They have a long road ahead this year. The grit, guttiness and determination of coach Scott Skiles are not going to get them past a lot of opponents. It can spur them on, but they still have to make baskets and stops on the floor, and that's where they'll have a tough time.
Michael Redd is going to be OK physically coming off his knee surgery because he was never an athletic player to begin with. The question has to do with his style. He was always a volume shooter who needed the green light in order to have big numbers -- having carte blanche to throw the shot up and you guys get back on defense -- and that can be to the detriment of good shots and players playing together and executing. Is Skiles going to limit that green light? If Redd can't take so many bad shots, that might make the difference in them narrowly missing the playoffs -- as opposed to being out of it altogether. I don't think Skiles will want to live and die with Michael Redd. Skiles is going to give him a little bit leeway -- you guys have to cover for him because he's carrying our scoring load -- but I think it's also going to be tighter than Redd has had with coaches in the past. If Skiles' whole mantra is, "We're going to defend and play hard all the time," and Redd is only playing hard at one end, then the best player is not fully buying in and that can't be a good situation. I mean, this team can lose 50 games without Redd just as easily as it'll lose 50 with him.
The times I've seen Redd defend have been in scramble situations where they're trapping and he's been able to get in passing lanes and disrupt it that way. As far as him manning up and guarding somebody and turning them and pressuring the ball, not really. And now coming off his injury, I have my doubts that he can or will defend. He doesn't offer a lot of versatility at the other end either. Once he puts it on the floor, he's going to get a shot up. He can catch-and-shoot with anybody in the league, he does it with range and he can get shots off with people hanging on him. He is their one guy who can put up big numbers, but I don't think it's all about stopping Redd because you can play good team defense to limit him instead of stopping him. The truth is they'll have a better chance of winning on the nights when they're spreading it around. It might be better for you if you let Redd get his 35 while he's throwing up shots from everywhere.
At the same time, there are some bad shooters on that team. I love Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, an incredible athlete who may need to be on the floor for them to be successful because he plays hard and defends multiple positions. But he can't shoot at all. Is Hakim Warrick a jump shooter? He thinks so, and he can make shots here and there, but I'd take my chances letting him shoot. Carlos Delfino is another guy who is athletic and can put the ball on the floor, but he doesn't shoot consistently. Charlie Bell had a tough shooting year last year [41.1 percent from the field]. So when you put it all together, it's a tough thing for Skiles to gauge how much rope to give to Redd.
I shouldn't have left Andrew Bogut off that list because he's not a shooter either. He doesn't have go-to moves. But he competes and he's an unselfish team player who tries to get other people involved. He doesn't have great touch around the basket, and his back-to-the-basket moves are not sophisticated -- they're all power moves to get him to the rim so he can dunk it. He'll throw little hook shots up there, but when they need a bucket, they can't throw it into him believing he'll do it for them in the low post. It's a big problem because I don't see anyone here who commands a double team. Defensively, Bogut is OK. For a 7-footer, he doesn't have great length -- by that I mean he isn't a quick jumper -- but he has toughness and he competes. The problem I see is that he needs to hold his ground better defensively and not get buried under the rim. You see him get pushed under the rim so that when he tries to go up for the block, it's too late. His mantra should be that he needs to meet people earlier and hold that ground, and if he does get pushed back, he needs to be able to get around his man and front him in the post.
Overall, Bogut is valuable in his role. People look at him as a No. 1 pick and say, If he's your best player, can you win a championship? And the answer is, No way. But the real question should be whether he can ever start for a championship team. And I say sure he can, because he's a good player and he'll look a lot better if you put better player around him.
Warrick is very active on the glass. He chases down loose balls and he competes. He's not a post-up player at all, but he'll catch it at 19 feet and attack the basket, and he'll compete on the boards at both ends and run the floor in transition. He has a defensive presence as someone who can contest shots, and his athleticism and ability to help guard the rim might make him a decent complement to Bogut. He's on the thin side, but they can always put Bogut on the big post-up guy -- though once you start creating crossmatches, you can get yourself in trouble.
Kurt Thomas is what everyone refers to as the "consummate pro." He is a stable force in the locker room and on the bench with any kind of teammate, whether it's a veteran ranting or raving or young guys who need direction. He can help straighten out anyone. It's never a problem having him on the roster even if he's playing once every seven days. But they're going to want to keep him active in the games because they'll need him to be available, especially since Bogut has had problems with injuries. Bogut can learn some things about defending in the post from Thomas. In that same sense, if Bogut gets in foul trouble, I'd have no problem playing Thomas for 25 minutes and counting on him to use up his 6 fouls -- and he'll use them well. I wonder if he'll be with this team all year because one of the good playoff teams might try to trade for him in January or February.
Ersan Ilyasova has filled out since he was in Milwaukee a few years ago [he spent the past two seasons in Spain], and he still has a nice shooting stroke. He might have to play minutes at power forward by default, and he'll be a better shooter than Warrick. I don't see him being able to play the 3 and chase those guys around the floor.
I don't know what to make of second-year forward Joe Alexander or what he's going to end up doing in this league. The fact that he didn't play much even with all of the injuries they had last year says something about how much he has to learn.
Dan Gadzuric is probably just as good as he was as a rookie seven years ago. He's an erratic guy who can follow up an incredible, athletic play with a bonehead move because he thinks it's his turn. You need to use him in situations where you aren't relying on him to score, and Skiles will find a role for him defensively because he does guard the goal and he does know the league and the different opponents.
Delfino is erratic offensively. It seems like he's always fighting to prove that he's a good shooter, but he doesn't back it up. He's athletic, he can put the ball on the floor, but he can be selfish in putting up shots he shouldn't be taking.
Rookie Brandon Jennings has shown quickness, and I'm sure they're thinking of him as their future point guard. He tends to overdribble, and he has an ugly shot -- but then all left-handers look like they have ugly shots. Teams are going to go under screens against him, and it's going to be interesting to see how he reacts and whether he'll be able to create for others or whether he'll just force it to the rim on the drive.
Luke Ridnour looks like he has peaked. He was always a good shooter, but he didn't have the strength or toughness to take a pounding. When he played well with Seattle a few years back, they were going up the floor and trying to push the pace, and he had that beautiful jump shot and he was making the passes in that open-court game. But when it comes down to needing a bucket and getting to where he needs to go to make a play, that is something he can't do. He doesn't have strength to create space with the dribble, and he doesn't have the quickness either. He isn't going to beat you to the spot and force you to change the way you defend him.
They have a lot of athletic, competitive guys, so they'll probably try to push it up the floor and get as much easy scoring as they can that way. They can't grind it out and create shots by running sets because they don't have anybody who can draw a double team, and their shooter is not a guy who will be using the pick-and-roll to create plays. If you're running pick-and-roll with Redd, you're trying to get him a shot.
Their management has to trust that Skiles is instilling a work ethic and teaching the players who are going to be part of their future. Skiles has to be patient, not only for their organization but also for his own career. He has to show some stability as a long-term coach, and I think his GM, John Hammond, will recognize that and help bring that out in him.
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