When an NBA team loses 277 games due to injury, as the Milwaukee Bucks did last season, there is a tendency to write off the season as an aberration and bring back the same once-promising group for another try.
However, no matter how short-handed the Bucks were during one of the more disappointing seasons in their history, no one in good conscience could blame their fall from Central Division contender to the NBA draft lottery entirely on injuries.
We all saw enough to know better.
Enough offensive futility. Enough failed chemistry. Enough bricks to build a new arena in Milwaukee.
When the clanking stopped, the Bucks were the lowest-scoring and worst-shooting team in the NBA. Too often, shots from the perimeter weren’t just a lob, they were an adventure.
We dredge up these unpleasant memories because the NBA holds its draft tonight and the Bucks, by virtue of their 35-47 record, have the 10th pick in the first round. A glance at the roster shows the Bucks need a wing scorer, a backup point guard and a backup center, probably in that order. However, general manager John Hammond is keeping his options open, at least publicly.
“We haven’t tried to limit ourselves by position,” Hammond said this week. “We’re still in the decision-making process we’ve been in, to acquire the best player on the board.”
Hopefully, that’s nothing more than draft-speak because Hammond should be entering this draft with only one item on his agenda: The Bucks need a perimeter shooter, and they need one who can play right now.
They don’t need a big-man project. They don’t need a wing player who can get to the rim. They don’t even need a defender. They need someone who can shoot the ball from the outside.
And since the rest of the team has matured to the point where it should be a playoff contender for the next few years, they need a shooter who can contribute immediately.
Hammond has only himself to blame for painting the team into this corner. After watching the Bucks get to the free-throw line only on rare occasions during the 2009-10 season, his goal last year was to add slashers to the offensive mix.
So during the off-season Hammond added Corey Maggette, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Keyon Dooling on the perimeter. Unfortunately, none of them proved to be a particularly good outside shooter. And with Luke Ridnour moving on in free agency, John Salmons having an off-year shooting and Brandon Jennings making little or no progress with his shot, the Bucks struggled against defenses that dared them to shoot from the outside.
Of course, center Andrew Bogut was severely limited by a surgically repaired right elbow that was slow to heal, but it still was obvious the Bucks need to spread the floor to make him more effective on the low block. The only way they can do that is by surrounding Bogut with shooters, not slashers.
Anything can happen on draft night, including a trade out of the 10th spot, but various predictions have the Bucks selecting from among the following group at 10: shooting guards Alec Burks of Colorado, Klay Thompson of Washington State and Marshon Brooks of Providence; point guard Jimmer Fredette of Brigham Young, small forward Jordan Hamilton of Texas and power forwards Marcus Morris of Kansas, Tristan Thompson of Texas and Donatas Motiejunas of Lithuania.
Some think the athletic Burks will be their pick and others think a power forward such as Morris or Tristan Thompson could be the man. But Burks is more of a slasher than a shooter and power forward became less of a need when the Bucks made a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Luc Mbah a Moute Tuesday. Motiejunas is a 7-footer with 3-point range, but he’s a project.
Of the group that could be available to the Bucks, only three — Thompson, Fredette and Hamilton — shoot the ball with ease from beyond the 3-point line and appear ready to contribute the minute they walk onto an NBA floor. Thompson and Hamilton are big enough to play shooting guard or small forward, which would allow them to spell Salmons and Carlos Delfino. Fredette might have trouble guarding anyone but he shoots so well he could be an effective combo guard off the bench like Ridnour was two seasons ago.
If the Bucks are serious about returning to the playoffs this season, they will select one of those three shooters with their first-round pick.
Contact Tom Oates at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-252-6172.