Is John Hammond following a Pistons blueprint in Milwaukee?

I’ve made no secrets in the past about my intrigue with the Milwaukee Bucks. I loved the way the toughness they played with in surprisingly making the playoffs a couple seasons ago. Andrew Bogut, when healthy, is truly one of the best defensive players in the game. Brandon Jennings showing up in the middle of the draft and surprising David Stern on-stage will forever be one of the greatest moments in NBA Draft history. Former Piston Carlos Delfino (always a favorite of mine when he was in Detroit) finally started realizing his potential that season and the Bucks even had a Flint guy, Charlie Bell in the fold. Most importantly, though, John Hammond really seemed to be putting together a team the way Joe Dumars did in the early 2000s — finding value where others couldn’t see any, not over-spending and building around a defensive-minded big man.

Then things got a bit off course last season. Hammond over-spent on the overrated John Salmons and Drew Gooden. He acquired noted ball-stopper Corey Maggette. Jennings didn’t improve from his promising rookie season, Bogut wasn’t healthy and the Bucks regressed.

But after the moves the Bucks made around this year’s draft? I’m firmly back on the bandwagon. They’re not a championship caliber team, but I still once again see some parallels between the Bucks and those early 2000s Pistons teams. I wrote about this in a guest post for new NBA blog The Crossover Dribble:

Although Bogut and Jennings are clearly the keys to any success the Bucks will have, the team also has a supporting cast in place that is built for the postseason. Newly acquired guard Stephen Jackson is the type of big, strong, defensive-minded perimeter defender the Bucks need to bother the league’s best wing players. Jackson isn’t the only versatile swingman either — Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino and first round pick Tobias Harris all bring different and distinctive skills to the table. Beno Udrih is one of the better backup point guards in the league (albeit an expensive one). Shot blocking forward/center Larry Sanders could turn into another defensive minded presence next to Bogut.

We’ve talked some about the Pistons’ dim postseason prospects this season, but what about the rest of the East? Is age going to catch up to Boston? Is Dwight Howard’s impending free agency going to be a distraction to the Magic? Miami and Chicago are givens, but who are your picks to perhaps surprise and move to the cusp of the East’s elite this season? I definitely think the Bucks will be a top five team, but I could make cases for the Pacers, Philly or New York to move way up as well. What do you think?

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