There is a large window in Larry Drew’s office.
In any office, you always want to have a window view. And that rings true at the Cousins Center, the team’s training facility where Drew is spending the summer. Drew had never experienced summer in Milwaukee until now, and summer in Milwaukee is something very different than winter in Milwaukee.
On the day of our interview, it is exactly one week before the first day of summer, and Drew calls Milwaukee beautiful from his office with the large window. It really is fitting, the large window in his office. He is the new head coach after all.
At one point in the interview, Drew turns left, gives the window a gaze and a small smile. He is not looking outside though. Maybe through that large window he is just looking into the new, the hope, the possibility in Milwaukee. On the other side of the window is the basketball court.
Drew is new to all of us. So I wanted to learn so much: how he describes his basketball system, what he values in players, how he feels about advanced stats, what style of play he prefers, how teams and potential coaches even reach out to each other in the first place, and so on.
Here are some excerpts from the interview.
How did the Bucks initially approach you?
It really all began once I found out what the decision was for Atlanta in pursuing other coaches. I was looking at what would be available, and what I thought would be a good fit for me.
Milwaukee has always been a team that I have been intrigued by. When we played them, they were a tough team for us to play. Although we did beat them all four times, I really felt we had to play solid for four quarters. They were tough for us to match up with, because they had Ilyasova as a stretch four, and they gave Josh Smith problems. I think we were very fortunate to come out with four wins against this team because again they were a tough team for us to match up with.
But I have always been intrigued by the team. I had spoken to my advisor and told him that I really had an interest in Milwaukee. He told me that he would make the initial contact, and he did that. From that point, we got it to where they invited me to come in. And after that, it was a step-by-step process.
Who interviewed you?
My first meeting was with John Hammond, Jeff Weltman, Billy McKinney, and Dave Babcock. The five of us had about a three-hour meeting that morning. Then I met with the Senator (Herb Kohl) for about an hour later that same morning as well. And then I met with those four guys again that afternoon. Then I was back on the plane that night flying to Atlanta.
Why did you bring two of your assistant coaches (Nick Van Exel and Bob Bender) from Atlanta?
They are guys that, one, I know very well. Two, they have done a phenomenal job for me in Atlanta. They know me, I know them. They are familiar with all of the things that I do, my system. And we work well together.
So prior to getting the job, I had approached both guys and asked them if I were to get an opportunity elsewhere, would they have interest in coming with me. They both said yes right away. I am really happy to have those guys here.
You played point guard in the NBA. How do you think that helped you develop as a coach?
Being a point guard is an extension of the coach. When you play that position, you have to be knowledgeable in a lot of areas. Having a feel for the game, recognizing situations. You are the guy that the coach really depends on. It is just a carry-over for me, and I think a lot of other coaches who played the point guard position. Being a guy that can orchestrate, being a guy that has a feel for not only the game, but for his teammates. And all of that translates into coaching.
As a coach, have you felt a closeness to point guards, such as Jeff Teague when you were in Atlanta?
Yeah. Young point guards like that. Because at one point, I was where Jeff Teague was. I know how I felt when I worked with coaches that played my position. We related very well. We can speak the same language because we have both been in that position. It was the same way for how I looked at Jeff.
And then having a guy like Nick Van Exel, who is not that far removed from playing, that is just a bonus. Having a guy that can get to the young point guard, and stay in his ear, and help him develop along the way.
You talked about your system. How do you describe your system?
Offensively, up-tempo. Play a lot in transition. Run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Half court, just being a team that moves the ball from one side to the other and force the defense to shift. Attack on the ball reversal. Play together. That is number one with me. Being a team that plays together. We move the basketball. We play unselfish. Last year, we were second in the league in assists behind San Antonio. For me that says a lot, having 10 guys who had expiring contracts, and getting those guys to play together. That is big.
Play fun basketball, exciting basketball. I want the players to really enjoy playing together.
Defensively, we have to be a team that is disruptive. A team that is not predictable, so to speak. Our defense has got to be what we hang our hat on. Offensively, from time to time. But you can get that defensive effort consistently.
You mentioned playing up-tempo. The Hawks went from 27th to 22nd to 12th in pace in your three years. So you prefer that more up-tempo style of basketball?
Yeah, I do.
I think players enjoy playing that way. I enjoy coaching that way. Up-tempo allows you to attack initially, and if the attack is not there, we can get into our offense. By pushing the basketball, by playing up-tempo, we have more time to get into a half-court set, to explore more options with more time on the shot clock. Players love playing up-tempo. Still, you have to be intelligent, and you have to be smart. You don’t want to play up-tempo and just turn into a run-and-gun team. We want to be up-tempo, we want to attack, but we want to be intelligent.
