, would damage the future interests of small market teams like Milwaukee.

Harris' message to Yi's representatives should be direct and simple: If Yi wants to play in the NBA, he must do so in Milwaukee. End of discussion. The sooner he gets that through his skull, the better for him. A protracted holdout, or a return to China, would be a seriously foolish move, as it would only serve to hurt his pocketbook and his marketability. It would cost him NBA paychecks he can never recover, and it would damage his public reputation and squander away the precious goodwill his representatives hope to cash in on through their various endorsement schemes. He has no rational choice but to play for the Bucks.

And so, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, its no time to get wobbly. My advice to Larry is this. Don't buckle... don't even blink... when they give you their ludicrous demand. Reject it outright, and then educate them to the realities of the NBA draft process. Yi will soon realize the Bucks are the only game in town.

Bucks 2nd round pick sounds like Quinn Buckner

Last year, reports about Bucks 2nd round selection David Noel led me to adopt an unrealistic opinion about his pro potential. For some reason, I deluded myself into thinking he could actually contribute something more than ill-advised shots. He turned out to be garbage. So I'm going to take a more restrained view of this year's second round pick, PG Ramon Sessions of Nevada. I'm going to assume that if he makes the team, he will do so by the skin of his teeth and will not see much courttime.

That said, reports about Sessions skill set are intriguing. His profile brings to mind former Bucks PG Quinn Buckner. Buckner was a fire hydrant who couldn't shoot at all, but he was a player who could run the Bucks high powered offenses of the early 80s very effectively, he was a guy who could protect the ball exceptionally well, and he was someone who could defend like he was born to do it. That is basically the same thing I am hearing about Sessions. Thus I think the Bucks should give him a long, hard look. Remember that they passed up on other second round PGs who had similar makeups (Eric Snow, Jason Hart) and probably regreted it, because both turned out to be more-than-adequate pros.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Yip-Yi or Shit-Yi?

If I understood it correctly, my brother sent me a message saying that Yi (prounounced "E") sounds the same as the word for "Yes" in Mandarin Chinese. That's ironic, because everyone I talked to around Milwaukee yesterday seemed to be giving his selection by the Bucks a resounding "No".

Myself? Not to be a fence sitter, but I'm honestly neither enthused nor disgusted by the Bucks selection of Yi Jianlian with the 6th pick in the NBA draft. Mainly because, to tell you the truth, many weeks ago I made peace with the fact that whomever the Bucks selected, that player was going to come to Milwaukee with flaws.

The only question in my mind was, what type of flawed player would the Bucks choose? They had two options. They could have made a safe pick, chosen a guy who has already established his skill set and his level of play and who could probably contribute right away but would never be anything special. Or, they could go for the "Door No. 2" option, a player who is still a work-in-progress or whose skill set is unproven, or who is physically immature, but who possesses great potential. Such a player would necessarily carry greater risk than the latter type, but would also bring a chance for far greater reward. That's what the Bucks went for in Yi.

Yi seemingly has all the tools to succeed. He's 7 feet tall and he's somewhat athletic. He has decent bulk (242 pounds). He supposedly has a nice turnaround shot, and nice form on his jumper. He supposedly can handle well for a big man. He's quick for his size, they say. And he's reportedly got a 38 inch vertical leap (which I don't buy. Watching him dunk the ball in highlight clips, he was not dunking like a great leaper dunks. He was dunking like a tall guy dunks. You know, like Bogut, not Larry Nance.) And though his upper body is weak, like Yao Ming before him, he is supported by more than adequate lower body strength (arguably a more important attribute in basketball).

So that's what he has to offer. Height, athleticism, and a slew of basketball skills: the sky's the limit for this guy, right? Maybe. But maybe not. I have some concerns.

