The Milwaukee Bucks are 6-4 after 10 games of the 2023-24 NBA season. This start has not been what many fans have expected after the team acquired Damian Lillard from the Portland Trailblazers. In the early weeks of the season, the Bucks are noticeably worse defensively than they were last season, which has angered many fans. In fact, the “slow” start for Milwaukee on defense has led many to question whether or not Adrian Griffin was the right hire for the Bucks.
Indeed, there have been several articles written in the last few days that have called for Milwaukee to fire Griffin 10 games into his tenure as a NBA head coach. While the frustration with the team’s performance early on is certainly understandable, the idea that Griffin should be fired not even 25% into his first season as coach is, to be blunt, asinine.
As mentioned, the Bucks are indeed worse defensively than they were last season. However, it has been 10 games compared to 82 games in 2022-23. There is no arguing that the team’s defensive rating is not what it should be. What is disagreeable, though, is the notion that firing Griffin will magically fix things.
In addition, firing Griffin may set events in motion that the Bucks organization spent the entire offseason trying to avoid.
Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Adrian Griffin Has Not Had the Luxury of a Fully Healthy Team
The simple fact of the matter is that Coach Griffin has not been able to field a fully healthy team free of restrictions since the day he started. Khris Middleton, as everyone knows, is still working his way back from multiple surgeries that limited him last season. As a result, he has not played much more than 15-20 minutes per game.
Additionally, Damian Lillard has missed a few games with a calf injury, and Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss tonight’s game at Toronto with his own calf ailment. This does not even taken into account the fact that Jae Crowder required surgery on his groin and will miss multiple weeks.
In other words, it is difficult to determine if the Bucks’ poor showing on defense is a result of the scheme being bad or that the best players have not been able to play together long enough to learn it completely. This will take time and require patience from fans.
The Milwaukee Bucks Front Office Did Not Adequately Replace Jrue Holiday’s Defense
When the Bucks traded Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen in their three-team deal to acquire Lillard, they accepted the fact that their new seven-time All-Star was not going to be nearly as good of a defender as Holiday. During his tenure in Milwaukee, Holiday proved himself to be one of the NBA’s most prolific defensive players and garnered praise from various teams and players for his skillset.
Acquiring Lillard to replace Holiday as the team’s starting point guard was always going to be a scenario where they sacrifice defense to gain offense. That said, Jon Horst did not go out and get defense-first players for the roster, either.
Instead, the team decided that Malik Beasley would be the new “guy” on defense who would be tasked with guarding the opponents’ best scorer. This was unfair. Beasley is a three-point specialist who has never been an above-average defender at any point in his career. The notion that he could step in and fill the role left by Holiday is as absurd as thinking Griffin should be fired after 10 games.
The failure of Milwaukee to replace that defensive hole does not fall on Griffin; if falls on Horst. Now, it is not like Horst has had much salary cap space to work with. The best he could offer outside free agents was a veteran minimum deal. He got who could with what he had.
It is what it is, but it is not Griffin’s fault.
Comparing Adrian Griffin to Other New Head Coaches Is Not Fair
Some of the criticism that Griffin has received has been the result of the successes of other head coaches that are in their first year with new teams, namely Nick Nurse. The Philadelphia 76ers, Nurse’s new team, lead the Eastern Conference with an 8-2 record, and the argument is that Griffin should have the Bucks on that level, too.
But the problem is this: NBA teams are not created equal. The situation that Nurse inherited in Philly is not the same as the one Griffin inherited in Milwaukee. Philadelphia has had to deal with the James Harden situation, granted, but they had time to prepare for life without him. In fact, it almost sounded like they were planning on life without him before the season even began.
Aside from Harden, the 76ers have had the benefit of a fully healthy roster and a rotation that does not include younger inexperience players (except for the recent Kelly Oubre Jr. hit and run incident). Meanwhile, Griffin has had to deal with aforementioned injuries to his stars while also working to develop young players like MarJon Beauchamp and Andre Jackson Jr.
The inclusion of those two young players in the Bucks’ regular rotation means that there will be learning moments. Not only do those players need to learn and master Griffin’s system, but they need to continue to learn how to play and work with their teammates. The injuries have prevented everyone from getting the desired number of minutes on the floor together and, again, is something that Griffin has no control over.
Giannis Antetokounmpo Wanted Adrian Griffin as the Head Coach of the Milwaukee Bucks
But aside from all of these things, the notion that Griffin should be fired so early in the season completely nonsensical if one were to take the time to learn about how his hiring even came about.
Yes, the front office liked him. But the final decision was made with the input of Giannis. When Milwaukee trimmed their list of candidates down to three (Griffin, Nurse, and Kenny Atkinson), the two-time MVP met with each one of them individually at his home. After meeting with all three, his preference was clear: he wanted Griffin.
This is not to say that Giannis’ preference is the most important reason that Griffin was hired, but it certainly cannot be ignored that after Milwaukee hired him, and after they traded Holiday and Allen for Lillard, Giannis signed a massive contract extension to remain in Milwaukee.
Imagine, just imagine the fallout that would occur between the greatest player and franchise history and the organization if they were to fire his preferred head coach without even giving him a season to prove himself.
Lillard previously signed a big extension with Portland, yet that did not stop him from requesting a trade less than a year afterwards. Just because Giannis put his signature on a piece of paper does not mean his standards for the team are any less. If he felt betrayed or crossed by them in any way, there is no doubt that he would also ask out.
And if he were to ask out, how many would follow? Many of them perhaps, and the potential Golden Era of Bucks basketball would be over before it even got the chance to get off its feet.
Firing Adrian Griffin Would Make the Milwaukee Bucks Worse, not Better
Griffin is the head coach. The team Bucks fans have is the team they have. They should be focused on how to improve themselves as is instead of looking to the outside.
Besides, what guarantee is there that firing Griffin would magically make the Bucks a better defensive team? Are they going to automatically learn a new defensive scheme at the snap of a finger a la Keanu Reeves learning Kung Fu in The Matrix?
No, they are not; and to believe they would or even could is setting an impossible expectation. How long before that new head coach would face the wrath of fans? One game? Five? Would he even make it to 10?
And who would their replacement even be? Atkinson is still with Golden State and, obviously, never had Giannis’ endorsement in the first place. Joe Prunty is still on staff, but the Bucks have been down that road before. Terry Stotts? Would the players even welcome him back after how he fell out with Griffin?
The clear answer is that the Bucks should and are rolling with Griffin. It may not be pretty as they are all still learning each other. But that does not mean they won’t figure it out.
And as the Miami Heat showed everyone last season, sometimes the season’s late bloomers can make a magical run.