Adrian Griffin’s first Bucks practice: Music, one-on-one tourney and more physicality

MILWAUKEE — Added to the roster on Sunday, Bucks backup point guard Cam Payne is the Milwaukee Bucks’ newest member. Adrian Griffin, as an assistant coach in Oklahoma City, coached Payne at the start of his career. But Payne did not go through any offseason workouts with Griffin like the rest of the team, so Tuesday was Payne’s first experience getting to see Griffin in action as an NBA head coach.

“It’s cool to see him at the head of things rocking out,” Payne said. “He’s doing a great job. He’s pushing us. It’s a different kind of push. Even when we talk in the locker room, they said, ‘It’s different. It’s different.’ Everybody’s been cool with coach so far. I love him. I’ve been with him before and I think he’s doing a good job so far.”

When asked to clarify what exactly is different about Griffin and how he runs a practice, Payne highlighted the atmosphere in the practice facility.

“He’s got music playing, a lot of coaches don’t do that,” Payne said. “I just feel like he’s a player’s coach. I mean, he played, so he kind of understands the players a little bit better. Like some coaches, they’re just coaches. They ain’t never played. You can relate to him and he can relate to us. That’s cool to have in the locker room.”

After five seasons of Mike Budenholzer practices, the music — spun by DJ Shawna, the Bucks’ official in-arena DJ, in the northeast corner of the gym — might be the most obvious change. But it was far from the only different thing about a Griffin practice.

In his team’s first practice, Griffin told reporters he focused on his team’s “competitive spirit” and doing things that would foster competition between the players. Griffin helped out in that regard by confirming the Bucks have an open spot in the starting lineup alongside Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez and that that spot will be earned. For Griffin, it goes beyond competing for spots in the rotation. It’s more about competing in general.

“I don’t like to stop and talk,” Griffin said. “I believe you learn by doing. We’ve just given them some basic principles, a foundation of how we want to play on the defensive end — that’s pressuring the ball, impacting bodies, being physical, protect the paint, contest shots and then block out.

“And then on the offensive end, we just want to play with a little bit more pace, get to our spots, so we gave them some basic principles out there, but today, I wanted to really play and you learn more to me by going through the actions. But it was great. I thought they responded very well. We had a couple one-on-ones, a tournament. Giannis won that tournament. He’s hard to stop one-on-one. But it was fun watching everybody in the gym.”

Forward Bobby Portis told reporters that a one-on-one game — like the one they played on Tuesday — is something the team probably only did once during his three years in Milwaukee under Budenholzer. Considering one-on-one was an activity they did on their first day under their new coach, returning players seem to think learning how Griffin wants to practice and play is going to keep them on their toes.

“Great coaching staff. Obviously, it’s a lot different than what we’re normally accustomed to, but it’s kind of refreshing a little bit,” Portis said. “Just to get a different feel coming in every day, don’t really know what to expect. For three years straight, I think we kind of knew what it was going to be like on a day-to-day basis.

“But now it’s kind of cool just not knowing how the day is going to go, what we’re going to do in practice, what he’s going to implement, what he’s going to do or draw up or whatever it is. And that’s kind of cool, especially as a basketball player, just being challenged and tested.”

When asked about tactics, Griffin again provided limited information about what the Bucks might try to do on offense before admitting things have changed with the addition of Damian Lillard. While he avoided going into depth regarding tactics for the upcoming season, Griffin did speak at length about wanting the Bucks to be a more physical team this season.

“You can play physical and defend without fouling,” Griffin said. “Part of us as coaches is teaching them the right way to be physical. Play within the rules, but also when you establish yourself as a physical team, I think it helps you from the beginning. But you gotta adjust to the rules and you gotta adjust to the calls, but I like our teams to start out being the most physical team.”

Under Budenholzer, the Bucks did their absolute best to avoid fouling and putting other teams at the free-throw line. In four of Budenholzer’s five seasons, the Bucks finished either first or second lowest in opponent free-throw rate. Griffin made it clear that he wants the Bucks to avoid fouling as well, but being physical and setting a tone on a nightly basis is going to be far more important under Griffin.

“On previous teams, we used to preach ‘hit first,’” Bucks forward Jae Crowder said. “We’re going to come out and impose our will the most all game. I think once you have that mindset, you start to play with force, not just one guy. Giannis obviously plays with force, but if we can piggyback and rise to his level of force on both ends of the court, we’ll be where we want to be.

