What is new this season with the Milwaukee Bucks, your reigning 2021 NBA Champions, was on display at the Bucks Open Scrimmage on Sunday afternoon at thr dynamic Fiserv Forum. Tickets were only $5, and 7,500 fans got their first look at their favorite NBA team, still in their post-championship glory. I haven’t covered a Bucks Open Scrimmage myself since when they opened Fiserv Forum in 2019, so I was especially glad to have a front row seat at this first look at the team before the new season. Here is what I saw and some of my thoughts.
I’m not sure if the Bucks Open Scrimmage discussed a post-championship aura on purpose – I mean, really behind the scenes and in the locker room as if they are looking to go out and repeat – but the scrimmage certainly carried a sense of championship contentment. The scrimmage also carried a breath of both familiarity and freshness. It’s not going to be easy to calm the excitement of Deer District from last season’s championship win, but the Bucks managed to run a serious scrimmage in front of the onlooking crowd on a quiet Sunday afternoon. The afternoon all started with a large view of the team’s roster of talent.
Rosters and Return of George Hill, Johnny O’Bryant III
The Bucks did indeed bring the old and the new on Sunday. While the Bucks were warming up, former/returning point guard George Hill was visible as one of the first players running the floor. He addressed the crowd full of Bucks fans before the scrimmage began, where he stated that he was proud to be back in Milwaukee.
Likewise, former Bucks forward Johnny O’Bryant III was present and running during the open scrimmage. It was announced that the young 28 year old forward signed a contract with the organization a few days before the scrimmage. O’Bryant, nicknamed “JOB,” was drafted by the Bucks in the second round of the 2014 draft, and during his tenure with the Bucks, he averaged 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds with 11 minutes per game. Bucks fans in Milwaukee familiar with O’Bryant’s game will be glad to have him back, even for a short while, and that showed as he was welcomed with an applause from the crowd when he checked into the open scrimmage.
Stars Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez were amongst the headliners, and fan-favorites Pat Connaughton, Bobby Portis, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo also participated. Grayson Allen and Tremont Waters, which the Bucks both brought in this summer, played in the scrimmage. Also, the Bucks two draft picks, who got a chance to stand out in Summer League made their scrimmage debut, Georgios Kalaitzakis from Greece and Sandro Mamukelashvili of Seton Hall. At one point during the scrimmage, Mamukelashvili came up with a huge block on a layup attempt by Thanasis. Jordan Nwora, the Bucks 2020 draft pick, also played and was in the starting lineup. New Bucks Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye did not participate in the scrimmage. There was no Donte DiVincenzo, the Bucks’ sharpshooting guard who is still nursing an ankle injury which he suffered during the playoffs last season or Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was out due to knee soreness, but both were present on the bench during the scrimmage seen cheering on their team.
The Scrimmage without Giannis or DiVincenzo
On a rather casual matinee without Antetokounmpo or DiVincenzo, Bucks fans were still in for a treat and a chance to check out their new team prior to the 2021-2022 season. The scrimmage was split into two squads - black versus white - with Holiday leading the black squad and Middleton leading the white. Team White came up with the win, 53-50. Nwora missed a game-tying three on a possible assist from Holiday.
The two squads didn’t show off as much skill and work which is usually displayed on the hardwood floor - a fourth quarter wasn’t even played and there was hardly any posterizing - but they did play and drip some sweat with showing off some shooting and running plays and coaching from Mike Budenholzer, who remained an earpiece on the sidelines as his assistant coaches, Darvin Ham and Charles Lee assumed the duties of coaching the scrimmage squads.
The scrimmage crowd heard from Coach Bud at the start of the scrimmage where he talked about being fitted for the championship rings. Thoughts of opening night in the NBA, which the Bucks will play on and is ring night for them, highlighted the scrimmage and was obviously on the team’s mind.
Although the team’s play didn’t look particularly sluggish, it wasn’t action-packed and upbeat either. The Bucks did look like a pristine championship team that for the most part is ready for the season and will ease their way into another historic run. The crowd had to bear in mind that their team was just coming off a rare and long championship season and an Olympic run where two of their top stars, Holiday and Middleton, competed for Team USA right after the Finals. The Bucks didn’t have long to prepare for the upcoming season, and patience and calmness was visible in the scrimmage, but patience and calmness is not all the scrimmage was about.
Hill and Holiday together in backcourt
The scrimmage did give the Bucks a chance to take the floor as a whole team with everyone present, including their stars, bench, two-way players, draft picks, and Summer League invites. Hill and Holiday got a chance to be on the same floor together, although on opposite squads. This didn’t happen for the Bucks last year as Hill was included in the trade to acquire the combo guard Holiday, but since the veteran point guard is back, he and Holiday will have a chance to play together, which should be both interesting and impactful. Hill also joins Lopez on the floor again, who both helped the Bucks as a big-small duo in achieving their newfound success and reaching their new team identity. The team now, with the old and the new, can expect success on the floor while also making the upper echelon of adoring fans and analysts in the NBA happy.
Key Takeaways and What to Expect
Fans can expect a lot from their team this season, especially hard work and dedication, which is something Bucks forward Bobby Portis pointed out following the scrimmage. Portis described the Bucks as a “low maintenance, high character” team, so the goal this season, or at least for now as displayed in the scrimmage, is to stick together as a team and compete. Teamwork and success seemed to be the main theme of the scrimmage, as the squads took the floor together and played through 3 quarters, almost the length of a full NBA game, just two days before their first preseason game.
All of the pieces will have to come together for the Bucks as the season starts and as it progresses. This season, it’s clear that the Bucks will have to rely on the expertise of their stars and the improvement of the others to bring the kick and punch that they need. For now, fans will have to relish in championship victory and watch their team unfold into another victory and continue making history.
The NBA’s regular season tips off on TNT on Oct. 19, and the Bucks will headline the double-header against their Eastern Conference foe Brooklyn Nets at Fiserv Forum. The Bucks will have to play a few preseason games before that though, which starts tonight against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies on TNT. The Bucks will hopefully show off what they learned from the scrimmage as they take the court as a team for the first time in two months.