Photo: Ric Tapia/Icon Presswire

The Milwaukee Bucks surprised the basketball world when they parted ways with Head Coach Adrian Griffin. After his 30-13 start to the season, the Bucks replaced Griffin with Doc Rivers, who won a championship in 2008 with the Boston Celtics and has since had stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers. 

Despite Griffin’s seemingly successful start to the regular season, Milwaukee presumably brought Rivers in to shake things up and better position themselves for a run to the NBA Finals. 

But what exactly has changed with Milwaukee in the 26 games since Rivers took over?

Damian Lillard: Offensive Engine

For starters, Rivers’ offense in Milwaukee has put Damian Lillard in more situations to create and initiate. After Rivers’ first game as coach, Giannis Antetokounmpo told reporters, “[Rivers] emphasized like, go more to Dame. When I have the ball, kick the ball ahead to Dame. Set more screens, roll out of the post, dribble handoffs – he wants more and we have to do it more. Because at the end of the day, when Dame has the ball in his hands…we can cause some damage”. 

A look at this table shows an increase in on-ball opportunities and in Lillard getting the first crack at an on-ball opportunity.

Damian Lillard

Under Griffin Under Rivers
On-ball opportunities per 100 possessions 67 (35th in NBA*) 82 (7th*)
Possessions with first on-ball opportunity 47% 58%

*Minimum 1,000 offensive possessions.

Giannis Still A Focal Point

Lillard’s uptick in opportunities has been achieved without sacrificing opportunities for Antetokounmpo. Here’s the table for Giannis.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Under Griffin Under Rivers
On-ball opportunities per 100 possessions 67 (34th in NBA*) 74 (19th*)
Possessions with first on-ball opportunity % 36% 39%

When either Lillard or Giannis are on the court, one of them has the first on-ball opportunity 72.5% of the time under Doc, up from 66% before he was hired.

Ball Movement and Spacing

As on-ball opportunities for their star players increase, Milwaukee is generally playing at a faster pace with more ball movement. Under Griffin, Milwaukee posted the lowest totals in the NBA for both on-ball opportunities (about 269 per 100 possessions) and passes (almost 99 per 100). These figures have seen a sizable increase under Rivers. On-ball opportunities have increased by 19 per 100 possessions. Passes are up about 17 per 100.

With the increase in ball movement, the Bucks are having their players catch the ball in more advantageous positions. The Bucks went from ranking 27th in the NBA in inherited advantages* per 100 possessions to 21st. They’ve also jumped from 24th to 15th in maintained advantages** per 100. The table below shows the difference in inherited advantages for Milwaukee’s key role players:

Inherited Advantages per 100

Under Griffin Under Rivers
Bobby Portis 12.4 13.7
Brook Lopez 10.2 11
Malik Beasley 9 10.3

*Advantage Inherited: Player inherits at least a semi-advantageous situation in their on-ball Opportunity.

**Advantage Maintained: Player inherits at least a semi-advantage and at minimum maintains their team’s advantage on their on-ball Opportunity.

When asked by reporters about Lillard and Antetokounmpo’s playmaking, Rivers said, “They’re very unselfish. They know that they’re in the action, but they know it’s team action. So, they’re just making the simple pass to the open guy.”

Milwaukee’s increased spacing during Rivers’ tenure could be one reason the team has improved at inheriting and maintaining advantages. Through player-tracking data, we can create convex hulls of the offensive shape (essentially, how spaced out the offensive perimeter players are). 

Before Rivers became coach, the Bucks had the 6th-highest average convex hull in the NBA. With Doc in charge, the Bucks’ average convex hull ranks 1st.


Although the Bucks got off to a bit of a slow start with Rivers at head coach (they lost 5 of his first 6 games but are 13-7 since), they still hold the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and a 2.5-game lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Central Division.

It’s still yet to be seen if their offensive changes will lead to playoff success, but Milwaukee and Rivers are seemingly trying to model what their offense will look like in a potential playoff run, where Lillard and Antetokounmpo will need to be at their best to make a push for an NBA Championship.