By Douglas Farmer —
This may be a state known for its loyalty to Miller, particularly in Milwaukee, but it is time to show some allegiance to Bud. That is, Mike Budenholzer, first-year Bucks head coach, directly imported from Atlanta.
As much praise as Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves—described in this space a year ago as “single-handedly raising the Bucks from an inconsistent team with baffling tendencies to an Eastern Conference contender oh-so-close to putting it all together”—last season showed a new steward was needed for the Greek Freak’s future. Despite a start that warranted said praise, the Bucks still finished 44-38, seventh in the Eastern Conference, very much in the second-tier of the league’s lesser half.
Exit Jason Kidd. Enter Bud.
Exit a system eschewing the 3-pointer in the space-and-pace era. Enter the league’s highest-scoring offense (at least through 16 games, but all indications are that it will stay near the top as long as health persists).
Exit a defensive scheme rife with gambles and therefore mistakes. Enter a more straightforward approach that has Milwaukee holding opponents to 43.2 percent from the field. Again, these stats are only exactly accurate through 16 games due to the realities of print publishing, but that mark is another best in the league.
That’s right, Bud’s Bucks have the best offense and the best defense in the NBA using the clearest measurements. Adjust to the more advanced metrics of offensive and defensive ratings, and only one team is in the top five of each. Hint: It’s the one pairing a generational star with a coach who spent 17 years learning under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and earning four championship rings.
All this has Milwaukee fighting in the East’s first-tier, and it should be pointed out that the Eastern Conference is no longer undeniably the league’s lesser half. Its top-four teams may even be better than the Western’s top four. That is at least worth a debate this year, unlike any of the last decade.
This coaching switch took Milwaukee from the second-tier of a middling conference to the top of a conference already rapidly improving. Kidd-to-Bud has made springtime possibilities worth considering, even if they come at the expense of counting down the days until the Brewers’ pitchers and catchers report.
That will be Feb. 13, just days before the NBA’s All-Star break. The following two months will see the Bucks pushing for home-court advantage not just in the playoffs’ first round, but maybe the second round, as well. The Brewers will hardly have taken the field for games that matter when the Bucks start hosting playoff games.
The Brewers and MVP outfielder Christian Yelich will be there waiting when the Bucks get knocked out, be that in early May or early June. But there is no need to wait until May or June. The Bucks didn’t mind getting ignored for the season’s first week because the Brewers made that run into late October. But what goes around should come around, and Bud may need the favor returned.
Douglas Farmer grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, before covering sports across the country with stops at The Los Angeles Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Dallas Morning News. He graduated from Aquinas High School in 2008 and from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, and now spends his professional time keeping an eye on the latter’s football team.