I was just about to make a much needed post about my neglected Bucks yesterday and the lack of direction of this team, but I ran out of time after posting about the Badgers. GM John Hammond must have been on the same wavelength, as Bucks coach Scott Skiles was fired today. I liked Skiles as a coach but it was clear that this team was rudderless. They had no distinct personality after a season in which they had 2 completely different personalities. Skiles is a good coach who demands his players defend. His early teams were solid defensively with Andrew Bogut as the anchor. When Bogut got hurt, Skiles and the Bucks were pretty much done with their current system. When Bogut was traded last season for Monte Ellis the Bucks went from the top ten in scoring defense (and bottom 10 scoring offense) to the top ten in scoring offense immediately ( and bottom 10 in scoring defense). This season they have fluttered between so many personnel groupings I can't count, as it seems to change every couple games.
To give some idea of the changes- Most teams will have a core group of 7-8 players who dominate the minutes, and 3-4 players who will get fluctuating minutes depending on matchups, injuries, garbage time in blow outs, etc. NBA rosters are 15 deep, and active game day rosters are limited to 12. Usually the bottom 4-5 guys on the roster are developmental players or veteran journeyman filling a hole in the roster. All 15 Bucks have played in a minimum of 9 of 33 games. The bottom guy at 9 games is Drew Gooden who started 46 of 66 games last year, and is a quality role player. 11 of the 15 players have started a game and 2 of the players who haven't are 6th men Dunlevy and Udrih. The Bucks have been relatively healthy this year so injuries are not the reason they have been so erratic with the minutes.
It was hard to figure out exactly what Skiles was trying to do with all the changes. Perhaps he was just changing matchups to try to win games. This would be a novel idea for an NBA coach, who is not coaching in the playoffs. He did OK as the Bucks are 16-16 and in 3rd place in the Central, but constantly changing players just doesn't work in the NBA regular season. In college you only have a player for 4 years and they most likely are going to work as an accountant after they graduate. If you mess with their minutes you can teach them lessons on the court and in life, which is what college coaches should strive for. In the NBA if you mess with a guys minutes you are messing with his paycheck, and his ability to get a bigger one in the future. Players aren't interested in life lessons, they're interested in getting paid.
What in the end cost Skiles his job was the Bogut injury. It's really too bad for Skiles, Bucks fans, and Bogut himself, because before he got hurt he was developing into the player everyone wanted when he was taken with the #1 pick. In that season he had career highs in averages for points, blocks, and shot attempts while averaging over 10 boards, 52% FG, and a career high 63% from the free throw line- hardly great but a sign of his overall improvement. He was 3rd team all NBA that year, and by the end of the year was arguably the best defensive player in the league not named Dwight Howard. The Bucks entire system and the reason Skiles was hired as coach was based around defense with Bogut in the middle. Once he became a one armed player the team and the system no longer worked. When Bogut asked for a trade last year to get a fresh start and management accommodated him, the writing was on the wall that this team was headed for major changes.
While I am sad to see Skiles go, it certainly seems like the right move. I am of the opinion that NBA coaches are about as important as MLB managers, which is to say slightly above useless. The NBA is not like the NFL where coaches are calling every play, and mixing and matching and using almost all of their 46 game day players. NBA players win games, and coaches are there to do the post game interviews. There are a handful of coaches that make any difference at all, and they generally only matter when it comes to playoff time when long series and small adjustments actually matter. So with that in mind this change won't effect the Bucks much this year. The question is where do they go from here.
Skiles was brought in to be a defensive coach and run a defensive system. Will the Bucks go a new direction with their system? They have 7 free agents after this season including Jennings, Ellis, Dunlevy, Udrih, and Dalembert. Rumor is they will extend the contract of GM John Hammonds who is also a free agent after this year. Will the Bucks blow up this team and start over, or invest in the young talent they have. We shall see.
Good luck Scott, and best wishes.