Milwaukee Bucks: Can Mike Budenholzer have an even greater impact in year 2?

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner Sports)
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner Sports) /

After a dream first campaign with the Milwaukee Bucks, could coach Mike Budenholzer have an even greater impact in his second season?

The combination of a 60-win season and a second Coach of the Year win made for very close to a perfect first season for Mike Budenholzer as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Of course, four consecutive losses to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals spoiled the party somewhat, and undoubtedly left a lot for Budenholzer and his coaching staff to look to build upon.

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That defeat in the Conference Finals may well have exposed some deficiencies in the Bucks’ approach, or at least flagged up a need to add further contingencies, but on the whole there can be almost nothing but positivity about how Milwaukee adapted to its new coach’s principles in year one.

It may be a little lost in the shuffle 12 months on with everyone now accustomed to the overhauled and modernized Bucks, but it’s worth taking a moment to remember how things looked the season prior under both Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty’s watch. Not only did the Bucks change last season, but they were transformed completely beyond all recognition.

The sheer scale of the change the Bucks underwent last year should be particularly worth repeating heading into Budenholzer’s second season at the helm, as there’s a real case to be made that Milwaukee could demonstrate an improved and further evolved understanding of Coach Bud’s core principles in the 2019-20 season.

If Milwaukee’s players bought into and generally got a handle on their new coach’s core philosophies last season, this year they can move a step closer to mastering those wrinkles.

The loss of Malcolm Brogdon undoubtedly hurt the Bucks this summer, but otherwise there’s plenty to like about how the team’s offseason complemented what their coach is looking to do and values most.

Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver arrive as catch-and-shoot specialists of a caliber that the Bucks didn’t necessarily boast last year, and will certainly offer increased volume from three-point range.

The addition of Robin Lopez offers Budenholzer some security in terms of having sufficiently skilled personnel to cover any injury to Brook Lopez in terms of the team’s preferred drop-back defense, while also providing some new options if he proves bold enough to ever pair the twins together as part of a jumbo sized frontcourt.

The return of Brook, along with Khris Middleton and George Hill also opens up new possibilities in considering just how important continuity could be for a team growing in comfort in what their coach asks them to do.

Even for role players such as Sterling Brown, D.J. Wilson, Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo, for as much as has been discussed about Budenholzer’s development wizardry, the best results haven’t always been instantaneous in the past.

In fact, Budenholzer’s previous head coaching job with the Hawks offers some precedent for major changes in year one showing real potential, before fully embedding and hitting entirely new heights the next season.

Bud won 38 games in his first season as Hawks head coach — not helped by Al Horford missing a large chunk of the season — but implemented a major change in style that had clearly started to reap really positive rewards by the time they pushed the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to the wire in a seven-game first round series.

The next season, Horford’s return boosted the Hawks, but it was by no means solely responsible for the jump to 60 wins. A career year for Jeff Teague having learned how to run Bud’s system was crucial. The growing confidence and influence of Paul Millsap was essential. While Korver and DeMarre Carroll unlocking new elements of their game and reaching the peak of their powers made the Hawks a proposition that perhaps only LeBron James and the Cavaliers could contain for large spells in that season.

For the Hawks, it was year two when the development work really started to shine through, and when the key principles on both ends of the floor seemed to fully take effect.

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Don’t expect a 22-win improvement and a perfect season to make up this year-on-year progression, but as the Bucks prepare for their follow-up, it’s very much in play that greater comfort and understanding of Budenholzer’s ideas could make Milwaukee even more formidable in 2019-20.