“And it will make teams feel us from the start of the game and hopefully dominate them. I just think that’s a good indication of how we want to play. The culture we want to set on both ends of the court is just play with force and hit first and be physical. I think that sends a message to the opposing team on a nightly basis.”


Excitement surrounds Damian Lillard and the Bucks, but there’s much work to do

Khris Middleton did not practice in full on Tuesday

After the Bucks’ first training camp practice, Griffin informed reporters that Khris Middleton was the only player on the roster who did not practice fully on Tuesday.

“I think Khris was the only one,” Griffin responded when asked if any players were unable to participate in Tuesday’s practice. “But he’s doing quality work. He had a great summer. We just wanna — you know, you don’t build Rome in a day. He’ll get back to it and we’ll find ways to incorporate him as we move forward.”

Middleton underwent a minor arthroscopic procedure on his right knee shortly after the Bucks’ first-round exit to address an issue that had plagued him throughout the 2022-23 season. When talking about the procedure on Monday, Middleton told reporters that the decision to get surgery was a simple one and it was a success in his eyes.

“I feel great,” Middleton said. “Don’t have the pain that I had last year. But it was a decision that was made halfway through the season, I would say, where I was just going to have to get it fixed. It wasn’t a hard decision at all. It wasn’t hard. It was something where you’re going to be dealing with this pain unless we go in there and get this procedure to help you out. I’m glad I did and right after surgery, I felt immediate relief. It felt good and ready to go.”

While Middleton did not fully participate in Tuesday’s practice, he told reporters on Monday that this season felt like a physical reset for him.

“I feel like I’m getting somewhat of a fresh start with my body, which I think I’ve needed,” Middleton said. “So this summer has been great, just getting my body back right and getting my mind right for the upcoming season.”

Griffin did not seem overly concerned about Middleton’s status for Tuesday’s practice and Middleton was on the floor after practice getting shots up with his teammates, but it will be a situation to monitor going forward.

Antetokounmpo back on the floor after offseason knee surgery

Antetokounmpo went through an offseason procedure to clean up loose cartilage in his left knee in June as well. While Middleton told reporters that getting a surgery was a simple situation for him, Antetokounmpo did not feel the same way.

“It’s kind of hard because I’ve never been in that position before, that I had to kind of sit down for three and a half months without doing nothing,” Antetokounmpo told reporters on Monday. “Physically, I knew that I could get back to where I was and kind of take the pain away that I was feeling during last season because I played the whole season with pain. But mentally for me it was how can I go three months without doing nothing?

“That was extremely hard, but I had time to spend with my kids, which I’ve never had time to spend with my kids because I wasn’t able to participate in the World Cup. So, that was good. I was able to benefit from that. Again, it was hard to kind of even to take the decision of going and seeing the doctor and getting my knee scoped, because first of all I’m scared of needles. I don’t want anybody messing with my knee. You never know if from that you’ll ever come back the same, but from the procedure and how I feel right now, I feel really good. I’m happy that I did it. I feel really good.”

Like Middleton, Antetokounmpo was playing through pain throughout the 2022-23 season and felt like he needed to get surgery to fix the issue.

“I had the pain all year,” Antetokounmpo said. “It never went away. I started to feel the pain against Brooklyn in home game 1. Game 1 or Game 2 or something like that. And then I was just managing it. I missed, what, 19 games? The most I’ve ever missed in my career, but I knew why because I felt that pain. After the season, I started feeling good during the end of the season and then when I said, ‘OK, let me take a break. A real break — one, two three weeks — and see if it feels better.’ And it never felt better.

“I started working out, working out and Day 1, it was good. Day 2, it was a little worse. And then I was like, ‘Oh man. I have to do this.’ Because I don’t want to start the season with a deficit. I want to be ready. Because if you start with pain, that means you’re going to end with pain. You want to start healthy, so I sat down with the medical staff, I sat down and talked with my family, did my research, talked with all the doctors that I could possibly talk to and then made my decision to do it.

“Very hard decision for me. As I said, never had anything like that before. I’m happy that I did it. I’m healthy. And I’m ready for the season.”

(Photo of Adrian Griffin and Bobby Portis: Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)

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