Short to tall, Mbah a Moute guards them all
The 6-foot-8 rookie very likely will be defending New York’s Nate Robinson and Al Harrington, New Orleans’ Chris Paul and Rasual Butler or even Tyson Chandler, and Boston’s Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
It’s no small task, being asked to stop point guards and big men, often in the same game.
But Bucks coach Scott Skiles said he had entrusted Mbah a Moute with the job only because the former UCLA player has proved he can do it.
“When you factor in he’s a rookie, in my 22 years in the league I don’t have any point of reference for a rookie guarding that many players,” Skiles said. “Now I played with Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando), so he had to guard (Hakeem) Olajuwon and those type players.
”But as far as Mbah a Moute being a perimeter player, and having to guard perimeter players and inside guys and all the best players, he’s doing a phenomenal job.“
Mbah a Moute’s versatility has helped the Bucks compensate for the season-ending injury suffered by Michael Redd in late January. When guard Luke Ridnour also went down with a fractured right thumb, Skiles moved the rookie into the lineup at shooting guard for a Feb. 7 game against Detroit.
Now that Ridnour is back, he is coming off the bench behind point guard Ramon Sessions, and Mbah a Moute is still playing his unorthodox role.
He’s a shooting guard who doesn’t shoot too much, and one who often starts the game defending the opposing team’s point guard.
One of Mbah a Moute’s biggest challenges came recently when he matched up against Paul, the Hornets’ all-star point guard, in the Bucks’ 95-94 loss in New Orleans.
Paul had 20 assists, one off his career best, but the Bucks rallied in the fourth quarter and nearly won before Chandler scored a tip-in to give the Hornets their narrow victory.
”The man is a great player and probably will be an NBA Hall of Famer,“ Mbah a Moute said of the 6-foot Paul, the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft. ”Just the stuff he does, how he runs the team, it’s always tough when you go against a point guard like that.
“But it was a whole team thing; I can’t do it by myself. We did an all-right job, but we’ve got to do a better job this time around.”
As the Bucks play the New York Knicks on Tuesday night and continue a crucial six-game home stand with New Orleans on Friday night and Boston on Sunday, Mbah a Moute is showing renewed energy.
He has averaged 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game over the last five games, including a 21-point, 11-rebound effort Friday night in a loss at Chicago. He has shot 74.3% (26 for 35) during that span.
And the Bucks are 6-8 since he was moved into the starting role in the backcourt.
“No question, he hit a little bit of a rookie wall,” Skiles said. “When that happens, you’re always waiting to see if a guy can get his second wind and finish strong. He definitely got that.
”He looks like he did in the beginning of the season. He’s defending some of the better guards in the league and doing a very good job on them, but he’s also doing the other things he did earlier in the season. He’s getting on the offensive glass, making some timely plays, driving the ball hard.“
Bucks general manager John Hammond has been credited with a steal in the second round of the draft, getting Mbah a Moute with the 37th pick.
But the native of Cameroon also has benefited from Skiles’ supreme confidence in the 22-year-old’s abilities.
Skiles said he could tell during the Bucks’ summer league session in Las Vegas that the team had something special.
”We felt like even in rookie league, he was already, individually, an NBA defender,“ Skiles said. ”Now that doesn’t mean you’re thinking you’re going to put him on Pierce and Garnett in the same game, nothing like that.
“But we could tell, the way he moves laterally, and with his length, and he has the will to do it, that he definitely was an NBA-ready defender.”
Mbah a Moute said he had worked to adjust to the much longer NBA season, and also to the varying defensive assignments from game to game or within games.
“The point guards are a little smaller, quicker, faster,” he said. “You’ve got to realize that and still pressure the ball and give some help to your teammates. It’s definitely different, although if you go against LeBron (James) or Paul Pierce, they’re almost as quick as the point guards and even stronger and bigger.
”They will try to post you up. It’s just the position on the floor that’s different.“
Mbah a Moute hopes his rookie adventure will continue with a playoff berth. The Bucks have 16 regular-season games left and are one of several teams in the chase for one of the final Eastern Conference spots.
”Hopefully he will get some playoff minutes under his belt, then have another good summer,“ Skiles said. ”It’s just the experience of everything, taking several laps around the league and playing in the arenas against all the great players.
“It’s hard to talk about that stuff. You have to experience it.”