As they do before every Bucks home game, a gang of reporters made a half circle around Scott Skiles before the Milwaukee Bucks game against the Raptors Monday night. Out of habit and necessity, reporters began asking about the current state of the roster with regard to injuries. Who would be playing? Who would be sitting out?
As he always does, Skiles gave the bare minimum amount of injury information. It’s a funny dynamic. I like to think Skiles comes in, learns who is hurt and what body part on them is hurt before he turns and sprints the other direction as to avoid any more information that he’d have to divulge. That’s probably not the case. But for four years, reporters have been asking Skiles about injuries and for four years, he’s clarified who he expects to play and who he doesn’t expect to play and refrained from speculating on when any of the injured players may return.
Speculation has never been apart of his public persona.
“I’ve said this before, I think when coaches stand out here and say, much like the talking heads on TV, they say whatever they want and then nobody ever goes back when they’re wrong and says, ‘Wait a minute, you were wrong,’” he said after he was asked before the Bucks game Monday about whether he knew if his team was ready for what was at stake.
“They’re kind of above the law. So if a coach stands out here and says, ‘We’re ready to play’ and then we come out flat … I don’t think you ever really know.”
Contrary to his reputation fiery reputation, rarely do we see Skiles lose his cool or make bold proclamations. After the losses we deem big, he simply says there’s another game to be played in the next day or two. After we ask about a big win giving the team momentum moving forward, he says it only matters if they can string together a few more. Never too high, never too low.
He presents himself as quite a measure of focus. Only worrying about the game that’s about to be played and capable of moving on quickly to the next battle. But fans don’t have that ability. Fans are looking towards the future and back at what just happened.
His decisions with playing time have been scrutinized repeatedly over the past two seasons. He seems to handle those moves using the same basic logic he handles everything else with. When players aren’t playing well, he doesn’t play them. When players are playing well, he plays them. Meanwhile fans clamor for more minutes so they can try and figure out whether or not potential piece X is actually valuable or so player Y can develop more on the court. Skiles has always been more interested in winning games than playing guys just to develop them though.
All season we’ve heard the masses begging for more Jon Leuer, despite his defensive deficiencies and the Bucks general need for a big man capable of guarding larger defenders and protecting the rim. But the players ahead of Leuer haven’t really established themselves in the league. So there’s enough reason for most to figure that Skiles isn’t playing Leuer simply because he’s a rookie or for some other mysterious personal reason.
The reason seems to be as simple as Skiles is constantly doing whatever he thinks he has to do to win each and every game. He’s not a coach who coaches games to develop young players, he coaches games to win
Oddly enough, that’s left him with an 144-164 record through four seasons in Milwaukee. The former coach of the year runner up just two season ago finds himself burning up on the hot seat.
Coaching an NBA team without a superstar can be a pretty thankless job. Without a clear pecking order, every player could be an option every night. Honestly, how much of a difference is there between the Bucks best player and their tenth best player? Beyond that, how reliable are either one of them? That’s why every team wants as many stars as they can get their hands on. Stars bring it every night. They don’t have the long peaks and valleys that average players do. Brandon Jennings is the Bucks best player. He shot 34% in the entire month of February.
But I’m not sure Skiles is the kind of coach who can thrive with the Bucks right now. Things worked well when Skiles had veterans who understood their roles like Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas. But Skiles had loads of trouble with Stephen Jackson, a player past his prime who thought he should still be guaranteed 35 minutes per game regardless of how dreadful he was playing. Depending on who was doing the talking, those two had very different takes on their communication with each other. Jackson said they barely spoke, Skiles said they discussed the playing time situation. We’ll probably never know the whole story.
Skiles propensity for sitting anyone that isn’t playing well can have the explosive effect it had with Jackson in addition to some less explosive, but still undesirable side effects. Aside from Jackson, there were grumblings that erratic playing time took its toll on Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova and Beno Udrih as well. It’s no wonder NBA players voted Skiles second in the coach they would least like to play for poll Sports Illustrated conducted. There’s a clear disconnect between Skiles’ communication and minute disbursement methods and the thought processes of the typical NBA player. These are not guys who are used to sporadically sitting out when they aren’t playing well.
If he were coaching a winning team, he’d be able to get away with it. Two years ago players and coaches applauded Skiles fairness and how he treated everyone on the team the exact same way. Now that the Bucks are out of the playoffs for the second year in a row, it appears that sort of treatment, mixed with two seasons of inconsistent results that could be his downfall.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. He’d love it if you stopped by every time you wanted to buy something on Amazon and gave him some click-through love on the banner up on the top right. Also –Twitter.