Scott Skiles' "Ugly" Milwaukee Bucks Become Unwatchable—Finally!May 26, 2008
I am so sick and tired of watching exciting basketball.
You know the type: An up-tempo style featuring high-flying, acrobatic dunks and long-range three point bombs.
That brand of hoops usually means final scores like 132-127, 3-4 players with 20+ points, and the team possessing the ball last scoring and winning. Well, I've simply had it with all of heart-pounding, adrenaline-drenched action.
Give me a slow-down, half-court, Dick Bennett era Wisconsin Badger-esque methodical, deliberate game. Give me final scores like 86-85. Give me 3-4 players (on each team) fouling out.
Give me the last point of the game scored at the 1:26 mark. I crave it. I long for it. I am sitting with bated breath on the edge of my seat for it. I'm a "boring basketball" junkie and I need my fix now.
So why am I so enraptured with this unwatchable style of basketball? Why do I wish to see flopping and hacking permeate my NBA games?
Why do I treat the words "fast break" with the same disdain as George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV"? The answer is quite simple:
Because it wins bleeping championships!
If you don't believe me, look at the modern day facts:
Phoenix Suns GM Jerry Colangelo decided to trade for Steve Nash and build the team around his strengths—running the fast break, finding open big men for thunderous dunks, and getting sharp-shooters clear looks at threes.
Colangelo did indeed turn the Suns into one of the most exciting teams in the NBA's recent history.
But that's about all he accomplished.
Now, Nash—who never could shut down his opponent—is aging fast. Amare Stoudemire (who put up 25 points and 10 boards every game) usually surrendered 30 and 13 to whoever he was guarding.
Shawn Marion—the most underrated part of the Suns' offensive machine—was traded to Miami along with his defensive prowess, rebounding, and unselfishness for Shaquille O'Neal.
Shaq—who was acquired for his ability to defend the post (which he never really did in his prime, either)—showed that he didn't have much left in the tank as the Suns were once again trounced by (who else?) the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2008 playoffs.
Phoenix is a team in flux. Their championship window, if not closed already, is open roughly about the same distance between Shaq's shoes and the hardwood when he "leaps" for a rebound.
They never could get by the Spurs, and that's how Mike D'Antoni (who has since fled to New York) will be remembered by NBA fans.
Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo—Jerry's son—decided that he would attempt the same philosophy when he left to take over Toronto.
He traded for a point guard in T.J. Ford who was a threat to paralyze himself every time he stepped on the court.
He signed guys like Jorge Garbajosa, Andrea Bargnani, and Anthony Parker to shoot, run, and score with Ford and Jose Calderon running the show.
But where did that get Toronto? Two consecutive first round playoff exits.
The Denver Nuggets also fall into the "run-and-gun category" as well, although they are not as egregious in their play as the previous two teams.
Denver does feature two excellent defenders in Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby, but don't let that fool you.
Guys like Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, and Chucky Atkins are still more concerned with jacking up jump shots than they are with defensive rotations and assignments.
And five consecutive first round playoff defeats does little to dispel criticism of the Nuggets’ innate ability to avoid playing tough, non-gambling defense at all costs.
Yet the "defense-first mentality" features abounding success in the NBA, starting with San Antonio.
The fundamentally-sound Tim Duncan, hard-nosed Tony Parker, foreign whirling dervish Manu Ginobli, and "dirty" player extraordinaire Bruce Bowen have produced numerous playoff series victories, including two world championships in the last three years.
The Ben Wallace led Detroit Pistons took the NBA by storm by playing in-your-face defense, rarely allowing a second shot, and relentlessly and tirelessly running and setting picks off the ball in order to get open jumpers for Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton.
When it was all said in done in 2004, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince were hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy, while Laker superstars like Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton were left ringless at the hands of the Pistons.
Six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances later, the Pistons brutish, defensive-minded style seems to be working....
Let's not forget about the revamped Boston Celtics this year either. With the addition of long-time defensive stalwart Kevin Garnett, the whole team's attitude has changed. Paul Pierce now takes pride in shutting down his defensive assignment.
Kendrick Perkins has finally become the force in the paint that the Boston coaching staff always envisioned. And Rajon Rondo and James Posey more than make up for Ray Allen's defensive lacking because of his bad ankle.
The Celts boasted the NBA's best regular-season record in 2008 and seem destined for the Finals.
So why am I so excited?
Because Bucks’ owner Herb Kohl has decided to forgo fan-friendly basketball and concentrate on winning championships. Sure, Milwaukee won't be scoring 100+ points on a nightly basis anymore, but they will be winning more games.
That in it of itself will bring the fans to the arena.
Freshly-anointed GM John Hammond—who helped construct those great Piston teams—is running the Milwaukee Bucks now, and the first action of his regime was firing the oft-overwhelmed Larry Krystowiak and hiring a new coach.
Hammond looked for a tough, hard-nosed, non-player-coddler to whip the Bucks into a contender. Enter Scott Skiles—or as I call him, "The Perfect Fit.”
Skiles has already shown little regard to players' feelings when they question his in-your-face coaching style. When Eddy Curry openly criticized it, he was traded to New York, AKA Basketball Purgatory.
When Ben Wallace disagreed with it, he was shot down by management and sulked, since he could do little else.
That's why the Milwaukee Bucks will enter a radical roster reconstruction this offseason. Superstar scorer Michael Redd—Milwaukee's most tradable asset—will be dealt for draft picks and defenders.
Charlie Villanueva—the oil to Skiles' water—will most certainly be exchanged for a powerful, rebounding big-man who doesn't need to shoot to have a positive effect on his team's performance.
While Ramon Sessions is not yet ready to run an NBA team full-time, he will get more and more minutes as the season goes on in lieu of Mo Williams, who usually finds his way to the injured list despite never engaging in contact with the man he is defending.
Above-average on-the-ball defenders like Charlie Bell may see more minutes too, and a healthy Bobby Simmons—while grossly overpaid—can thrive in a Skiles system as well.
Andrew Bogut is the wildcard. He possesses the tools to be a great defensive center and has already shown the ability to rebound, block shots, and find open teammates.
If he has the opportunity to play next to a traditional power forward, Bogut will really develop into a star center.
Yi Jianlian, however, may not in fact have a future under Skiles, but given his body of work so far, it's really too early to intelligently label his game yet.
Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks were a very exciting team to watch last season.
If they were to perfect the "offense-first, defense-never" style of play, they probably would be able to get into the conference semi-finals at least once with the core group in place now.
But we have seen that regular season success is hardly a precursor to playoff dominance. That's why the Bucks' philosophical change was needed ASAP.
Maybe Skiles will never win a championship for Milwaukee. Maybe the Bucks' grind-it-out approach will be unwatchable for the next few seasons.
But, they will win more games, and they will go deep into the playoffs with the right personnel in place in the near future.
So bring on the flops, hacks, clutches, grabs, and elbows! They're not pretty to watch, but I'm willing to put up with them in exchange for confetti snowstorms in the Bradley Center.
Now that's exciting basketball.