After being embarrassed by the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks had many questions to answer in the offseason. The Bucks fired head coach Mike Budenholzer, hired rookie head coach Adrian Griffin and traded for All-Star Damian Lillard. Things never got off to a good start though, as tensions were seen early with Terry Stotts’ stepping down right before the season began and the Bucks having one of their worst defensive seasons in recent memory. On January 26th, the Bucks decided not to waste any time and hired Doc Rivers to take over.

Although they have only played five games, the media has wasted no time highlighting the Milwaukee Bucks’ issues, shown by their 1-4 record under Rivers. Even though it’s early on in his tenure as coach, did the Bucks make a mistake hiring Doc Rivers?

Is Doc Rivers the Right Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach?

Defense Shows Massive Improvement Under Rivers

To Adrian Griffin’s credit, the Bucks had one of the best offenses in the entire NBA while he was head coach. Unfortunately, their defense was a massive liability. According to Cleaning the Glass, through January 23rd, the Bucks’ defense was 21st in defensive rating, 30th in turnover percentage, and 18th in defensive rebounding percentage.

Since Griffin was dismissed, their defense immediately came back to form. That same defense shot up to 10th in defensive rating, 12th in turnover percentage, and seventh in defensive rebounding percentage. In addition, the Bucks also went from 30th to seventh in the percentage of plays that were run against their defense in transition. Simply put, the Bucks aren’t being caught out in bad positioning every minute they’re on the court.

What’s more impressive about their defense is not just the sheer amount of improvement, but who they’ve done it against. In those eight games since Griffin was dismissed on January 23rd, the Bucks played five games against teams with a top-10 offense. Although their record isn’t where they would like it to be post-Griffin, it’s clear that the results are.

Problems Go Deeper Than Coaching

One of the main problems with the Bucks this year has been injuries. Milwaukee was without Jae Crowder for a long time, Khris Middleton was slow to get back and is now hurt again, Damian Lillard has been dealing with lower body injuries and Brook Lopez has been out for personal reasons. In their absence, the bench has done next to nothing.

Bobby Portis averages 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, but he also has daily plus/minus stats that look like temperatures in Antarctica in the middle of December. In just the last five games, the Bucks are being outscored by 43 points when he’s on the floor.

The same issues are coming up for Pat Connaughton as well. Against opponents like Portland and Utah, he is getting torched on defense, and his 5/3/1 average stat line doesn’t make up for those liabilities. No matter how good the starting rotation is, if the Bucks can’t get help from their bench, there is absolutely nothing Doc Rivers can do.

Damian Lillard Needs to Be Damian Lillard

If the Milwaukee Bucks had to pinpoint one issue right now, it would surprisingly be Damian Lillard. The Bucks need Lillard to be aggressive and attack opposing defenses. It’s what made him a superstar in Portland, and it’s why the Bucks went to get him this offseason. Right now, Lillard isn’t doing that, and it’s why the Bucks are struggling.

Without Lillard this season, Milwaukee is 0-4. When he scores 30 or more points, they are 13-1. Damian Lillard is the second option on this team and it should be no problem to get him to light up the stat sheet. For some reason though, he is struggling heavily at doing that. At this point, the secret to success is clearly to let Dame be Dame and have him take accountability and lead the team to the level they should be at.

Doc Rivers Isn’t the Issue for the Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks certainly have some issues. Their bench is uninspiring at best, they are installing a new offensive and defensive scheme on the fly, and Damian Lillard isn’t being the superstar-caliber player he was brought here to be. With all that being said, even with a 1-4 record over their last five, the signs are pointing to a massive breakout waiting to happen.

In a narrow six-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, Bobby Portis and Malik Beasley shot a combined 4/22, and in a three-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Bucks got a combined 17 points from the bench. The Bucks then overcame a 25-point deficit to win over the Dallas Mavericks on the road. Although they lost by 15 to Utah the next night, it was a tough road back-to-back, especially in a venue they have won in just once since 2001. Most recently, the Bucks went into Phoenix without Lillard, Brook, and with Khris Middleton getting hurt eight minutes in. Still, they lost by just eight points.

Some people may say those are just excuses and ways of “coping” with the Bucks being bad, but the change seen since Doc Rivers has taken over has been readily apparent to those who actually watch the Bucks instead of those who just read a box score and jump on Twitter. So, for those of you who think Rivers was a mistake and is a problem: watch the game or shut the hell up.

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1/2 Gurley Guys Todd Gurley Fan Club. Fantasy sports addict. Former Writer for Frednare Sports and Macro Sports. Graduated from UW-Platteville in 2019. Bucks in 6.

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