Jake's Take - 8/6/10

August 6, 2010
Jake LeRoy

Skiles Practiced What He Now Preaches

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  • Take a quick look at benches around the NBA and you'll likely find a head coach who put his dues in on the court back in the day, with the exception of a Van Gundy or two. Scott Skiles belongs to that exclusive fraternity of former players who have extended their NBA careers by sharing their basketball knowledge with the next generation of players.

    Overall, 22 of the league's 30 head coaches spent at least one season in the NBA. The playing careers of these current NBA coaches were not created equal, though. Guys like Mike D'Antoni and George Karl have had very successful coaching careers, but their playing careers consisted of rarely more than a bucket a game. Other coaches, like Skiles, have enjoyed success both running the court and roaming the sidelines.

    I've often wondered how much game these coaches still have left on the court after a decade of diagramming Xs and Os off the court. But if I had to pick 10 coaches to run with, based on their playing careers, these are the 10 that I would gladly suit up next to.

    Starting Lineup
    Scott Skiles, Milwaukee Bucks: I would most definitely have Skiles running point for my starting five. Skiles embodied what I always thought a point guard should be. He distributed the ball, averaging 6.5 assists per game for his career and tallying a league-record 30 assists in one game. He shot the ball well from deep and from the line, making nearly 38 percent of his three-point attempts and 89 percent of his free throws for his career, percentages better than any other current coach. He was durable - 70 or more games in six straight seasons - and he defended at the point of attack. These are the attributes of a point guard on a winning team. I also wouldn't be surprised if the trio of Skiles, Adrian Griffin and Joe Wolf could take on any other coaching staff in the league in a game of three-on-three, NBA Jam style.

    Paul Westphal, Sacramento Kings: Westphal had a modest start to his professional career with three mediocre seasons in Boston. His career took off when he was traded from the Celtics to the Suns following the 1974-75 season. A dramatic increase in playing time resulted in an even more dramatic increase in production. Westphal went from averaging single digits in Boston to better than 20 points a contest for five straight seasons, highlighted by a career-best 25.2 points per game in 1978. He wasn't just a scorer either, as he averaged better than five assists per game during each of the five seasons in which he averaged better than 20 points a game.

    Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers: Collins' playing career was nowhere near as long as his broadcasting or coaching stints, but the eight years he was on the court were very productive. Of the 22 head coaches with NBA playing experience, no coach had a higher scoring average than Collins, who averaged 17.9 points per game for his career. Like Westphal, the 6-foot-6 Collins put the ball in the hoop at an extremely efficient rate, shooting better than 50 percent for his career. He was also arguably the second-best player (behind Dr. J) on the 1976-77 Philadelphia 76ers team that fell two wins short of the NBA title. He averaged 18.3 points and a team-high 4.7 assists per game that season, and improved to 22.4 points per game on 56 percent shooting in the postseason. I'm also going to give him a pass on that unfortunate blonde phase that he endured. We're just going to pretend that didn't happen.

    Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz: With apologies to Skiles, I don't think there's a coach on this list who coaches more like they played than Sloan. He was as tenacious on the court as he is surly on the sidelines, not giving an inch either way. Sloan showed great versatility on the defensive end, averaging 7.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game for his career, both high-water marks for the current crop of NBA coaches. His tenacity and versatility resulted in six NBA All-Defensive Team nods. It wasn't always pretty, though, as Sloan finished in the top eight in the league in total fouls three times, which helps explain why his Jazz have finished in the top five in fouls per game in each of the last seven seasons. Sloan combines with my fifth and final starter to provide the hustle and rugged play necessary to pull out those close wins.

    Kurt Rambis, Minnesota Timberwolves: Rambis didn't have the flashiest playing career by any means, but there was no way I could leave him off my starting five. He was a significant contributor during the "Showtime" era in Los Angeles, playing a key role on four championship teams in the 80s. Outside of Lakers teammate Byron Scott, there isn't a current coach with that kind of postseason success on the court in the league. There's no denying that Sloan was one of the toughest players of his era, but Rambis was no slouch. Anybody who can take this kind of hit while wearing these glasses always has a spot on my roster. At the end of the day, I picture Sloan and Rambis as being the Fulton Reed and Dean Portman of my team.

    Second Unit
    One thing I noticed while putting this list together is the plethora of former point guards who have transitioned into the coaching world. It's similar to how catchers seem to make excellent managerial choices in baseball. They are both positions that are bred to lead.

    Nate McMillan, Portland Trailblazers: I'm leading off the second unit with former Supersonic and current Blazer head coach Nate McMillan. McMillan was far from a prolific scorer, averaging just 5.9 points per game, but he was the ultimate ball hawk and an excellent distributor in his early years. After finishing in the top seven in the league in assists per game during his first three seasons, he took on a secondary role when Gary Payton joined the fray. It was then that McMillan dialed up the defensive intensity, averaging better than two steals per game from 1992 to 1995, including a league-best three thefts per game in 1994.

    Byron Scott, Cleveland Cavaliers: Scott was the most difficult omission from the starting unit. He enjoyed a long, consistently effective career, averaging double digits in 13 of his 14 years in the league. Scott was a part of three championship teams in Los Angeles, and was the leading scorer (21.7 ppg) for the 1988 Lakers squad that won the `ship.

    Larry Drew: I have to admit that I knew less about Drew's playing career than any other coach, but was very impressed once I completed my due diligence. He enjoyed a career season as a Kansas City King in 1983, averaging 20.1 points, 8.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game. For his career, Drew averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per contest.

    Larry Brown, Charlotte Bobcats: Our second Larry on the list never made it to the NBA, but enjoyed a successful, albeit brief, career in the ABA. Brown jumped around in his first three years in the ABA, playing for the New Orleans Buccaneers, Oakland Oaks and Washington Capitals in rapid succession. The continuous unfamiliarity didn't affect his game, though, as Brown led the league in assists in each of those three locations.

    Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies: Hollins, like a few others on this list, played an important role on a championship team, guiding the 1977 Portland Trailblazers to the title with 14.7 points and team-highs of 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. For his career, Hollins averaged 11.6 points, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game over his nine-year career.

    Third Unit and D-League
    Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics; Avery Johnson, New Jersey Nets; Mike D'Antoni, New York Knicks; John Kuester, Detroit; George Karl, Denver Nuggets; Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City; Vinny Del Negro, Los Angeles Clippers, Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers; Don Nelson, Golden State Warriors; Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks; Rick Adelman, Houston Rockets; Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets

    Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.