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.