First, while he is said to have a nice shooting touch from the perimeter, most of his offense in China came in the post. But, as I mentioned, he is very weak in his upper body, and, like Yao, he reportedly abhors contact. Reports say he will crumple whenever he is hacked, and that he has a very hard time finishing when fouled. That's troubling. The NBA is all about physical play. Oak trees survive, weeping willows die. Yi must understand that and prepare accordingly. To be an efficient producer in the Association he needs more strength in his body and more toughness in his mind.

Secondly, what position will he play? SF? Is he quick enough to play there? How will he defend the likes of LeBron James and Richard Jefferson? And on offense, does he have enough range on his jumper to play the wing? I don't know. How about PF? If he matches up against the Association's elite PFs, can he defend any of them in the box? And can he establish his own position on the offensive end? Will he rebound at the necessary pace? Can he keep opponents off the boards? All legitimate questions. How about C? The same issues arise at the center position. Is Yi physical enough to play center in the NBA? I doubt it. I'm guessing center will probably be his least occupied frontline spot.

Finally, there is the age old question that will be asked of every foreign player until they consistently prove otherwise, and must be asked of Yi in this case: does he have heart? Does he have a competitive zeal? Will he assert himself when the game's on the line? Is he willing to absorb physical punishment and answer back in kind? The answers to those questions will go a long way toward determining whether Yi is Pau Gasol or Darko Milicic.

Tomorrow I will consider how Yi fits into the roster, and what his presence may mean for the Bucks in the upcoming season.

Yi, Green, or bust for Bucks

I may have my problems with Gary Woelfel, but give the devil his due, he's the one legitimate source of inside information on Bucks basketball in existence at the moment. He is now reporting that the Bucks will draft one of the following players, listed in order of preference: Al Horford, Mike Conley, Yi Jianlin, or Jeff Green, or they will trade the pick. Woelfel says his gut tells him the pick will be traded. The most prominent name floating around is Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns, but that would be dependent on salary issues and contingent on the Suns landing Garnett.

Now, since no one expects Horford or Conley to be there at 6, it will come down to whom the Celtics pick. If they go with Yi, the Bucks will either trade the pick or take Green. If Yi is still on the board, Woelfel insists he will be a Milwaukee Buck.

This news is somewhat stunning to me, because Yi's agent has made it clear that Yi has no interest in playing for Milwaukee. If Woelfel's report is true, I applaud Larry Harris for refusing to allow a player's agent to dictate where his player will play. That kind of arrogance rubs me the wrong way. If Harris truly believes Yi is the best player on the board, he should draft him.

By the way, the word around the Association is the prospect I love to hate, Brandan Wright, is dropping like a skydiver who forgot his parachute. He could fall all the way to 10, which would be a stunning development considering he was the consensus No. 3 pick about a month ago.

Who will fall to number 6?... and other Bucks issues

The big night is upon us. Somehow it doesn't seem that big. I've become so disenchanted with this draft over the last month, tonight seems almost anti-climatic. So much so that I've kind of become indifferent about who the team selects. I'm just hoping the Bucks get a contributor. Anything above that would be gravy.

So, who are the Bucks eyeing up? Yesterday on WTMJ, Coach K said the three players that had impressed him the most were (in no particular order): Mike Conley, Al Horford, and Jeff Green. I would scoop up either of the first two in a heartbeat. But of the three, Green is probably the only one likely to be available at the 6th pick. Would the Bucks take him at 6? I guess its possible. It seems a bit of an overdraft, but I guess that of all the small forward prospects, he is the most NBA ready. He's multi-faceted, strong, and decently athletic. He just seems a little dull. He seems to have no upside at all.

What are the experts saying? At the moment, NBA.com's "Consensus Mock Draft" predicts the Bucks will select Corey Brewer, the tall but waif-like SF prospect out of Florida. He probably has more upside than Green, but he's also a lot less NBA-ready. He's strong for his size, but, my God, he's 6'8'' and only weighs 185 pounds. That is rail thin. Of course, many scouts and analysts have poo-pooed my concerns about the lack of bulk and strength that a lot of these prospects have displayed. But I think their lack of concern over this issue is simply naive. Strength and size matter in the pro game. Basketball may not be a contact sport, but that doesn't mean a stronger and/or bigger player can't use those attributes to dominate a weaker and/or thinner opponent, and vice versa.

