Monday, March 2, 2009

On defense, you have to get up and get into people

Look at MIL's 29-33 record and remember that this year's team has already won three more games than it did all of last season when they lost their last eight to finish 26-56.

And keep in mind that they're missing Dream Teamer Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut (12 ppg/10 rpg), both of whom have gone down with injuries.

In Sunday's win over the Wizards, MIL's starting lineup featured former D-League PG Ramon Sessions, rookie Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, center Francisco Elson, along with veterans Richard Jefferson, and Charlie Villanueva.

According to Villanueva, the key has been the team's new coach, Scott Skiles.

"It starts with Coach Skiles. He believes that whoever is out there on the floor can win the game, and that has become contagious. The easiest thing to do would have been to mail in the season. We've been dealt a bad hand as far as the injuries to Andrew and Mike, but the fact that we've kept this team together and believed in one another shows a maturity on our part."

Coach Skiles says that while the players have changed, the team has maintained its approach, one that emphasizes defense and ball movement.

"The actors have changed, but the script is the same. We're going to try to keep the ball in the hands of our best offensive players and live and die with the decisions they make. Good teams generally can weather injuries, at least for a while, because they have a good system."

"I think you have to get up and get into people," Skiles said of his defensive philosophy. "You can't allow people to penetrate in the paint and you have to guard -- the post-ups, the pick-and-rolls and the pin-downs. We do it a certain way. There are only a handful of schemes most teams are using anyway. It just depends on the personnel on a given night."

As this article in SI points out, MIL's defense is improving quickly. "After ranking 23rd in points allowed and 30th in field-goal defense last season, they have improved to 16th and 14th, respectively, this season."

[Sessions says Coach Skiles is "real big on being in the right place at the right time."]

One scout contends that Coach Skiles' reputation as "a hard guy to deal with" isn't entirely fair.

"If you listen to him during games, he's an encouraging guy," the scout said. "He knows you're going to miss shots, so he doesn't get wrapped up in that. As long as you're playing hard, he's out there with you, or you're not going to play, no matter who it is. And they play hard all the time."