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Bucks Saying Goodbye to Villanueva Tough, but the Right Choice

A couple of days ago, the Milwaukee Bucks announced that they were giving qualifying offers to point guard Ramon Sessions and forward Ersan Ilyasova, making them both restricted free agents.  This means that any team will be able to offer them contracts, but the Bucks can match them and retain the players.

What the offers to Session and Ilyasova also means is that power forward Charlie Villanueva, 24, becomes an unrestricted free agent and will not be returning to the Bucks next season.  Villanueva played three seasons for the Bucks where he averaged 13.5 points per game.

Last year, Villanueva took over the reigns, along with Richard Jefferson, when Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut went down with season-ending injuries.  Villanueva will draw many offers as a free agent, with Detroit and Cleveland being two possibilities.

Many Bucks fans did not understand why general manager John Hammond would trade Richard Jefferson for very little and then let Charlie Villanueva go despite drafting a point guard in the first round of the NBA draft.

First things first, the Bucks are retaining a player in Ramon Sessions that has become a triple-double threat every night if he is able to see the minutes.  He seems to be entering his prime right now, and while it might have made more sense to let him go, Sessions is a starting point guard in the NBA that comes at a fairly cheap price.

Speaking of price, Sessions was also going to be the cheaper of the two to re-sign.  While that can not be a deciding factor in who stays and who goes, it definitely is a factor.  Villanueva has two years on Sessions and has more than just half of a good season under his belt.  Also, with such a strong point guard class in this year’s draft, Sessions’ stock would have been down anyway.

In regards to the draft selection of Brandon Jennings, the Bucks were in a spot where they needed to obtain the best basketball player on their board and they believe they did just that. The Bucks are not one piece away from a championship, so selecting Jennings wasn’t a make or break deal.  Management believed he was the best player available.

Furthermore, today’s game allows for more than one point guard to be on the floor at a time.  If the Bucks really believe Jennings is going to be that good, they would have been foolish to pass on him.  Sessions and Jennings will form great depth in the Bucks backcourt along with Michael Redd and Charlie Bell.  The addition of Jodie Meeks, drafted in the second round, gives them a lot of scoring options that they lacked last year.

Another reason for letting Villanueva hit free agency was the acquisition of power forward Amir Johnson.  After the Jefferson trade to the Spurs, the Bucks sent Fabricio Oberto to the Pistons for the 6′9″ Johnson.  Drafted back in 2005 in the second round by the Pistons, Johnson has had trouble finding minutes on a deep Pistons team.

For the Bucks, Johnson will compete for the starting power forward position with second year forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.  If Johnson’s potential shines through, he will be a steal in the trade and make Bucks fans forget about Villanueva.

As hard as it was, the Bucks were better off letting Charlie Villanueva walk away instead of giving him an offer.  For as good of a guy he was off the court and the way he carried the team through rough portions of last year, the money wasn’t right and the Bucks felt he was dispensable enough to let go.

As for Richard Jefferson, it was also an economic decision that had to be made in order to keep Sessions.  In letting him go, a gaping hole was left at the small forward position that will be filled by Bruce Bowen and Joe Alexander.  While a move like this had to be done, it would have been nice to see some other moves made so that Sessions could be retained while keeping Jefferson as well.

Next year’s Bucks team could really go either way.  Losing two key players in Jefferson and Villanueva will undoubtedly hurt the unit, but new players will get a chance to prove themselves.  Johnson and Alexander will get the most minutes of their careers and Brandon Jennings can learn from Sessions in the backcourt.  It might not happen next year, but things are looking up for the Bucks’ future.

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June 30, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , | Leave a comment

A Different Take: The Bucks Should Take a Power Forward

In an earlier article, I gave reasons why the Bucks needed to take Johnny Flynn.  I believe he will be one of the two best point guards to come out of this year’s draft and can help the Bucks right away.  He could be the missing piece to a veteran team not that far away from the playoffs and, if he is there at the number ten spot, I would love for the Bucks to nab him.