Which brings us to North Carolina "power" forward prospect Brandan Wright. I have a sneaking suspicion that this guy will fall to the Bucks at 6, and that they may very well select him. He's obviously not ready for the pro game, but I guess he does have potential down the road. I'm not real high on him, though. But, if you believe Gary Woelfel, he's God's gift to basketball. According to Woelfel, Wright put on "one of the best workouts ever conducted by the Bucks".

Let me take a sidebar here. I like what Woelfel brings to the table when it comes to inside information on the Bucks, but I seriously question his veracity as a journalist. He tends to skew things to fit his world view. He's made no secret that he is very high on Wright as a Bucks prospect. Thus, it didn't surprise me one bit when he came out with his glowing piece on Wright's workout. But his report is simply not credible. Wright had one of the best workouts the Bucks have ever conducted? Please. Better than Ray Allen? Better than Marques Johnson? Better than Sidney Moncrief? Better than Lew Alcindor? That's not to mention the guys the Bucks worked out through the years but never drafted. I think Woelfel is drinking his own Kool-Aid.

Here are some other issues floating around BucksNation since I last posted:

Tosa trade?
A hot rumor making the rounds yesterday was the Dallas Mavericks would send PG and Wauwatosa native Devin Harris to the Bucks for the 6th pick in today's draft. How would I feel if that went down? Not that enthused, frankly. No disrespect to the former Badger and Red Raider, but I've just never seen him as a natural point guard. He's lightning quick, but he lacks size, a jump shot, and intuitive playmaking skills. I'd almost rather have the Bucks trade down, get a player, and then select Acie Law, whom many are comparing to Sam Cassell.

Adios Earl
What's with all the disrespect shown to the Bucks lately? First, the Chinese prick's agent says he doesn't want to play in Milwaukee, then that weirdo Joakim Noah -- a guy who is projected to fall below the Bucks -- refuses to workout for the team, and now Earl "The Pearl" Boykins can't wait to get out of town. Frankly, Boykins sucked in Green and Red, so its no big loss. He may have put up some big scoring nights, but he couldn't run the team effectively at the point guard position. The offense basically collapsed whenever he played the point, and the statistics show it. Boykins was essentially a 5'5'' guy who had the skill set of a shooting guard. And those type players are not in high demand.

Camp Fear?
Yesterday, in the same WTMJ interview I sighted above, Coach K was almost bragging about how brutal his training camp will be come October. "I invite you to come down", he said to the host, "it won't be pretty." I like his approach. Will it work? That's a seperate issue altogether.

Billups won't come here
Like most Bucks fans, I would be pretty excited if the Bucks could land free agent point guard Chauncey Billups this offseason. But I just don't see it happening. Why would Billups go from a championship contending team like the Pistons to a team that is years away from contending like the Bucks? I just don't see the attraction for Billups. He's only got so many years left in the tank. Would he really willingly choose to spend them supporting a rebuilding effort? Not likely.

Another Woelfelism
According to Gary Woelfel, Bucks PF Ersan Ilyasova has put on 22 pounds this offseason, all in the weight room. Woelfel reports that he saw Ilyasova the other day at the Bucks workout facilities in St. Francis and that Ilyasova was an impressive looking Hulk of a man at 242 pounds. I have two things to say about that. One, if Ersan truly packed on that much weight in that little time, and if indeed it is muscle, then he's on steroids. I've spoken with a friend of mine who is an orthopedic surgeon, and he confirms my belief. You simply cannot put on that much muscle in that little time without the use of anabolics. Second, such a dramatic weight gain in such a short amount of time is bound to have a negative effect on a player's basketball ability, especially a player like Ilyasova whose primary weapon is his jump shot.

