Milwaukee Bucks: How Mike Budenholzer Will Impact Giannis Antetokounmpo

Often, the coalition of coach and superstar creates an equitable synergy—one impervious to past results.

Michael Jordan struggled to escape the first round until Phil Jackson introduced zen to Chicago. Magic Johnson won a championship without Pat Riley but needed him to embark on a decade-long dynasty. Don Nelson spearheaded the Mavericks to regular-season success. Yet Rick Carlisle’s elaborate zone defenses stifled Lebron’s Heat, winning Dirk’s first and only ring.

The coalesce of Mike Budenholzer and the Greek Freak corroborates the phrase, ”The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Even with a revolving door of coaches (Jim Boylan, Larry Drew, Jason Kidd, and Joe Prunty), Giannis broke the mold in Milwaukee. Producing Lebron-esque statistics (26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists) Giannis capitalized on a breakout third year. With Jabari injured, the aforementioned single-handedly carried Milwaukee to 7 games against Boston.

Now with Jabari gone, Giannis will carry an even heavier load. All around him is a lack of stability. For Giannis to stay, management needs to flip the switch. Grabbing Mike Budenholzer is a great start.

After all, the NBA is no stranger to double crosses on promises by players. Giannis is not an exception to the narrative, strengthened in recent offseasons by Kevin Durant’s move to a 73 win team and Lebron fleeing his hometown twice.

Pragmatic movement is essential to management, especially after the Jason Kidd disaster. So hiring Budenholzer is in a good sense, considering he was the 2015 coach of the year. His Spursian offense is extracted from his years under Gregg Popovich’s tutelage.

This time, he gets a stab at coaching a once in a generation talent.

Simply put, Giannis is the Sun and his teammates revolve around him like planets. The offense takes a dip when he sits and conversely thrives when he is in. For 5-man lineups that played at least 100 minutes together, the lineup of Giannis-Brogdon-Snell-Middleton-Henson was 13th in offensive rating.

By having Giannis play the de-facto point guard, the Bucks found their diamond in the rough. Surrounded by secondary creators (Brogdon and Middleton) and shooters (Brogdon, Middleton, and Snell), the point forward’s skills were maximized. Using the same parameters, that lineup was 4th in true shooting percentage. Leveraging ball-handling ability and extreme size, Joe Prunty calculated a juggernaut formula.

31.2% of Prunty’s offense ran through the long-limbed Greek—a figure FiveThirtyEight quantifies as a “ball-dominant focal point.” This calls into question what position Budenholzer will slot him at.

Before Atlanta embraced “Warriors of the East” they were the “Spurs of the East.” A member of the Popovich family tree, Budenholzer’s positional dictum, and general scheme were essentially carbon copies.

Throughout the course of 3 seasons, Popovich found a way to integrate Boris Diaw at the 5 while simultaneously utilizing him as the lead ball-handler. Budenholzer did the same with Demarre Carroll—a journeyman before the career change—flashing him at the elbow for a high-low conundrum. Al Horford—an apt passer at the 5 position—was also used in that role. Paul Millsap was rotated into the same spot.

Giannis is decidedly more talented than the three former Hawks. Simply put, he mixes together the passing of Boris Diaw, the strength of Millsap, and height of Al Horford. He also adds his own twist of seasoned ball-handling and raunchy scoring confidence—to create an ideal Budenholzer recipe. In what capacity Budenholzer features Antetokounmpo is essential to future success.

Looming like a shadow on a sunny day, the question remains: What position is Giannis?

With the transition of offensive styles—from isolation-heavy to team-oriented concepts—came the dilution of positions. Budenholzer’s offense symbolizes the shifting of a preconceived positional notion. Using different players in a variety of offensive sets, Budenholzer is challenging prior knowledge, creating a novel precedence—One Giannis and Milwaukee will surely thrive in.

In the Budenholzer system passing is a necessity. The Hawks were 2nd in passes made last year. Giannis’ skill set is predicated on getting the ball—when and wherever. This begs the question: How will Giannis do without the ball in his hands? Fortunately, there is no shortage of plays where Giannis moved off the ball. On such plays, he placed in the 69th percentile, scoring 1.34 points per possession. That’s solid, but still something Budenholzer will build upon.