However, this draft is completely up in the air as to who will be taken and many teams in front of Milwaukee need a point guard as well, including Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Minnesota, and New York.  There is a chance Flynn, who has performed extremely well in workouts, will be gone when the Bucks pick, so there are other options they might look at.

Playing the devil’s advocate, I’d like to give reasons why the Bucks would be better off taking a power forward in this year’s draft over one of the many point guards expected to go in the lottery and first round.

If the Bucks were to pass on a point guard, it would need to be that there was a competent player on the roster that would allow the team to not worry about the position.  Enter Ramon Sessions.  The 23-year-old out of Nevada just completed his second season in the NBA, finishing with 12.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in 79 games.

The second half of the Bucks’ season saw Sessions enter the starting lineup as he started the team’s last 35 games.  For the year, he started 39 games and in those games saw almost all of his averages increase to 15.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 7.6 assists.

He showed that he is clearly ready to take on a starting role in the NBA and has formed a solid chemistry with the rest of the starting unit, something that is hard to come by for a young player.

The Bucks have two key free agents that need to be re-signed this year in Sessions and power forward Charlie Villanueva.  General manager Scott Hammond has already said signing both players looks to be out of the question and that one player will not be there next year.

From a financial standpoint, Sessions will be the cheaper of the two to sign at this point in both of the players’ careers.  Because of that and the potential that Sessions brings as a starting point guard for a long time, he needs to be re-signed over Villanueva this off-season.

If Sessions were to be brought back next year, there is a very good chance that Villanueva would pack his bags and find a new destination.  With this potential move, there would be a gaping hole at the power forward position that the Bucks would need to address via the draft.

Looking at the current roster, last year’s second round pick Luc Richard Mbah a Moute showed a ton of promise for the future as he averaged 7.2 points and 5.9 rebounds off the bench.  He proved that he can be a solid back-up for the team but, at 6’8″, probably is not big enough to play every day at power forward.

Other than Mbah a Moute, the Bucks’ roster features journeymen and deep bench players when it comes to power forward, meaning the four spot will surely be addressed on June 25th.

As much as the draft features a potential 11 first round point guards, the power forward position is plentiful as well and there are a few names that could be called when the Bucks pick in the ten spot.

Jordan Hill added a great post game on offense to his arsenal this year.

Jordan Hill added a great post game on offense to his arsenal this year.

The first option for the Bucks would be Jordan Hill, a 6’10” power forward from the University of Arizona.  Before the lottery, Hill was considered a top three pick by many over the likes of Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden, and in some people’s minds, Ricky Rubio.

As a junior, Hill took his game to a completely different level while averaging 18.3 points and 11 rebounds to go with 1.7 blocks.  Known as a defensive stopper his first two years, he rounded out his game and led the Wildcats to a Sweet 16 appearance in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

For whatever reason, Hill’s name has slid slightly down the draft boards as pre-draft workouts and combines have taken place.  Some believe there is chance he is still taken as high as fourth by the Sacramento Kings, while others think he can drop all the way down to the Bucks.

Hill struggled somewhat during one-on-one drills in a few pre-draft camps and finished dead last at the combine with a lane agility test of 12.23 seconds.  However, his feel for the game and blue-collar approach has made him a very likeable player and one that can play in the Association for quite some time.

Names like Tyreke Evans, Stephon Curry, and DeMar DeRozan have all been seeming to jump past Hill these days and it is now a mystery as to where he might go.  It could be the less-than-stellar performances at the workouts or that Hill isn’t the flashiest player in this year’s draft, but if he is available at pick ten, the Bucks would be wise to make him their power forward of the future.

With so many teams taking a look at Hill, it would be no surprise to see him selected before the Bucks pick, but there are other players out there worthy of the tenth pick.

The next best option would be Earl Clark, a 6’10” junior from Lousiville.  While he does not possess the build of a true power forward, his height and skills allow for him to be a tweener at the position. Much like a Lamar Odom or Charlie Villanueva, Clark can play both positions and play both very well.  Prior to last year, Clark was a consensus top-five pick that was ready to carry Lousiville deep into the NCAA Tournament.