So, even if the anecdote is true, I don't know why in the world Woelfel would see it as a good thing and not a cause for either suspicion or consternation. Finally, Woelfel reported that the Bucks strength coach told him Ilyasova was squatting 310 pounds. Woelfel seemed impressed. He shouldn't have been. 310 pounds is an impressive bench press for an NBA power forward; its a decidedly mediocre squat max. I was squatting 310 in high school. An NBA player should be way above that. I think Woelfel is confused.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

NBA Draft Notes

...According to Gary Woefel of the Racine Times, Joakim Noah doesn't intend to workout for the Bucks. While I'm not a big fan of Noah's, his unwillingness seems bizarre, especially since he worked out for the Timberwolves, who draft a slot below the Bucks. Is he dissing the Bucks? And if so, why? I don't think its the weather -- after all, he expressed an eagerness to play in Minneapolis, which is six hours north of here (part of the reason he said he wanted to play there is because of their Scandanavian culture, which I find humorous. What, is he going to honor his Swedish heritage by eating pregame Lutefisk?). Maybe the Bucks have told him they weren't interested. Woefel's posting doesn't make the reason(s) behind the decision clear.

...NBA.com's consensus mock draft, which is a survey of all the best mock drafts on the internet, currently has the Bucks taking PG Mike Conley with the 6th pick. While he's a nice looking prospect, he doesn't come without risk. According to DraftExpress.com, an excellent NBA Draft site, Conley put on a display of shooting at the Orlando predraft camp that would have made a cement worker proud. They say he couldn't hit a thing outside of 16 feet. That's worrisome. However, he did show up big time for the physical testing. He displayed outstanding upper body strength for a guy his size, he had the second highest standing vertical jump, and his speed was otherworldly.

...Want some more proof that Brandan Wright is a risky prospect? Check out his chicken legs. When have you seen legs that spindly on an interior player (remember, he has no perimeter game at all)? And get this: in my profile of Wright, I marveled at the fact that he was 6'10'' and somehow only carried 210 pounds. I was wrong! He only carries 200 pounds. How is that possible? This guy is a power forward prospect who has no bulk, who is devoid of upper body strength, and who has legs that look like they would break on impact with the ground. Also, even though Hoopshype.com describes him as "freakishly long", his vertical reach turns out to be less than Kevin Durant's, the same as Julian Wright's, and just an inch better than Joakim Noah's and Al Horford's. In other words, he isn't "freakishly long". So what does he offer? Oh, I hope the Bucks don't take him.

...Where did Orlando Tucker of Wisconsin get such a high opinion of his draft status? I personally view him as a borderline NBA prospect at best, but I don't think he sees it that way. Given his curious decision not to participate at all in the predraft camp, one has to assume he considers himself a first round lock. He's delusional. Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

...Speaking of delusional, where is Dominic James of Marquette getting his advice? He's making a fool of himself at the predraft camp, and he needs to pull out of this draft right now. Go back to school and develop your game.

...People are comparing SF Corey Brewer of Florida to Scottie Pippen. I think that's crazy. He's not nearly as long, and he lacks Pippen's well-rounded game. I see him, at the very best, as being another Tayshaun Prince. Or possibly the late Malik Sealy. No better than that, though. By the way, even though he looks anorexic, he's not all that weak. In fact, he bench pressed 185 pounds 11 times. Not bad, given his slight build. But still, if he doesn't put some more meat on his bones, he's going to get chewed up and spit out.

...This Spencer Hawes, the center from Washington, and a player some have compared to Andrew Bogut, sounds like a complete stiff. His body is relatively soft (he had the highest body fat percentage amongst measurees predraft physical), for his size he's not that strong (he did the same number of bench presses as Corey Brewer), he's slow as molasses, he has no quickness, and he can't jump over a village phone book. Someone will take him in the lottery, but you have to wonder why. You know he's never going to pan out. Mark my words, though, whoever picks him will justify it with the lame old saw "You can't teach size". How many draft busts have come with that inscription? Too many to count.

