Just over a week ago, I put out the call for you all to pose some questions for our sister site, Raptors HQ, about the hiring of former Toronto assistant Adrian Griffin as Milwaukee’s seventeenth head coach. You delivered! Thanks for your patience over the early summer holidays here in the US, and a MAJOR thanks to our friends Chelsea Leite and JD Quirante for taking the time to whet our appetite for answers. Below are JD’s responses to queries from our and your minds. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter, and check out Raptors HQ for all your northern basketball needs!
Brew Hoop asks: Several sources have attested that Griffin focused predominantly on defense while in Toronto. How do you think his coaching manifested in the Raptors’ defensive sets in recent years?
AG’s in charge of the defensive part of the Raptors’ scouting and preparation, and with the Raptors’ defense centered on stopping key opposing players, he works with the players on their personal defensive assignments and how opposing teams are using their playbook to get them to their spots. A huge part of the Raptors’ success defensively in the past is that they have smart players and are prepared to stop core players and bust the opposing teams’ main sets. Nurse may be the orchestra conductor, but Griffin’s fingerprints are all over the floor.
Brew Hoop asks: A recurring theme for the Bucks in recent postseasons has been struggling halfcourt offense. Under Nick Nurse, and after Kawhi Leonard left, the Raptors’ halfcourt offense has routinely ranked worse than the Bucks’. Can Griffin correct his new employer’s shortcomings?
The Raptors’ offense, or lack thereof, is by design. The front office did a disservice to their key players and their coaching staff by surrounding Pascal Siakam (and Scottie Barnes) with negative spacers and players that can cause advantage negation. Siakam’s probably had one of the hardest 24/8/6 in the league, given the handicap that he had to operate on. You can have a sci-fi novel thick playbook, but if 95% of them are unusable based on the players on hand, you’ll end up with a pamphlet for a playbook.
AG is replacing a coach with a stubbornness rooted in a belief in trusting the system. He’s also coming off a coaching staff where the head coach probably could’ve kept his job if he wasn’t stubborn with his my-way-or-the-highway that led to blinders. AG knows what he’s getting himself into, and he’ll likely make sure he doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls as Bud and Nurse. At the very least, he’ll keep many of the good things that work for the team and incorporate his own wrinkle for change-ups. It’s a copycat league, and I can see AG incorporating many things that the Raptors did that could be advantageous for the Bucks.
Brew Hoop asks: Do you think Griffin will be quick to make in-game adjustments or more obstinate?
As a first-time head coach, I expect AG to look like he will initially be more on the obstinate side of the spectrum. He’ll want to impose his system and probably keep hammering on it even if it’s not working as smoothly. It’ll be growing pains as a coach. Still, I expect him to be practical and not married to the system like Bud, as he’s shown flashes of making in-game adjustments that Nurse probably won’t make.
Brew Hoop asks: Former players, most notably Jimmy Butler, have praised Griffin in terms of how they helped them take the next step. He seems to have a reputation for being strong with player development—is that well-earned? What have been his biggest successes or failures in that regard while in Toronto?
I think Adrian Griffin’s Jimmy Butler story is well-chronicled. This guy would not see time with Tom Thibodeau at the helm, not in crunch time, and not until he “paid his dues.” Calling him a player development guy might be inaccurate since he’s been a lead assistant for several years. Typically, that role is reserved for one of the second-row assistant coaches, much like how the Raptors had Phil Handy back then and Rico Hines currently, both notable player development coaches.
AG will undoubtedly be able to connect with the younger players, as he’s good with player relationships and motivation. He’ll be more inclusive than draw a line, unlike what Nick Nurse did in Toronto. There’s a reason why the bench, whether second stringers or the deep bench, played harder for him, and I think it’s his ability to connect with them. On the games he’s coached, AG’s leaned on the lesser players a bit more than what Nurse would do, giving them more playing time and more involvement in the offense.
As someone who follows the prospects assigned to the Raptors 905, once a prospect “checks off” the “play well in the minors” part, I believe it’s crucial for their growth to get in-game reps with the main club as the next phase. Just look at Miami right now. Heck, look at Siakam and VanVleet, who both played well in the G League and got the NBA reps the following year as part of the bench mob. Failure is too strong of a word; just ask your guy Giannis, but if AG’s got any shortcomings, I wish he stood up for kids that Nurse won’t play. It took the hiring of Earl Watson until someone fought for the kids.
eddiematthews asks: Is there any attribute—either positive or negative—that really stands out about Griffin’s time in Canada?
Adrian Griffin is well-liked by everyone in the organization, especially by the players (past/present), unlike some of the past coaches that we’ve had. When he talks, you can tell the sincerity of his words. That’s why even though it’s a small sample size, it’s not a surprise that the players, from starters to the bench, played harder for him than with Nurse.
Southern Marxist2 asks: Why did the Raptors choose not to investigate the domestic violence charges? Was there any blowback at all from Raptors fans?
Oh, I believe the Raptors’ front office looked into this matter. Understandably, a section of the fanbase wanted Griffin’s head immediately. Still, Griffin’s kids coming out to support him softened that stance. If anything, the Raptors’ management has a bit of a reputation for being too “woke.” If they found Griffin a liability, they would have cut ties with him as they did with Terence Davis II.
stoneAge asks: Does Griffin have a base scheme on offense or defense that all his teams play? In Summer League or G-League, for example?
It’s a little hard to tell, as he’s been running Nurse’s playbook mostly while incorporating a bit of his flair. A few things that stood out based on his stand-in games (when Nurse wasn’t available or ejected) is that he likes to get his best players the crunch time reps. For example, he’s much more willing to try to brute force the ball to Siakam than let FVV go ISO ball late in the clock. The other thing is he would give it a bit of variety on how his key guy is getting the ball, i.e. running different set plays for his players to get that ball at different spots on the floor.
Another thing that I would keep an eye on in Griffin’s play calls is the weakside activity. The Raptors’ offense has been a literal definition of stagnation this past year, with very little ball and player movement, especially from the weakside. I keep saying it’s a small sample size, but these weakside activities, whether it’s a misdirection to keep the defense honest, or an elaborate ploy to get his player a better look/position, is a breath of fresh air after watching Nurse’s ISO ball for the most part.
Defensively, I expect AG to be more aggressive, but not like the Raptors’ Agent of Chaos fly-by defense. He’s shown flashes of going outside the box of what Nurse would like to do, such as utilizing Poeltl on mostly drop coverage, when Nurse would stubbornly make him switch for the most part.
G may asks: What does Griffin think of mid-range shooting? What degree of openness and what percentage would a player need to shoot to be given a complete green light in that area?
It’s a small sample size, but from the games he’s coached, only Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam got the consistent green light to shoot open or contested middies. Even in Summer League games, his teams shot at least 40% of their FGAs from the perimeter. Unless pressed by the clock, only the alpha dogs usually get the middies.
A parting thought from JD: The Bucks are taking a significant risk with a first-time head coach, and AG is up for a lot of pressure you don’t usually get as a newly-minted coach. However, AG’s got front-row seats and was able to pick Nurse’s brain on his out-of-the-box approach to many things. Given the variety of exposure AG’s got offensively/defensively throughout the years, I’m excited to see his version of Milwaukee Bucks. While Nurse would’ve been the obvious answer to the Bucks’ needs, Giannis won’t give AG his endorsement if he’s just looking for his Monty Williams.
Once more, huge thanks to JD for answering our—and your—questions!