While Clark was on the Big East Champion Cardinals that took the title of the number one overall seed in the tournament, his year was somewhat of a letdown.  He averaged 14.2 points and 8.7 rebounds but only shot 45.7 percent from the field and did not use his size as much as scouts would have liked him to.

Still, he is one of the rare players whose body might suit him better in the pros than the college game.  He has all the potential to be a great player in the league if he puts the time in, and while he is not the traditonal power forward, the Bucks may take a stab at him at number ten.

DeJuan Blair has all the potential in the world, but can he stay healthy?

DeJuan Blair has all the potential in the world, but can he stay healthy?

Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair has looked very good in pre-draft workouts and has caught the eye of a few teams in the lottery.  However, there are many concerns about his knees being able to hold up in the pros that have scared off a few teams.  While he stands just 6’8″, Blair is as tough as they come and uses that to offset his lack of size at power forward.

Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina’s all-time scoring leader, has also seen his stock rise over the last month and is another potential pick for the Bucks.  As much as the label comes with him, Hansbrough brings more energy to the game than anyone else in the draft.  The athleticism is there and he measured out bigger than most thought, making him an option at power forward.

James Johnson, another undersized power forward from Wake Forest, has loads of potential but has not shown it in workouts thus far.  His stock has fallen considerably and would be a huge reach for the Bucks, especially because his name has not been linked to Milwaukee once.

At the end of the day, there is a good chance that the Bucks pull the trigger on a point guard.  This is one of the deepest drafts for point guards in recent memory and there are potential gems everywhere.  However, if Rubio, Evans, Curry, Flynn, and even Holiday are all taken, it could potentially cause the Bucks to change their direction that they take in the draft.  In eight days, it will all be figured out.  For now, we can only wait.

June 17, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, NBA Draft | , | 1 Comment

Milwaukee Bucks Are One Good Off-Season Away From Second Season

Up until the last couple weeks of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks remained in the playoff hunt for the final spot and a trip to get abused for four games by the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the Bucks finished the year 34-48, there were a few key factors that make this record misleading.

First and foremost, shooting guard Michael Redd battled two different injuries that caused him to miss 49 games last year. A sprained ankle in November caused him to miss 14 games and on January 24th, Redd tore his ACL, which ended his season indefinitely.

Not to be forgotten was Andrew Bogut, who played in just 36 games this year after a stress fracture in his back ended his year. Bogut was averaging career highs in field goal percentage and rebounds before he went down with the injury.

The Bucks went 12-11 when both Redd and Bogut played and after Bogut went down with his season ending injury (Redd had already been out for the year), the Bucks went 10-21 without their team leaders. The majority of the teams in the league would have a hard time competing without their best outside shooter and best big man. Redd and Bogut were arguably the two best players on the team and the Bucks visibly struggled because of it.

Coming into next year, both are expected to be fully recovered and healthy to begin the season. Two players that may not begin the season in Milwaukee are free agents Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions.

After injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva stepped up and played the best basketball of his career.

After injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva stepped up and played the best basketball of his career.

Villanueva took over as the team leader when Redd and Bogut went down with their injuries and had a career year. He posted career highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and free throw percentage and kept the Bucks’ playoff hopes alive up until the final two weeks of the season.

Sessions, everyone’s favorite fantasy basketball point guard sleeper, posted very solid numbers as well. Sessions took over the starting role at the end of January and saw his numbers increase even more.

The issue starts when talking about what to do with Villanueva and Sessions. On one hand, you have Villanueva who was the Bucks best player last year and was the glue that held the injury-depleted team together. He is 25 years old and seems to be coming into the prime of his career.

On the other hand, Sessions has proved that he can be a starting point guard in the NBA and, at only 23 years old, has a very bright future ahead of him. When the Bucks brought in Luke Ridnour, they thought they were going to have their starting point guard, but Ridnour has turned out to be just a solid back-up.

