Mediocrity in Milwaukee and Number One Choices the Second Time Around

With yesterday’s comment on the 76ers, there is now only one NBA team I have not commented on this season. And that team is the Milwaukee Bucks.

Milwaukee History

Two decades ago the Milwaukee Bucks finished the 1986-87 campaign with 50 victories. This marked the seventh consecutive season the Bucks won at least 50 games, establishing Milwaukee as one of the elite teams of the 1980s.

Today, elite and the Bucks don’t go together. In the past twenty seasons this franchise has managed at least 40 wins eleven different times. But only once – in 2000-01 – did the team reach 50 victories. In essence, with one lone exception, Milwaukee has become the embodiment of NBA medi0crity.

The 2000-01 season, though, was the exception. That year the Bucks won 52 games and took the Central Division title. The Bucks even advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001, losing a seven game series to the Philadelphia 76ers (a Philadelphia team I examined last July).

Looking back on this magical Milwaukee season we see a Bucks team that was led by Ray Allen (17.7 Wins Produced), Glenn Robinson (8.9 Wins Produced), Sam Cassell (8.2 Wins Produced), and Ervin Johnson (7.6 Wins Produced). In the next season each of these players slipped in terms of Wins Production. Where these players combined for 42.5 wins in 2000-01, in 2001-02 this foursome only produced 28 wins. Although Michael Redd joined the team in 2001-02, the team was only able to win 41 games because its leaders were a bit less productive.

Mediocrity continued in 2002-03 and by the start of the 2003-04 season, the four leaders of the 2001 playoff run had departed. The limited success of the 2000-01 campaign also departed the franchise, and so far has not been replaced.

The Bucks in 2006-07

This season the Bucks have only won 22 of its first 61 games. In other words, Milwaukee is once again on pace to win about 30 contests, which is a step below what the team did last year (although consistent with the 2004-05 campaign).

Part of the problem this year has been injuries. Redd, who has posted a Wins Produced per 48 minutes of 0.122, has missed 20 games. Maurice Williams, with a WP48 of 0.142, has missed ten contests. Had these players played the entire season the Bucks might be much closer to winning half its games. In other words, injuries have robbed this team another chance to be mediocre.

Obviously the fans of Milwaukee would prefer something more than just an average team. The problem – as the following review of this team’s Wins Produced reveals — is that this team simply lacks that one star player a franchise needs to achieve NBA elite status.

Table One: The Milwaukee Bucks after 61 games

Currently Milwaukee is led in Wins Produced by Ruben Patterson. Yes, Patterson is above average this season. But if he is your leading Win Producer, you probably have some problems on your roster.

Number One Choices the Second Time Around

Andrew Bogut, as the first player taken in the 2005 draft, is expected to be the team’s major producer of Wins. This year, though, he only offers a WP48 of 0.121. This is above average, but not quite the level of output we tend to think we should see in the second season of a player taken with the first pick overall. Consider the second year performance of the ten most recent top choices (year drafted in parenthesis):

  • Dwight Howard (2004): 0.280 WP48
  • LeBron James (2003): 0.307 WP48
  • Yao Ming (2002): 0.211 WP48
  • Kwame Brown (2001): 0.064 WP48
  • Kenyon Martin (2000): -0.015 WP48
  • Elton Brand (1999): 0.127 WP48
  • Michael Olowokandi (1998): -0.031 WP48
  • Tim Duncan (1997): 0.254 WP48
  • Allen Iverson (1996): 0.140 WP48
  • Joe Smith (1995): 0.009 WP48

Bogut’s efforts this season pale in comparison to Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Yao Ming, and Tim Duncan. But Bogut is quite comparable to Elton Brand and Allen Iverson, and much better than Kwame Brown, Kenyon Martin, Michael Olowokandi, and Joe Smith. It’s interesting how many number one choices have failed to develop into major stars. Perhaps that would be a good subject for a future post.

The Bucks and Bogut, though, are the subject of this comment. For Milwaukee, the Elton Brand experience must be what they hope for when they look at Bogut. After his second season, Brand became one of the game’s elite players. If this happens for Bogut, Milwaukee has a significant part of a future championship team. Coupled with the team’s lottery choice this season, the Bucks could see 50 wins or more soon.

Of course, Bogut becoming as productive as Brand is a big if. And as we can see, drafting productive players is difficult. It’s entirely possible that Bogut will not improve tremendously and the Bucks lottery choice this year will be equally unimpressive.

If that happens, Milwaukee will have to search for another way. And given the track record of this franchise, hoping this team will find another way must not be running high in Milwaukee.

- DJ

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