|Wednesday, July 17
Updated: July 18, 11:31 PM ET
Haislip shows off surprising shooting touch
By Chad Ford
BOSTON -- It isn't often that you find an upside to a season like the Milwaukee Bucks had in 2001-02. Pegged as the early favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals, the Bucks hit a horrific slide late in the season that not only cost them a title shot but knocked them out of the playoffs all together. What did the Bucks get for their troubles? A lottery pick -- the first one the team had in years.
The Bucks have never been ones to play rookies, but first-round pick Marcus Haislip has George Karl and the rest of the Bucks smiling again.
Haislip, a raw 6-foot-10, power forward from Tennessee, got high marks for his athleticism, NBA body and a good work ethic. Rumors that he could bench press 400 pounds sent his stock soaring and some draft experts saw Haislip as the Bucks' answer to their problems at the four spot, albeit two or three years down the road. But what the Bucks have unearthed in the summer leagues is a very different player -- a slashing, small forward who plays great defense on the perimeter and sinks the NBA 3-pointer effortlessly.
On Wednesday, Haislip rained down six 3-pointers on the Hawks' DerMarr Johnson and showed surprising poise for a kid that wasn't supposed to be ready for prime time. He ended the game with 21 points, including one fabulous dunk. The thunderous dunks we expected, but the 3-point shooting?
"The thing I like about him is he's very willing to do what's asked of him," Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. "We asked him to play small forward and work on his perimeter defense and his shooting, which are things he really didn't do in college. He's been improving every game."
But did you know he could shoot the lights out? Grunfeld grudgingly admits that even the Bucks are surprised by how well he's thrived on the perimeter. "We didn't know he could shoot this well ... he's really got surprising range," Grunfeld said.
Haislip didn't know either. At Tennessee, his job was to play down low, post up players and crash the boards. He still shot from the perimeter, but his career high before Wednesday was four 3-pointers in a game.
"I've been working on it," Haislip said after Wednesday's 91-78 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the Shaw's Pro Summer League. "I was really feeling it today. I really like playing the three."
It gets better. Grunfeld swears that Haislip's post-up game is even better than his perimeter one. Eventually, Haislip may turn into the new, prototypical four. He has the strength to pound it inside, the speed to finish strong off the break and the shooting touch to torch a team from the perimeter. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
"He's still got a lot to learn and he'll be doing most of that learning from the bench this season," Grunfeld said. "This is a veteran team that may have as many as three rookies on it. It will take time."
In addition to Haislip, the Bucks added an athletic center, Dan Gadzuric, who had 19 points and seven rebounds Wednesday, and a sharp shooting 6-4 point guard, Ronald Murray, in the second round. Gadzuric and Murray figure to get more playing time because of team needs and college experience. Haislip, on the other hand, will be buried on the Bucks' depth chart behind Glenn Robinson, Tim Thomas and Anthony Mason.
Haislip's goals this season are modest. "I just want to get in there and make good plays whenever I'm called on. That's it," he said. "I'll do what ever they want."
If Haislip's play hasn't been music to Karl's ears, his attitude will be a refreshing change of pace on team that often let its ego get in the way of team basketball last season.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.