Villanueva will be more costly than Sessions, and general manager Scott Hammond has made it clear that it does not look like both players can be re-signed. Also, the Bucks will not be big players in this year’s free agency signing so it looks as though they can focus on keeping their in-house players.

Villanueva is more important to Milwaukee’s success and I believe he will be the player that the Bucks keep. Sessions is showing early signs of being a Jason Kidd-type player but at this stage in the game, Villanueva is a better player. Another reason that Villanueva will be re-signed over Sessions is looking at the NBA Draft and which positions will be available for the Bucks come June.

In my most recent mock draft, 11 point guards were taken in the first round. This draft class is one of the deepest in recent memory at the point guard position and, with the Bucks projected to pick tenth, a franchise point guard will be available when it is their turn to select.
Leading the rankings at the point guard position is 19-year-old Spaniard Ricky Rubio.

After dominating the Redeem Team in the Olympics, Rubio got the national attention he deserved. His strength lies in his passing and the way he runs the floor in transition. He is very raw and may take a few years to pan out, but his ceiling is as high as anyone else’s in this draft.

There is almost no chance that Rubio slips to number ten for the Bucks, but the next three point guards on my list are pretty much ranked the same and could be available depending on who slips. Brandon Jennings, the point guard who chose Italy over Arizona, enters the draft as my second highest rated point guard. Jennings is more of a scorer than a passer which might not make him the ideal fit in Milwaukee, but his overall talent and potential is something the Bucks could use right away.

Johnny Flynn could do great things next to Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, and Andrew Bogut.

Johnny Flynn could do great things next to Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, and Andrew Bogut.

In my mock draft, I had the Bucks selecting Syracuse point guard Johnny Flynn. Something about him makes me believe that he is going to be the next great point guard in the NBA. The way he leads his team with such confidence, despite being just a sophomore, is unbelievable. He finishes at the hoop with power and has an improving jump shot.

Ty Lawson is a step behind Flynn in my book, but that is no knock on the North Carolina point guard. Lawson had an amazing season and tournament that ended with a National Championship and looks to be a sure fire lottery pick.

As it pertains to the Bucks, Rubio would be the best fit for the Bucks based solely on him being the best point guard. After Rubio, Flynn and Lawson both distribute the ball excellently and can become leaders on the court. They both differ from Jennings who is more of a combo guard, but there is a good chance one of these four will be taken by the Bucks if Sessions is not re-signed.

If Sessions is re-signed and Villanueva is let go, there is a huge hole left at the power forward position. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute proved that he is capable of playing a good 25 minutes a night but is not a starter.

Unless the Bucks win the Lottery, Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin will not be available anywhere else. After Griffin, Arizona power forward Jordan Hill is the next best option. While I see him going in the top five after his much improved 2009 campaign, he would be a great pick for the Bucks to team up with Bogut in the frontcourt.

James Johnson out of Wake Forest is a project that has a lot of upside because of his athleticism and strength.

DeJuan Blair is an interesting prospect because he does not quite have the athletic game style that you look for in an NBA power forward. He is as hard of a worker as you will find in the draft, but his height might be a concern.

The Bucks have the 41st selection in the draft and the second round is loaded with height. I have the Bucks taking Temple shooting guard Dionte Christmas but other big men of note are Xavier’s Derrick Brown, Arizona State’s Jeff Pendergraph, and North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough.

A healthy Michael Redd will be key if the Bucks want to return to the playoffs next year.

A healthy Michael Redd will be key if the Bucks want to return to the playoffs next year.

If the Bucks can stay healthy next year and hit on a good point guard in the draft, there is reason to believe the Bucks can fight for a playoff spot next year. Richard Jefferson and Joe Alexander are holding down the small forward position and, despite some rumors, there is a good chance Jefferson stays put in Milwaukee.

Redd and Charlie Bell formed a solid shooting guard combo with Keith Bogans, and Luke Ridnour gives very solid minutes at the point guard position. Scott Skiles is a good enough coach that he can get the Bucks to where they can potentially be next year: the NBA Playoffs.

May 11, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, NBA Draft | , , | 1 Comment