With the 2014 NBA Draft lottery set to take place on Tuesday evening, it’s time to look at the teams in the lottery themselves.
Ping pong balls being used to determine the order of the first 14 picks has always been a bit intriguing and sometimes controversial. Fans love to come up with conspiracy theories about frozen or slightly opened envelopes in favor of certain teams, stacking the deck or just rigging the system completely. There’s no denying that some of those theories have some merit (in crazy town) but that’s besides the point (though the conversation will again come up if the Los Angeles Lakers receive the top pick).
The Milwaukee Bucks have the best shot at winning the draft lottery and earning the top selection in the 2014 draft. With a 25 percent chance, Milwaukee will be attempting to add their names to a little bit of history. Since the lottery system was first implemented in 1990, only three teams that have had the highest percent chance of landing the first pick have been given the first pick (the New Jersey Nets in 1990, Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 and Orlando Magic in 2004). Those three picks turned into Derrick Coleman, LeBron James and Dwight Howard, respectively.
Now, the Bucks are hoping to become just the fourth team since the lottery’s inception to earn the top overall selection with the highest odds. However, as history dictates, the odds are not in their favor.
Milwaukee is in a tailspin. After a playoff berth during the 2012-13 season (#BucksIn6), the Bucks decided to part ways with their backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, letting Ellis go to the Dallas Mavericks via free agency and sending Jennings to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton via a sign-and-trade.
By bringing in Knight, the Bucks felt like they had a solid backcourt foundation to replace Jennings and Ellis by also signing O.J. Mayo to a three-year contract. Add those two quality guards to a defensive minded center with an expanding offensive game in Larry Sanders and Milwaukee had themselves a viable playoff contender. They also brought in Larry Drew to be the new head coach. After his success with the Atlanta Hawks, Bucks fans were hoping that their future was bright.
Things quickly fell off the rails for Milwaukee, however, as Brandon Knight suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter of the first game of the season against the New York Knicks. Knight missed eight of the first 10 games of the season, leaving rookie second round draft pick Nate Wolters to fill the void as the starting point guard. Before the season began, Wolters wasn’t expected to play a lot, but his opportunity came knocking and he answered the door.
The injury woes didn’t stop at Knight, unfortunately, as Sanders suffered a broken thumb in a bar fight and missed 25 of the first 28. Upon his return to the lineup, Sanders’ aggressiveness, physicality and overall contributions were limited and short-lived. Sanders wound up only playing in 23 games throughout the season. To make things worse, Mayo began to balloon up physically and barely saw the floor after a short stint as a starter. He missed the final 11 games with an “ankle injury” and rarely saw the floor for coach Drew.
To top everything off, with the rash of injuries and other issues within the roster, Drew was forced to let his two rookies take the helm more than he had originally planned, though was extremely inconsistent at doing so. Wolters was the starter in absence of Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo became a starter sporadically throughout the year as well. They, along with second-year player John Henson, were expected to lead the Bucks out of the cellar and be a winner. Despite their best efforts, Milwaukee never stood a chance.
While Giannis won over the internet this year, he still had problems adapting to the NBA-style of play. He’s a small forward whose size and length should make him a power forward but played mostly shooting guard and wanted to play point guard a bit too often. Wolters barely the floor for the entire month of January and Henson still has some progressing and growing to do. Coach Drew eventually felt like the team needed a boost and he used a starting backcourt that featured a healthy Knight and determined Wolters. Their styles meshed very well as it allowed Knight to play off the ball and focus solely on being a scorer and let Wolters run the offense through the rest of the team. Again, this was short lived as Wolters suffered a broken hand and missed the final 13 games of the season.
There are so many problems with the team as a whole that Milwaukee could benefit more from the top overall pick than any other team in the lottery. Although, there is one silvering lining for the Bucks. As of Thursday, the NBA Board of Governors has unanimously agreed to sell the franchise to Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, who have remained firm in their commitment to keeping the franchise in Milwaukee. This news at least gives the franchise some overall stability moving forward.
While the ownership situation is settled out, the Bucks’ draft hopes still have some concern attached to it. With history not on their side to earn the top overall pick, where does Milwaukee turn? They may not get the top pick, but the Bucks can’t earn a pick lower than fourth overall, which still leaves them with options. They could have any combination of Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Dante Exum available to them, as well as the rest of the very talented draft pool.
History is not on Milwaukee’s side, but with a month before the draft after the lottery on Tuesday, there’s plenty of time to figure out a potential plan B (or C or D).