In the 2014-15 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks put on a basketball clinic, finishing with 60 wins and the first seed in the Eastern Conference. This team was different, however, than most historically great teams, as no player on that roster averaged over 17 points per game. They had no specific first option, no superstar on the court. Their real superstar was Coach Mike Budenholzer.
Budenholzer thrived on taking skilled players and creating a system where they could flourish. Al Horford averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds a game in the Hawks 60-win season and got a 4 year/$113 million-dollar deal with the Boston Celtics because of his time in Atlanta. Kyle Korver, who has excelled as a role player his whole career, made the All-Star Game in 2015, as he led the league in three-point percentage at 49.2%. His only All-Star appearance in his career was under Mike Budenholzer in 2015. Same goes for Jeff Teague, who averaged 16 points and 7 assists per game in 2015.
Paul Millsap played for the Hawks for four years, all four under Budenholzer. In this four-year period, Millsap earned four All-Star appearances. He went on to sign a 3 year/$90 million-dollar deal with the Denver Nuggets. Even DeMarre Carroll, the 5th starter on the 2015 Hawks, excelled in his role, and signed a 4 year/$60 million-dollar deal with the Toronto Raptors before getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets.
That was a historically great team, coached by an underrated Mike Budenholzer. After 17 years as an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich, Budenholzer was finally given the chance to coach his own team. He took a mediocre Atlanta Hawks team that was not making it far in the playoffs and implemented his own system. Cuts, screens, backdoor passes, as the ball kept moving. His system took the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals.
After a subpar year last season with the Hawks, Budenholzer was fired. The team finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, winning 24 games. Budenholzer had next-to-nothing to work with, as the team was not talented. The front office also likely wanted to tank for a higher draft pick. Now Budenholzer can show his true colors in Milwaukee, a team with young talent that can make a playoff push this season.
Over the last few years, the Milwaukee Bucks front office has prioritized length and athleticism. They drafted and signed players such as Thon Maker and John Henson, but now, Budenholzer brings a system in need of skillful and smart players. The Bucks two major signings this offseason were Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez.
Millsap and Horford were both high IQ players, and both could shoot threes. In the new NBA, that is extremely important. Last season, the Bucks centers hit only 32 threes, Thon Maker connecting on 31 of those threes. With Ilyasova and Lopez, the Bucks now have bigs that can space the floor for the NBA’s next budding superstar: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Budenholzer has never had the opportunity to work with a star like Giannis in his coaching career. With a good supporting cast of Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, and Khris Middleton, Budenholzer can propel the Bucks to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, while Giannis Antetokounmpo can develop into a superstar and an MVP candidate.
The NBA needs to watch out for the Milwaukee Bucks, because the underrated Mike Budenholzer can make this team one that other teams don’t want to see in the playoffs come April.