Scouting behind the scenes

Scouting behind the scenes
Bucks' McKinney impressed at team's summer dedication

By Truman Reed
September 28, 2009

Billy McKinney
Billy McKinney has been impressed with what he has seen this off-season.

Anyone who has visited the Milwaukee Bucks Training Center in St. Francis over the years has most likely met Art, the team's faithful security guard.
 
He has been a fixture in the lobby, and anyone wishing to enter the complex has to sign in and go through him.
 
Art must have taken a vacation or a leave of absence lately, though, because bucks.com discovered last week that someone has been scouting the team's informal summer workouts leading up to the start of camp Sept. 29.
 
Further investigation, though, will show no need for alarm in this particular case. The man with the watchful eyes is Billy McKinney, who is beginning his second season as the team's director of scouting.
 
Before McKinney takes to the friendly skies or hits the road for whereabouts unknown to check out prospective players during the months ahead, he took a few minutes to give his appraisal of what he has seen lately at the Cousins Center.
 
So who, or what, has made the greatest impression on him during his observations?
 
"The biggest thing has been seeing so many guys eager to get back in and get started early, and guys coming here in shape," McKinney said. "That's a big part of showing that they're committed to what we're trying to do in moving forward and getting ready for the season."

Bucks management has made a series of roster moves and two draft selections since the 2008-09 season drew to a close, so the team has undergone a significant facelift.
 
McKinney was asked what some of the Bucks' newcomers have shown him during their participation in the early workouts.
 
He began by mentioning point guard Brandon Jennings, whom the Bucks selected with the 10th pick in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft, and guard Jodie Meeks, the University of Kentucky product whom Milwaukee landed with the 41st pick in the second round of the draft.
 
McKinney's backcourt analysis comes from someone who speaks from experience: He was an all-Big Ten Conference performer at Northwestern University before playing the backcourt for seven seasons in the National Basketball Association.

"Starting with our draft choices, I've really been impressed with Brandon Jennings, both for the way he's playing and his willingness to learn," McKinney said. "One of the things that will tell you a lot about a player's intelligence level is his willingness to listen and then implement the things that the coaches are trying to get the players to do on a consistent basis. He's been really good and really exciting to watch.

"Jodie Meeks, there's no surprise at what he's been bringing to the table. In addition to his shooting, he's had a very professional attitude. Both he and Brandon have been very professional and very workmanlike, coming in every day and being very committed to learning the trade of not only being an NBA player, but a very competitive and productive player."

NBA teams have been known to laud their own draft choices immediately after the draft and at this time of year. But the Bucks appear to have made another second-round steal with their selection of the All-American Meeks, who rewarded their faith in him with an impressive performance with Milwaukee's summer league team in Las Vegas.
 
"So many teams say that when a guy drops (in the draft), they didn't think he'd be there," McKinney said. "But I truly didn't think Jodie would be there. We watched him all year as a staff.
 
"Of course he served notice to a lot of people with his 54-point game. People talk a lot about his shooting, but what a lot of them don't realize is that he's as committed a defensive player as he is. Now one of the things he's doing, having watched him every day, is he's getting better at creating shots off the dribble for himself and for his teammates."
 
McKinney has seen development in Jennings as well.
 
"With Brandon," McKinney said, "Where there were some concerns about his defense, even in the summer league he showed that he is a very good defensive player -- underrated."

Several of the veterans the Bucks acquired during the summer have caught McKinney's attention as well. He first talked about another steal -- one who arrived in Milwaukee very quickly and unexpectedly -- veteran forward Hakim Warrick, signed as a free agent after Memphis declined his contract option.

"Hakim Warrick, we know he's a professional," McKinney said. "If you had told us back in March or April that we'd be able to add Hakim Warrick to our roster in the way that we did, we'd have probably told you that you were crazy.
 
"He's going to help us with his inside defense and his athleticism. Some of the things we wanted to do this year were to get more athletic, get quicker and build more depth. Now, with some of the players we've added, including Hakim, we've definitely done that."
 
Warrick, too, has shown the Bucks brass dimensions to his game that have made an impression.
 
"He's surprised some of our staff by being able to step out and make 15- to 18-foot shots on a consistent basis," McKinney said.
 
Not all of the Bucks have been working out in town, but McKinney and the Bucks staff have been monitoring the play of a couple of roster additions who have been playing overseas this summer.
 
Roko Ukic, obtained from the Toronto Raptors in the trade that also brought the Bucks swingman Carlos Delfino, was named most valuable player in the prestigious Efes Pilsen World Cup. Ukic scored 21 points in leading Croatia to its tournament-clinching victory over Macedonia in August.
 
Of the players on the current Milwaukee roster, Ukic would probably be the mystery man to most Bucks fans, but McKinney and the Bucks scouting staff have been keeping tabs on Ukic for awhile.

"We had someone over there watching that tournament -- our international scout, Pedja Materic, who lives in Serbia. I spent some time with him when I was in Belgrade watching some players over there.
 
"Ukic was a very solid backup for the Toronto Raptors. We watched him and liked him as a player. He's very steady."

For Ukic to earn the award he did is impressive, because the tournament included a number of proven NBA players.

"No doubt about it," McKinney said. "And in the system in which he plays, it's very team-oriented, so that speaks volumes of him and the way he played to get that award while still playing the way his team likes to play."

McKinney is also looking forward to the Milwaukee return of forward Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks selected the native of Turkey in the 2005 draft, and he played 66 games -- starting 14 -- for Milwaukee during the 2006-07 campaign, averaging 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds per outing.
 
Ilyasova, still just 22 years old, spent the last two seasons playing professionally in Spain and has added some muscle to his frame. McKinney is intrigued by his potential and has been following his exploits in Europe this summer.
 
"The other guy who has been playing great is Ersan Ilyasova," McKinney said. "He adds a lot of dimensions and flexibility to our roster. He can play the '3' and the '4' and he's another outside shooter, good rebounder ... a solid all-around player.

As he assesses Milwaukee's newcomers, McKinney brims with optimism because he knows how they approach the game.

"Watching the guys we picked up play, one thing you notice is that every one of them plays unselfishly," he said. "Sometimes people say, 'Well, we lost Richard Jefferson.' I have an expression: 'Sometimes less is more.'
 
"We have depth that we didn't have last year. We have players that are committed to playing as a team and understand that for us to be really good and have a chance to compete every night, there's a certain way we have to play, and we have to embrace that."