SAYING THAT the Bucks have struggled defensively in recent years is like saying that Gigli was a bad movie or that Paris Hilton enjoys the occasional cocktail. Milwaukee ranked in the bottom 10 in points allowed in each of the last two seasons and was second to last in field goal defense both years. Enter new coach Scott Skiles, the drill sergeant who intends to reshape the club. "People who watched the Bucks the last couple of years," says Skiles, "know that when the team got behind, [the players] caved in and took a loss."
Skiles has already shown that he will not stand for defensive lapses. Early in the second quarter of a 91--87 loss last Saturday at Toronto, Andrew Bogut blew an assignment and was forced to foul Jermaine O'Neal. Skiles immediately banished his center to the bench for the last 10 minutes of the first half.
Bogut was just the first to feel the tug of Skiles's leash, which will extend even to his All-Star guard, Michael Redd. A deadly shooter (22.7 points per game last season) and a member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. team at the Beijing Olympics, Redd has taken a halfhearted approach at the other end of the floor. "He's O.K. off the ball," says an Eastern Conference scout, assessing Redd's D during his first eight years, "but you can go at him one-on-one." Now Skiles is asking the 6' 6" Redd to defend the opposition's top perimeter threat, which means that he will have to make the most significant change to his game this season of any star in the league.
With the help of trainer David Pritchard, Redd has cut his weight from 230 pounds (with 20% body fat) in January 2006 to 216 pounds (and less than 7% body fat) this season. "Michael was someone who relied on basketball to stay in shape and keep his legs strong," says Pritchard. "Since we started working together, we have really focused on his strength, flexibility and footwork, which you need to be a strong defender."
While in China, Redd was further inspired by an unlikely source. Matched against Kobe Bryant in practices, Redd marveled at how much intensity the 2008 MVP brought to the defensive end. "In our practices everybody wanted to stop everybody," says Redd, 29. "But Kobe, man, he never took a possession off."
Skiles calls Redd "a work in progress"—he and his teammates still have bad habits to break, such as chasing the rebounder rather than getting back on defense—but the early returns are encouraging. Redd shut out Kevin Durant in the first half of a 98--87 win at Oklahoma City on Oct. 29, and in a 94--86 victory at New York on Sunday he held Jamal Crawford to one point on 0-for-6 shooting before leaving the game with a right-ankle sprain in the third quarter. In previous years Redd would have regularly been staring at the back of Crawford's jersey, but showing newfound quickness, he forced Crawford to take tough perimeter shots.
Instead of making another All-Star team, Redd lists earning All-Defensive honors as his highest priority. Says Redd, "At this stage in my career I want to be a complete player. And to do that you have to play great defense."
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