Head coach Mike Budenholzer is changing the Milwaukee Bucks offense for Giannis Antetokounmpo, helping with minutes, pace and rebounding for the MVP candidate.
A quick look at counting statistics does not seem to indicate a major upturn in Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s production this year with Mike Budenholzer now coaching the Milwaukee Bucks. The Greek Freak’s scoring is down about a point from last season, and his assist numbers are up about one assist per game from last season. Though his rebounding has increased by about more than three per game, his numbers are fairly comparable to last season’s stat line overall.
Without context, it seems as though Antetokounmpo is more or less the same player he was last year as far as his production is concerned. However, what makes this year most impressive is the fact that he is doing everything in five fewer minutes per game than last year, and he’s playing the fewest minutes (31.9 per game) of his career since his second NBA season.
The importance of Budenholzer’s management of Antetokounmpo’s minutes cannot be understated. He ranked second in minutes per game last season, and ranked in the top 10 of total minutes played each of the past three seasons. This season under coach Budenholzer, he ranks 54th in minutes per game. Antetokounmpo is an elite two-way player who puts a lot of stress on his body through his explosive, fast, and aggressive play style.
Not only is his decrease in minutes beneficial by lightening the stress to preserve his body, but it also makes his raw numbers even more impressive when you consider he is averaging similar numbers to last year despite playing 87 percent as many minutes per game. Antetokounmpo’s per 36 minutes numbers reveal a major leap, on par with his improvement from the 2015-16 season to the 2016-17 season when he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award:
The increase in his rebounding is also very significant. Coach Budenholzer has schemed for Antetokounmpo to attack defensive rebounds to initiate the fast break himself, a la Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. As such an athletically gifted player, Antetokounmpo excels by playing in transition, so this increase in rebounding is perfectly suited to accentuate this strength.
Beyond Antetokounmpo’s rebounding, Budenholzer’s offensive system also focuses on creating more transition opportunities to complement Antetokounmpo by playing at a much faster pace than past years.
The Milwaukee Bucks are playing at a pace nearly 10 possessions higher per 48 minutes than last season under with former head coach Jason Kidd. Although pace has increased for nearly every team in the league this season, the Bucks’ pace is 3.5 higher than the league average this season under Bud. The past 3 seasons, under Kidd, their pace was below league-average.
This year the Bucks currently rank fifth in pace. Last season they ranked 21st, in 2016-17 they ranked 26th, and in 2015-16 they were 23rd in the league. Budenholzer has quickly recognized that to best utilize Antetokounmpo (and consequently the Bucks as a whole), it is paramount for them to play at a fast pace.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was already an elite talent and a top-10 player at a young age under Kidd, but now it seems that Mike Budenholzer has structured the Bucks’ play style and schemed in a way to completely unleash the Greek Freak and truly help him recognize his full potential.
These changes have clearly paid off too — just 10 games into the season Antetokounmpo is the MVP favorite, and the Bucks find themselves in second place in the Eastern Conference standings with an 8-2 record.