Bucks, Hornets begin season with new coaches
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two former San Antonio Spurs assistants duel for the first time as head coaches Wednesday night when the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets tip off their NBA seasons.
Coming off back-to-back first-round playoff eliminations, the Bucks have turned to Mike Budenholzer to help them take the next step in an Eastern Conference that no longer will compete under the large shadow of LeBron James this season.
The Hornets, meanwhile, have hired James Borrego to help reverse the fortunes of a franchise that hasn't reached the postseason since 2016.
After reaching a mutual agreement to leave Atlanta after five seasons, Budenholzer takes over a Bucks team that has improved from 33 to 42 to 44 wins in the past three seasons. The rise has mirrored that of standout Giannis Antetokounmpo to NBA stardom.
But even while ranking fifth in the NBA in scoring last season at 26.9 points per game while shooting 52.9 percent, Antetokounmpo was among the many Bucks who struggled from beyond the 3-point line, connecting just 30.7 percent of the time.
Enter Budenholzer, who took over a Hawks team that had attempted 23.2 3-pointers per game in 2013 and steadily increased that number to 31.0 last season.
"It's just hammered home to them," he said of the emphasis on 3-point shooting during Bucks' training camp. "It just kind of becomes a little bit contagious. Everybody realizes that's what we want. We want, obviously, open, good 3s. It's important to us."
The Bucks ranked just 25th in the NBA last season in 3-point attempts with 24.7 per game, and tied for 21st in 3-point percentage (35.5).
Milwaukee imported forward Ersan Ilyasova, a 36.6-percent career 3-point shooter, in free agency and drafted guard Donte DiVincenzo, who connected on 85 3s in 40 games last season for NCAA champion Villanova, to help in the transition.
Budenholzer, a 17-year Spurs assistant, and Borrego, who was by Gregg Popovich's side each of the last three seasons, never worked together in San Antonio.
Borrego is replacing Steve Clifford, who took the Hornets to the playoffs in two of his five seasons, but neither of the last two.
His first edition will have a smaller look than last season, with the Hornets having dealt away Dwight Howard while bringing aboard free agent Tony Parker and swingman Miles Bridges via a draft-day trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The newcomers will complement Kemba Walker, who will be entering his eighth season with just 11 games of playoff experience.
Walker has gotten All-Star accolades each of the last two seasons while averaging 23.2 and 22.1 points per game. But all it has helped produce is two 36-win teams.
"This city, this franchise, hasn't won a playoff series in 17, 18 years," Borrego noted earlier this week. "I think this organization is tired of that. It's my job now to push them forward."
The teams split their four-game series last season, with each team winning twice at home.
Updated October 16, 2018