Not much can be said about DJ Wilson except for being the epitome of the catch phrase “what could have been”. Save for a short stretch in mid-December to early February, Wilson had been relegated to the forgotten player on the bench throughout the season.
However, had it not been for the trade that brought Nikola Mirotic to the Bucks on February 7, it is not inconceivable to think that the Bucks would still be playing against the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals. This is not something that can usually be said for a no-name benchwarmer who only averaged 18 minutes across 48 regular season games.
DJ Wilson got his first legitimate minutes on December 17 in place of Ersan Ilyasova who broke his nose in practice a few days earlier. In the game against Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons, he scored 9 pts on 4/5 shooting, with 1 three pointer and added 3 rebounds, 3 assists and one block. 2 nights later, Wilson got 9 pts, 10 rebounds and 1 block against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Wilson started to gain more and more confidence as he got more playing time. Just 10 days after his first real test, Wilson scored 10 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a bounce-back win against the Knicks who had beaten them just two nights prior.
In an ironic twist of fate, Wilson also played one of his best games, when they beat the Toronto Raptors on the road on January 31st. Wilson showed out and got 16 pts, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block, while playing very good defense against the talented frontline of Toronto.
In hindsight, the worst thing that could have happened to Wilson (and the Bucks’ bench-defense) was the trade that netted them Mirotic. After the Bucks acquired the gunner from the Pelicans, Wilson’s minutes shrank considerably until a late-season minor injury ultimately relegated him to mop-up duty. Coach Bud had largely gone with Ilyasova and Mirotic as his back up bigs and effectively marginalized the defensive-minded Wilson.
Wilson could not get the minutes he deserved because of the logjam at the frontcourt position. It can be argued that he should have played more minutes against the pick and roll offense of the Raptors to avoid the numerous breakdowns that led to the thousands of open threes (a tad exaggerated). Unfortunately, Coach Bud simply was not able to find Wilson enough minutes throughout the postseason to feel comfortable putting him in clutch situations. This was truly an opportunity lost.
Nevertheless, Wilson contributed enough during the few times he saw the floor, which warrants getting a passing grade for the season.
Role Next Season: Bucks X-factor, 1st Big off the bench.
This recent playoff performance showed the Bucks that it is not enough to surround Giannis with capable shooters. When these designated shooters go cold, they should be able to do more things on the court to contribute towards the Bucks’ chances of winning. Brook Lopez remains to be the primary target to be the frontcourt partner of the Freak for the foreseeable future.
Still, moving forward, the Bucks will be best served by riding the Wilson-express. DJ Wilson stands to improve on his already impressive 36% clip from three-point land. He also moves his feet very well on defense and has a good nose for the ball. He is able to contest at the rim without fouling, making good use of his 7’3 wingspan and above-average athleticism. Best of all, outside of Giannis, there is no other player on the Bucks who can switch seamlessly from taking on high-scoring wings to bruising centers, while possessing the ability to stay in front of quick guards. In today’s NBA where small-ball lineups are the rage, Wilson’s 3 and D profile at the frontcourt position can unleash Giannis at the 5 without losing too much size.
Next season, the Bucks’ ceiling will be as high as Giannis wills it to be. The Bucks’ odds at a championship, however, will increase exponentially, if this year’s no-name wonder becomes next year’s household name.