Tag Archives: Bill Peterson

Coach sees Sessions as potential playoff starter at point

I predicted yesterday that the Spurs would lose, this not being their year, and, of course, they won. Happens every time. I’m not the only one feeling the Spurs “same old same old” grind. Now, on to the matter at hand:

Ramon SessionsHow high are the Bucks on Ramon Sessions‘ potential? Much higher than many NBA observers seem to think, especially those writing about the upcoming 2008 draft.  The conventional wisdom around the league is that the Bucks are looking for a point guard in the draft, the current Bucks starting point guard of note being Mo Williams.

There’s little or no mention in draft talk of the Bucks other point guard, Sessions, who started in place of injured Mo in the final seven games and won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honor for April.  Inside the Bucks camp, however, Sessions’ is a hot topic, maybe hot enough to change the Bucks draft outlook.

How good could Ramon Sessions be?

“I could see him becoming a starter on a playoff team — that’s how good he could become,” Bucks development coach and Sessions’ mentor Bill Peterson told the Reno (Nevada) Gazette Journal in April. Though the story is a month old, it’s worth looking at again with NBA lottery and the draft order on tap tonight.

Sessions averaged 13.1 pts., 13.1 assists, 5.6 rbs and 1.7 steals in seven starts, including a Bucks franchise record 24 assists set April 14 against Chicago at the BC. That was good enough to catch the attention of the daily newspaper in Reno, where Sessions played his college ball, and good enough for Rookie of the Month. It might even be good enough to lead to some Bob Boozer Jinx conclusions, such as:

  1. The Bucks may not necessarily be looking for a point guard in the draft, but would welcome Derrick Rose finding the Bucks via some lottery luck tonight. Assuming the Bucks are looking at guards in general, moving up to the number three spot is crucial. Rose and OJ Mayo, the cream of the guards this draft, will be long gone by the 7th pick.

2) Mo Williams may no longer be the Bucks starting point guard. Put another way: If Williams is on the roster next season, refrain from assuming he’s the starter. And certainly don’t assume Mo will be on the roster.

In the Reno Gazette story, Peterson, the lone assistant Scott Skiles retained from last season’s staff, went so far as to compare Sessions to the young Steve Nash, a Peterson development project in Dallas 1998-2000.

 “If you only knew [about Nash’s struggles]. Guys don’t just start out in this league and they’re lights out. I can remember nights when Nash was booed unmercifully. There were nights when they would boo him every time he touched the ball. I told Sess, ‘Look where he is now. All it takes is hard work and dedication.’ And Sess has that.”

To put a rookie who’s only played 17 games in context with the two-time MVP is high praise. Peterson worked with Nash in Nash’s third and fourth years as a pro. Nash became a full-time starter for the Mavs in his fifth season. Peterson went on to Colorado state where he was associate head coach for seven seasons until Larry Krystkowiak brought him on staff last year as player development coach.

Peterson took Sessions under his wing when Sessions was called up February and fractured his left hand in his first practice. Together they dissected Sessions game on video while Sessions sat out four weeks with the injury. Here’s more from the Reno Gazette story:

“I can’t put into words how much Coach Peterson has helped me. Whatever I need, he is there for me. We watch game film together, he helps me during practice, we work on all the little things. Coach Peterson cares about me as a player and a person.”

Skiles decision to keep Peterson is a good sign for Sessions, obviously. Assistants Kelvin Sampson and Joe Wolf also reflect the strong development bent of the new Bucks staff, and the other three coaches — Skiles, Jim Boylan and Lionel Hollins are all former point guards. Milwaukee is suddenly a good place for a young point guard to develop. The Bucks own a one-year option on Sessions for next season.

Center Andrew Bogut has already implied whom he’d like to see playing point:

“He was a true point guard. I haven’t played with a true point guard since I’ve been here, really. I think he did a great job of trying to find teammates first and shoot second. Hopefully, he’ll keep that mentality. I think he definitely deserves everything he got.”

GM John Hammonds, in the Racine Journal Times feature from ten days ago that will come to be known as “The Lazerus Interview” after a few more blogosphere resurrections, is anticipating trade interest in Sessions:

“The way he finished the season … as we continue to work the phones (in trade talks) I guarantee you his name will come up.”

Sessions’ former head coach, Larry Krystkowiak, after Sessions’ 24-assist game:

“I think he does a really nice job of finding the open guy. He has a knack for when to advance. I think he’s got what it takes to have an impact in the league. He certainly is taking advantage of his opportunities. He could be a future piece to the franchise.”

And now some brilliant analysis from ESPN’s Chad Ford, who convinced himself that most of the teams in the lottery will want point guard Derrick Rose over Beasely in the draft because Ford thinks point guards are hot:

“Now that John Hammond has taken over as GM, he’s looking for a tough leader. Mo Williams may be entrenched at the point in Milwaukee, but if Hammond gets a shot at a franchise point guard, I think he’s taking it.”

