The Milwaukee Bucks are defending NBA champions for myriad reasons — the most obvious being that they have Giannis Antetokounmpo. But general manager Jon Horst has done an underrated job at piecing together a deep roster with his cupboard pretty bare.
Milwaukee has Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday on max contracts, necessitating filling out the rest of the roster on the cheap. The franchise also lacks first-round draft picks after sending most of them to New Orleans for Holiday prior to last season.
Any young, promising (and cheap) player is important for teams like the Bucks. But so is winning a title while the window is open. This often creates a conundrum: Save those promising assets for the future, or trade them while they’re still valuable in return for something in the win-now range?
In Milwaukee’s case, that brings us to Jordan Nwora.
The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t been as dominant as usual this NBA season
The Bucks had the NBA’s best regular-season record in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Then they won the ‘chip in 2021.
You’d forgive prognosticators for assuming Milwaukee would roll through the regular season and finish with one of the top two seeds — their only real competition being Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets.
That hasn’t gone according to plan in the Cream City.
As of Jan. 22, the Bucks are 29-19 and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. (They are, however, only 1.5 games behind the Nets).
The main culprit for Milwaukee’s struggles has been injuries.
Center Brook Lopez played the first game of the year and hasn’t taken the floor since. There’s worry his season might be over.
Despite leading the charge for this year’s MVP, The Greek Freak has missed nine games. Middleton has missed 12. Holiday has missed 13.
DeMarcus Cousins isn’t even on the team anymore, yet he played 17 games for Milwaukee. It’s been piece-together-a-lineup desperation time for head coach Mike Budenholzer on many nights.
The bright (really bright) spot? When Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Holiday play together, the Bucks are 18-3.
But the question remains — does the team have enough to repeat?
Jordan Nwora has proven to be a developing, multi-level scorer
That’s a long list, and with the team’s injury history, does Horst need to make another sneaky move for depth purposes?
As stated earlier, the Bucks’ roster builder doesn’t have a lot to work with. Donte DiVincenzo has been the most rumored name during these conversations, but he’s only played nine games (due to injury, obviously).
Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood aren’t going to draw much attention. Enter Nwora.
This year, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound wing has taken on a much more significant role (due to injury, obviously, again). He’s played 36 games and is averaging more than 20 minutes a night.
In his time on the floor, Nwora has flashed legitimate scoring potential. For someone his size, that’s a valuable skill in today’s NBA. Earlier this season, Holiday dubbed him a “younger Khris Middleton,” and those comparisons are easy to spot.
The 23-year-old is shooting 37.4% from three on more than four attempts per game. That’s his calling card — he can fire away from deep with accuracy. Unfortunately, another calling card is the first part of that sentence — fire away.
The Louisville product often has the green light to shoot when he’s on the floor. And he has no problem doing that. Most of those shots come from mid-range and beyond, as well. Nwora isn’t necessarily a shot creator; he’s a shot-maker.
So far, in his second year in the league, that’s what the wing has developed into. But on the right team in the proper role, a big wing who can fire threes and carry a bench unit for a handful of minutes at a time is a key contributor.
But is it valuable enough to help the Bucks win a championship right now?
What’s the right decision regarding Nwora and the 2021-22 season?
Nwora is Milwaukee’s most promising young player. DiVincenzo, when healthy, is a two-way guard with good athleticism and shooting range. But he hasn’t been healthy and hasn’t shown any of those skills in more than six months.
George Hill, Hood, and Ojeleye aren’t around for possible development. They’re strictly veteran depth — and in Hood’s and Ojeleye’s cases, break-in-case-of-emergency veteran depth.
So if the Bucks want to make a move, Nwora would be the one to go. Realistically, however, the second-year wing isn’t going to bring back much in return.
Maybe he’d fetch another big who can stretch the floor and help fill some of Lopez’s minutes, someone like Gorgui Dieng in Atlanta (the Hawks are willing to deal pretty much anyone at the moment anyway.)
Perhaps the most attractive part of sending Nwora packing, though, would be to open a roster spot for a chance to be active on the buyout market for a ring-chasing veteran. A second-round pick or two would come back to Milwaukee in return.
But keeping Jordan isn’t a bad call either. He’s made a big enough jump from year one to year two to show he’s not necessarily a finished product. Maybe Holiday’s Middleton comp is correct — Khash was a late bloomer.
The question is: Do the Milwaukee Bucks have the patience to wait, or is the allure of consecutive NBA titles too strong?
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.