MILWAUKEE — When the Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs in the 2009-10 season, the team’s leadership was well-defined.
The team had traded for no-nonsense veteran Jerry Stackhouse, who played an integral role in the team dynamic, despite averaging just 8.5 points per game. The frontcourt was also aided, leadership-wise, by grizzled veteran Kurt Thomas. And although the team’s trade for John Salmons — who would have a career year, averaging more than 19 points per game — would get most of the credit for their sixth-seed playoff berth, coach Scott Skiles credited leadership, especially from Thomas and Stackhouse, as key to the Bucks’ success.
“There’s no question guys like that are very, very valuable to a team,” Skiles said.
Three years later, the Bucks haven’t made the playoffs since. Since that season, Milwaukee has operated with a mostly youth-infused roster, led by young point guard Brandon Jennings. And although Jennings has claimed in past years to be on the path to being a leader, the Bucks’ roster has certainly lacked veteran leadership at times.
So does this year’s team have the right amount of veteran-infused leadership to push them a step above last year’s team?
With the season barely scratching the surface so far, there’s no way to tell for sure. Skiles wouldn’t name any specific names on Saturday night before the team’s preseason home opener against the Pistons. But he admitted that putting together a set of leaders doesn’t just mean adding experience to your roster.
“It’s a tricky thing because most (of the media) and most of the fans think every veteran player is a great leader, and that’s not always the truth,” Skiles said. “As a matter of fact, it’s rare. You need to have the right veteran guys in your locker room, and hopefully they’re good players. … If you’re going to try and have your young guys emulate people and see the right things to do and have older guys in their ear, you need to have the right type of guys.”
The “right type of guys” could include Samuel Dalembert and/or Joel Przybilla, the Bucks’ two veteran signings in the frontcourt. Both have a great deal of experience in the NBA between them. And with so much youth in the frontcourt, a leader in that group could certainly aid in the development of younger, high-talent guys like John Henson, Larry Sanders, and Ekpe Udoh.
Skiles did say that recently signed guard Marquis Daniels has stood out in a way similar to how Stackhouse did—going about his business the right way and contributing on and off the court. So much so that it’s hard to believe he’s the newest player on the Bucks’ roster.
“Marquis is a guy, playing or not playing, that’s going to know the right thing to do, say the right thing, act the right way, and that’s very valuable,” Skiles said. “So far, the way he’s played and the way he’s conducted himself, he’s certainly not the 15th guy.”
But is there anyone clearly at the top?
“So far, each guy has tried to sort of lead in his own way, which, if you don’t have the undisputed leader of the team, that’s kind of what you need,” Skiles said. “You kind of need everybody to take care of themselves, police themselves, and also not be afraid to say something to somebody else.”
That strategy, Jennings said, has worked so far in training camp. The young point guard has said on multiple occasions that he needs to fill a leader role on this team, and Skiles said he’s “working on it” still.
But without being the established leader, Jennings said that the team has functioned well without outright leaders in specific roles.
“I think it’s just a team effort,” Jennings said. “Everybody’s talking. Our main problem was nobody talking. This year, everybody’s been involved — team meetings, saying stuff people need to hear. So the leadership is from all of us.”