Bucks’ Boylan Making Necessary Changes
When the Milwaukee Bucks fired their 16-16 head coach Scott Skiles just over a week ago it came as somewhat of a surprise. It wasn’t like the team was underperforming expectations, but not everyone was happy with how things were going either. The team had re-signed free agent forward Ersan Ilyasova to a five-year, $40 million contract and Skiles had him coming off the bench. Plus, the team’s lottery draft pick, John Henson, was not seeing regular minutes and one could easily question Skiles’ commitment to keeping the rookie in the rotation.
“It was really exciting to be back with the team where I started my NBA career,” Ilyasova said. “I was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. It was really huge for me. I moved my family close to Milwaukee, so it makes it easier on them too.
“At the beginning of the season we had a lot of guys playing the same spot, so Coach Skiles, if I missed a couple of early shots, would bring another guy in off of the bench. I could never really find my rhythm. I was playing 22 minutes per game, so it was really hard to make a difference in the game. Sometimes with Skiles there was a lot of not knowing because he wasn’t communicating with the players.”
Jim Boylan was Skiles’ lead assistant coach over the past four seasons and was the Chicago Bulls’ interim head coach in 2007-08. It wasn’t much of a leap for the Bucks to tap this in-house resource once the need for a change was identified and Boylan made it easy for everyone by getting on board with the obvious changes to the Bucks’ rotation.
“This past summer we made a commitment to Ersan,” Boylan said. “We have to make sure that we give him the support, the confidence and give him the minutes that he deserves. He is a good player. He just has to relax and play his game. When he does that, he helps us a lot.
“John [Henson] is a funny player. He is a rookie and he has got two or three good plays, then a couple of bad plays and I don’t have much hair left, but whatever there is will probably be coming out soon. He is learning. He is out there and sometimes he looks like a deer in the headlights and other times he is out there making plays that make you say, ‘Wow that was impressive.’ We are going to keep working with him and hopefully it will pay dividends down the road.”
Since Boylan took over, Ilyasova has been re-inserted into the Bucks’ starting lineup and the big man is starting to feel more comfortable in his role and with his coach. The minutes may not have dramatically increased, but his effectiveness has definitely improved.
“Boylan lets me play more freely out there,” Ilyasova said. “Whatever the game gives me, I try to take it and try not to rush things and it’s been working for me. When you know your minutes, it is easier on your mind and you let the game dictate itself and you don’t rush things. Other things, even in those games when you miss your shots, come along easier like rebounding the ball and being aggressive defensively.”
This is the way Boylan wants Ilyasova to play. Just let the game come to him on offense, but play with energy and hustle at the defensive end. The Bucks merely want Ilyasova to be the big man who played for them so effectively last season and earned that lucrative contract.
“[I am] very happy with Ersan the way he taken on the starter’s role,” Boylan said. “I want him to relax out there, play his game and shoot the ball when he is open. If he is consistent with his shot and gives us the energy that he normally plays with. When he does that, he is a very effective player for us.
“Ersan is not a super athlete. He is one of those guys who gets his hand on the ball, tips it around to himself, but that takes a lot of effort. That is what he does, he is an effort player and on the offensive end, he can shoot the ball. Defensively, his effort has to be high and offensively, he has to relax and play his game.”
Henson is another matter entirely. Boylan was very impressed with Henson’s play this summer and the organization sees Henson as an important player going forward. However, Henson needs playing time to develop and his minutes under Skiles were anything but consistent.
“I know [Henson’s] game from Summer League,” Boylan said. “I know what he can do. He had a very good Summer League game, but Summer League is Summer League, it’s not the regular season, so we kind of brought him along slowly. I just know what he can do and if he is sitting on the bench, he can’t do it. We want to get him in there. He is going to make some mistakes and we will live with that so we can develop him. I said this earlier in the week that come April and we are playing these really important games, we want John Henson to be a part of that because we want him to get that kind of experience and we want him to develop into the kind of player that we think he can be. If we don’t play him now, we don’t get that in April. So we are going to put him out there and he is going to drive me a little crazy, but I’ll live with it.”
The rookie has a good understanding of his role and the opportunity being handed to him. Henson has been working on his game, staying ready and being ready when his coach puts him into the game. There is already a high level of intensity evident in Henson’s play that makes it easier for Boylan to let the rookie play through his mistakes.
“You always have to [fight] as a young guy because it’s easier to play the older guy,” Henson said. “You just always have to fight and be ready. Intensity, being ready from the jump, right when I get in, that’s what I’m still working on is just being ready right away. Just having your motor going and being prepared.
“When Ersan [Ilyasova] needs a break, bring energy, don’t hurt the team and be ready to play and that’s my role.”
Boylan has the Bucks off to a fast start under his leadership, but it’s hard to attribute any immediate success to his recent changes. The Bucks had been off to a good start under Skiles this season. However, Boylan has made the moves the organization needed to see done for the long-term benefit of the franchise. It may cost the new head coach several inches of receding hairline, but putting Ilyasova back in the starting lineup and sticking with Henson as a regular in the rotation will benefit the Bucks in April and in future seasons.