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Bucks banking on long-term potential of their two 19-year-old draft picks

Bucks banking on long-term potential of their two 19-year-old draft picks


MILWAUKEE (AP) — If it wasn’t obvious enough already, the youth of the Milwaukee Bucks’ two draft choices became apparent when second-round pick Tyler Smith discussed the origins of his love for bowling.

“I was in Vegas this year (and) there was really, like, nothing to do out there,” Smith said Tuesday during an introductory press conference for himself and first-round pick A.J. Johnson.

Bucks coach Doc Rivers’ stunned reply: “In Vegas?”

Smith explained that his status as a teenager didn’t give him much of an opportunity to sample the Las Vegas nightlife, so he and his friends often would spend their spare time at a bowling alley.

“Keep that mentality,” general manager Jon Horst responded.

The Bucks are banking on the likelihood that Johnson and Smith will have developed into key NBA performers by the time the two 19-year-olds have grown up.

Milwaukee appears to be in the latter stages of a championship window and can’t spend much in free agency due to salary-cap concerns. But rather than drafting players who spent a few years in college and could help right away, the Bucks took a chance on the long-term upside of Johnson and Smith.

“One of the things we liked about both of them is their work ethic and their drive,” Rivers said. “You can see, these two guys want to be great. They don’t want to just come in here and be potential players. They want to be players. Again, we just can’t wait to get to work.”

Johnson is a 6-foot-6 guard who initially committed to Texas in high school before bypassing college basketball and spending the last year in Australia’s National Basketball League, where he played just 7.7 minutes per game while competing with other pros.

Smith, a 6-11 forward, also went directly to the pros rather than playing in college and averaged 13.4 points for the NBA G League Ignite.

Whether either player will contribute much as a rookie remains uncertain.

“The main focus is really just working to a point where the coaches want to play us, like we can actually help the team win,” said Johnson, the 23rd overall pick in the draft. “So I guess we’re just trying to get to that as fast as possible, learn and get as good as we can possibly get, so we can get on the court as fast as possible and help the team win games.”

They’ll get the opportunity to work on a veteran-laden team with an experienced staff. Rivers’ core of assistants will include a couple of former head coaches in Darvin Ham (Los Angeles Lakers) and Dave Joerger (Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings).

Rivers said Johnson and Smith both possess a combination of skill and athleticism that should help them thrive.

“Now it’s our job to try to teach them the game, get them stronger, get them ready,” Rivers said. “But we have a head start. Both of them are excellent shooters. They just have skill to their game, and that’s what drew me to them.”

The Bucks need these picks to work out because they don’t have much draft capital in future seasons.

They currently don’t have any draft picks in 2025. They also traded their 2027 and 2029 first-round selections. Other teams have the right to swap first-round picks with them in 2026, 2028 and 2030.

That limits Milwaukee’s opportunities to boost its roster as the Bucks try to regroup after two straight first-round playoff exits.

The Bucks have surrounded 29-year-old, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with plenty of older players: Damian Lillard (33), Khris Middleton (32), Brook Lopez (36), Bobby Portis (29) and Pat Connaughton (31). The back half of the roster is full of players who are 24 or younger.

“We’ve got six returning core guys that we know are ready now to compete at a high level and take us to where we want to go,” Horst said. “We’ve got three returning young vets that contributed last year and should take another jump this year in MarJon (Beauchamp), AJ (Green) and Andre (Jackson Jr.). Chris Livingston had a great first year with us. He’s working his (tail) off and he’s going to be ready to contribute also.

“And now we’ve got Tyler and AJ pushing them. And we’ve got three spots on our roster right now in free agency that we’re going to go and figure out the best balance in how they fit the rest of that group.”

TOP PHOTO: FILE – Bucks mascot Bango lays in stands. (PHOTO: @Bucks on Twitter)

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