Jason Kidd ruled over the Milwaukee Bucks as a hard taskmaster, but under Mike Budenholzer the focus will be on working smarter.
As training camp opens up ahead of the start of the 2018-19 season, by all accounts the Milwaukee Bucks are set to take a major stride forward into the modern NBA.
That sense of progress goes beyond a move from the creaking Bradley Center to the state-of-the-art Fiserv Forum, and even further beyond a certain shift from an outdated isolation-heavy offense to something much more grounded in motion and spacing.
In fact, it extends all the way to the overlooked area of the players’ health and conditioning, something which could certainly use improvement on Milwaukee’s part.
Between Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks have had more than their share of lengthy and significant injuries over the past couple of seasons, while Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ever-present status among the league leaders in minutes played has been far from ideal too.
In spite of a highly respected staff making up the Bucks’ sports science and medical department, in Jason Kidd, it appeared as if they were frequently up against a coach who placed little value on recovery, and instead subscribed to more old-fashioned views on what his players required and should be able to do.
That apparent tension was even reported by ESPN’s Zach Lowe in the aftermath of Kidd’s firing, as he noted the former coach had “a sometimes strained relationship with the team’s medical staff”.
With Mike Budenholzer having taken Kidd’s place, there are already murmurs emerging from training camp to suggest similar issues are incredibly unlikely to surface under his watch.
Echoing a sentiment he’d shared on media day, Middleton made a telling statement in comparing Budenholzer’s approach to practice — and training camp specifically — with the team’s previous head coaches.
“In the past, you could barely walk halfway through the practice. [Coach Bud] is all about getting your work in, being smart and taking care of your body. Just getting in and getting out, not trying to kill guys but still trying to get them in shape.”
That kind of assessment from one of Budenholzer’s new players aligns closely with the reputation the 49-year-old had built during his time with the Atlanta Hawks.
The emphasis on personal development and individual nourishment which Budenholzer and his staff favor, as detailed by Scott Cacciola of The New York Times back in 2015, already appears to have taken hold in Milwaukee with regular talk of “daily vitamins” already evident.
As Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, then an assistant in Atlanta, explained in that New York Times feature, Budenholzer’s focus tends to be on the quality of work rather than quantity of work, with tailored regimens acting as the driver of that philosophy.
“I think the league is really trending toward shorter practices and more quality individual time. It’s the difference between being in a class with 30 other kids and getting one-on-one tutoring for 20 or 30 minutes.”
That formula should lead to Budenholzer’s record of developing players carrying over to Milwaukee, but just as importantly, it could also lead to a reduction in injuries for the Bucks, and a fresher group of players toward the latter stages of the regular season and into the playoffs.
The Bucks are already set up to be good, but in the hopes of becoming much better in the season ahead and the years to come, improved fitness, conditioning and managing of the workload could prove to be key.