How Mike Budenholzer Will Do Wonders For Giannis and the Bucks’ Offense
While it’s pretty common belief that the Bucks had a lackluster offseason in terms of player acquisition, I think them bringing on Budenholzer is one of the most underrated moves this summer.
Both from his long tenure on the Spurs’ bench under Pop and his success with the Hawks, Bud is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league. And that’s exactly what the Bucks need to pair with this team, after Jason “We’re Going To Turn This Team Around 360 Degrees” Kidd’s more-than-underwhelming stint in Milwaukee.
His 60 win Hawks team from 2014-15 is well-documented, and while Atlanta hasn’t had quite the level of success since (due to the FO going a different direction), he has maintained his principles of a thriving modern offense. Even the 24-58 Hawks last year ranked 6th in 3PAr, and 8th in APG and Pace. Such an offense is necessary to maximize this athletic and lengthy roster spearheaded by Giannis.
So what specifically can Bud do to improve the Bucks?
The league has obviously gone smaller. No denying that. And specifically in last year’s playoffs, there was a greater push for interim coach Joe Prunty to run Giannis at the 5 in order to maximize his versatility.
Budenholzer seems to have no qualms with embracing small-ball and has adapted where necessary. His more prominent Hawks lineups lately often featured only one traditional big, and the Bucks should be no different. Expect to even see Giannis at center for stretches, also possibly dual-point guard lineups with any combination of Bledsoe/Brogdon/Delly/DiVincenzo. Doing so should allow the Bucks to play faster and with more shooting, with guys like Middleton, Snell, and Illyasova manning the wings.
Pick N Roll
Bud’s Hawks have consistently ranked in the top tier of PNR Frequency, a key component of today’s spread offense. While last year’s Hawks in particular weren’t necessarily efficient in doing so (only 3rd percentile in the league), that’s more a testament to their roster lacking all-around talent. The Bucks on the other hand were the opposite. They ranked in the bottom ten in the same stat and were much more efficient, right at the 80th percentile.
What does that tell us? Simply put, the Bucks were very efficient in the PNR and should run it more! They have a unique roster in that they have several players who can run the PNR in Giannis, Middleton, Bledsoe, Brogdon, and possibly DiVincenzo in his rookie year.
Giannis is special in that he can be utilized in the PNR as both the ball handler and the roller. Much like the Bucks roster as a whole, Giannis as a ball handler was efficient in a low PNR volume (0.92 points per possession on only 11.3% frequency) and as a takeaway, should be running the PNR much more often. Giannis is a matchup nightmare as is, but give him space and momentum off a screen and onto a potential big man switch, and he could legitimately average 30+. I mean, who’s stopping this??
On a similar note, he’s also near-unstoppable when he’s setting the screen, as he boasts a gaudy 1.15 points per possession, yet again only a small frequency of 5.8% of his possessions. With the defense focused on the ball after the pick is set, Giannis can often get an open lane to the rim. Get used to this as he and Bledsoe grow more accustomed to playing together:
It’s honestly malpractice how little Kidd put Giannis in the PNR, in either role. However, it doesn’t have to be all Giannis either. As I said and as we all know, this team is loaded with athletes that you can put in the PNR and watch thrive. Here’s a great Spain PNR from last year where Giannis is able to take a play off and the Bucks get an easy basket:
On that note, while Brook Lopez isn’t quite the athlete as some of the other Bucks bigs, he was statistically one of the best PNR roll men in the league last year with a great 1.09 point per possession on 18.2% Frequency. With his more-recently added floor spacing ability, he can just as easily pop off the screen and be a dual threat for Milwaukee at a great price.
We all know that teams are playing faster now, and the Bucks should be no exception. Unfortunately, that wasn’t last year’s case, as the Bucks were bottom ten in pace. Why you wouldn’t be pushing the ball every time with a team this long and athletic is beyond me. Again...who’s gonna stop this?
Meanwhile Bud’s Hawks were on the opposite end at 8th in the league. Not to mention that his teams have consistently ranked in the top 10 for Pace, even with the two-traditional-big lineups including Millsap, Horford, and Howard he’d often use. That’s why he and the Bucks should be a great pairing as he gets this team to get out and run.
This is where I’ll get more in-depth. Budenholzer is often lauded for his X’s and O’s, as he should be. A lot of his offense is based on a 5 or 4-out setup, or in a traditional Horns set with bigs at the elbows and wings in the corners. Horns in particular is the most common setup in the league. Again, Giannis can play at any position here; as a ballhandler at the top, at the elbows typically as a passer, or moving off the corners to slash/cut.
While these kinds of actions are by no means unique to Bud’s offense, they are aspects that he has been able to implement very well and it’s part of what has made his teams so good.
I’m really excited to hopefully see Giannis work from the elbow a lot more. Last year we got flashes like this, a play that LeBron would run a ton in Cleveland:
Not only can it often get cutters an open shot at the basket, but after they clear out, Giannis can take his man 1 on 1 to the hoop.
And here’s a set the Hawks would run a lot from the elbow. Look at how well Bazemore collapsed the D, now imagine Giannis in that spot. If they collapse, he can kick out. If they stay home, no one’s gonna meet him at the rim.
Here’s another example of the same Hawks set, this time with Babbitt pulling up off a DHO from the other elbow slot:
That could be Giannis and Middleton paired at the elbows. Really deadly combinations.
A floppy set is a play design where a player in the paint has 2 screeners on one side and 1 screener on the other, and he has the the option of cutting to either side. A super common play in the NBA. Here it is in action with Belinelli coming off the screen:
As the shooter comes off the curl, often times the defense will run out on him and the screener(s) can dive to the basket for an easy two points. Giannis would be perfect in that role.
A flare screen is any screen that moves the cutting player away from the ball, and the cutting player usually gets open for a pass. Bud often uses Flare sets for shooters by establishing the ball on one wing and then quickly reversing it to the other wing. The key here is using the screener inside the arc, effectively burying the shooter’s man. This would be great for shooters like Middleton, Snell, and others. Here are a few examples of last year’s Hawks running it:
Also note that this is all just one side of the ball. Bud’s teams have also typically excelled on defense; meanwhile Kidd employed a recklessly aggressive style that handicapped the Bucks on that end. I genuinely believe that Mike Budenholzer will take Milwaukee to another level, and if we see another strong leap from Giannis, they could be fighting for a top 3 seed in the East.