Budenholzer promotes constant movement and screening, among other things. What looks like a natural, balanced set is actually a wrench thrown at the defense.

An opposite, high-low stack is initiated by a Horford up-screen for Devin Harris, who darts to the opposite wing. All in one motion, Horford pivots to set another screen for Teague, Bosh shows for a second. The Bosh show causes a swing to Harris, who feeds it down-low to Horford. Horford backs up and crosses over Bosh. Doing so gets Wade to stray from Harris and help. Chalmers helps on Harris, aware that he can knock down an open shot. Then, Harris makes the extra pass to Teague, who blows by a stranded Chalmers for an easy floater.

Eric Bledsoe—a speedy guard in his own right—is an upgrade, if not a lateral move, from 2014 Teague. He can make that same move to the basket. His passing is decimal points worse, 7.7 to 6.1 per 36 minutes.

The domino line of screens is used as decoys in many scenarios. While neither John Henson or Thon Maker is the athlete Dwight Howard *was*, they are capable of catching lobs at the rim and finishing them. Well, at least Henson finishes them. Maker shot 54.4% at the rim last season and 41% from the field. The first step in the right direction may be benching Maker.

Having a knockdown shooter is essential to Budenholzer’s offense. Dellavedova is glued onto Korver and forgets to switch out onto a wide-open Teague—who buries the game-tying three. Middleton, Brogdon, and Snell aren’t the knockdown shooter Korver is, thus don’t have the gravitational pull.

DiVincenzo is the wildcard who should not be lost in the shuffle of the Milwaukee Bucks offense. The Big Ragu shot 40.1% from deep. Displaying an acumen to draw defenders and kick to open teammates. He is an on and off-ball threat.

The decoy is used again here, letting Millsap free up for an open shot.

Pick and rolls were popularized with the introduction of hand-checking and the uptick in blatant foul calls. Budenholzer capitalized on the style, running his burly power forward through a ball screen. Millsap (a secondary ball-handler in this set) gives way to the invert pick and roll, which is a duplex of the original.

Giannis is a gazelle in the pick and roll. At the 79.6 percentile, Giannis is in rare company—a forward who plays like a point guard in the pick and roll. Still, he was only featured 11.2% in such sets, diverging from the typical Budenholzer forward. Right away, Budenholzer will make Giannis the lead role in his offense.

In a high-low offense, Giannis will excel. Despite running a 4-out offense, Budenholzer predicates on getting the ball inside and working it outside. Last year, John Collins had 4.6 elbow touches compared to Giannis’ 4.7. In a vacuum, Collins’ figure is more impressive—he played 12.6 fewer minutes per game in a less ball-dominant role.

In fact, the Hawks ranked 2nd in pick and roll features last season. Budenholzer will probably run more pick and roll plays, considering his personnel.

In need of a bucket, Milwaukee gives Giannis the keys to the car and he destroys—or eurosteps—everything in his path.

Of course, the Bucks gained ground on Eastern Conference foes. They were resilient against the Celtics, coming back from 2-0, before losing in game 7. That was with a long-time assistant coach and a forward who solely focused on getting shots up. This time, they have a proven coach—armed with experience and intricate offensive sets—to pair with an underrated versatile roster.

Howbeit, the Celtics endowed an advance that will, inevitably, carry over to next season. By packing the paint and allowing Giannis to shoot from deep, they accentuated a crucial weakness: Giannis’ limited range. Still, comparisons to Ben Simmons are not warranted—Giannis shot more than 1 actual three-point shot and at least appears to be heaving with the correct hand.

His form is not super mangled and his 74.6% free throw rate suggests potential as a shooter. Another bright spot is in spot-up situations, where Giannis was not awful—he shot 40.7% in such scenarios. Albeit, that’s not spectacular.

Coupling Popovich ideologies with a loose iteration of his Atlanta Hawks offense, Budenholzer could lead Milwaukee to a top finish in the East. The coach has yet to coach a talent like Giannis. The player will certainly be a key cog in a well-oiled machine. If the 2015 Atlanta Hawks could win 62 games, imagine what Bud can do with the 2019 Milwaukee Bucks.

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