38 or Less: The worst regular season won-lost records by NBA playoff teams of the last 38 years

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

To mark the Milwaukee Bucks 38-win playoff season, I’ve created a list of “38-wins-or-less” playoff teams from the 1975 to 2013 seasons, with an important caveat:  I’ve excluded 11 teams that won between 35 and 38 games and made the 1984-1988 playoffs, listing only the two playoff qualifiers from those five seasons who lost so much they deserve mention.  The five “exempt” seasons were the first years of the 16-team playoff format when, suddenly, only 7 of 23 NBA teams missed the post-season.   Somebody had to lose in the regular season, and some of those losing somebody’s found themselves in the playoffs.  Yet given the strength of the East and the fact that schedules were heavily weighted toward conference play, an eighth Eastern seed in 1986 with 35 wins may be more comparable to a 42 or 43-win (at least) team of today, not to the teams listed below.

The 1975-1983 seasons are more “apples to apples” to today’s 16 of 30 playoff format (not that ”apples to apples” ever really exist in an ever-changing league). In 1975 and 1976, 10 of 18 teams made the playoffs.  After the NBA-ABA merger, 12 of 22 made the playoffs.  When the Mavs were added to the league in 1980 and the conferences properly aligned, 12 of 23 made the playoffs.

League expansion began in 1988 with the addition of Miami and Charlotte, ending “the Golden Age” (1976-1988) of NBA basketball. By 1990 there were 27 teams, 16 making the playoffs, and enough expansion teams around to beat up on and keep playoff records from falling below our 38-44 cut-off.

Note that of the 13 on this list, no team other than Bob Lanier’s 1976 Pistons won its first round series.

1. 1986 Chicago Bulls (30-52). Michael Jordan broke his foot in the third game of his second NBA season and missed the next 64. He would come back to score 63 points against Larry Bird’s Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, but could not prevent a Celtics sweep.  The 1986 C’s won 67 games, the third championship for the Bird-McHale-Parrish-Maxwell front court and are widely considered one of the best teams in NBA history.

This Bulls team had plenty of talent other than Jordan – forward Orlando Woolridge, guards Quentin Dailey and John Paxson, rookie Charles Oakley, big Dave Corzine at center and Hall of Fame scorer George Gervin in his final season (16.2 ppg). But Jordan’s developing Bulls had the misfortune of playing in the East, which had not only fewer teams (11) than the West (12) but three of the top four teams in basketball since 1980 – the Celtics, the Sixers and the Bucks.  Between 1980 and 1987, no other team had a realistic  shot at winning the East until the “Bad Boys” Pistons busted their way into the mix in 1987.

The NBA schedule was more heavily weighted toward conference play than it is now, which meant the 1986 Bulls schedule was a nightmare.  They played the beasts of the East (Celtics, Bucks, Sixers and Detroit) six times each, winning just four of the 24 games.  The Bulls weren’t the only team in the East hammered by the schedule.  A tough, talented, Buck Williams-led New Jersey Nets team could muster only 39 wins and were swept by the Bucks in the first round. Rookie Patrick Ewing’s Knicks won 23.

Throw out the beasts of the East and two losses against Magic Johnson’s Lakers, and the Bulls won 26 and lost 30 against the league’s other 17 teams, Dominique Wilkins’ Atlanta Hawks included.  Not too shabby for the very young Bulls playing without Michael Jordan.

2. 1988 San Antonio Spurs (31-51).  The final season of the Golden Age – the last season of the 23-team league. The expansion to Miami and Charlotte would go into effect summer of ’88.  Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics remained at the top, with the Pistons challenging and making their first NBA final.  In the East, the injury-plagued Moncrief-Cummings Bucks (42-40) were still tough, yet Dominique’s Hawks were tougher.  Ewing’s Knicks were able to win just 38 games.  Jordan’s Bulls had their first 50-win season, but in the West the Stockton-Malone Jazz fell short with 47.  Magic and the Lakers won 62 and their fifth championship.

Some of the power balance had shifted East to West with the decline of Philly and the Bucks, along with the rise of the Dallas Mavs, creating more parity between the conferences than there had been for most of the 1980s. But while most of the lower rung playoff teams of this period can’t be labelled “bad” by today’s standards, the 1988 Spurs were bad in any day.  They were swept (3-0) in the first round by the Lakers.

The Spurs best player was defensive demon Alvin Robertson, who would be traded to Milwaukee in 1989 for All-Pro forward Terry Cummings.  Robertson’s teammate on the Spurs, Frank Brickowski, would join him in Milwaukee in 1990, traded for Paul Pressey.  Why all these trades with the Spurs?  We may never know.  By 1990 the Spurs had center David Robinson and were title contenders, while the Bucks were slipping into their 1990s rebuild.

3. 1995 Boston Celtics (35-47).  The Celtics were rebuilding (or trying to) after the Larry Bird era, and Kevin McHale was gone by then, too.   This Chris Ford-coached team featured a 35-year-old Dominique Wilkins, not flying as high as he did with the Hawks in the 1980s but scoring 17.8 ppg to lead the C’s.  This was not a good team. Dumped from the playoffs (3-1) by Shaq’s Orlando Magic, who would go on to lose to Hakeem Olajawon and Sam Cassell’s Rockets in the NBA finals.

