By GERY WOELFEL
The NBA draft is supposed to bring hope and optimism to its 30 teams and their fan bases.
Hitting on a draft pick can do wonders and be game-changers for a franchise. Take the Milwaukee Bucks, for example. Nine years ago, the franchise was in a woeful state. Its future looked bleak.
But the Bucks’ fortunes radically changed when then Bucks general manager John Hammond used the team’s first-round pick – the 15th overall selection – to draft a gangly, precocious teenager from Greece named Giannis Antetokounmpo. Thanks to Antetokunmpo, the Bucks have ascended to being one of the league’s elite team.
But in the last five years, or since Hammond’s departure from the organization, the Bucks’ drafts under his successor Jon Horst have been underwhelming. In that five-year span, Horst failed to find a draft prospect who could provide immediate or long-term help. He traded three of his first-round picks, and the two he kept made little to no impact on the team.
Horst’s first draft selection came in 2017 when he chose forward D.J. Wilson with the 17th overall pick. Wilson was a bust and is now out of the league.
Horst, who described himself as a “basketball expert’’ at a press conference to announce his hiring as the Bucks’ GM, opted for Wilson over Atlanta’s John Collins, Toronto’s OG Anunoby, Philadelphia’s Kyle Kuzma and Derrick White, who played a major role in the Boston Celtics advancing to this year’ Finals.
The other first-round pick Horst didn’t trade, at least immediately, was Donte DiVincenzo. The latter was taken with the 17th overall pick in the 2018 draft. He was a marginal contributor his first two pro seasons before becoming a full-time starter in his third season when he averaged a pedestrian 10.4 points.
But Horst and the Bucks brass obviously didn’t think DiVincenzo was integral to the franchise’s future and jettisoned him to Sacramento as part of a four-team trade.
In the transaction, the Bucks obtained veteran Serge Ibaka, two future second-rounds picks and cash. Ibaka was expected to play a key role off the bench in the playoffs, but that didn’t occur. He played just six playoff games, averaging 1.5 points and 1.7 rebounds. He isn’t likely to be on the Bucks’ roster next season.
It’s not only Horst’s shoddy draft record that will be working against the Bucks during Thursday night’s NBA draft, but also the recent history of players taken at the 24th spot.
In the last decade, not one player chosen 24th overall made an instant impact. Anfernee Simons, who was chosen by Portland in the 2018 draft, and Tim Hardaway Jr., taken by New York in the 2013 draft, are easily the best players taken with the 24th pick in the last 10 years. And it took both of those players several seasons to find their way in the NBA.
Simons, who averaged 17.3 points this season, averaged a paltry 3.8, 8.3 and 7.8 points in his first three seasons. Hardaway, who has gone on to have a nice career and is a starter for Dallas, started just 32 games in his first three seasons.
But the Bucks aren’t in a position for a draft choice to develop. They are in a win-now mode. They especially need immediate help to solidify their tepid bench. The 24th pick in this draft isn’t likely to provide that.
Here is a list of the last 10 players drafted with the 24th overall pick:
Houston — Josh Christopher, sg, Arizona State
Milwaukee – R.J. Hampton, sg, Little Elm (Texas) High School.
Philadelphia – Ty Jerome, sg, Virginia
Portland – Anfernee Simons, sg, IMG (Fla.) Academy
Utah – Tyler Lyden, pf, Syracuse
Philadelphia – Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, sf, France
Cleveland – Tyus Jones, pg, Duke
Charlotte – Shabazz Napier, pg, Connecticut
New York – Tim Hardaway Jr., sg, Michigan
Cleveland – Jared Cunningham, sg, Oregon State