Samuel Dalembert and Ersan Ilyasova.
Joel Przybilla and Ilyasova.
Dalembert and John Henson.
Ekpe Udoh and Henson.
Larry Sanders and Udoh.
Through 19 games, the Milwaukee Bucks have used five different starting front court combinations and countless other lineup pairings. Enough to make fans go crazy and writers take notice. But there’s reason to the madness, so says Scott Skiles, the mad scientist behind this 10-9 club searching for identity and roles for its players.
“We’ve got a lot of big guys and that’s an issue.” Skiles said before last Friday’s victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. “They can’t all play and yet, they’re all good. They can all do stuff to help you. We’re trying to find some consistency in there with the rotation. We took Ersan out of the starting lineup because he was struggling mightily and he’s played a little bit better, hopefully he’s coming back to form. We didn’t want to disrupt our bench by putting Larry and Ekpe out there in the starting lineup, but, you know, when you lose four out of five it’s time to change.”
Few players have been better examples of Skiles search for consistency through varying rotations than Dalembert. The idea before the season was that Dalembert would give the Bucks consistency at the center position that the team hadn’t had since the last fairly healthy stretch of Andrew Bogut’s career in 2011. Dalembert would give Milwaukee the defense and rebounding it lacked so badly last season. Even if he only played 25-30 minutes a night, having that every night was going to allow the Bucks a comfort that would help transform them into a much stronger defensive team.
Well, the Bucks have gotten better on defense, but Dalembert hasn’t been as big a part of it as he or the Bucks envisioned back in late June. He’s been just another cog rather than an integral defender.
Dalembert hasn’t seen the court in three of the past five games. Okay, so he’s become an end of the bench type guy. That’s a pretty big free fall for a proven, veteran center, but these things can happen. Wait, what? He entered in the first quarter the two games he did play? And he averaged over 15 minutes in those games? So he isn’t buried. But he can’t count on minutes on any given night either. His role seems to be as ambiguous to him as it is to the rest of us. Dalembert talked to HoopsWorld after Friday’s game about his role and the role of Milwaukee big men in general.
“Still trying to figure it out,” he said. “The situation with the team, trying to figure out the rotation, but for the most part, we try to fit in.”
He echoed some of Skiles earlier comments about the glut of capable Milwaukee bigs.
“Everybody just has to be ready,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that can go out there and produce and everybody is pretty much on the same path. We’re striving for some minutes out there and then when we do get out there, we support each other. We’re managing for the time being.”
As far as how he’s fitting in, that seemed less important to Dalembert than results overall.
“So far, as you can see, whether the situation has been a good fit for me or not, it is not working,” he said. “It’s not quite … I thought my role would have been a little bit more. But like I said, it’s coaching and everybody is doing their best.”
As far as Skiles goes, he was asked about Dalembert before Friday’s game as well. He seemed to have a few more answers than his center when he was pressed on what Dalembert can do to get more minutes on a consistent basis.
“Just learn what we’re doing. That’s about it,” he said. “The plays, our coverages, everything. Get a comfort level with it. So that we feel confident we can rely, the players can rely that he knows exactly what we’re doing. I’m sure over time, that’ll happen.”
And that’s where this whole thing gets a little shaky. When the coach is saying what a guy needs to do and a guy seems to have little clue, that seems like an issue.
Obviously players and coaches aren’t always forthcoming with the media on topics like playing time distribution and why certain players are or aren’t playing. They have little incentive to provide real clarity. So maybe Dalembert knows exactly what he needs to do to get some more minutes. Or maybe he was being honest and he doesn’t really know what he has to do or when he’s going to play. He expected his role to be bigger, but he doesn’t mention that his coach wants him to have more familiarity with defensive schemes.
Has Skiles made clear what he needs to do? We have no way of knowing that. But we know that, in the past, players seem to have gotten various levels of communication from him. Stephen Jackson said they quit speaking altogether while Skiles was saying something different. Communication with all these big men is going to be crucial all season to keep them engaged. If rotations are going to switch on a near nightly basis, extra precautions need to be taken to make sure everyone is prepared.
If not, we’re sure to see more Sad Dalembert and general frustration among Milwaukee big men.