4. 2004 Boston Celtics (36-46).    All that losing in the mid-1990s brought draft picks and an effort to build a contender around the would-be duo of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, who instead became symbols of post-Jordan Eastern Conference mediocrity.  The 2003-04 season found the Celtics tearing down again and trading Walker, one of the least scrupulous shot hogs in the game.  That left Pierce, listed as a shooting guard then, and boy did he ever.  Pierce shot nearly 19 times per game – and missed 11  - shooting less than 30% from three-point-land and averaging 23 ppg. The Celtics fired coach Jim O’Brien after 46 games and assistant John Carroll mopped up.

These were rather dark days for the NBA. The 2004 Celtics were a bad team in an Eastern conference that had deteriorated rapidly in the early-aughts — the 4th seeded Miami Heat won just 42 regular season games.   Meanwhile, Kobe and Shaq bickered in LA and guys like Walker, Pierce and the Bucks’ Michael Redd gunned bad selection shots out of isolation offenses, winning big contracts if not playoff success.  Orlando Magic star Tracy McGrady was the best of this lot, and all of it was ugly basketball. But hey – former Buck Vin Baker was on this Celtics team for a few weeks in 2003. OK City center Kendrick Perkins was a rookie.  The C’s were swept in Round 1 by 38-year-old Reggie Miller’s second-to-last Pacers team, about seven months before the “Malice at the Palace” in Detroit.  Dark days indeed.

5. 1997 Los Angeles Clippers (36-46).  Loy Vaught (who? – I can’t find a picture of him) led this team in scoring at 14.9 ppg.  Forward Bo Outlaw and Eric Piatkowski led a halfway decent bench crew.  Coached by Bill Fitch.  The Western Conference was none too balanced in those days, as the Clippers were one of three teams from the west to make the playoffs with a losing record.  The T-Wolves (40-42) in Kevin Garnett’s second year, and the post-Charles Barkley Suns (also 40-42)  were the others.  The Clippers were swept out of the first round by the Stockton-Malone Jazz, fated to go on to lose their first of two NBA Finals to Jordan’s Bulls.

6. 1976 Detroit Pistons (36-46).  This might be getting far back — the league that existed prior to the merger with the ABA — but 1975 and 1976 get our deepest historical look because the 1971-74 playoff format allowed less than half the league to qualify (8 of 17 teams).  This changed in 1975, with the addition of the New Orleans Jazz and the short-lived 10 of 18 format. In 1975 and 1976, four teams with losing records made the playoffs.  But there was another playoff quirk due to the fact that the divisions of the mid-1970s mattered.  Midwest Division teams the Bucks, Pistons, Bulls and Kansas City Kings played each other seven times in the season, then a total of 36 games against the nine teams in the Eastern conference and 25 games against the Pacific Division. This is as equalized as the NBA schedule ever was.  To give the division schedule more weight, the top two teams in each division received a playoff bid, with the 5th conference seed going to the team with the next best record. A pretty good system if you believe that divisions should matter, which the current NBA clearly does not.

Bob Lanier’s Pistons won 40 games in the 1975 season and 36 in 1976, making them the model of mid-70s NBA mediocrity. But “mediocrity” in a mid-1970s when you had a Hall of Fame center meant that you were pretty competitive when the center was healthy.  Lanier missed 18 games in 1976 and the Pistons lost 12 of those.

Detroit in 1975 had also traded star veteran guard Dave Bing (another Hall of Famer) to the Bullets for young point guard Kevin Porter, but Porter was lost to injury 19 games into the season and the Pistons struggled.  Coach Ray Scott was fired and replaced by Herb Brown, and Brown found 20-year-old point guard Eric Money on his bench to fill in for Porter.  Led by Lanier, power forward Curtis Rowe and Money, the Pistons won 10 of their last 13 games and nearly caught the Bucks (38-44) atop the Midwest Division. As the playoff teams with the worst records in the West, the Bucks and Pistons squared off in a best-of-three first round series.

The Bucks were in their first season after “The Trade” of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and were no match for a Lanier Pistons that had gotten its act together.  Lanier and Rowe dominated the Bucks inside (a familiar story for the ever-power-forward-challenged Bucks) and Detroit took the series 2-1 in Milwaukee.  The Pistons went on to lose (4-2) in the second round to Rick Barry’s Golden State Warriors, the defending champs.  Lanier averaged 26.1 ppg and 12.7 rebounds, and Rowe added 15 and 8 in nine playoff games. (The 1976 Pistons really have no business being on this list, but the 1976 Bucks do — see No. 11 below – so I included both teams.)

