"One of the best in the league," Bucks forward
On Monday night against Atlanta, the Milwaukee coach was presented with a prime opportunity to exercise his vocal cords. Midway through the third quarter, his team trailed the Hawks by 12 points, a deficit that might as well have been triple that. His best players,
"He told us they were making some tough shots," forward
He was right. Within minutes the lead was cut from 12 to seven, and by early in the fourth quarter it had been erased entirely. Behind another superhuman performance from
There have been myriad storylines unfolding in Milwaukee this season. There is Bogut, the Aussie center who has rebounded from an injury-plagued 2008-09 campaign to become one of the top pivots in the NBA. There is Jennings, the European guinea pig who has emerged as a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. There is Salmons, who for the second consecutive season has sparked a team's playoff push.
Skiles' stewardship, however, cannot be overlooked. Three years removed from being unceremoniously dumped by Chicago, Skiles has molded the Bucks from lottery locks into legitimate playoff contenders.
Part of the reason Skiles works well with these players is because he relates to them. In his playing days, Skiles was a throwback. He played point guard like a strong safety and carved out a 10-year NBA career with toughness and hard work. His coach at Michigan State,
Some of his own players share those same qualities. Thomas is annually one of the most sought-after big men because of his mental toughness and physical style of play.
It's not just the vets, either. At 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, Mbah a Moute, 23, routinely gives up size and strength to other forwards. But there is Mbah a Moute, banging bodies with
Skiles' toughness as a player, however, hasn't made him inflexible as a coach. Hard-nosed defense is a hallmark of all of Skiles' teams, and this one is no different. The Bucks rank seventh in the NBA in points allowed (96.3) and fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.8). His schemes are good, but if someone thinks they can be better, he will listen. During a January game against Dallas, the Bucks were getting torched by guard
"He has his philosophies," Thomas said. "And if you don't defend, you're not going to play. But he's willing to listen to what anyone has to say."
Nor does Skiles simply dictate the offense. He has granted Jennings multiple responsibilities with running his system and rarely micromanages the game. When Skiles does call something, however, players listen. Stackhouse calls Skiles an excellent X's-and-O's coach and praises him for his ability to draw up effective plays under pressure.
"He puts you in a great position," Stackhouse said. "That's all you can ask for. He does a great job of coming up with the right play for every situation."
His players, of course, endorse Skiles' candidacy for Coach of the Year.
"Definitely," Stackhouse said.
"No question," Mbah a Moute said.
And as effective as