Williams is so entrenched at point that Ford’s ESPN Lottery Mock Draft has had Texas point guard D.J. Augustin locked in at the Bucks’ most likely #7 pick for weeks. New Orleans’ Chris Paul is a dazzling player, but not so dazzling that NBA teams are convinced that the small point guards in the 2008 draft are CP3 caliber.

The Bucks could always sign Damon Jones again, or Mike James or T.J. Ford. Hammond could even see what Reece Gaines is up to these days. (See yesterdays rant about Larry Harris’ point guard candy store).

For insight on point guards, let’s refer back to the Bucks coaching staff and development guru Peterson:

 “If you only knew [about Nash’s struggles]. Guys don’t just start out in this league and they’re lights out. I can remember nights when Nash was booed unmercifully. There were nights when they would boo him every time he touched the ball. I told Sess, ‘Look where he is now. All it takes is hard work and dedication.’ And Sess has that.”

Bucks coach Jim Boylan: In the spirit of Al McGuire

Members of the 1977 Marquette Basketball team.  Left to right: Jim Boylan, Bill Neary, Ulice Payne, Butch Lee, Jim Dudley, Gary Rosenberger, Bernard Toone, Jerome Whitehead, Craig Butrym, Robert Byrd and Bo Ellis.Find Bucks assistant coach Jim Boylan in that suave, Billy Dee Williams cool,  disco days meets “The Great Gatsby” photo to the right and win the first ever Bob Boozer Jinx door prize.

The photo, from the Marquette archives, via a Sports Illustrated ‘Where are they now?’ feature, is the official team photo of the 1977 NCAA champions. Boylan is farthest to the left, seated in the back of the ’34 Packard, wearing the only all-grey tux. Left to right from Boylan: Bill Neary, Ulice Payne, Butch Lee, Jim Dudley, Gary Rosenberger (in the passenger’s seat), Bernard Toone, Jerome Whitehead, Craig Butrym, Robert Byrd and Bo Ellis.

It seems odd, yet somehow fitting, that Boylan would take a seat furthest in the back — he was nowhere near the back of the ride on the ’77 Warriors. As the starting point guard, he was in the drivers’ seat more often than not. But then, no player is behind the wheel of the Packard in the team photo, an important, and quite deliberate pose. Warriors coach Al McGuire was nothing if not a basketball artist; his motif was the essence of “team.”

Or, as McGuire might have told the story of the photo shoot years later and probably did, the coach had reserved the drivers’ seat for himself but lost his tux on the way to the photo shoot or somesuch and decided to bench himself out of the picture, the sort of thing that McGuire would do, the team being less about him and more about the players (whether that was true or not).  There was something magical about Al McGuire telling a story, spinning myth and street legend with wisecrack yarn and Manhattan snap.

Up until his death in 2001, when asked who, of all the players he coached, his favorite point guard was, McGuire would get serious and the answer was always the same: Jim Boylan. Sometimes he’d say Boylan was his favorite player, period. Boylan reminded Al of Al.

Al McGuire

I came across a great story on the Chicago Bulls website about Jim Boylan and the Bulls after Boylan took over for Scott Skiles last December. What caught my eye was the following quote from Boylan:

“I told the guys that we shouldn’t concentrate so much on winning. Let’s concentrate on letting go of the things we can’t control and free ourselves to be the kind of players we know we are. Live in the moment.”

That quote from Boylan, Bucks fans, is the Al McGuire basketball philosophy to the letter. It was infused throughout the basketball world in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when McGuire was on top of that world and players, especially those on Al’s home turf in state, were told to just play “in the moment” and forget the scoreboard. The coaches would let you know when to look at the scoreboard and the clock. It was all very mystical and Zen, long before Phil Jackson won championships and wrote “Sacred Hoops.”  It was very McGuire.

Boylan, at age 52 — after two college coaching jobs (Michigan State under Jud Heathcote and head coach at New Hampshire) and five jobs as an NBA assistant (including his first with Mike Fratello in Cleveland and two with Skiles, in Phoenix and Chicago) — is still Al McGuire’s point guard.

The Bucks job is Boylan’s sixth assistant post in the NBA, reunited for a third run as Skiles’ lead assistant. He joins Skiles’ most impressive staff to date, with Lionel Hollins from the Memphis Grizzlies, a 20-year NBA assistant and Kelvin Sampson, one of the best college coaches in the game. Rounding out the staff are Kohler’s own Joe Wolf, an up-and-climbing NBA coach-in-the-making from the CBA and the D-league; and Bill Peterson, the coach who developed Finley, Nowitzki and Nash in Dallas, and was responsible for Ramon Sessions development last season for the Bucks.

