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Five Questions with Peachtree Hoops: Mike Budenholzer Breakdown

Sitting down with an Atlanta Hawks expert to dissect what Bud brings to the Bucks.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks are finally headed in a new direction with coach Mike Budenholzer, but what exactly will he offer this team going forward? We already broke down a point/counterpoint from our perspective, but thought it would be more useful to go straight to the experts over at Peachtree Hoops for their input. Jeff Siegel from their staff was nice enough to answer our questions. Jeff also joined Eric Nehm on today’s ever-listenable Locked on Bucks episode too.

Milwaukee just got rid of a coach with an overly aggressive defensive scheme, how concerned should Bucks fans be with Bud’s similar defensive ideology?

Budenholzer is nothing if not adaptable to the players on his roster. The Hawks earned the reputation of being an aggressive, trapping team in their pick-and-roll coverage during the Al Horford years because that’s what Horford did best, but when the team pivoted to Dwight Howard in 2016-17, the scheme became a lot more conservative to play into Howard’s strengths as a rim protector and rebounder. Atlanta did a little bit of both this past season, depending on which of their many big men were manning the paint and I would expect a similar philosophy in Milwaukee—the Bucks will have a very different scheme when John Henson is playing center versus when they go small with Giannis Antetokounmpo at “center”.

What sort of offensive philosophy best describes Bud’s systems over the years?

Once again, adaptable is the word to use with Budenholzer. In 2014-15, when the Hawks won 60 games and made the Eastern Conference Finals, the offense was as free-flowing as it gets and they ranked near the top in nearly every passing statistic. The Hawks had quality passing at nearly every position, from Jeff Teague at point guard to Al Horford at center, and every guy bought in to the system. The results were beautiful to watch and very successful, especially for a team without a bonafide superstar. When Atlanta moved on from Teague and Horford and gave the reins to Dennis Schröder and Dwight Howard, the offense changed in a big way—there was a lot more traditional high pick-and-roll to take advantage of Schröder’s ability to get to the rim and Howard’s gravity as a roll man. In Milwaukee, I expect Budenholzer to be creative with his use of Antetokounmpo as both a ball handler and screener in pick-and-roll and that the offense will open up to involve more passing, screening, and cutting from everybody on the floor.

He obviously found wild success several years with his Hawks squads, but still fell short come Playoff time. Was that more a product of roster talent or did some coaching flaws emerge?

It was a little bit of both, to be honest. Budenholzer had some issues with his rotations down the end of games in their playoff runs and the beautiful regular season offense didn’t translate particularly well to the physicality of the postseason. The roster talent was also lacking the superstar you need to really be successful in the playoffs and while they had two stars in Millsap and Horford, neither were top-15 NBA players at the time and neither were able to take over games in the manner we see from stars across the league. That won’t be a problem for Budenholzer in Milwaukee with Antetokounmpo’s talent, but it will still be up to Bud to put Antetokounmpo in the right positions, especially late in games in the postseason.

”Hawks University” is thrown about as one of the pinnacles of player development over the past few years. What should Bucks fans expect in terms of this staff’s approach to churning out quality wings or tinkering with players to improve their game?

Hawks University was a real thing under Budenholzer, especially in the early years when he had Quin Snyder (now the head coach in Utah) and Kenny Atkinson (now the head coach in Brooklyn) on his staff. Reports indicate that Budenholzer will take most, if not all, of his Hawks staff with him to Milwaukee, so it’s likely that Budenholzer wants a similar focus on development in his new home. In particular, Budenholzer succeeded with turning defensive-minded players into offensive contributors—both Kent Bazemore and DeMarre Carroll were known for their defensive acumen at their previous NBA stops and Budenholzer and his staff overhauled their offensive games to the point that both guys have hit near 40 percent from three over the course of a season and are also able to bring value as slashers and passers on the perimeter. Milwaukee has a number of perimeter players whose games will improve under Budenholzer, from guys at the top like Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton down to Sterling Brown.

What are Coach Bud’s key deficiencies?

His playoff rotations have, at times, been a little too loose. A lot of coaches will tighten up their rotations in the postseason and play their best guys more minutes since there are no back-to-backs after the regular season ends, but Budenholzer didn’t do a ton of that throughout his time in Atlanta, instead opting to stick to the team concept he’d built all season and play a 9- or 10-man rotation in the playoffs. It’s not necessarily always a deficiency, but there were moments over the past few years when he could have pushed an advantage with his starters a bit more but chose to be more conservative with their minutes totals.

We’ll have more Budenholzer takes in the days and Summer ahead, but for now, be sure to follow Jeff on Twitter at @Jgsiegel for his adept basketball takes.