Ime Udoka and the Celtics are hoping Ben Sullivan can do what he did for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Udoka is hiring Sullivan and adding him to the coaching staff in Boston, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday, citing sources. Sullivan had been on the Bucks’ coaching staff since 2018 when he was hired by head coach Mike Budenholzer.
According to a Business Insider profile, it was actually Udoka — who is building an intriguing young staff in Boston — who helped Sullivan break into the NBA. Udoka encouraged Sullivan to apply for a video job with the San Antonio Spurs, a role he eventually landed in 2012. That allowed Sullivan to begin his coaching ascent working, among a group led by Gregg Popovich that would produce multiple head coaches.
One of those coaches was Budenholzer, who eventually hired Sullivan when he got the Atlanta job and then brought him along to Milwaukee, too.
What’s especially interesting about Sullivan and him coming to the Celtics is what he was able to do in Milwaukee, specifically in helping in the evolution of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Sullivan’s specialty is shooting, and he worked tirelessly with Antetokounmpo — and the entire Bucks team — to improve their range.
The results were mixed, as Antetokounmpo hasn’t been able to completely iron out his long-range shooting. Whether he really needs it is another story, as he just showed on the biggest stage en route to winning NBA Finals MVP and delivering a title to Milwaukee.
One thing is for sure, though: Sullivan will come to Boston ready to tell it like it is, which might be just what the Celtics’ young superstars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, need.
“I definitely want to be challenged by my coaches. I told Sullivan that,” Antetokounmpo told NBA.com in October of 2019. “I said, Coach, tell me what I’m supposed to and I’ll try to do it as hard as I can. Do not try to be nice with me. Just fire away. No BS. Tell me what to do. That’s how we’re going to get better. If I’m BS-ing in a practice, tell me right to my face.'”
Apparently, Sullivan has no problem doing that.
“Ben’s a very forward guy,” former Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore told The New York Times in 2015. “He pretty much said, ‘I’ve been looking at your jumper, and I honestly don’t know how you make shots.”
Perhaps Sullivan’s best attribute is his commitment and the care he has for his players, traits Udoka was celebrated for upon his hiring as the Celtics’ new head coach.
“I just think that players that get to work him are lucky because he cares,” Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland told Business Insider. “He has their best interest (in mind). Although he can be tough on them, they will get better. It’s obvious from his track record that he’s been doing that everywhere he’s been.”
Milwaukee has finished no worse than third in the NBA in field-goal percentage since 2018. Granted, some of that can be attributed to Antetokounmpo’s high volume of high-percentage shots near the rim. However, one year after finishing 17th in the league in 3-point shooting, the Bucks were fourth in their championship season.
Now, he’ll try to help improve a Celtics team that finished 19th and 10th in field-goal and 3-point percentage, respectively, last season.
“Ben’s always out there, working as hard as any guy on the court,” Milwaukee big man Brook Lopez told NBA.com. “He lets guys get out there and kind of experiment, thinking how to elevate their game. He doesn’t have you doing the same stuff to be the same player. He really helps people become better players.”