Milwaukee Bucks: All-Time Greatest Coaches

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Don Nelson

Not only is Nelson a Bucks great, but he stands astride in the history of the league as the all-time leader in coaching wins. Nelson coached just under 2,400 games in the NBA, more than anyone other than Lenny Wilkens, and most remarkably of all it was the Michigan native’s teams who came out on top on 1,335 of those occasions.

Nelson entered the coaching game with Milwaukee with a pedigree that most can only dream of. As a player, Nellie won five championship rings with the Boston Celtics in a glittering career that would eventually see his number 19 jersey hang from the rafters of the Boston Garden.

As a result, even with his relative inexperience as a coach, he instantly commanded respect. On the court, Nelson became one of the game’s great innovators. The Bucks became the league’s best defensive team under his watch, mostly due to the way in which he had his players rotate defensively in a time where defense was still not particularly fashionable.

Nellie was no slouch on offense either though. Having been almost the original Sixth Man in his playing days, Nelson brought that role over to the teams he coached by leaning on guys like Junior Bridgeman and Ricky Pierce for instant offense off the bench. The point forward role that Paul Pressey filled and has now become so prevalent is also credited by many as Nelson’s brainchild too.

Under Nelson’s watch, Milwaukee may not have won a title, but they finished seven straight seasons with 50 wins or more. That ensured the team’s relevance for the best part of two decades, and it’s no coincidence that others who went on to coach the team were heavily influenced by the work of Nelson.

Next: Larry Costello