When considering minute distribution and who to play, what do you value in a player?
Who deserves it? Who deserves it. It’s kind of a pecking order. We talk about players and time and that whole thing. You know your players. Players have to know their roles. Roles at times will determine playing time.
There are a lot of things that can factor into playing time. Minutes are earned. You want guys to be hungry and wanting minutes. Certainly your best players are going to be the guys you key on that are going to get key minutes. It’s a pecking order. It really is. And those guys have to know their roles and they have to know what they have to do to get on the floor.
What could someone do to lose playing time?
Not playing hard. I can live with guys missing shots. Everybody misses shots. If you are not going to play hard, then chances are, you are not going to play.
What do you like about Larry Sanders?
Tremendous talent. Tremendous upswing. He affects the game, particularly on the defensive end. He is a guy that I think can get better. He has a lot of intangibles, good and bad. It is up to me to shape him and mold him into a better basketball player. I know he wants to win. I know he is driven to win.
I had dinner with him the other night. We had a really good conversation. But he has a tremendous upswing, and I am really excited to have the opportunity to coach him.
Sanders has historically had a relatively high foul rate, though it came down a bit last season, and his minutes rose. How will you handle that situation?
We are going to work on that. We will see where he is getting his fouls, number one. You want to keep him on the floor as much as you can. And try to keep him out of foul trouble. But we will look at some of the things he does and see where he is getting fouls. And I will talk to him too. Hear what he has to say about where he thinks his fouls are coming from. Is he getting them on the ball, away from the ball, is he picking up cheap fouls.
He and I will have some discussions. I will start watching more and more tape to see what some of the issues are on the defensive end or maybe the offensive end. We will have a sit down. We will have a look at it. We will look at his game and see where we can help him in that area.
You went out to dinner with Larry. Have you met with any of the other players?
I met with John Henson and had dinner with him as well. One of the first things I did when I took the job was reach out to all of the players. A lot of the guys are not here (Milwaukee), but I have made phone calls to all of the guys. I have had conversations with Brandon, Ersan, Ekpe, Ish, and I am waiting on phone calls from other guys.
What is your philosophy on playing rookies and younger players?
If they can play, they will be out there. I don’t discriminate. If a player can play at this level, he is going to be out on the floor.
You used 29 different starting lineups last season with the Hawks. Would you prefer to find a steady starting lineup?
Yes, that would be ideal. But when you don’t, you have to make adjustments and improvise. I felt that was my situation in Atlanta, particularly last year.
Not having a real two or a real three. Matchups with certain teams. We had injuries, losing two key guys, Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia. You have a team full of expiring contracts. All of these variables. Changing the lineup wasn’t something I really wanted to do, but something that I felt I had to do to be successful. The players bought into it, and we were able to be competitive. Looking at our roster, even if we had stayed healthy throughout the year, we were still picked not to make the playoffs. But we did.
It was a trying year from the standpoint. But the players bought into it, and we were able to change the lineup and not only make the playoffs but be very competitive against a very good Indiana team.
How much do you value watching film and encouraging your players to watch film?
I watch a lot of film. I am a very big visual guy.
We will watch film all season long, individually and as a team. I think players learn much faster once they get the visual, once they see it. So we spend a lot of time watching film. After games, the next day, we do breakdowns of the previous game. So guys can get the true visual of what they did well, what they did badly, where they need to make changes. They have to have that visual, and we will spend a great deal of time on that.
What does watching film mean? Do you watch your own habits more or the opposing team?
Both. We watch to see what we are doing. We look at the good and the bad. When we do a good job with something, I want them to see that. When we do something bad, I want them to see that as well. We don’t just show negatives. We also show positives as well. Or at times we may just watch the opponent. This is what they do or this is how we have to defend a certain guy. We watch a lot of film. We really break it down.
The Bucks have an analytics team. What is your view on advanced stats, and what purpose do they serve you as a coach?
It gives you an opportunity to hone in on the numbers with, say, certain matchups, certain people on the floor, certain combinations. The league has really gone more to analytics. I support it. Anything that will give me information that allows me to possibly gain an edge somewhere. We used it in Atlanta last year. Everybody is starting to go in that direction. And I support it.
What did you learn in Atlanta, and how to you hope to improve as a head coach?
I am always looking to improve. This is my fourth season as a head coach. I am sponge for knowledge. I want to continue to get better and better, in all areas. Not just between the lines, but also in dealing with players.
I am my biggest critic in anything that I do. I just want to continue to learn. There have been a lot of great coaches in our league. Hopefully one day I will be mentioned in the same breath as some of them. I am always finding ways to get better. Being a better coach and being a better communicator with players. I think that is so important. I am always looking to improve.