They’ve have all been “hired” for two weeks or more now (the Bob Boozer Jinx blogs about Skiles and his assistants are archived here.) This is a staff geared to develop its own stars, not to coach somebody else’s 2nd or 3rd tier NBA “stars.”  Boylan’s story with the Chicago Bulls offers even more insight. On a Skiles-Boylan team, the ball will move and the tempo will be up in transition. It’s been described as an Eastern Conference version of the Phoenix Suns phenomena — Eastern Conference because, on a Scott Skiles team, defense will be played.

When Skiles left Chicago in Boylan’s hands, Boylan sped up the tempo even more, and the Bulls talented point guard, Kirk Hinrich shot less. Sometimes he didn’t shoot at all, as though he were channeling Boylan style of point guard play. The Bulls stat hounds ignored the scoreboard and the shooting stats, and instead tracked ball movement and pace like it was religion.

Looking ahead to next season, don’t expect overpaid shooting guards to freeze the Bucks offense by palming the ball, holding it with the dribble, then lowering a shoulder into the teeth of the defense with no passing mindset. Sloughing off in transition won’t be a good idea, either.

Monday, I’ll have a take on Bill Peterson and his development work, and I’m projecting a suprising revelation in the mix. For now, check out some more Jim Boylan in-action photos from J.E. Skeets yahoo blog “Ball Don’t Lie.” It’s true — Boylan does kind of look like the evil president from “24.”

The catcher’s crouch:

The “I just might kill Hinrich during this timeout I’m about to call” pose:


One final coaching note:  Former Bucks coach Terry Porter (2003-05) is back on what New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey calls the NBA “coaching carousel.” The buzz in Phoenix says he’s the leading candidate to fill the job Mike D’Antoni vacated last week. Porter, an asssistant with Detroit the past two years, is believed to be the first candidate Suns GM Steve Kerr interviewed for the job, Charles Gardner reported yesterday at JSOnline.  Vecsey saw opportunity coming for Porter a month ago in his column, and I swiped Vecsey’s crystal ball for a day or two in an early BBJ post.

Bucks fans may never know why then-Bucks GM Slickless Larry Harris rescinded the vote of confidence he gave Porter at the end of the Bucks injury-riddled 2004-05 season. When Bucks owner Herb Kohl fired Harris in March, he told us the firing of Porter was “Larry’s decision” — but then Herb had been labelled a meddler by ESPN’s Marc Stein and was on the defensive about that “growing reputation” and perception.

In any case, Porter got a bum shake from an impatient GM who didn’t have a plan for building the Bucks. Porter deserved another year, if for no other reason than it is bad policy to treat a hometown hero with such little respect when being a hometown hero is part of the reason Porter got the job in the first place.

Terry’s been coaching in Detroit the last couple of years — under Flip Sanders, one of the coaches Harris supposedly fired Porter to bring to Milwaukee (I’ve come to doubt that’s the real reason Porter was fired) — which says something about how well-regarded Porter is in NBA coaching circles. Suns GM Kerr is looking to bring a defensive edge to the Suns, and who better than the top assistant in Detroit? Phoenix, with Nash and Stoudamire and Shaq, looks like a good opportunity. It’s about time Porter got a second chance to head a team.

Skiles’ assistant hires point to Bucks rebuilding

One of the many big criticisms of the Bucks has been that the organization couldn’t decide whether to rebuild or try to win now, so they tried to do both. The results were mediocre, leading to poor, finally colliding this season with terrible — and Michael Redd’s delusion that he is Kobe, Charlie Villanueva’s insistence that he is a star, and Mo Williams’ attitude that, because he can routinely get himself better shots than the two aforementioned dummies, he might as well shoot it. Fighting through all of this was the development of Andrew Bogut, Yi Jianlian and, once the season was over, Ramon Sessions.

Thankfully, those days appear to be over in Milwaukee. GM John Hammond has hired a coach, Scott Skiles, who proved he can win with young players in Chicago. Now the coach is hiring his staff. Thus far, it is a group wired to develop its own NBA stars, not coach somebody else’s.

Nothing’s official yet, but as of this week, Jim Boylan and Kelvin Sampson are on board as Skiles’ assistants. Skiles announced last week that  Bill Peterson, Larry Krystkowiak’s player development coach who worked extensively with rookie Ramon Sessions, will stay on.

No word yet on Skiles other top choices for assistants, Memphis assistant Lionel Hollins and Kohler’s own Joe Wolf, NBA D-League coach and a Buck for a season in the 1990’s. Skiles said his staff would be the typical three assistants on the bench with a development coach behind them.

With Peterson in the development job, it could mean that either Wolf or Hollins is out of the picture, or both. In the last few days, the situation in Memphis changed and Hollins still has his job, now that head coach Marc Iavaroni has kept his. (Memphis had been in the Larry Brown sweepstakes, and when Brown went to the Charlotte Bobcats, the rebuilding Grizz settled on Iavaroni.)

