Ranking the Milwaukee Bucks’ rumored top 3 head coaching candidates

Mar 4, 2023; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2023; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
1 of 4

The Milwaukee Bucks are in the midst of a coaching hunt after firing Mike Budenholzer. This comes after five seasons of regular-season success followed by postseason struggles. You can point to his lack of adjustments, his refusal to call timeouts, or his strict adherence to systems that have proven ineffective on the court. Whatever you choose to focus on, it’s clear change is needed in Milwaukee’s coaching staff.

The Bucks have narrowed their list of candidates to three names: Adrian Griffin, Kenny Atkinson, and Nick Nurse.

There are a lot of considerations here for a team with win-now aspirations. Griffin is a former NBA player who has been an assistant coach in the league for over a decade. Atkinson is a former NBA head coach who had a prosperous yet ultimately unfulfilled run with the Brooklyn Nets. And Nurse just exited the Toronto Raptors after leading them to their first NBA championship in their franchise history but eventually floundering sans their superstar.

Let’s dissect what each coach might bring to the table, and what their potential flaws might be. Here is a ranking of the three candidates based on their merits and coaching history thus far.

Ranking the Milwaukee Bucks’ rumored head coaching candidates: No. 3 – Adrian Griffin

NBA insider Marc Stein (Subscription required) recently reported that Giannis Antetokounmpo is intrigued by the prospect of being coached by Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin. Giannis’ seal of approval is something that weighs heavily on the front office, so it’s one thing to look out for.

Griffin played for the Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, and New Jersey Nets during his NBA career. He averaged 8.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game in his career and was a two-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection.

After retiring from playing, Griffin began a career as a coach. He’s been an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks, along with the Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, and Oklahoma City Thunder, before eventually joining the Raptors in 2018. There, Griffin emerged as an instrumental part of the organization’s success in recent years, helping them win the NBA championship in 2019. He’s been around the league for a while and isn’t just some no-name run-of-the-mill coaching hopeful.

Working under the tutelage of winning head coaches like Nurse and Donovan, Griffin should also be a relatively knowledgeable coach with a good understanding of the game. If his mentorship through the years is any indication, he is also no doubt a student of the game down to the Xs and Os of it all.

Griffin is known for being a players’ coach who is able to get the best out of his players. He is able to relate to them on a personal level and build relationships with them. This allows him to get the most out of their talents.

Being a player’s coach was also a significant factor in the Raptors’ development of players through the years. As part of Toronto’s coaching staff, Griffin has been noted for his ability to identify the roster’s strengths and weaknesses and help them improve in areas where they need it. This allowed the team to be successful in the long run, even in the post-Kawhi Leonard era.

Griffin has a record of 5-3 when he has filled in as head coach during his years as an assistant coach. He has filled in for Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors twice, once in the 2020 NBA Bubble and again this past season. In the Bubble, Griffin led the Raptors to a 4-0 record, while this past season, he led them to a 1-3 record. Griffin also filled in for Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls once, leading them to a 1-1 record in those games.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that Griffin’s ex-wife, Audrey Sterling, publicly accused him of domestic abuse in August 2020. The Toronto Raptors didn’t take any action or conduct any investigation into the allegations. Griffin filed a libel suit against Sterling a year later, but he eventually dropped it. Given the Milwaukee Bucks’ well-documented preference for uncontroversial, high-character guys, this might also be something to take into consideration.

As with all career assistant coaches, Griffin’s main weakness is his lack of experience as a head coach and his lack of experience in the playoffs. He has never been a head coach in the NBA and has only been to the playoffs a handful of times as an assistant coach. These things could be a detriment to him if he is ever given a head coaching job. He will need to learn how to handle all of the responsibilities that come with being a head coach, such as dealing with the media, managing the roster, and making in-game decisions, among other things.

The reality is that the Bucks don’t have the time to get a new coach acclimated to the way they do things on the court. At this point in their core’s timeline, going with a promising but relatively unproven coach is a high-risk, high-reward move — with a risk that might be too high for most fans. He’s absolutely a fine coach, but the Milwaukee Bucks can do better in their search.