Grading the Milwaukee Bucks’ somewhat surprising hiring of Adrian Griffin

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 12 (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 12 (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /

On Saturday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Milwaukee Bucks have hired former Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin as the next head coach.

Griffin had a 12-year playing career from 1996-2008. Griffin started off his career playing minor-league basketball before spending his final nine years playing in the NBA.

Griffin started his coaching career in Milwaukee as an assistant coach under head coach Scott Skiles from 2008-2010. Griffin then had assistant jobs for the Chicago Bulls (2010-15), Orlando Magic (2015-16), Oklahoma City Thunder (2016-18), and Toronto Raptors, where he’s been the lead assistant coach for Nick Nurse for the past five seasons.

Grading the Milwaukee Bucks’ somewhat surprising hiring of Adrian Griffin

A move like this brings risk, as Griffin is a first-time head coach for a contending team that includes a top two player in basketball in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Khris Middleton has a $40 million player option, so if that doesn’t get picked up, what will Milwaukee’s core look like?

Brook Lopez is also a free agent; does General Manager Jon Horst view Lopez as the anchor of this defense for the next couple of seasons? Does Griffin want to put a stamp on this defense and push for guys who can guard all five positions and not have a traditional center? Remember, until this past year, Toronto didn’t have a traditional center and opted to build a defense with long athletic players that frustrate offensive teams on a nightly basis.

The job reportedly came down to Griffin and Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson. (With Nick Nurse pulling out of the race.) Atkinson was an assistant under Bucks’ former head coach Mike Budenholzer for the Atlanta Hawks. Atkinson strikes me as more of a developmental coach; he’s a coach who is more suited to lead young teams as he was in Brooklyn. This was Griffin’s job to lose, and with the reported endorsement of Giannis for Griffin to get the head coaching job, it was inevitable that Griffin was going to be the next head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Throughout this process, Jon Horst cast a wide net of candidates from experienced head coaches turned assistants, to former head coaches, and many were surprised that Heat assistant coach Chris Quinn didn’t get a second look as the Heat has been the Milwaukee Bucks’ worst enemy and dispatched Milwaukee in five games in the first round. What Horst was looking for was going for assistants from teams who have given Milwaukee a tough matchup. Toronto fits that bill as a team that is a frustrating matchup for Milwaukee.

Griffin is no stranger to coaching stars as he’s coached Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and, once his contract becomes official, Giannis.

What I think Griffin will be able to provide for the Bucks as head coach is the ability to adapt in pressure situations. That wasn’t Coach Budenholzer’s strong suit, but what Griffin helped do in the 2019 ECF against Milwaukee is build a wall against Giannis and force him to let the other guys beat them. That played right in Toronto’s hands, and that’s why they won the series in six games because of Toronto’s defensive philosophy that series.

Griffin will be able to provide those ideas for the Bucks, and he’ll have better talent in Milwaukee that can keep that offense humming.

Overall, this was a good hire for the Milwaukee Bucks, and Griffin will immediately reap the benefits of coaching a title-contending team.

BTBP Official Grade: B+

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The 2023 NBA season cannot come soon enough, and I can’t wait to see how Griffin fares in Milwaukee.