Saturday, July 20, 2024

Damian Lillard becomes latest Bucks player to back new head coach Doc Rivers in most generic way

Doc Rivers is set to take over as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, who had seen enough of Adrian Griffin after 43 games, and since Rivers’ hiring there have been plenty of opinions going around about whether he’s the right man for the job. 

The Bucks think, or desperately want to think, that he is. Of course, many of the players have echoed that sentiment. What else are they going to say? After Milwaukee’s win over New Orleans on Saturday, Damian Lillard was the latest to offer his insights into what he expects Rivers to bring to the Bucks:

“There’s nothing he hasn’t experienced, and I just think his voice, how he’s able to motivate teams … he’s a strong voice and he’s gonna demand more from our team,” Lillard said. “He’s not gonna be afraid to challenge myself. He’s not gonna be afraid to challenge Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. He’s not gonna be afraid to challenge Brook [Lopez] and Khris [Middleton], and all the way down the line. I think when you’re dealing with a team that’s full of vets and as talented as we are, I think that’s something that you need if you want to reach the level we want to reach and I think he’s the perfect person for it.”

This is in line with what most people think Rivers can provide. Motivation. Leadership. Experience. All the buzz words. Again, a lot of the other Bucks players have offered similar thoughts. Jae Crowder said Rivers has been “like a big uncle” to him (they’re both Marquette guys). Pat Connaughton commented that Rivers “said a few sentences [to the team] and they were powerful.” Brook Lopez noted Rivers’ “experience” and said it would be good to have a guy in the locker room who “played in the league for a very long time.” 

Adrian Griffin played 10 years in the NBA. This was his 16th season coaching in the NBA. Which is to say, this is nothing more than the right thing to say. It’s the thing everyone says about every coach like Rivers. He understands the players’ mindset because, guess what, he was a player! He’s been around the league for a long time! Seen it all! And now here comes Lillard with the “strong voice” stuff. 

These are fortune-cookie coach-isms. You’ll notice nobody has mentioned anything about the actual Xs and Os stuff that Rivers might be able to help with, because frankly, you’ll have a lot harder time finding people, even players, who think he actually will help with that. 

It’s no secret that schematics are not Rivers’ strength. His Philadelphia offenses were basically paint-drying pick-and-roll spams with pretty much zero tempo or off-ball movement, and his playoff adjustments are few and far between. 

If we’re being honest, it’s worth questioning whether Milwaukee’s brass really believes Rivers is the answer to the prayers it has attached to this team, or if he was just the easiest and fastest hire to justify under what they seem to believe are pretty urgent conditions given his big name and recent ties to the league. 

After all, Rivers was fired by the 76ers three weeks before the Bucks hired Griffin. If they thought he was so perfect, why didn’t they just hire him in the first place? It was thought that Giannis Antetokounmpo pulled a lot of weight in getting Griffin hired, but it has since been reported that all Giannis was really adamant about was not playing for Nick Nurse, who instead took over for Rivers in Philadelphia, which looks like an entirely different team — for the better — than it did under Rivers. 

Of course, you could blame that on James Harden. And before that, you could say Rivers was hamstrung by Ben Simmons. You might be right. The Bucks might be right. My guess is they believe they have such a talented roster that all they need is a coach to not get in the way, and they believe Griffin was getting in the way, notably by forcing an aggressive defensive style ill-suited to the Bucks’ personnel and not utilizing the Lillard-Giannis pick-and-roll enough. 

If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Rivers is more than happy to run a thousand pick and rolls. If Giannis can make the play on the short roll, Milwaukee has the spacing to kill teams with this action, but that could be a big if against playoff defenses. 

Who or what else could end up compromised by running pick and roll at a much higher volume is another conversation, but it would almost certainly help in the unlocking of Lillard, who has struggled to find any real consistency this season as he has tried to adapt to playing more off ball. 

Obviously Milwaukee’s defense has fallen off a cliff, but a lot of that is a simple roster choice. When you trade Jrue Holiday for Lillard and start a Lillard-Malik Beasley backcourt, you’re going to go backwards defensively. 

It’s true, the numbers actually suggest the Bucks are surviving Lillard-Beasley lineups well enough; in fact, they come out pretty damn good on the defensive metrics. But there are leaks all over. Transition defense is non-existent. There’s a clear lack of commitment to that end that is in keeping with Lillard’s career. 

The Bucks want to tell themselves that Rivers will be the guy to “motivate” Lillard. I’ll only say this: If Dame wants to win a title as badly as he says he does, he should already be plenty motivated. Which is to say, it all sounds like talk right now. The players are saying great things about all the great things the “motivation” coach is going to say. We will see if any of it makes an actual difference.

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