Larry Drew is learning, struggling and adjusting to his new coaching life

(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Before being hired as head coach in June of 2010, Larry Drew had been an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks for six years under Mike Woodson. He’d seen Josh Smith’s entire NBA career, from draft night to rise to prominence. He helped mold Joe Johnson into an All-Star. He was there to help integrate Al Horford alongside those two. Before he took the head job, his stars had been together for three years already and were a core many NBA teams would have been content building around.

It’s been quite a different experience for him in Milwaukee.

“The situation in Atlanta, having guys who had been together for three or four years makes a world of a difference,” Drew said before Milwaukee lost to the Memphis Grizzlies, led by a trio in Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley that had been together since Randolph’s arrival in 2009. “Going to a situation where you’re bringing in a lot of new faces, trying to incorporate a system that they’re not familiar with is something you have to teach. Getting a feel for them. In Atlanta, I knew the core. I knew what I was getting from them every single night they stepped on the floor. This is a little different.

When you bring in 11 new faces and you’re trying to learn them and they’re trying to learn you and you’re trying to find out what works, just trying to find chemistry. What you have. And then you mix in dealing with the injuries and having to shuffle things around, it’s not an easy situation. But I knew that coming into it, as far as all the changes that would be made and all the faces. Not knowing exactly what I had and what would work and what wouldn’t work, but I stay committed. I stay committed to trying to find solutions with what we do have. And as we move further down the line we’ll see what direction we’re going to go.”

Drew had to use 29 lineups last season with the Hawks, but throughout his time in Atlanta, he generally knew he had Smith, Johnson and Horford to count on. This season though, having already used 18 lineups in 38 games, Milwaukee’s unfamiliarity has been all too apparent and inopportune moments like Wednesday night, when the Bucks needed a 3-pointer to tie the game and had the ball with 11 seconds left. Brandon Knight, playing point guard, a role he appears ill-suited for if this season is an indication of what’s to come, felt pressure from Conley and was unable to execute the play.

It was Milwaukee’s seventh consecutive loss. They’ve had three losing streaks of five or more games in just 38 games played. The Bucks haven’t won in the month of January or the year of 2014.

“When you just look at our team, we’re lacking what I call true chemistry,” Drew said. “It’s much more than just putting a group of guys together and telling them to go out there and play. It’s gotta be the right mix, the right blend of guys. If you look at our club, I can’t honestly say we have true chemistry. We’re searching. We’re searching. We’ve got pieces, but we’re still trying to find ourselves from a chemistry standpoint and I think we’re still trying to find ourselves from an identity standpoint too.”

Before the season, Drew talked to Alex Boeder at Bucks.com about what he wants to see out of his team this season.

Offensively, up-tempo. Play a lot in transition. Run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Half court, just being a team that moves the ball from one side to the other and force the defense to shift. Attack on the ball reversal. Play together. That is number one with me. Being a team that plays together. We move the basketball. We play unselfish. Last year, we were second in the league in assists behind San Antonio. For me that says a lot, having 10 guys who had expiring contracts, and getting those guys to play together. That is big.

In each of the last two seasons, the Bucks finished third in the NBA in pace. And despite average and below average offensive performances in those seasons, the Bucks finished top 10 in assists both years too. This year, Milwaukee is 24th in the league in assists. The ball isn’t moving quickly, or really even slowly for that matter, from one side to the other.

As the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA and a generally bad defensive team, Milwaukee’s having a hard time getting out in transition. Currently, Milwaukee is 27th in the NBA in possessions per game, averaging just 91.1. According to MySynergySports, the Bucks play in transition only 14.2% of possessions,  just barely up from 13.5% last season.

“I know what I want us to be,” Drew said. But whether we can be that or not, that remains to be seen. We’re still in a search mode. I keep telling our players the same thing. Until we show a consistency of who we are and who we want to be, it’ll be a roller coaster. Good nights, bad nights. Teams that find that chemistry and identity, when they step out on that floor, it’s consistency across the board. And that’s what we’re trying to get to.”

