Apr 25, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guardJerryd Bayless
(19) celebrates with centerZaza Pachulia
(27) and guardKhris Middleton
(22) after scoring the game -winning shot against the Chicago Bulls in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks beat the Bulls 92-90. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
This offseason, we’ve seen the Bucks trade away key veteran leaders from the 2013-14 team in Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia. This has been cause for indigestion for many Bucks fans as we scramble to try and understand just who will be the locker room leaders for the team now that the most outspoken veterans have departed.
Personally, I say don’t worry.
Look, Dudley’s voice both on and, presumably, off the court last season was indispensable. However, Dudley made no secret of the fact he was often asked to quieten down in practice so that the younger players could have their voices heard.
It seems like the Bucks coaching staff is intent on throwing the young players into the fire, whether it be putting them in the starting lineup for most of the season, going to them in crunch time, or having them call the defensive and offensive sets. It appears the Bucks locker room is no country for ‘old’ men anymore.
In Zaza’s case, his leadership style seemed a lot more low-key than Dudley. It was a very rare thing to see Zaza animated on the court, even when his rough-and-tumble antics riled up opposing players. His attitude is diametrically opposed to Dudley. Yin and yang.
Feb 20, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Jared Dudley (9) reacts after making a basket during the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
So we saw that the Bucks work best with a mix of both outspoken and understated leadership, and we saw it provided by veterans. But is it possible for some of the all-important young players on the roster to step into a vital role in the locker room this season? If so, who should do it?
If you’re looking for a passionate leader not afraid to speak their mind, to lead by action, then I’d assume it would be Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Giannis’ attitude is infectious. We catch it just from watching him play through a screen or from an arena seat, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be his teammate! Sure, he doesn’t have nearly the experience Jared Dudley has in being a leader and knowing the game of basketball, but Giannis has been precocious in everything else. I see no reason he can’t be a preternaturally gifted leader too.
As for the new Zaza, I can see a combo of Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker filling this role. Middleton was already being groomed for leadership after being trusted by coach Kidd to call plays in practice and be more vocal. I guarantee that will carry over into this year, especially after Middleton’s initiative was so instrumental in bringing Greg Monroe to town.
Jabari, meanwhile, already looked like a leader last season while wearing jeans on the sideline. The first to congratulate his teammates following a win or console them after a loss, Jabari made his presence felt on and off the hardwood from day one. Call it a gut feeling, but he seems like a born leader.
Nov 26, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) and guard Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. The Bucks defeated the Timberwolves 103-86. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
There is one question mark, though, and that is Michael Carter-Williams. The prototypical point guard is supposed to run the offense and call the plays in addition to being an on-court leader and role model for his teammates, especially if they’re being coached by Jason Kidd.
We don’t know if MCW is any of these things. Perhaps he’s even more adept than any of the young Bucks, but only needed some continuity for once in his career before he could show it. Like so much else of MCW’s game, we’ll have to wait and see.
What is for sure, though, is that the Bucks will not experience a leadership crisis. These young players faced all sorts of adversity last year and came out the other side, and a handful of veteran role models was not the biggest factor.
These players have mettle to spare, and already trust one another and, especially, their coach, who has only been out of uniform for two years and might as well be another veteran leader.
They may struggle out of the gate this season as they deal with a paradigm shift, but at the end of the day in the NBA, talent wins out, and there is some definite talent for strong leadership among the young guys on this team. They’ll be just fine.
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