Skiles also said that he expected to have his coaches hired by this week, so the new staff could be finalized any day now.

What do Skiles top choices say about the direction the team is heading? The bent is clearly toward development of younger players (Peterson, Sampson and Wolf) and extreme dedication to ball movement and smart guard play (Skiles, Hollins and Boylan played the point; ball movement was religion for Skiles’ Baby Bulls). It’s about time.

Jim Boylan, who took over from Skiles in Chicago this season and was let go two weeks ago, is simply the obvious choice to be Skiles’ lead assistant in Milwaukee. Boylan was Skiles’ lead in Chicago and on Skiles’ staff in Phoenix, and as a bonus for Marquette alums and 40-plus fans, Boylan was Al McGuire’s starting point guard on the 1977 NCAA championship team — and he’s still Al’s point guard, teaching players to “live in the moment.”  The Zen approach should go over well with Yi, whose personal coach, Jarinn Akana, was not retained by Skiles.

Bill Peterson was the player development coach in Dallas (1998-2000), the early years of Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Steve Nash. That worked out well, to say the least. Last season, Peterson won rave reviews from Krystkowiak and was credited with the late season splash Ramon Sessions made at the point. Skiles’ decision to retain Peterson is great news for Sessions, whom the Bucks have some high hopes for (more on that in a separate post). Retaining Peterson should be taken as a sign that not only will Sessions will be a Buck next season, he is, right now, the starting point guard. Sorry Mo, you’ve lost the job.

With all that has been said and written about what happened at Kelvin Sampson’s previous job, Sampson has been one of the best coaches in the college game for more than a decade. In the 2008 NBA draft, Sampson’s shooting guard, Eric Gordon, is slated as a top 10 draft pick – on many boards the player the Bucks would take with the 7th pick if that holds; Sampson’s big forward DJ White, is projected going early in the second round. Both players jumped into the draft after Sampson lost his job, something of a players’ endorsement. There’s no question Sampson brings to the Bucks coaching skills geared toward young, developing players. And Sampson’s not the only college coach Skiles was interested in hiring – ESPN reported that Skiles was also looking at New Mexico assistant Craig Neal.

The book on Joe Wolf, head coach and GM of the NBA D-League Colorado 14ers the last two years, is that he is set to get a shot as an assistant in the NBA soon, whether in Milwaukee or elsewhere. Wolf’s been winning in the D-League, and his 14ers are led by one of the D-League’s best players, Elton Brown. But winning isn’t the only thing in the D-League, where the “D” in development is capitalized. By all accounts, Wolf’s doing a great job, and one former player, Nuggets guard Von Wafer, raves that Wolf saved his career. Wolf as a coach has been flying under George Karl’s wing, and would probably do well to get broader experience. Any way one looks at Wolf, his appearance as one of Skiles’ top candidates is a nod to player development.

Lionel Hollins is Mr. Grizzlie. He’s been coaching on the Memphis bench since the franchise began in Vancouver (with Bucks great Brian Winters as its first head coach), and twice held the head coaching reins for the Griz. Prior to the Grizzlies, Hollins was an assistant in Phoenix for seven years, including the Suns’ Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley years. Hiring a coach with the experience of Hollins would have been a great coups for Skiles, but probably depended on whether or not Iavaroni and the Memphis staff would be retained.

With every player on the Bucks roster with the exception of Bogut and Yi on the trading block, the coaching selections do offer some insight into how the Bucks are likely looking at their team.

  • The Peterson hire means the world for Sessions; it’s also no good for Mo Williams or Michael Redd (who quit down the stretch). Because Peterson was only in his first year under Krystkowiak, he’s not wed to players like Mo, Simmons or Redd.


  • Sampson’s hiring is about as pro youth as Skiles could get. Sampson does have experience dealing with NBA stars, as a coach under George Karl in the 2002 World Championships, but it’s not his skill set. The Bucks have a good draft pick this year, along with a developing Yi (who could benefit from NCAA coaching-style), Sessions and Bogut. Expect the Bucks to get younger to take advantage of Sampson’s presence.
  • No assistant choice of Skiles shouts – “This is good for Michael Redd; this coach will understand where Redd is coming from.” That coach is just not there, unless it can be found in Boylan’s ability to communicate with players as Skiles’ right hand man. The focus of the team is shifting overtly toward developing players, not catering to second/third tier “stars.” If a decent deal for Redd comes along this summer, especially if there are young players or draft picks involved, expect GM Hammond to jump at it.
  • Expect the Bucks to get younger, rather than look for veteran help or stars in trades. Again, as a group, Skiles’ coaching choices are wired to develop their own stars rather than coach somebody else’s. Next year will likely be a year for development and improvement, not a year to push for the playoffs.
  • This has become a long post; time to wrap it up.