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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jack Sikma: Dependable and Durable

Some great players never make it to the NBA Finals but Jack Sikma played a key role on two Finalists (including one champion) during his first two NBA seasons. You can find out about the seven-time All-Star's career by reading my HoopsHype.com article about him:

Jack Sikma: Dependable and Durable

Here are some additional "DVD extras" about Sikma:

Sikma told me what it was like to face Maurice Lucas, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld in the playoffs so early in his career:

“It was a little overwhelming in the sense of all that came at me as a rookie. Our team was young and had a lot of good pieces and came together really quickly in that 1977-78 season, so I found myself in a position in which I had playoff matchups against some of the better power forwards in the league. To have that kind of responsibility really puts you to the test. So it was a very challenging time but one that was really an important key for me because the amount of experience that I got by going through that during my first two years really helped springboard me as a basketball player. Experience in pressure situations in which you are key to the success of your team and having to focus and bring it every night as you are just entering the league is a lot to have put on you but I am really grateful for the timing of it. Again, I think that it really helped to shape me as a player in this league.”

*****

Sikma was one of the best shooting big men ever and his accomplishments in that regard are yet another example that disproves the myth that tall players who have big hands cannot become good free throw shooters. I asked Sikma how he became such an excellent shooter:

“I think that you can improve, especially free throw shooting, no matter what the situation is. I spent a lot of time on that. I felt that if I was going to be a face up jump shooter--even in the low post with my inside pivot--that I had to get to the free throw line. You can’t just depend on the jump shot. I wasn’t a real power game guy, so I worked hard on getting guys up in the air with shot fakes and then being able to draw the foul. That helped me to be effective in the post. Working on those things, I improved from being an 80% free throw shooter to basically a 90% shooter by the end of my career. If you get to the line a lot, that can make a difference. The other thing is that I was a late bloomer growing up, so I learned the game facing the basket. I learned the game as a wing player. Then again, I wasn’t a classic power player in the post. I was a face up shooter in the post so that was just a skill that I had to have to be able to make it in the league in the first place. The range basically comes from repetition. From a fundamental standpoint, I had good shooting form and touch.”

*****

Sikma spent his prime years in Seattle but he also enjoyed five productive seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. In his first year in Milwaukee, the Bucks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, ending Julius Erving's 16 year Hall of Fame career:

“What I remember about it is that it was a five game series in my first year in Milwaukee. We had a lot of expectations and we did OK but maybe we didn’t finish as high as many thought that we would, so it was really important to advance in the playoffs. That was a big series. I remember that Sunday (May 3, 1987, when the decisive fifth game was played), I knew that Dr. J had announced his retirement (earlier in the season) and made his tour around the league and that kind of thing, so I knew that he would be ready to go and Charles (Barkley) was there. It was a big game and we were fortunate to come out and play really well from the beginning, very aggressive, and won the ball game. I’m sure that it ended not the way that Dr. J had wished specific to that day but who could look back on his career with any kind of regret at all? He was just a fantastic player and the face of the league at that point in time.”

*****

Don Nelson coached the Bucks during Sikma's first season and Nellie's unique approach left a lasting impression on Sikma:

“He is really a matchup-oriented coach. Nellie really understands what works for players and he knows his guys so well that even though you wouldn’t think so he knows that in certain situations they have advantages over their matchup and he finds a way to go with that and take advantage of that. He is innovative because he is not afraid to throw ideas out there. Nellie likes to talk about a lot of different basketball situations and ‘what ifs?’ Many times—probably the majority of the time—the thoughts get discarded but still he’s willing to think about different ways to skin a cat, per se. With that, I think you find that Nellie is probably a guy who within a game makes as many small adjustments as anybody—whether it is attacking different matchups or playing somebody differently defensively or mixing in a zone or whatever—because he has a lot of different ideas that he likes to try and that is how he sees the game. That is very helpful. There are many times during discussions when we are talking about stuff and looking for ideas about how to handle this and something pops into my mind and we’ll discuss it and afterward I will say that the roots of this came from Nellie. So I appreciate that experience. I was fortunate to play for a lot of good coaches in this league. You know, Lenny (Wilkens) and Nellie are the two leaders (in career regular season wins) and I got a chance to play for Lenny for a number of years and Nellie for one. Del Harris had a great tenure in the league. Bernie Bickerstaff was a young coach as a head coach but look how long he has coached in the league. I garnered a lot from good people and how they used me (as a player) and all that kind of stuff and I use all that information and all that experience today when it comes to the coaching side of it.”

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:39 AM

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