LOS ANGELES — A significant share of coaching is done before the tip and after the final buzzer. That’s when there’s an aspect of Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s job that he doesn’t exactly look forward to: when he requests to meet with his superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, about the subject of rest.
It’s that point of the season when Budenholzer must inform the star of his decision and hold fast to the game plan.
“It’s not usually my favorite topic or my favorite chore, but he’s pretty good about it,” Budenholzer told Yahoo Sports. “He’ll fight me a little bit, but he’s very respectful and great to coach.”
Antetokounmpo gives him that look. This is the combative side that is seldom seen publicly.
“I say I don’t want to hear it,” Antetokounmpo told Yahoo Sports about those conversations with his coach. “I’m trying to get better. I try to talk him out of it.”
Last season — his first year with the Bucks organization — Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich coaching tree disciple, found out how daunting of a task it was to get Antetokounmpo to buy into the concept of taking a night off here and there.
“You have to approach him the right way,” Budenholzer told Yahoo Sports. “Explain why you’re doing it and hopefully he gets it.”
In the load-management era, with Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard serving as the poster child, resting stars has become a controversial issue for the league. Leonard was widely criticized for sitting out of Wednesday night’s 129-124 loss to the Bucks in which Antetokounmpo was dominant with 38 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks in 36 minutes.
With Budenholzer at the helm, Antetokounmpo is registering the fewest minutes he’s played since his second year in the league. The results have been fruitful, as the 6-foot-11 reigning MVP is averaging career highs in points (29), rebounds (14.3) and assists (7.6).
The Bucks do not have a single player who has cracked the top 50 in minutes averaged this season. Antetokounmpo is the team’s leader at 32.3 minutes per game.
“I can’t speak to what other teams or what other players do. I want to play,” the three-time All-Star told Yahoo Sports.
For the benefit of the franchise’s long-term success, there are periods in which Budenholzer has to tell his star player to stop doing what made him a superstar — at least for a day.
And that might involve not suiting up for a game or staying out of the practice facility for a day, something that irks Antetokounmpo because he has a strict routine of going to the facility at night and getting in extra shots on practice days.
“If I don’t get my work in, I don’t feel good,” Antetokounmpo told Yahoo Sports. “Like Michael Jordan said, hard work eliminates fear. If you don’t harvest your technique, you don’t feel good. You’re not getting a rhythm.
“So, I always like going back at night and getting some extra shots. It’s a battle. I’m trying to get in the gym, I’m trying to get better. I’ve got a lot of room to grow.”
Once Antetokounmpo reluctantly accepts his coach’s decision about rest, the battle isn’t over.
On one particular occasion last season, Antetokounmpo felt — in the heat of the moment — that he wasn’t at his best in his first game back from resting and blamed it on being given the night off, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
“Giannis is so competitive. He wants to be on the court all the time,” Budenholzer told Yahoo Sports. “But I think after a year together and fairly early in the season last year, he started to appreciate just how important his body is and how important his health is. There’s a big picture and we want to be playing deep into the playoffs and we need him to be fresh and healthy. For the most part, he’s done a nice job at trusting the coaching staff and we’ll hopefully put him in great positions to be great when he plays and give him a little bit of time off to take care of himself.”
It’s not a method that’s outright embraced by Antetokounmpo, but he understands the advantages of relenting.
“It’s tough. It was tough, but that’s not happening this year,” Antetokounmpo told Yahoo Sports about getting upset with his coach’s decision to rest him periodically. “I was used to [former Bucks coach] Jason Kidd. He was breaking us down, but I was happy about it. I think I was the only one that was embracing that. I came from nothing and worked hard every day. That’s what I was used to.
“Having Jason Kidd was fun. Obviously, we didn’t break through from the first round, but it’s different. Like, if this is the middle, Jason Kidd was right here and Mike Bud is way over there [in coaching philosophy]. They’re totally different. Mike Bud wants you to rest, he wants you to stay with your family, but the day we work out, he wants you to be there and he wants you to give everything.”
The process of getting Antetokounmpo to take a night off isn’t the most pleasant experience for Budenholzer, but it has proven to be highly beneficial.
“He’s great. He’s just been so much fun to work with,” Budenholzer told Yahoo Sports. “A guy that works that hard, a guy that competitive, it’s hard to argue with him sometimes, but I still do. He knows I’m pretty stubborn and we’re both pretty stubborn. We can usually laugh about it later because I know we both have the same goals in mind.”
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