Grading Mike Budenholzer's Season for the Atlanta Hawks so Far
Rookie head coach Mike Budenholzer certainly has his hands full in his first year with the Atlanta Hawks.
Coach Bud had the difficult task of taking over a team that appears focused on winning and remaining competitive but, sadly, has drifted into near lottery-level status.
Everything looked great to start when Al Horford was healthy, as the Hawks looked like a virtual lock for the third seed in a less than competitive conference.
However, with the team losing Horford for the year due to injury during a Dec. 28 game against the Charlotte Bobcats, they have fallen off considerably.
Although the Hawks were able to hold on to the third seed for a couple of weeks after Horford went down for the year, they have struggled mightily since then. They are 9-19 since his injury and went a disappointing 2-10 in the month of February.
Now, it is time to take a look and grade the performance of Budenholzer so far:
Coach Bud has taken a lot of staples from Gregg Popovich’s system in San Antonio and has done his best to implement them into his own.
When the Hawks were healthy, this system worked well.
He gives his starters enough minutes to keep them happy, he does not overplay his bench unless someone has the hot hand and seems to have the trust of his team.
Sometimes, he dabbles a little too much in small-ball mode, but it is hard to blame him given the lack of size on his team and what he has to work with. As a result, his team is currently 27th in rebounding, one of the worst in the league.
He was Pop’s assistant for 17 years, and this experience combined with the reputation the San Antonio Spurs have in the league definitely should have his team’s attention.
The Hawks are not playing well right now, and it is up to Budenholzer to make sure his players truly believe they can still play well despite all the hardships they have encountered so far this year.
Just like Pop, Budenholzer’s rotations favor outside shooting and moving the ball to get the most open shot possible.
The Hawks are currently first in the league in assists per game, and you have to give credit to how Bud has set his rotations.
He has shown he can trust young, unproven players and mold them into key cogs in his lineups. One example would be DeMarre Carroll and the career season he has had.
Carroll came to the Hawks with a reputation for being a lock-down defender, but due to the Hawks’ system as well as having a coach who trusts him, it has given Carroll the confidence he needed.
Shelvin Mack, a castoff who bounced around a couple times trying to find a spot with an NBA team, has become a perfect combo guard off the bench and has found his home.
Mike Scott was a former second-round pick, and is now receiving starter’s minutes thanks to his strong play.
Of course, most of the offense runs through big man Paul Millsap and Horford when he is healthy. But the Hawks also have small-ball lineups and outside shooting units to give other teams fits.
Kyle Korver is another player who has flourished with a starting position and has since broken the three-point record for most consecutive games with a three-point field goal made.
While, as said, sometimes Budenholzer can leave his small-ball lineups in too long to get beat up on the boards, for the most part he is doing a great job with the cards he has been dealt.
Motivation of Team
It is never easy when a team loses its best player for the year to go along with other nagging injuries.
The Hawks have been one of those teams that just never seems to be healthy and, just like every other team in that exact same situation, it is nobody’s fault.
Recently, the motivation of the team has to be questioned given their recent struggles.
After all, everyone is already anointing either the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat as the kings of the Eastern Conference, and now the Hawks are without their top dog going against these two beasts.
It is still important to Budenholzer and the Hawks organization to remain competitive even amidst all these injuries and struggles as a team.
At the beginning of the year, the Hawks seemed committed to Bud’s system and confident that it would bring them wins.
Now, obvious frustration is setting in given all the losing as of late.
I am sure Budenholzer is doing as good of a job as he can given the circumstances, but he needs to find a way to motivate his guys to kick these losing habits and trust in what made them so special to begin with. The system he brought over from San Antonio can still be successful as long as the players utilize it correctly.
After all, the Spurs are beat up all the time and sometimes rest players while still pulling out wins.
It is up to Budenholzer to turn this ship around, and that begins with him convincing his team it's not this bad and, if they trust in the system, they will be alright.
Right now, I am not sure they believe they are a good team anymore.
Demeanor with Media
Budenholzer is far from the snarky, joking nature of his long-time professor Popovich.
He is considered to be very polite with the media, and has never had any instances or SportsCenter “Not Top 10” coach rants that would warrant him to be a loose cannon.
He has an enthusiastic attitude about what he is doing, and the media senses this. This allows him to be a fairly easy interview, and a coach that not only gets along with his front office and players but the reporters as well.
The Hawks front office is firmly behind Bud, thanks mainly to general manager Danny Ferry and his roots to San Antonio where he was a player and involved in the front office with the team after he retired.
As noted before, Budenholzer knows his system and definitely is more than willing to give young, unproven players a chance to thrive.
The only thing many Hawks fans have to be annoyed with is the team’s lack of a quality starting centers right now.
The lack of centers means the Hawks are getting abused on the boards on a nightly basis, while relying on the three-ball and a Herculean performance or two to help will their way to a win.
Again, these things are not necessarily all Coach Bud’s fault. Horford is done for the year, Pero Antic was performing adequately at center before he got hurt and, now, third-string center Gustavo Ayon is out for the year.
It is almost to the point where Budenholzer has to be throwing his hands in the air and yelling, “What can I do?!”
His utilization of small ball and getting his guards and small forwards open looks has been sublime, but it is clear he needs a little more balance on the defensive end of the court so that his team can stop getting hurt in the rebounding department.
Before the Hawks recent struggles, many analysts around the league were throwing Budenholzer’s name out as a Coach of the Year candidate.
I believe he is a good coach and he is doing the best he can given the massive injuries he has encountered, not to mention he is implementing a new system with his new team in his first year as an NBA head coach.
Basically, cut him a little bit of slack. Yes, maybe he relies on guards too much and does not throw enough size into his rotations at times. However, given the state of his team, overall I would have to give Bud a fairly high grade.
Given the intricacies of his detailed offense and how well the team has executed this high-energy motion offense so far, I would have to think Atlanta would still be third in the East if Horford, Millsap and Teague were not missing so much time due to injuries.