The coach’s perspective Part II
Skiles says leaders must emerge naturally
By Truman Reed
"At the end of every season, you never come back with the same team, or rarely, anyway," Skiles said.
The Milwaukee Bucks made a dramatic drive to the 2010 National Basketball Association playoffs.
They did it without their franchise's fourth all-time leading scorer, Michael Redd, for the final 48 games of the regular season after Redd suffered an anterior cruciate ligament/medial collateral ligament tear in his left knee during a Jan. 10 game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
They finished it without starting center, Andrew Bogut, who was enjoying a career year before sustaining a dislocated right elbow, sprained right wrist and broken right hand during an April 3 game against the Phoenix Suns. Bogut missed the final six games of the regular season and the playoffs.
Anyone who followed the Bucks closely as they won 22 of their last 30 regular-season games - and four of six after Bogut's season-ending injury - realized just how integral Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas and their veteran leadership were in those winning equations.
Bucks Head Coach Scott Skiles certainly did.
"Jerry was a big factor," Skiles said. "I enjoyed coaching him. He was a big factor on our team."
Skiles valued what Thomas brought to the table last season, too.
"Kurt has been good," Skiles said during the playoff drive. "WIth `Bogues' out, we obviously have to rely on Kurt more. He's played in over 80 playoff games. He's played in the NBA Finals. He's got a lot of experience in the type of games we're in right now.
"We've been appreciative of his effort all year. We're glad he's here, for sure."
As the Bucks prepare to tip off their 2010-11 season, neither Stackhouse nor Thomas are on their roster. Offseason winds of change brought nine newcomers onto the ballclub.
"At the end of every season, you never come back with the same team, or rarely, anyway," Skiles said. "You have to make decisions on where you're going to get better at, and we made them."
The revamped Bucks should not have a problem replacing the combined 11.5 points per game Stackhouse and Thomas provided last season. How and where they find the leadership those two players brought to the mix will be another matter.
Skiles has been around the NBA for 21 seasons - long enough to realize that team leaders have to emerge naturally and not by the design of management nor the mandate of the coach.
Skiles does have some ideas, though, of who might emerge as the leaders of the Milwaukee Bucks' 2010-11 edition.
"The one guy who has noticeably stepped up from a leadership standpoint is Bogut in the last couple years," Skiles said. "He more or less ran the scrimmages here in September, as far as getting the guys in and holding guys accountable. That's something you can't prejudge.
"A lot of times, people in your position (the media) and fans at home assume that a really good player should be a leader when really, not only is that not often the case, sometimes it's rarely the case. You've got a cross section of roughly 450 people and you may only have 10 high-quality leaders in that whole mix. It's a fairly rare quality. "
Skiles has seen a maturation in Bogut from a leadership standpoint.
" `Bogues' has noticeably made strides," Skiles said. "He's getting older. The team has changed around him. He's become more comfortable. But everybody can lead in their own way, by doing things like getting in early, being a good teammate. Everybody can lead."
"Everybody" would include a 21-year-old point guard who has only one season of NBA experience. Brandon Jennings already displayed his leadership skills during his rookie campaign, when he was named to the NBA's All-Rookie First Team. He averaged 15.5 points and 5.7 assists per regular-season game and upgraded his scoring average to 18.7 point in the playoffs when his team needed additional scoring punch.
Skiles believes there are misconceptions when it comes to leadership on a basketball court.
"I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming that the point guard is the leader on the floor," he said. "That isn't always the case, either.
"Brandon certainly has leadership capability. There's no doubt about that. But some things only come with a little bit of age and a little bit of wisdom. You feel something, but maybe it's not the right time to say it and you have a little patience ... or maybe it is. Knowing those things can take time.
"It's easy to be encouraged by the fact that maybe he could emerge into a bigger leadership role, but you can't force it. It has to come however it comes."
John Salmons had an enormous impact on the Bucks' strong finish last season, and his numbers indicated that. He averaged a team-high 19.9 points in his 30 regular-season games with Milwaukee and 17.0 points in the playoffs. But he provided the team with more than just points.
Skiles saw leadership from the veteran guard as well, and that factored into the team's decision to re-sign the 30-year-old Salmons to a multi-year contract during the offseason.
"John does it in a quiet way," Skiles said. "John's certainly not afraid to say something, but he's a true professional, and everybody knows it. When he does pick his spots, guys are going to listen.
"He's more of a quiet leader, but he's somebody we made a big commitment to. We like the things he did for us, and there's a lot of responsibility on his shoulders." That is just one of the characteristics that establishes a leader.