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Even while accounting for the lockout-shortened schedule this past season, the Bucks sweated for a full 15,865 regular season game minutes.
Yet during the offseason, sometimes all it takes is a second.
On June 28 – exactly two months and two days after the team concluded its regular season slate – the NBA Draft will take place at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. As expected, the Bucks came away from the draft lottery with the number 12 overall draft pick in the first round. In what is considered a relatively deep draft, the team should have the chance to find a real talent.
But if past is indeed prologue, the Bucks might just find an equal or even superior player in the second. That is, the second round.
No team has found second round NBA talent quite like the Bucks recently. Nine players drafted by the Bucks in the second round (Michael Redd, Keith Bogans, Ersan Ilyasova, Ramon Sessions, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jodie Meeks, Darington Hobson, Jerome Jordan, and Jon Leuer) played at least five NBA games this past season – the most of any team in the NBA. And the bulk of these players have carved out careers as solid contributors, if not much more.
The most famous second-round pick in franchise history is Michael Redd, whom the team nabbed with the number 43 overall pick in 2000. The Buck chose Redd right after Lavor Postell, Hanno Möttölä, Chris Carrawell, and Olumide Oyediji came off the draft board. Redd now ranks fourth in franchise history in points, second in three-pointers made, and seventh in games played. And he was still suiting up for the Suns as of this past season. Those four players picked right in front of him? All of them have been out of the league for at least eight years now.
While Redd spent his best years with the Bucks, some of the good ones got away more quickly. Ramon Sessions (the number 57 pick in the 2007 draft) and Jodie Meeks (the number 41 pick in the 2009 draft) started regularly for playoff teams this season. Sessions, most recently seen starting at point guard in the playoffs for the Lakers, went from the NBADL to enjoy some memorable moments with the Bucks, including setting a franchise-record 24 assists in a game against the Bulls in 2008. Meeks just started 50 games for a surprising 76ers team that defeated the Bulls in the first round.
But there is more story here about the players who are still around.
Ersan Ilyasova is an unrestricted free agent, so his future with the Bucks cannot be written about in absolutes. But the number 36 draft pick in the 2005 draft was absolutely one of the team’s best players this past season. The 2005 second round actually produced a batch of useful players including Brandon Bass (33), Louis Williams (45) and Andray Blatche (49) – as well as none other than Monta Ellis (40), who was drafted by the Warriors. Arguably, Ilyasova had the best season of them all.
A few years later, the Bucks found Luc Mbah a Moute just one draft pick later (37) than they had found Ilyasova. The defensive ace has since started 188 games – and has finished many against the opposing team’s top offensive option. Only Mario Chalmers (34) has started more games from the second round of the 2008 draft.
The team’s most recent version of second-round success is embodied by Jon Leuer, a University of Wisconsin product who climbed into the starting lineup just two weeks into his rookie season with the Bucks. In his first start, Leuer added 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists in a win over the Pistons. By virtually all measures, he was not only a choice second round rookie, but one of the most productive per-minute rookies overall – to wit, Leuer ranked sixth among all rookies in PER.
Yet even with all of these sharp late draft picks, the Bucks have not always experienced great overall success, which might lead some to think that it is all about hitting on the high draft picks, not the low ones.
Or, in the case of the model NBA franchise of the last 15 years, you are best-suited to get all of them right.
The Spurs have not missed the playoffs since selecting Tim Duncan with the top overall draft pick in 1997. As the famous story goes, the division-winning Spurs crashed all the way down to 20-62 after star center David Robinson missed most of the season 1996-97 regular season with a back injury and broken foot. That anomalous season paved the way for a lottery-night win. The rest is history – history that includes four NBA titles.
And while Duncan was the catalyst behind all of the titles, the team would never have scaled to such heights without making two of the greatest draft picks in recent history following the selection of Duncan. Tony Parker was technically a first-round pick (28) in 2001, but he was indeed the very last pick of the first round. And Manu Ginobili (57) was the second-to-last pick in the entire draft in 1999, just behind Melvin Levett, Kris Klack, and Tim Young. Parker and Ginobili are true exceptions – talent so great rarely can be mined that late in the draft no matter how hard you look. But the Spurs are one of the league’s truly exceptional franchises – and the reason for that lies much deeper than simply a fortuitous first overall draft pick.
The Bucks welcomed six prospects to the Cousins Center on June 3: Jared Cunningham, Chris Johnson, Darius Johnson-Odom, Kris Joseph, Jordan Taylor, and Tony Wroten. Some of them are more likely than others to already be gone at 42 – for example, Wroten is projected at number 25 in the latest DraftExpress mock draft. The team will work out more prospects in the upcoming weeks, but it will all be a guessing game until June 28.
Jeff Weltman, the team’s assistant general manager, has already vowed to go for the best player available in the second round.
"At 42, you don't know what you're going to be picking. You pick the best player.”
Asserting an intention to draft the best player available in the second round is neither unexpected nor groundbreaking. Most people in most front offices say the same type of thing. But forgive us if we place at least some well-founded hope that there is some credence to these words, and that the Bucks might just actually draft the best player available – it would not be the first time they turned one second into memorable years.
|Bucks.com welcomes Alex Boeder as a new feature writer. Alex was a contributer to Brew Hoop and SB Nation. You can follow Alex on Twitter @alexboeder or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.|