3 key takeaways for Milwaukee Bucks following games in Abu Dhabi


Milwaukee Bucks: Brook Lopez, Jevon Carter.  Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine

March 22, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks attended two games in Abu Dhabi this week, playing the first NBA games ever played in the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Gulf. The Bucks are familiar with groundbreaking NBA games on foreign soil, having also attended the NBA’s first regular-season game in Paris in 2020.

The Bucks lost both games to the Hawks on Thursday and Saturday. The performances were sloppy for the most part, but these are the three biggest post-trip takeaways.

Takeaways from Trip to Abu Dhabi No. 1 – Milwaukee Bucks will face mounting pains as they implement new defense system

During head coach Mike Budenholzer’s tenure, there was much talk among Bucks fans about his defensive scheme. Eric Nehm of The Athletic (subscription required) recently wrote about some of the adjustments the team will be making this season.

Implementing a new defensive scheme has been a long time coming for the Bucks. Fans and Budenholzers recognized a pattern for defeating the Bucks. A team would win against Milwaukee if they kept attempting three-pointers against the team’s drop coverage.

While the strategy was to limit shot attempts by the opposing team’s best perimeter player, it left other role players open to step forward and take shots. The most recent example, and perhaps the last straw for Budenholzer, came in Game 7 against Boston in the playoffs last season.

The strategy of letting roleplayers keep shooting came back to bite the Bucks. The team was willing to let Grant Williams try to beat them from the outside. He did as he went 7-18 from behind the three-point line. Milwaukee might not have won the game anyway given how badly they shot themselves, but when Budenholzer saw the Celtics make 22 three-pointers and 7 of them came from a weak shooter like Williams, he drew a line in the sand .

In Abu Dhabi, the Bucks showed some of the growing soreness they will face as they pursue their new defensive approach to try to limit three-point attempts. On a few occasions, the team has fouled outside jumpers.

The Hawks did a great job uncovering another flaw in their new defensive approach by tying together many alley-oop or dunk attempts from pick-and-roll games. Since no anchor was dropped, the area around the rim was exposed to these types of games.

The Bucks will experience some growing pains as they continue to adjust to a new defensive mentality. However, it’s great to see Budenholzer coming through with allowing perimeter shooting as his team’s fatal error.