Visit Bucky's 5th Quarter Get fresh Badger content from me at Bucky's 5th Quarter.
Subscribe to the new RSS feed Subscribe to my RSS feed from the new site.

Monday, April 21, 2008

All Eyes On The Pros

Scott Skiles was hired as the new coach of the Milwaukee Bucks today. This will be the team's fifth different head coach in seven years. I would have preferred Rick Carlisle, as Milwaukee's problems seem to be more than what a new voice or attitude can cure.

As bad as the Bucks were this season (26-56), their most aggregious offense may have been turning Wisconsin residents away from the NBA in what might be one of it's most memorable seasons in the past 20 years.

Though the Wisconsin Badgers welcomed basketball fans with open arms and another 30-win campaign, the NBA got the cold shoulder from most people known formerly as Bucks fans. Which is a shame since the 2007-08 season will be remembered as one that saw the revitalization (Lakers, Hawks) and resurrection (Celtics) of historic franchises, the tightest playoff race ever in a ridiculously stacked Western Conference and one of the best slam dunk contests of all time.

Milwaukee assumed an unenviable position as an afterthought in the despicable Eastern Conference. At least Miami managed to stay relevant just because the Heat became so terrible. Even though blockbuster preseason personnel moves favored the East (Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston; Rashard Lewis signing with Orlando), the midseason "arms race" brought more all-star veterans (Shaq, Jason Kidd, Pau Gasol) to contenders in the West.

Meanwhile, the league's talent level might be as high as ever. The rash of early entrants in the last ten years has translated into post-Jordan superstars that have reached their potential at younger ages (Kobe, Duncan, Garnett, Iverson, McGrady, Pierce, Nowitzki) and are still playing well enough to compete with even younger powerhouses like LeBron, Melo, Wade, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire and Brandon Roy.

Each of those rising young stars was selected among the top ten picks of the NBA Draft. If all the ping pong balls bounce as the odds say they will, the Bucks will hold the seventh overall pick in this year's talent-rich draft on June 26. Right now, both and have slotted that pick to be Eric Gordon, despite not taking the individual team needs into account. Chad Ford takes the teams into account more for ESPN's Draft Lottery Simulator. In my 50 trial runs, Gordon was the pick 60% of the time, followed by Russell Westbrook, who came through 10 times. Sixty-eight percent of the time, Milwaukee kept the predicted 7th pick, slipping to the 8th slot on 22% of the trials.

As a bandwagon Bucks fan, I would not touch Gordon with a 10-foot pole. Gordon's athleticism probably allows for an added element Michael Redd lacks: driving to basket with authority. However, I sense you would get the very same disdain for defensive commitment currently plaguing Redd and possibly even more selfish tendencies on the court. Adding Gordon would certainly open wide the doors to trading Redd, but how does it actually improve the team?

Unless Milwaukee struck gold and nabbed Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose with one of the first two picks (happened three times in simulation), I don't see any lottery-caliber players with a defensive calling. Robin Lopez fits the bill for a big man, but won't be considered until the late first or early second round. I think one of the Kansas Jayhawks--Brandon Rush or Darrell Arthur--would be intriguing, but again, not with a top ten pick. At least Westbrook, who excels in the transition game, has a couple years of experience Ben Howland's system at UCLA. Milwaukee has not shown too much of an interest in grabbing tough, defensive-minded players with their top picks recently, as you can see in last year's pick of Yi Jianlian over Corey Brewer. Hopefully that changes with the new regime.

The best teams do eventually take on the collective persona of their head coach, though that observation holds most true at lower levels of competition (high school or college) where more teaching and learning takes place. The problem with the Bucks is that they are not one of the best teams in talent or in performance and they do not seem to have players who will adopt a new mindset in order to improve.

Thus, no matter how tough Scott Skiles is, I don't think a transformation can take place without new players ... ones who are either naturally inclined to play defense or at the very least have the potential and desire to improve in that area.

Skiles is not a bad coach. He and Rick Carlisle were clearly the top two available candidates (You couldn't catch me and a 10-ft. pole anywhere near Larry Brown. The Bucks have no need for a coaching vagabond, seeing as they are nowhere near being a very good team ready to become great). Like Carlisle, Skiles caught a worse rap than he deserved in his last stop despite being a proven winner. But I hope that Milwaukee has not bypassed the better coach (Carlisle) because they bought into the mirage that a "tougher" coach can transform a pack of laizzezfaire athletes into something they are not.

The potential caveat here is the relationship between new GM John Hammond and Carlisle. It's possible that Carlisle politely made it clear to Hammond right away that he was not interested in Milwaukee, in which case Hammond correctly moved along in his search. Though more unlikely, maybe Hammond truly believes Skiles is a better fit for the Bucks because of his passion, a thought process which I would simply always second-guess.


  1. I don't know about Skiles. He's had a pattern in the NBA-- solid success in his first two or three years, and then a big drop off that leads to him getting canned. See the Bulls this season or the Suns in '01-'02.

    And I like Gordon as a pro. He's got a ton of range, he's got a great burst for such a thick guy, and he's an excellent free throw shooter. Also, I watched a decent amount of IU games, and thought he was a very good and very committed defender. Not like D.J. Augustin, for example, who appears bored by defense. Gordon's main problem is actually on offensive-- he turns the ball over too much.

  2. I would love to see the Bucks just embrace their no-defense style and go all out running, a la Nellie ball. All I ask if that they be relevant and fairly exciting. Currently, they have alot invested in guys like Bogut (good passer), Danny G (high energy), Chairman Yi (soft) and Redd (pure scorer). That's the shame of hiring a no-nonsense grinder like Skiles. We'll see.

    As for Gordon, he does possess all the tools, but I sense too much "me-first" in his attitude that Milwaukee doesn't need. For Gordon's sake, hopefully his late-season collapse is not indicative of future performance.


Do you like the NCAA tournament's new 8-team "first-round" format?

What should Wisconsin do with the newly vacated scholarship?

Poll: Who will win the Big Ten?

Poll: Who was Wisconsin's first-half MVP (thru 16 games)?

Poll: How Many Regular Season games will wisconsin win in 2009-10?