Mike Budenholzer’s experiments through his first couple of regular season games may have given us an indication of what the Milwaukee Bucks’ rotations will look like longer term.
The Mike Budenholzer era is officially underway for the Milwaukee Bucks, and with the start of the regular season now behind us, some of the more interesting questions about how he’ll approach his new head coaching job have started to offer at least glimpses of potential answers.
Obviously, it’s a long season and Budenholzer will adjust and change throughout the course of the 82-game campaign, but the general shape of a rotation has already become apparent with how Milwaukee have lined up and distributed minutes through their first couple of games.
To illustrate, let’s look at the nine most used rotation players and how their minutes have been split among the positions so far.
Eric Bledsoe has averaged 30 minutes per game as point guard.
Donte DiVincenzo has averaged 16 minutes per game as point guard and five minutes per game as a shooting guard next to Bledsoe.
Malcolm Brogdon has averaged 31 minutes per game at the shooting guard spot and two minutes per game at point guard or small forward.
Tony Snell has averaged 10 minutes per game at shooting guard and five minutes per game at small forward.
Khris Middleton has averaged 32 minutes per game at small forward.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has averaged 25 minutes at power forward and nine minutes at small forward.
Ersan Ilyasova has averaged 21 minutes at power forward and six minutes at center.
From that information, there are two details that jump out and require further examination, even at this early point of the season.
Firstly, DiVincenzo seems to have earned Mike Budenholzer’s trust already. In truth, the rookie’s stats have not been all bad and overall he does pass the eye test of a decent rotation player despite the small sample size. DiVincenzo’s versatility and ability to play point guard has earned him more minutes than Snell, while we can only wait to see when Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton will get their chances.
Budenholzer prefers to play DiVincenzo for the most part next to Brogdon when Bledsoe is out, as Brogdon and DiVincenzo are the most capable playmakers after Bledsoe in the guard rotation.
There’s plenty of time for DiVincenzo’s role to shift, but Budenholzer’s immediate trust in the youngster seems noteworthy.
Secondly, big lineups with Giannis at the 3 and Ilyasova at the 4 have been utilized surprisingly regularly. They were used mostly against the Pacers as Indiana used big lineups as well, but even later against the Knicks there were signs of it becoming one of Budenholzer’s preferences early in the game.
Against the Hornets who went small, the Bucks played Giannis at small forward less often. Henson and Snell also played less against the Hornets, while Brogdon played more for the same reason.
This suggests Coach Bud prefers to have Ilyasova on the floor for more minutes rather than giving those minutes to wings. It’s worth noting that the Bucks haven’t had rebounding struggles yet — in fact it’s been quite the opposite — but in the first game they did show struggles against small lineups (though Kemba Walker‘s pull-up three-point shooting was unsustainably good). How Budenholzer uses that big lineup, and when he chooses to turn to them, is a situation that will be very interesting to monitor throughout the season in terms of potential results and adjustments.
Looking at how minutes are distributed between the three best players on the team, we also notice that Bledsoe and Middleton play almost all their minutes together, and are then staggered with Giannis.
Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe were all missing for only three minutes per game, and that is currently inflated by the blowout victory against the Pacers.
This seems like the right way to stagger them. Having either Giannis or Bledsoe with Middleton on the floor at all times means the team always has a primary offensive creator on the court, and the kind of star power that will draw the attention of the opposing defense.
There’s plenty of time for Budenholzer’s rotation and the shape of Milwaukee’s plans to evolve, but if nothing else, it’s safe to say Budenholzer’s plan has worked well so far.