Solving Problems: Bucks Need A Forward
The Milwaukee Bucks shook things up during the draft by trading away John Salmons and Corey Maggette for Stephen Jackson. Jackson will be the team’s starting shooting guard, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a restricted free agent, but is expected to be brought back, will most likely start at one of the forward spots. That, however, leaves a big hole up front.
Last season Mbah a Moute started games at both the power forward and small forward spot. Currently he is penciled in to start along side either power forward Drew Gooden or small forward Carlos Delfino. Neither is an excellent starting option and both are better suited to coming off the bench.
Mbah a Moute is good at a lot of things, but long-range shooting isn’t one them. In fact, in three years in the NBA he’s only attempted 28 shots from three. What the Bucks need is a forward who can help spread the floor for point guard Brandon Jennings, shooting guard Stephen Jackson, and center Andrew Bogut. Mbah a Moute allows the Bucks to pursue either a small forward or a power forward.
Free Agency Options
With the league still in the midst of a lockout, it’s difficult to predict what type of money the Bucks will have to spend on free agents whenever the offseason officially starts. The Bucks currently have over $48 million committed to salaries next season, but that doesn’t include Mbah a Moute or rookie small forward Tobias Harris. If the system is similar to the one in place during last season the Bucks will most likely be at or over the cap, so any money they could spend would have to be via salary cap exceptions.
If the mid-level exception survives the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), there are several starting caliber small forwards the Bucks may be able to entice to come to Milwaukee. It’s unlikely they would be able to afford any of the top-tier power forwards like David West or Carl Landry.
Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier and Caron Butler are at the top of the small forward free agent crop. While it’s possible, it seems unlikely one of those players could be lured to the Bucks for the mid-level exception. Prince, Battier or Butler would make the Bucks significantly better on both sides of the ball and put them in a good position to get back into the playoffs.
A more realistic option in free agency would be Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko is an unrestricted free agent who is a long, athletic defender that is also a career 31.2% three-point shooter. He’s solid from long distance and makes just enough threes to keep defenses honest.
Kirilenko is also a player that can affect the game without scoring. He’s averaged two blocks and over a steal per game throughout his career while chipping in 5.5 rebounds. A starting lineup of Jennings, Jackson, Kirilenko, Mbah a Moute, and Bogut would be one of the best defensive units in the league.
Grant Hill is another player who would fit well with the Bucks. He can defend multiple positions and over the last two years has shot a combined 40% from behind the arc. Because Hill is on the downside of his career, there is a good chance he is looking for a team that can make a deep playoff run, and not a team that will pay him the most money. It’s up to the Bucks to convince Hill they are that team.
If the Bucks decide to go after a strictly offensive player, Mike Dunleavy would be a good fit. He might be a liability on defense, but it’s hard to argue his offensive skills. Last season he shot over 46% from the field and over 40% from behind the arc. If the Bucks are looking to spread the floor to open up the lane for Bogut and Jennings, there might not be a better free agent fit than Dunleavy.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee doesn’t possess a lot of trade assets. They do have three point guards currently on their bench in Shaun Livingston, Beno Udrih and Keyon Dooling, but it’s unlikely any of them would bring back an upgrade at another position. Trading for a starting caliber small forward or power forward seems unlikely, and the Bucks would be better off focusing on free agency or filling the position internally.
If the Bucks do look internally to fill out their starting lineup, they would be better served going with youth than putting Gooden or Delfino in the front line. Power forward Larry Sanders is still a raw prospect, but during the 12 games he started last season he averaged almost two blocks a game and over four rebounds in just over 22 minutes. He doesn’t provide much on offense, but with Sanders, Mbah a Moute and Bogut protecting the rim, the Bucks would be one of the toughest defenses in the NBA.
Harris is a skilled scorer who averaged over 15 points a game last season at Tennessee. He shot over 46% from the field and averaged more than seven boards a night. Because Harris is a rookie and training camps may be shortened due to the lockout, it seems unlikely he’ll jump into the starting lineup at the beginning of the season. However, if the Bucks don’t make another move, Harris may be a better option than Delfino who started 40 games last year and shot only 39% from the field.
The Bucks are in a tough position; it’s clear with their draft day trade they are pushing for the playoffs and not in rebuilding mode. Unfortunately, their cap situation and trade assets may not be enough to improve their team.
The Bucks would be best suited to go hard after a veteran free agent small forward in hopes of luring him to Milwaukee using either their mid-level exception (if it survives the new CBA) or signing a player to the veteran’s minimum. These options could include players like Hill, Dunleavy and Kirilenko all of whom would be a significant upgrade over the Bucks current starting small forward options.
If the Bucks miss out in free agency, the team needs to take a long hard look at Sanders and Harris and hope one of them takes the starting forward slot in training camp and runs with it. Because last year’s 35-47 record was proof enough, that Gooden, Delfino or even Ersan Ilyasova can’t get the job done in the starting lineup.
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