Milwaukee Bucks: How rest is crucial to championship repeat in 2021-22

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 25: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 25: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Several factors contribute to a team winning an NBA championship. You need to have the right mix of players both in terms of talent and personality, a great coach, a great front office, and some luck with staying healthy. For the Milwaukee Bucks, they try to take luck out the equation as best they can

Although it’s impossible to fully take injuries out of the mix, there are ways to mitigate the amount of mileage on players’ bodies. Injury management or load management has become a staple of the NBA in recent years, being popularized by Kawhi Leonard’s injury recovery with the Toronto Raptors.

However, seemingly under the radar, the Bucks have become one of the best at giving their players rest days and whole games off. It took some time to master and find the right balance for not resting players too much, last season general manager Jon Horst, head coach Mike Budenholzer, and the rest of the Bucks brain trust found a happy medium.

As we approach the beginning of the 2021-22 season, the Bucks will need to lean on their medical team as much as possible this season. There are already nagging injuries and players coming off of a long playoff run plus the Olympics, already having a shorter offseason than normal. In another year where they’ll have to deal with the after-effects of a truncated offseason, the Bucks are one of the teams best prepared for it as they defend their championship.

How resting players is imperative to a championship defense for the Milwaukee Bucks

One of the biggest narratives coming out of the 2020-21 season was that the condensed schedule was incredibly hard on player’s bodies and you saw the effects with numerous significant injuries to star players. This came to the forefront even more in the playoffs when teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers saw some of their best players get hurt.

The Milwaukee Bucks, on the other hand, didn’t have the same problems. While injuries are almost random and freak injuries can occur like what happened to Donte DiVincenzo in the playoffs, the Bucks try to eliminate that risk. They were the healthiest team by man games lost with only 106, compared to the Orlando Magic who were the least healthy with 422 man games lost. That isn’t a one-year outlier, either. In 2019-20, the Bucks were the sixth healthiest team, according to In Street Clothes, and was their third consecutive season reducing games lost to injury.

Naturally, some of that does include COVID-19 related illnesses, which is something the Bucks dealt with too. Jrue Holiday missed multiple weeks after testing positive for the virus but was their only major player to deal with the virus during last season. While Holiday did have to deal with the virus and the after-effects, he was amazed at how his body felt so late into the condensed season. He credited a lot of that to Budenholzer and his approach to player’s health in an appearance on The Old Man and the Three.

"“Bud is very good with people’s bodies. … It’s literally been like this all season where your body is most important and I’ve never really had a coach like this ever. … On the clock, if there’s 10 minutes on the clock? At 10 minutes, if you didn’t get everything you got done, he shuts it down and we go to the next drill. There’s no adding 30 seconds or five minutes or whatever, it’s literally like ‘This is our schedule and we’re going to get through it how we planned it out.’ It blows my mind, like even thinking about it, it’s masterful. And in a time like this, with all that travel? It is so important to take care of your body like that.”"

In that same podcast, J.J. Redick mentions that he’s heard similar things about Budenholzer from former players, that he prioritizes player’s health above all. He had been criticized in the past for being too conservative at times with how few minutes he played his star players, primarily Giannis Antetokounmpo, in the playoffs.

But it’s one of the staples of a Budenholzer-led team and it’s something that Horst also believes in wholeheartedly, which he detailed at media day earlier this week.

"“It starts with Bud and his feel, timing, time off for guys, when to ramp them back up and get them back into the swing of things. Troy Flanagan, who heads our performance department, he, Bud and I spend a ton of time together really planning and trying to forecast things. This guy as a partner [Budenholzer], player health has always been first and foremost. We use a little science, we use a little feel, and we use based on the the relationship we have with our guys to kind of manage them throughout the course of the season. … It’s absolutely a challenge, it’s something that we’ve focused heavily on, and I think we’re in a good place.”"

One of the biggest challenges will be dealing with injuries that have already occurred, specifically with the return of Donte DiVincenzo and managing Antetokounmpo’s left knee. It’s safe to assume that both players will be brought along slowly, something the team can afford to do with it being the beginning of the season and that, frankly, they’re a really good team.

I’ve written a lot about how fans shouldn’t be surprised if they see the Bucks take an even more cautious approach this season to how they handle rest to their top players. It would already be the case with a shortened offseason, but adding on a championship run, then the Olympics for Holiday and Khris Middleton, and injuries to key players, it’s more important than ever before that the Bucks believe in their approach to managing minutes and prioritizing player health above all else.

Next. Milwaukee Bucks: Analyzing each position heading into 2021-22 season. dark

It’s impossible to predict injuries and even the best-laid plans can go awry. But with how the Bucks have been able to manage injuries during the Budenholzer/Horst Era, there is almost no team to have more confidence in being able to navigate these murky waters.