As Giannis Antetokounmpo’s rise to superstardom has become clearer and clearer, there’s one thing that has been missing: good coaching. No shade to Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty, but neither of those guys are exactly going to create coaching best-sellers in the future.
That all changes this season.
Milwaukee swooped in and brought Mike Budenholzer into the fold once he split from the Atlanta Hawks this offseason. Budenholzer is the most successful branch of the Gregg Popovich coaching tree; he took home Coach of the Year honors in 2015-16 by revitalizing the Hawks.
The 60-win team that he led to the Eastern Conference Finals didn’t have a player in the same stratosphere as Antetokounmpo, but Budenholzer’s motion offense helped the quartet of Jeff Teague-Kyle Korver-Paul Milsap-Al Horford take the league by storm.
While the other parts of the Bucks roster will likely see a bump from Budenholzer’s philosophy it’s worth questioning where Antetokounmpo fits in the new scheme.
Giannis is a quintessential point-forward. When Milwaukee brought in Eric Bledsoe last year Antetokounmpo spent more time off-ball than in previous years. Most of the time, Antetokounmpo found himself isolated at the high post or mid-post on the wings — just far enough to require a step to be at the basket for the Greek Freak.
Those spaces aren’t highlighted in Budenholzer’s offense, the idea is to spread the floor with shooters and use off-ball screens and player movement to confuse the defense. Antetokounmpo has yet to extend his shooting capabilities to beyond the arc and most of the off-ball action he’s done so far is finishing alley-oops. This new offense will be a big change from what Giannis has grown accustomed to doing in the NBA.
All hope isn’t lost though. Just because there’s no easy position to slot Antetokounmpo’s skillset into doesn’t mean he can’t function at an MVP level with Budenholzer calling the shots. The beauty of the Antetokounmpo and Budenholzer marriage on the floor doesn’t reside in where Antetokounmpo plays, but in how many spots Budenholzer can play him in.
In this quick-hitter Antetokounmpo could be the down screener for a Tony Snell 3-pointer, or he could be the ball-handler making the pass to a curling Snell.
Dwight Howard’s short stint in Atlanta wasn’t a complete lost, Budenholzer now has this trick up his sleeve and Antetokounmpo could fully take advantage of defenders on the block playing too high on their post-entry denial, resulting in an easy two points.
Or he could just as easily be stationed in Paul Milsap’s spot, curling off a Thon Maker or Brook Lopez screen and then having the option of passing to a slashing Malcolm Brogdon or throw the lob to Maker/Lopez.
Now the fun is starting to begin. Giannis could be the ball-handler in this play and receive a screen from a smaller player forcing a guard to switch on him as he attempts to barrel towards the basket — good luck stopping him NBA guards.
He could flip roles and be the screener in this scenario and if the defense focuses too much on corralling the dribbler he gets a free lane to use as a personal runway to the rim.
Lastly, he could be slotted away from the ball screen action on the weakside of the floor. Starting above the break of the 3-point line, as the ball handler penetrates the defense on the baseline, Antetokounmpo can make a beeline cut to the rim right behind a rotating defense.
The different ways that Budenholzer can unleash Antetokounmpo on opponents in his offense should truly scare the rest of the league. If things click the question of who is the best player in the post-LeBron Eastern Conference will have a clear answer by season’s end.