The Bucks went out and addressed the center position this summer by signing Brook Lopez. He is an immediate upgrade over every center the Bucks currently have and will be the starter. That leaves three guys fighting for the backup position. John Henson who started 69 games last year for the Bucks. Thon Maker who excelled in the playoffs last year. Finally, Tyler Zeller who the Bucks acquired near the trade deadline last season.
John is the longest consecutively tenured Buck. He was the starting center for most of last year, however now he must fight for his run. John has always been a good rim protector, but every other aspect of his game has left something to be desired. He’s always fallen back on blocked shots, his lefty hook, and the Bucks being weak at center. That’s not going to cut it anymore, he’s going need to step up and prove he’s got more to give to the team than blocking shots. Whether he gains weight and avoids getting bullied by thicker centers or he adds more to his offensive game. The point is he won’t be able to just coast.
Thon has the most potential of the three candidates. He brings a ton of energy and can be an absolute enforcer around the rim. The team really seems to root for him and whenever he’s able to accomplish anything it always seems bigger than anyone else. However, he has the most rough spots as well. He’s too skinny, has bad hands, can’t rebound, a fouling machine and last year he wasn’t making his 3’s. Now if Thon gains weight and goes back to making his 3’s he could walk away with this backup job. But, if he doesn’t improve on his rough spots he will again spend most of his time cheering for others rather than having others cheering for him.
Tyler is the newest of the Bucks on the list. He was acquired last year a few days before the trade deadline. The Bucks sent Rashad Vaughn and a second-round pick back to Brooklyn. Zeller was brought in because of his girth. The Bucks had a huge problem with getting bullied inside by bigger centers and with the Eric Bledsoe trade they were left with nothing but walking sticks. However, Zeller really didn’t solve too much. The Bucks still got bullied constantly and they still finished in the cellar in rebounding. Tyler probably has the most to lose his contract is non-guaranteed. He’s going need to prove that he can help the Bucks in these facets to not only get his shot at the backup center job, but also to stay on this roster.
With the NBA’s growing obsession with small-ball this is something to really consider. Giannis had some run at the 5 last year, with up and down results. Most memorably against Boston in the post-season. There were times where he was easily backed down and taken to the rack by Al Horford and it felt like the Bucks were singing the same song just using a different singer. However, if Giannis can prove he’s ready to put up a good fight down low this can create the ultimate nightmare matchup. Giannis is way too athletic for traditional 5’s and will make an opponent have to go to the bench and play the Bucks game rather than their own.
Ersan has been a Buck three separate times in his career. He brings loads of experience, rebounding, and the ability to shoot the 3. Ersan has played under coach Budenholzer for a chunk of time in the last 2 years. Under Coach Budenholzer Ersan has played a good amount of time at the 5. It is very reasonable to think he will play some this year as well.
The Bucks have options here, which is good. Competition can be a good driving force for individuals and could propel everyone on this list to be better. Now someone is going to win this job out of camp, but just because they’re the first big off the bench in the first game it doesn’t mean that’s how they’ll roll every game. This situation is set-up to be very fluid. Coach Budenholzer will be deploying different guys for different situations depending on the game. This means that if you didn’t win the job right away you shouldn’t be discouraged. However, don’t be too comfortable this is a different team with different expectations if you don’t step your game up you may find yourself on a different roster.