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Fans of Wayne’s World and/or Alice Cooper will know that Milwaukee is an Algonquin name meaning, “The Good Land.” Unfortunately for fans of the Milwaukee Bucks and/or Marquette University, the basketball landscape has been anything but good.
Hoops hope in Wisconsin’s largest city rests with a pair of Duke basketball alums. The Bucks drafted Jabari Parker second overall and Marquette named Steve Wojciechoski head coach. Both step into difficult situations, but both bring a skill set that promises a bright future. The question is, which one is more likely to succeed in Milwaukee?
Unlike Wojo, Parker didn’t have a choice in the matter of making his way to the Midwest. When the Cleveland Cavaliers took Andrew Wiggins with the first pick, the Bucks happily snapped up Parker.
There is no question about Parker’s ability to score. As a freshman at Duke, he showcased an ability to score in the post, hit mid-range jumpers, shoot threes and take the ball coast to coast on fast breaks. That versatility led to 19.1 points-per-game and a shooting percentage of 47.3, the best among regular players on the Blue Devils roster. Though moving to the NBA will be an adjustment, Parker should score with the same reliability he demonstrated at Duke.
The problem for Parker in Milwaukee is that he may be the only scoring option for the Bucks.
Milwaukee finished dead last in the laughably weak Eastern Conference. They averaged 95.5 points-per-game, which was second worst in the entire league. From day one, Parker will need to be the centerpiece of an offense that doesn’t have too many other scoring threats.
The worst case for Parker is that he’s swamped by defenders and his teammates are unable to take advantage of the space that opens up. In such a scenario, Parker’s stats would be depressed and his team would continue to dwell at the bottom of the standings.
A more optimistic view would include Parker’s veteran teammates like Brandon Knight, Ramon Sessions and OJ Mayo shouldering some of the scoring burden. From there, building blocks like Larry Sanders and Greek prospect Giannis Antetokounmpo could develop into core pieces of a team on the rise.
Unfortunately for Parker, even the most diehard Bucks fan has to admit that the best case scenario is still a few years away if it even comes to fruition at all. A market like Milwaukee can’t attract top-notch free agents and so must build through the draft, trades and savvy free agent signings. Hiring Jason Kidd as a coach with mammoth authority over personnel decisions is a massive gamble in that regard.
The Bucks are banking on youth that could conceivably grow into formidable talent. The trouble is that with youth comes the kind of inexperience that can undermine all that promise and potential.
Steve Wojciechowski is facing a similar problem, but under different circumstances. Unlike Parker, Wojo chose to move to Milwaukee and attempt to rebuild Marquette’s basketball program. When Buzz Williams left the Golden Eagles for a lower paying job at Virginia Tech, it set off warning signs that something was amiss at Marquette. Nevertheless, Wojo decided he was up for the challenge.
Unlike Jason Kidd, who went straight from playing to being a head coach, Wojo spent 15 years on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff. He’ll need that experience, because, unlike the Bucks, Marquette doesn’t have a young superstar to build around.
The Golden Eagles lost four key players to graduation and when Williams left, many of the committed recruits recommitted somewhere else. Wojo did manage to hang on to incoming freshmen Sandy Cohen and Nick Noskowiak, both of whom could make contributions right away.
The core of the team Wojo has taken over, however, is in its veteran guards. Seniors Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo will lead the charge along with incoming transfer Matt Carlino. A guard-centric lineup will be crucial for Marquette because their only real post threat is Luke Fischer. While Fischer shows promise, he’s ineligible until December.
An undersized team with plenty of wing and perimeter players will need to embody the high energy style of basketball that was a hallmark of Wojo’s career at Duke. While this has great potential to reap benefits in the long run, the Big East is a difficult place to rebuild a troubled program with obvious holes in the roster. The most likely scenario for Wojo is the same as Parker, he will struggle at first and then need some luck and good fortune to see all his potential grow into a sustainable success.
Obviously, then, both Jabari and Wojo are in for some growing pains with their prospective teams. The good news for Jabari is that he has the skill to carry a team. The bad news is that one player isn’t enough to secure success in the NBA. For Wojo, the positives are that he can add pieces to his team as he sees fit. The bad news, however, is that unlike Parker, Wojo can get fired after only a few disappointing seasons.
You could make the case for either Duke basketball alum to have good or bad prospects in Milwaukee. Ultimately, however, I believe that Wojo will have more success in the city than Parker.
It comes down to the simple fact that Parker isn’t in control of anyone other than himself. With a new owner, an inexperienced coach and a team of prospects that may or may not develop, there are just too many variables to confidently think that Parker will find success with the Bucks. He may pile up stats and win awards, but the franchise as a whole may not match his personal achievements.
Wojo, on the other hand, at least has control over his team. He can recruit the players he wants, run the system he wants and generally build the kind of basketball mentality that he feels gives Marquette the best chance to succeed. The other thing Wojo has going for him is the fact that success in college basketball is defined differently in college basketball.
While Jabari will need to push his team to make the playoffs, Wojo simply has to make the tournament. He can do that through an at large bid or win the conference tournament. Either of those can be attained thanks to a well-timed hot streak or flat luck.
Though the Big East boasts some quality teams, it’s much easier to imagine Marquette turning things around against those opponents rather than imagining the Bucks figuring out how to surpass franchises that are better free agent destinations or already have a core of good players to build around.