After years of toiling in LeBron James’ shadow, the future of the Eastern Conference started revealing itself in these NBA Playoffs. With the Milwaukee Bucks on the outside looking in at the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, they hired Mike Budenholzer as their next head coach to help close the gap with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Budenholzer, who coached the Atlanta Hawks last season, was a long-time assistant under San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich. With this likely to be Milwaukee’s last coaching hire before Antetokounmpo becomes a free agent, they’ll need the two to develop a Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich-like relationship if they want to keep their young franchise player around.
1.) The Milwaukee Bucks went to the Spurs coaching tree to hire Mike Budenholzer. What’s the potential for Budenholzer and Giannis Antetokounmpo to be a Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich-like pairing in Milwaukee?
Dave DuFour: I’m not sure we will ever see a Duncan/Popovich pairing again. But to get anything close to that sort of longevity is going to require success from both parties. Giannis needs to be a perennial MVP candidate and the Bucks need to win meaningful games in May and June. If those things happen, it’s possible.
Brady Klopfer: Antetokounmpo is unlikely to have the organizational impact Duncan had; few players have ever had that. But he is a generational talent who is exceptionally easy to build around. He has the skills on both end of the court to acquiesce to whatever schemes Budenholzer implements, while melding with whatever personnel shares the court with him.
Given that Mike Budenholzer is one of the league’s top coaches, he figures to get the most out of his young superstar, while also sticking in Milwaukee for the long haul. Antetokounmpo has had three coaches in his five years; the consistency, as well as the talent of Budenholzer should figure to take the Greek Freak, and the Bucks, to the next level.
Dakota Schmidt: I think there’s a lot of potential with a Mike Budenholzer and Giannis Antetokounmpo pairing. The style of play will be more like the motion offense that we saw when Bud had Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague to work with. While Giannis is definitely going to continue doing what he does as an on-ball driver, I’d like to see more of him working off-ball. He’s too quick for forwards and too big and strong for guards to defend. To be honest, its hard to imagine what Giannis would look like with a good offensive coach because, well…. Jason Kidd was the last head coach; but I’m very optimistic about this pairing.
2.) Knowing what you do of Budenholzer’s time in Atlanta and San Antonio, where do you see the biggest adjustments with the roster pieces on hand?
Dave DuFour: Mike Budenholzer is a flexible coach. If he sees something not working, he’s going to switch it up. Gone are the days where the Bucks pound their heads into the wall defensively over and over again in hopes of a different result. Just this past season, Budenholzer’s Hawks went from a very aggressive approach with their bigs in pick and roll coverage to a very conservative one.
We may also get to see Giannis is some sort of an offensive system that will maximize his talents.
Brady Klopfer: Ball movement on offense, rotations on defense. Ball movement on offense, rotations on defense. Ball movement on offense, rotations on defense. The Bucks’ weaknesses are easily identifiable and, for Mike Budenholzer, (relatively) easily fixable.
Dakota Schmidt: Definitely going to go with the front-court. Although I love John Henson and still have faith in Thon Maker, this team needs multiple players who can work in the front-court and take care of business on the offensive glass and be reliable offensive weapons. While I don’t expect them to be at the level of Horford or Millsap, need someone who can work as a reliable option in the pinch post, knock down mid-range jumpers, and facilitate a bit.
3.) Philadelphia and Boston might be the two young teams on everyone’s radar, but the Bucks probably have the Eastern Conference’s best young player in Giannis Antetokounmpo. What needs to happen for Milwaukee to catch up to the conference elite?
Dave DuFour: This playoff run by the 76ers showed us how much farther along they are than any of us anticipated. For the Bucks to make up ground, they need a star to pair with Giannis. Middleton is a very good player, but they could really use another needle mover. I would expect their front office to be very aggressive this summer to try to get a guy on the trade market. This coaching upgrade alone should be good for at least five games in the win column.
Brady Klopfer: The biggest obstacle for Milwaukee is Boston and Philly are both improving. The Celtics are knocking on the door of the NBA Finals and will be adding two All-Stars next year. The Sixers earned the third seed in Joel Embiid’s second year, Ben Simmons’ rookie year, and with essentially a lost season for Markelle Fultz.
All three of those players will be better next year, plus they have a lottery pick. So Milwaukee needs to not only catch up to where Boston and Philadelphia currently are, but surpass it, as both teams will be improving for the foreseeable future. Mike Budenholzer could potentially turn the defense around entirely, which is an enormous first step (the Celtics and Sixers were first and third in defensive rating this year, respectively; the Bucks were 17th). After that, they need a certifiable second star, which may come from the further development of Kris Middleton, but more likely will have to be sought through free agency or the draft.
Dakota Schmidt: Just get a crap load of perimeter-minded players to work around Giannis. The Greek Freak is a great facilitator and one of the most feared offensive weapons in the NBA, which means most defenses devote their attention to him. While Middleton is great, Brogdon is good enough to be a starter, and I like Snell, Milwaukee needs more players who are good at playing alongside a great player like Giannis. While I was initially optimistic about Bledsoe, he’s he’s a poor fit as a ball-dominant guard with a predilection for a bunch of ill-advised jumpers.