The Milwaukee Bucks coaching fiasco has finally been laid to rest with the hiring of former Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer.
Since 2013, the Bucks have been through five head coaches including Scott Skiles, Jim Boylan, Larry Drew, Jason Kidd and most recently, Joe Prunty.
Budenholzer fills a void Milwaukee have been desperately trying to fill for over a half a decade, in a way which should ultimately benefit the entire roster — including Australian duo Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker.
Both struggled mightily through the 2017-18 season, with Dellavedova missing over half the regular season via an ankle injury. Maker meanwhile, hit the sophomore slump harder than most as his outside stroke and interior defense both wavered for large chunks of the season. However they found some rare form in the playoffs, which has them in good stead for the next season’s campaign. Maker in particular, should benefit most from the Budenholzer hire.
Rewind to the 2017 NBA playoffs and Maker was making headlines around the league for his stunning defensive plays against the Toronto Raptors. After this series, many had expected Maker to make the leap this past season to a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Unfortunately for Maker and the Bucks, that has not occurred. In fact, he played himself completely out of the rotation at times. His three-point field goal percentage dropped from 38 to 30 percent, while his ability to defend was often called into question. Observers could be forgiven to wonder, “Is Thon Maker even an NBA player?”
Maker finished the season with averages of 4.8 points and 3 rebounds, hardly anything to write home about. So when the 2018 NBA playoffs arrived, many had written off any thought that Maker would be contributing in any kind of meaningful way. Yet the big man proceeded to throw those expectations out the door, delivering a series of bedazzling defensive plays which turned the series on its head in Games 3 and 4.
In those two games, Maker recorded a total of ten blocks — the most in any two consecutive playoff games since DeAndre Jordan managed the feat in 2014. Therefore is it talent Maker lacks, or rather just consistency?
This is twice now that Maker has proven that when he’s switched on, he can truly be a defensive juggernaut with his ability to switch onto any player on the opposing team, while also protecting the rim. So perhaps it is consistency that’s actually holding Maker back.
Budenholzer has often been regarded as a guy who can get the very best out of his team. In 2014-15, he coached the Atlanta Hawks to a 60 win season, while claiming number one seed in the East. That team’s starting five consisted of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford. A good team undoubtedly, but certainly a team bereft of MVP candidates.
Budenholzer got absolutely everything out of that lineup that season as the team made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. As reward for his effort, four out of that starting five (sans Carroll) were voted into the All-Star game during that season. Budenholzer should have a field day in developing a player like Maker, who holds a seemingly immeasurable amount of untapped potential.
The same could also be said for a player like Dellavedova, but in a far different manner. In his time with the Hawks, Budenholzer was also known for his ability to develop ‘bit-part’ role players into key pieces for a franchise, a prime example being Kent Bazemore.
Before joining the Hawks, Bazemore had bounced around the league with Golden State and the Lakers development teams, with not a lot of success either. In 2014, he signed a short-term deal with Atlanta and proceeded to blossom into a starting forward. Following the 2015-16 season, Bazemore signed a four-year, $70 million extension with the Hawks after a stellar season which saw him start a career high 68 games.
The similarities between Bazemore and Dellavedova’s situation cannot be understated, and Budenholzer may be the key to unlocking his potential with the Bucks. Prior to joining Milwaukee, Dellavedova had enjoyed a brilliant three seasons in Cleveland, winning a title with LeBron James in 2016. Many had hoped that Dellavedova could replicate that success in Milwaukee with Giannis Antetokounmpo, arguably the closest thing the league has seen to LeBron, when it comes to the next generational talent.
Unfortunately, Dellavedova has been unable to hold down the starting position permanently since arriving in Milwaukee, with last season’s Rookie of the Year winner Malcolm Brogdon usurping him in the rotation. After enduring an injury riddled season, Dellavedova needs a big year in 2018-19 and Budenholzer might just be the man to help.
Things are looking up in Milwaukee when looking ahead to the 2018/19 season.
For the first time in almost a decade, they have a capable coach at the helm. Mike Budenholzer is a proven commodity in the NBA, in terms of team success and developing players. Thon Maker and Matthew Dellavedova are both at cross roads in their NBA careers and are in dire need of breakout/bounce-back seasons.
Budenholzer may just be what the doctor ordered.