At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Drew has the right personnel to do what he wants? Or if he’s the right man for a job in a situation that he hasn’t really experienced before? Is this season the perfect storm of the wrong coach for the wrong players? It seems like there are pieces here that can work. Specifically Giannis Antetokounmpo, who appears to be the perfect wing for the type of system Drew says he wants implemented. A rangy athletic three that can grab a rebound and initiate an offense or work out of pick and roll and find players on the weak side seems ideal for an up-tempo, pick and roll offense that sees the ball bouncing from side to side.

“Personnel wise, I’d say, I think we’re all ecstatic from where Giannis was day one to where he is today,” he said. “So, there’s a sliver lining. We have to look at our young guys and where they’ve developed from day one.

It’s safe to say Giannis is a big part of the future in Milwaukee, especially if Drew is a part of the future. Aside from the rookie though, it’s unclear who fits and who doesn’t. So finally, the Bucks will have a different mission to embark on as they approach the second half of a season. There won’t There shouldn’t There can’t be a halfhearted playoff push in 2014, this season is already too far gone.

So the Bucks and Larry Drew will spend the rest of this season, learning more about what they’ve got and who fits the mold for what this team is looking for going forward. Bucks fans have been worried about tomorrow for as long as I can remember and finally, they have a team that has nothing to look forward to but tomorrow.

Categories: Coaching

Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball. He founded it in…

11 Comments

  1. Solutions:

    -Start Knight at the 2 guard and Mayo backs him up. Knight can go and shoot his lights out cause he’s going to do it anyways.

    -Start Wolters at the point and Luke backs him up. Wolters need the experience and may be part of the future. We know what we have in Luke.

    -Start Henson. Now’s the time to actually see Henson and Sanders play together and see if they are a future combo.

    -Let Ersan come off the bench. He’s barely playing well enough to even get any minutes at all. Let him put a few decent games together before increasing minutes.

    Keep playing Giannis and Sanders big minutes. Let the big Serb be the first off the bench to back up Sanders.

    Leave this starting line up alone the rest of the year. Then you will have a good sample size of what we actually have.

    • I just don’t think Nate is ready to be the guy at point. He might be worth 20 minutes a game, but to ask any rookie to run the show for any team is asking alot. Also, my sense with Nate is that he’s at least a little slow, and has trouble hitting a jumpshot outside 15 feet. He might turn out to be a really good player for the Bucks, but I don’t think that time is now, and it’s questionable whether that time is ever. I’m rooting for him, though, and maybe he could earn increasing minutes.
      Meanwhile, 14 assists tonight from Kendall Marshall of the Lakers to go along with 19 points — so maybe there is value in the D-League. (It also might be worth pondering Kendall being cut from the Suns earlier this season while Ish Smith was kept.) Another approach is to trade a couple of our vets, and maybe a conditional draft pick in 2015 or later, for a medium to high level point guard who might be a keeper for the future.
      Without a good passing quarterback, so to speak, to find our open receivers, and then to get the ball to them, the rest of this season is likely to be really ugly, almost unbearable to look at. We’re not going to get the chemistry, we’re not going to get the ball movement in half court, we’re not going to get the fastbreak baskets, we’re not going to develop our young guys, we’re not going to do much of anything to amp up excitement and enthusiasm — without, well, you know what I’m going to say. The full moon this week just might be adding to my repetitive howling and overall lunacy.

      • trading players now is not the answer, they could possibly end up winning some games – this is something we do not want right now. we need as many ping pong balls as we can get; the thing this team is lacking is talent completely. you never have 1 particular guy you can pretty much depend on late in a game to perform well or to take the important shot. that person going into the season was oj mayo but obviously hes been a total bust thus far and isnt the player he used to be. we need talent and the best way to get to that at this point is the draft. (hypothetical situation here) maybe a draft night trade getting a 2nd 1st round pick with something would be nice, maybe we see houston get knocked out in say the 2nd round and they see they need something to get them over the edge and ersan plays pretty well for the 2nd half of the season (just like he did last year), they might be willing to part with their 1st rounder. i really hope hammond is gambling on something like that and will be willing to part with some players like that, i also believe a player like ersan would be much happier in a place like houston – big market and a winning team, we need to move on from the guy though. i like him as a player when he does well, but when he doesnt have any chemistry or just cant find his flow he doesnt perform good. we need to look to the future and realize that at some point henson and sanders WILL be playing many minutes together, you cant argue that much at all.

