When glancing at the Milwaukee Bucks’ roster, a noticeable void becomes apparent — the absence of a reliable backup point guard to support Jrue Holiday. However, the answer to this conundrum may have just emerged with the release of Cameron Payne.
Diving into the Bucks’ current roster of 20 players, which includes two-way deals and Exhibit 10 contracts, the point guard depth chart paints a concerning picture:
- Jrue Holiday
- Lindell Wigginton (two-way contract)
- TyTy Washington Jr. (two-way contract)
- Jazian Gortman (Exhibit 10 contract)
Collectively, Wigginton, Washington Jr., and Gortman have participated in a mere 57 NBA games, and none of them currently occupy a spot on the Bucks’ 15-man roster. Relying on these unproven talents for meaningful minutes during the upcoming season could spell disaster.
Milwaukee’s roster construction has always appeared peculiar, with a single point guard, an abundance of wings and forwards, and a handful of bigs. Now, however, the Bucks have a golden opportunity to rectify this imbalance.
Cameron Payne recently hit the free-agent market after being waived by the San Antonio Spurs, “clearing the way for him to join a contending team that can offer him a larger role” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojarowski. If this situation doesn’t scream Milwaukee Bucks, it’s hard to imagine what does.
Payne spent the past four seasons with the Phoenix Suns, where he repeatedly demonstrated his ability to excel as a backup point guard. Most importantly, he has proven himself as a “16-game player,” stepping up during critical moments. For instance, he dropped a staggering 31 points in Game 6 of this year’s Western Conference Semi-Finals and delivered pivotal performances during the Suns’ 2021 NBA Finals run.
One of Payne’s standout attributes is his playmaking prowess, averaging 10.2 assists per 100 possessions during his tenure in Phoenix. He possesses exceptional ball-handling skills, navigating screens with creativity, whether creating opportunities for himself or setting up teammates.
While he may not light up the scoreboard, Payne is far from a liability on offense. He has recorded double-digit points per game in three of his four seasons with the Suns. Though he occasionally over-indulges in mid-range shots and struggles near the rim, affecting his effective field goal percentage, he efficiently spaces the floor out to the three-point line. Payne can knock down catch-and-shoot threes as well as threes off the dribble.
Defensively, he boasts impressive speed and a lengthy wingspan, enabling him to disrupt opposing point guards. His wingspan allows him to switch positions, which aligns with the defensive tactics Milwaukee is expected to prioritize under new head coach Adrian Griffin, who has a history with such defensive strategies under Nick Nurse.
To acquire Payne, the Bucks must first wait for him to clear waivers. Following that, they will face the challenge of creating a roster spot either through a trade or player release. While this might be a tricky endeavor, it’s a puzzle that General Manager Jon Horst must solve.
The Bucks have two non-NBA quality players at the bottom of their roster in Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Chris Livingston. However, Antetokounmpo isn’t going anywhere due to obvious reasons and it would be bad business for Milwaukee to release Livingston after making him a draft promise this summer.
That brings us to A.J. Green. He’s next in the pecking order and the Bucks may be able to trade him for a conditional second-rounder. The issue is they just signed him to a deal this summer, and he’s not trade eligible until the middle of December. The same with Jae Crowder, Robin Lopez, Malik Beasley, and Antetokounmpo.
Unless the Bucks are willing to eat a bunch of salary by releasing someone at the bottom of their roster, they’re going to have to get creative with a trade to create a roster spot. I don’t know what the solution is, but that’s why general manager Jon Horst gets paid the big bucks.
If a roster spot can be created, the Bucks will still encounter stiff competition in their pursuit of Payne. Wojnarowski anticipates a “significant market of contending teams” vying for his services. Perhaps Milwaukee could sweeten the deal further by offering Payne a starting position. With his playmaking and shooting abilities, he could slot in as the starting point guard, moving Holiday to the shooting guard role, reducing his ball-handling responsibilities and allowing him to focus on defense.
While this scenario involves numerous intricate steps, securing Payne could be the final piece to complete the Bucks’ roster puzzle. It’s unlikely that a better backup point guard option will become available, and Milwaukee must act promptly.
This puzzle may be complex, but it holds the potential for significant dividends next June.