...A couple of posts back I made a comparison between Julian Wright and Luol Deng. Their games are pretty comparable, but I wasn't too sure of the physical similarities. But after checking DraftExpress.com's "Historical Measurements", the physical comparison is striking. Both have a vertical reach of 9'00'', Deng was slightly heavier coming out (220 vs. 210), and a bit stronger (5 reps at 185 vs. 2). Wright, on the other hand, has a superior "max" vertical (33.5 vs. 31.5), but they virtually did the same on lane agility drills (11.46 vs. 11.48).

Bucks Prospects: PF Al Horford

This is my fourth profile of prospects who might be available to the Milwaukee Bucks at the 6th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Today I'm looking at PF Al Horford from the University of Florida.

Upside Comparison: Charles Oakley
Downside Comparison: Dale Davis

What I like about him: Alot. He's pretty much everything the Bucks need. He's physical (which they aren't), he rebounds (which they don't), and he defends (which they never do). He would also be a potentially nice compliment to Andrew Bogut, sort of a poor man's Maurice Lucas to Bogut's homeless man's Bill Walton. And, at 6'9'', 245 with an 8'11'' high reach, he's got the size and the "junk in the trunk" a player needs to be effective in the NBA post. Plus his strength is simply awesome (he pushed 185 pounds up an incredible 20 times -- that translates into a one bench max of 392 pounds!!). He also showed that his standing leaping ability is pretty good, in fact better than the supposedly more athletic PF Brandan Wright and SF Kevin Durant. He was also an extremely productive player (Eff 48: 35.21) on a Florida team that was loaded, which bodes well for his productive ceiling at the next level.

What scares me about him: His offensive game is pretty rudimentary at this stage. Will he develop it, or will it just stagnate at the next level like his father's did? Also, when he was asked to defend bigger players (such as Greg Oden) he got dominated. Can he adequately match up against the NBA's awesome array of power forwards? Finally, while he appears to be a safe pick, he also doesn't have that much upside. What you see now is, I think, pretty much what you're going to get from this guy.

Bottom Line: If Horford falls to the Bucks at 6, I will jump for joy. He won't be a superstar, but he should be a solid contributor in areas of need for the Bucks. And, to me, he is clearly the third best prospect in this draft. I think that amongst the crop of possible Bucks selections, he is the least likely to bust. But I am not that optimistic that he will be there at 6. As I see it, the only chance of that happening is if the Hawks take Conley at 3, and the other teams above the Bucks fall in love with the mysterious Chinese guy and the potential upside of Brandan Wright. Unfortunately, at this point, I don't see that happening. NBA.com's consensus mock draft has him going at 4 to Memphis.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Bucks Prospects: SF Julian Wright

This is my third profile of prospects who might be available to the Bucks at the 6th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Today I'm looking at SF Julian Wright, sophomore from the University of Kansas.

Upside Comparison: Luol Deng
Downside Comparison: Jerry "Ice" Reynolds

What I like about him: I realize I ridiculed this guy a while back after watching Kansas play UCLA in the NCAA tournament (he didn't do much), but now I've amended my view. I actually think he might make a nice addition to the Bucks, and I think, based on Dave Babcock's statements to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, that the Bucks think so, too. Now granted, he doesn't have the gaudy scoring numbers you'd want from a lottery pick, but the Bucks really don't need that from the 3 spot anyway. What he does do is a little of everything: he rebounds, he defends, and he is a good ballhandler and an outstanding passer. But what really makes him an intriguing prospect to me, and what I think gives him an edge over the other equally flawed small forwards who could be available at 6, is his "effective height". By effective height I mean the distance from the bottom of his feet to the highest point he can reach. (That to me is far more relevant to basketball than a player's traditional height or his wingspan. How high a player can reach upward is what makes the difference on the court) By that measure, he's extremely "tall" for a 3. His standing reach is 9'00''. That's higher than almost all of the power forwards in this draft, and its five inches higher than fellow small forward prospects Corey Brewer and Jeff Green, and six inches higher than Al Thornton. That kind of length, coupled with his versatile skills, could make Wright a potentially effective contributor to the Bucks.