    • Completely agree with that lineup rowe499 – at least we would find out who is part of the future and who is not. The current lineup doesn’t have chemistry isn’t making progress about answering some of those questions about the future.

  2. Agree!! Nice line-up,with Serb getting the minutes to either improve or show his limitation.

    Even with the poor showing lately,Middleton should get more opportunity too.

    GO BUCKS GO

  3. Well, finally the “secret” is out regarding playing time for the Bucks. In a recent article about Caron Butler and his reduced playing minutes Larry Drew finally fessed up.

    Saying – if the players have question about their minutes they need to contact John Hammond and ask him about it. In no uncertain terms, admitting that he’s under orders who to play and how much.

    So what are the Bucks trying to accomplish?

    Mayo barely plays, Caron barely plays, Neal doesn’t play, Wolters doesn’t play, Udoh doesn’t play. Middleton used to start and played well, now struggles to get 20 minutes.

    Luke, Knight and Sanders plays starters minutes usually well into the 30’s. Ersan starts but splits minutes with Henson when he’s healthy.

    The moral as far as I can tell? Team looking to tank as hard as possible and unload Ersan and Luke and possibly Larry in the hopes of somehow getting a late 1st round pick. Also, consider offers on anyone else. Seems like a weak strategy, as I see little anyone would offer considering how poorly Ersan and Larry have played. Would you give up a 1st round pick for Ersan? Larry?

    As soon as trading deadline passes I expect Nate, Middleton and Henson to get much more burn.

    • Wow! Thanks for the info, rowe499!!!
      This is evidence to support my worst fears that the Bucks are a horribly-managed operation that is doomed to failure no matter how many top lottery picks we get. I hope I’m basically wrong, but I’m really concerned about how much meddling is possibly coming from Herb Kohl to John Hammond to Larry Drew. Scary!
      I don’t know about Coach Drew’s contract, but maybe he should seriously consider doing things his way and pretty much telling the front office to take a hike. I’m guessing he has a couple of years guaranteed, so he gets paid even if he is fired. Who would want to coach under such conditions, anyway? Maybe I’m overreacting, but this seems really sickening.
      I hope Bucksketball follows up on this story big time, as well as the recent report by daren (in the comments section) about Steve Nash’s evaluation of Brandon Knight: that his deficiencies at point guard are mostly of the nature of innate ability and can’t really be corrected.
      All of my harping questions and comments over many months about the trading of Tobias, about bringing in 11 new guys in one season, about not having a true point guard, about playing hyper-shooting veterans, even about the way that Giannis was drafted… all of these matters regarding the Bucks have been driven in large part — I think consciously and subconsciously — by serious concerns about possible fundamental flaws in the way the Bucks are managed from the top down and inside-out.
      The bottom line is that a team representing my hometown that I have been passionate about for 40-plus years may very well be in the advanced stages of being ruined by woeful management. It’s hard to get into the inner workings of an organization — and I don’t want to be rash or paranoid — but at the very least the abysmal results over a long period of time are a cause for real alarm.

  4. Starters: Ridnour, Knight, Giannis, Henson, Sanders

    1st Backups: Ersan, Middleton, Butler, Wolters, Miroslav

    Deep bench support: Neal, Mayo, Udoh

    Maybe try to move Neal, Mayo, or Ersan at the deadline, but keep EVERYBODY ELSE. That includes Butler and Ridnour, because a team needs veteran guys who can actually play professional basketball, however limited.

    Being this bad sucks, but this is just the first step in a process. Might as well accept that fact and move on with the season, sticking to a script and letting everyone know to which part of whose body they can direct their complaints.

  5. Any way you view it its a complete mess all the way around involving everyone. Massive trades are needed today. Larry Drew needs to show some emotion too. Just brutal to watch go down game after game. As a fan it’s really sad to see. Can’t get any lower than this point I suppose.

  6. We are witnesses to the sad state of affairs of a dying franchise. I have been passionate about the bucks since the days of Brian winters and marques. Sorry to say it but this team is doomed unless kohl is gone and a new owner cleans house. Very unlikely. Just stunning to see about kohl has essentially destroyed this once respected and proud franchise. Absolutely mind-boggling how the local media has given kohl and his clan of incompetent boobs a free pass. Has anybody ever challenged kohl about his decades of futility?

  7. Pingback: About that Milwaukee trip… « PistonPowered