3 key takeaways for Milwaukee Bucks following games in Abu Dhabi

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 29 (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 29 (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Brook Lopez, Jevon Carter. Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine
Mar 22, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks took part in 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 have been familiar with trailblazing NBA games on foreign soil, as they also participated in the NBA’s first regular season game in Paris in 2020.

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

Takeaways from trip to Abu Dhabi No. 1 – Milwaukee Bucks will have growing pains as they adopt a new defensive scheme

There’s been a lot of talk among Bucks fans throughout head coach Mike Budenholzer’s tenure about his defensive scheme. The Athletic’s Eric Nehm (subscription required) recently wrote about some of the adjustments the team will make this season.

Adopting a new defensive scheme has been a long time coming for the Bucks. Fans and Budenholzer recognized a pattern of how to defeat the Bucks. A team would win against Milwaukee if they kept attempting threes against the team’s drop coverage.

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

The strategy of letting role players continue to shoot is what came back to bite the Bucks. The team was willing to let Grant Williams try to beat them from the outside. That he did, as he went 7-18 from behind the three-point line. Milwaukee might not have won the game anyway, given how poorly they shot themselves, but seeing the Celtics make 22 threes and having 7 of them come from a weak shooter like Williams is where Budenholzer drew a line in the sand.

In Abu Dhabi, the Bucks showed some of the growing pains they’ll have as they adopt their new defensive approach of trying to limit three-point attempts. On a few occasions, the team fouled outside jump shooters.

The Hawks did a great job exposing another flaw in their new defensive approach, connecting on many alley-oop or dunk attempts from pick-and-roll plays. Not having an anchor dropping left the area around the rim exposed to those types of plays.

The Bucks will go through some growing pains as they continue to adjust to a new defensive mentality. It’s great to see that Budenholzer is done allowing perimeter shooting to be his team’s fatal flaw, though.