Coming into the season, it was no secret the Milwaukee Bucks had one of the league’s prized possessions in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Especially on the less-than-max contract, they have him on for two more seasons after this. However, draft picks have been heavily scrutinized in the recent past and there were legitimate questions regarding the supporting cast. If 2019 isn’t viewed as the best-case scenario in this regard, it’s close.
The Bucks now have a stable of rookie contracts that have produced. If they want to be a championship contender for the foreseeable future, pairing Giannis with cheap, young talent is of paramount importance. These players have accomplished this so far in 2018-19.
We don’t need to spend too much time on him, for a couple of reasons. One, he has arguably the highest profile of the players on this list. He won (a semi-controversial) Rookie of the Year Award and has become a super-efficient part of the starting lineup. More importantly, though, for the purposes of this article, is that Brodgon is set to become a restricted free agent. Meaning his rookie contract will soon be pocket change compared to what he’ll see this offseason. Still, his impact and value cannot be understated.
The most expensive of the rookie contracts currently on the roster, by virtue of being selected with the 10th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Maker may not have lived up to the expectations of some, but if you were to give him the benefit of the doubt, consider this: He was about as raw a prospect as you can get in the NBA, and his career timeline has sort of had to exist on parallel timelines. He’s had to develop his game overall, which is a huge undertaking while having to create his own role on the team … another tough thing to do in itself. For much of his career up until this point, Milwaukee had a stable of bigs that were in direct competition for minutes with Maker. That’s been cleared up a little since the trade that shipped John Henson away. But while Maker has shown flashes, he still looks a little stiff out there.
Brown went from seemingly coming out of nowhere to be a decent contributor as a rookie last year to being buried on the bench early this season to being a really important part of the rotation (again). Brown has found a niche on the Bucks as a tenacious defender and a capable shooter. The 23-year-old is a bit hard to peg though. He likes playing physically but lacks the size in order for his play to match his mentality. And he leaves a little to be desired as far as pure athleticism goes. But, like Maker, Brown is capable of having some where-did-that-come-from flashes of playmaking.
I’m not saying DJ Wilson just woke up one day and decided to go from NBA afterthought to an all-around playmaker, but if he did, his career path would look exactly the same. Placing a ceiling on his capabilities as a pro is as befuddling as his career trajectory to this point. The Bucks will tell anyone who listens that the biggest reason for Wilson’s ascension is that he’s finally healthy. That’s certainly part of it. But does it explain all of it? That’s the matter of opinion. Either way, Wilson’s come-to-basketball-Jesus moment happened at exactly the right time. Most were clamoring for the team to cut bait. Now the Michigan product is on track to be an indispensable part of the core that management will build the team around going forward.
The rookie played more minutes early in the season than most fans anticipated. And better than predicted, too. But he’s never really been the same after a leg injury. Give the Bucks credit, they seem to have a plan for him, though. With the unexpected depth, DiVincenzo is something of the odd man out. However, by utilizing the G-League, Milwaukee has found on-court minutes for him. He’s played well when suiting up for Oshkosh, and that could minimize the effect of not getting NBA minutes from a confidence standpoint. Donte has become polarizing to an extent. Mainly because he’s constantly being judged against a couple of players who were taken after him. It’s too early to hand out a grade for his rookie season, but it’s not hard to envision a solid rotation player. You just might have to squint a little for the time being.
It’s extremely hard – and unfair – to judge a player after only 37 minutes (which is what Wood’s compiled in a Bucks uniform). There are people who think Wood should be getting Maker’s minutes. Others maybe lean towards giving up on him if the team isn’t willing to give him a shot. He looks like Shaq in the G-League but has gotten the “DNP – Coach’s Decision” in all but six games. Who knows? But given how patient the Bucks were with Wilson, maybe they have a long-term plan for Wood’s true NBA arrival.
Perhaps there isn’t an All-Star among these players, but they’ve all proved (to varying extents) that they belong on an NBA roster and can contribute to successful teams. That’s more of a certainty than conventional thinking heading into the season. At this point, it’s a mix-and-match collection of athletes who have very complementary skill sets, especially when paired next to Giannis.
But the most important step is yet to come, as each one of them (with the possible exception of Brogdon) has to make yet one more leap to really cement their place on the roster and in the league.