What scares me about him: He has no outside shot, so most of his scoring, at least initially, will have to come around the basket or from the mid-range. And that's going to be a problem because he's very skinny and very weak. He weighed in at only 211 pounds, he is not very well muscled, and not very strong at all (he lifted 185 pounds a grand total of two times). Of course, lack of strength -- while a concern -- is not as great a concern for a perimeter player. Tayshaun Prince has done well on the perimeter without much strength or girth. Another problem for Wright is his poor free throw shooting. I wonder if he might shy away from attacking the basket because of that. I also question his confidence. Wright recently told MSNBC, "I'm not saying I'm the next LeBron James or that I'm going to be an impact player right away. I know its a long work in process." So he is basically promoting himself to potential selectors as a longterm project. Nice. But what really scares me about Wright is how much he resembles former Bucks bust Jerry "Ice" Reynolds. The two have nearly the same bodies and nearly the same games. Like Wright, Reynolds was touted as a small forward with versatile skills. Like Wright, Reynolds couldn't shoot. Could Wright follow Reynolds down the toilet?

Bottom Line: This guy is not perfect, but let's be honest, whoever slides to the Bucks at 6 will do so because he has warts. Wright's warts are he's very thin, lacks physical strength, and doesn't have much of an outside shot or touch from the foul line. But, his upside is enticing. He was deceptively productive in college (Eff48: 29.11), he is extremely long for a small forward, he has excellent ball handling skills, he is a willing defender, and his terrific passing ability could add a "point forward" dimension to the Bucks offense that they really haven't had since the mid-80s. Thus, given the other choices that will probably be available to the team at number 6, I wouldn't be that disappointed if this was the guy the Bucks got. But I would have my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Kevin Durant is WNBA weak

There are a lot of malnourished weaklings in this supposedly deep (but looking increasingly shallow) NBA draft. Some of them were on display at the Orlando predraft camp.

The leader of the wimp brigade was none other than superstar in waiting Kevin Durant. He turned in a shockingly pitiful workout, and not just in the weight room. In fact, his overall numbers were so bad, if this were the NFL I guarantee his stock would be dropping like an anvil. First of all, the potential number one draft pick could not even bench press 185 pounds one solitary time, which I find astonishing. On top of that, he recorded a very average vertical leap, a slow sprint time, a poor agility drill score, and... wait, did I mention he couldn't do even one bench press? I can't get over that. It certainly raises questions in my mind as to how NBA ready he is. How is he going to get into the lane and finish with the big boys when he's so weak?

Other "workout warriors" included PF Brandan Wright, whom I just gave a mediocre rating to in my previous post. He vindicated my negative assessment of his NBA readiness with his performance at the workout. This alleged "power forward" could only bench press 185 pounds two times. That's "sand in my face" weak. By comparison PG Mike Conley was able to push that same amount up 13 times. Wright also turned in a rather ho-hum vertical leap for someone universally touted as this "athletic freak". In my eyes, he looks riskier by the day. He has no outside game, he is ridiculously thin for an inside player, he's too physically weak to get anywhere near the lane, and now it turns out he isn't even the skywalking wonder he was advertised to be. How's he going to get anything done in the Association? This guy has "Stay Away from Me" written in red ink across his chest.

On the other hand, the potential top six player who helped himself the most, in my opinion, was Al Horford. He measured a legitimate 6'10'', had a standing vertical leap that was equal to Brandan Wright's, and exhibited true power forward power by doing a Charles Oakley-like 20 reps at 185 pounds. That is awesome. Of course he struggled with the agility drill and displayed average speed, but in my opinion he solidified himself as an NBA ready low post player with his prodigious display of upper body strength.