Bucks Coaching Candidate Profiles: Mike Budenholzer


Mike Budenholzer, along with Monty Williams, seems to have been identified as the frontrunners for the Bucks vacant head coaching position. This decision is undoubtedly the most important thing the Bucks will do this offseason, so it’s probably time to take a look at who Coach Bud is and what he might bring to Milwaukee.


Budenholzer spent 17 seasons as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs, working under coach Gregg Popovich. This is widely regarded as a good thing and it is clear the Bucks view it as a positive since they’re interviewing 4 of the Spurs current assistant coaches. The Spurs have been the best franchise, not just in basketball, but in sports over the past two decades. Some people might argue the Patriots, but I feel like their disciplinary issue knock them down to #2. Either way, experience with such a consistently successful franchise, under one of the best basketball coaches of all time, is no doubt a huge plus for any head coaching candidate. The only knock I can see from this point of view is that maybe they’ve been too successful and might not be equipped to build a team from as dysfunctional of a place as the Bucks are in, but that’s a pretty big reach.


In 2013 the Atlanta Hawks decided to part ways with then head coach Larry Drew (who was subsequently hired by the Milwaukee Bucks and then replaced with Jason Kidd after one season…maybe this is a sign, but I’m going to try to ignore it). Mike Budenholzer was hired and Paul Millsap was added to roster. These moves took the 44-38, knocked out in the first round Hawks and made them the 38-44, knocked out in the first round Hawks. Now I know what you’re thinking, and yes, 38 wins were enough for the Hawks to secure the 8-seed in 2014, it’s true. And no, this wasn’t a great look for Bud, but considering he lost his best player, Al Horford, to a torn pectoral 29 games into the season I think we can give him a pass. Also, this team took the 1-seed Indiana Pacers, a dominant force at the time, to 7 games, which counts for something in my book.


The following year was the marquee season, by which we all remember Coach Bud and the Atlanta Hawks. The starting lineup included: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford. The Hawks also received quality contributions off the bench from guys like: Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, and Thabo Sefolosha. This was a quality basketball team with good players at every position and if it weren’t for a certain basketball god named LeBron they would have made it to the NBA Finals.


This team was ranked 2nd in regular-season defense, which is incredible and an area the Bucks need to improve in. The issue for me there is that they were 18th the year before and and in two years since Horford headed north to Boston they’ve been 11th and 27th. Whereas, the Celtics have been 4th both years. This doesn’t mean Bud isn’t a good defensive coach, he’s widely regarded for his defensive schemes, but defense requires talent and effort. The Bucks have some of both of those things, but I doubt they have enough to be turned into a lockdown defensive team anytime soon. That being said if Milwaukee is a mediocre defensive team next year I’ll be elated and Bud’s system might be enough.


Offensively, I’ve heard some complaints that his teams have been somewhat inconsistent. The thing is, after the 14-15 season he lost talent every year with the Hawks and it’s tough to keep up offensive efficiency when your team keeps getting worse. What I love about his offense is the selflessness with which his teams play. I get so frustrated every time I see the Bucks come down the court, get the ball to Giannis, Khris, or Bledsoe, clear everybody out and have them play iso-ball. Yes, they’re all talented enough to do that and score with decent regularity, but it would be way better if we ran an offense with constant motion both on and off the ball. This is what Bud’s system is all about and I genuinely believe it would bolster the Bucks already prolific offense.


One more thing about Bud is that players seem to like him. That might seem weird considering all of his best players are gone but: Horford left because he was sick of Atlanta and the environment around the team, Carroll chased a check (can’t blame him), Korver was traded away, and Teague and Millsap left when they realized the front office had decided to blow it up and start a rebuild. In a 2015 interview, then-Hawks player Kyle Korver said “I feel like every coach is either really good at X’s and O’s or a really good personality manager, and there aren’t many coaches who know how to walk the middle. Bud? I’ve never seen a coach at any level who does it better than him.” At the very least this sounds like the kind of guy who will help the Bucks keep Giannis happy, engaged, and willing to sign a super max when the time comes.


The last thing I’m going to say is that I have no idea who the Bucks should hire as their next HC and I’m very happy it’s not my decision to make, but Mike Budenholzer feels like a good, safe choice. At the very least I don’t see him inhibiting Milwaukee’s progress, which could be enough for them to reach their goals for the next few years, or until LeBron finally calls it a career.


About Bobby Gilligan

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