7. 2011 Indiana Pacers (37-45).  Another Jim O’Brien team, this one led by Danny Granger instead of Paul Pierce, but playing the same ugly style of 2004.  This time coach O’Brien lasted to game 44 amid a lot of grumbling that he was refusing to play his younger players, Tyler Hansbrough among them. Current coach Frank Vogel did more than mop up O’Brien’s mess, as the Pacers went 20-18 the rest of the way, edging out the injury-riddled Bucks (35-47) for the final spot in the East.   This was simply not a very good team until the arrival of David West and George Hill, with Vogel as the coach.

Dismissed in five games by Derrick Rose and the Bulls in Round 1. Only in the playoffs because of the Bucks bad health.

8. 1979 New Jersey Nets (37-45).  From the land of the final season before the 3-point line was drawn on NBA courts comes the 1979 Nets, featuring the unstoppable mid-range post-up game of Bernard King, set to go into the Hall of Fame this year.  Scoring honors on this Kevin Loughery team, however, went to John Williamson (22.2 ppg), a Net from the ABA days and one of the better long-range shooters of the time.  King and Williamson didn’t have much help beyond assorted journeymen (including future shot-swatting Buck Harvey Catchings and the aforementioned Eric Money, both traded to Philly mid-season), and the Nets would sink to the bottom of the East by 1981.

Dr. J’s Sixers swept the Nets out of the 1979 playoffs, 2-0.  King’s knee problems began the following season, and he was traded in preseason to Utah along with rookie … Jim Boylan … who never played an official NBA game.

9.  2008 Atlanta Hawks (37-45).  The first playoff appearance for the young Al Horford-Josh Smith Hawks (featuring Joe Johnson), and it was a good one, with the Hawks pushing the “Big Three” Celtics, the 2008 champs) to seven games in the first round. Horford was 21-years-old and Smith 22, and the Hawks were on the rise, something that can’t be said about the teams on this list, 1986 Bulls excepted. The Hawks became one of ESPN’s “it” teams.

“It” was not to be.  Although some remarkable good health resulted in a 53 win season in 2010, playoff success eluded them.  After beating the Celtics three times in the 2008, the Hawks couldn’t win a playoff game against anybody but the Andrew-Bogut-less 2010 Bucks, who nearly bum-rushed them out of the playoffs.  They made it to the second round in 2011, were out in the first again in 2012, and now 2013 is the end of the line for Smith (and Zaza Pachulia too) as the Hawks will look to build a better roster around Horford.  But back in 2008, the future didn’t look anywhere near as dim as it would be for Atlanta.

10. 1980 Portland Trailblazers (38-44).   This was the season the Blazers gave up on waiting for the return of Bill Walton and let him sign with the Clippers, who compensated the Blazers with players and a first round pick.  Mid-season the Blazers broke off other key pieces of their 1977 championship roster. Power forward Maurice Lucas, the star of the 1977 finals, was traded for rookie forward  Calvin Natt, who became the Blazers leading scorer.  Hobbled point guard Lionel Hollins (now coach of the Grizzlies) was traded to Philly for a draft pick.

The Blazers were left with an interesting mix of rookies and journeyman veterans, including Kermit Washington, (notorious for “the punch” to Rudy Tomjanovich’s face) who played 80 games.  None were more interesting than rookie forward Abdul Jeelani, who grew up in Racine (as Gary Cole) and played college ball at UW-Parkside.  That’s right, Parkside, an NAIA school at the time. A long-armed 6’8″, Jeelani was precisely the type of productive bigger forward who fills out NBA rosters today, but the available jobs were far fewer in the early 1980s. The league expanded with Dallas in 1980 and Jeelani was picked up by the Mavs in the expansion draft, and expansion stopped there. 23 teams, 11-man rosters, poor attendance and TV ratings, Bird and Magic just getting started. These were lean times and the league was tightening its belt as it remade its image — with its talent concentrated in extreme measures at many ports of call.

Jeelani would play one season in Dallas, then take his game to Europe where he played for the better part of the decade. The 1979 Blazers bowed out to the Paul Silas-Jack Sikma-Dennis Johnson Seattle Supersonics, the eventual champs, in the first round.


11. 1976 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44).
  First season after the Kareem trade, the young Bucks were led by forward Bobby Dandridge, great-shooting Brian Winters and center Elmore Smith, the latter two acquired in “The Trade” along with Junior Bridgeman and big forward David Meyers.  The Bucks, coached by Larry Costello, won the 1976 Midwest Division without Kareem, largely owing that to the Pistons early season troubles (see above).  Kareem’s Lakers actually failed to make the playoffs despite having a better record (40-42) than both the Pistons and the Bucks.  In the divisional playoff format of 1976, the Lakers had to catch Phoenix to win the fifth and final seed in the West but lost four of six to the Suns in the regular season, falling two games short.

Not a good year for Kareem or the Midwest, but the playoffs redeemed Lanier’s Pistons.  Against Detroit in the first round, the Bucks opted to bomb away from the outside and, thanks to some phenomenal shooting, managed to keep it close.  Winters, a 1976 and 1978 All-Star, shot 63%, averaging 27.3 ppg in the three games — without the aid of the 3-pointer.  Dandridge netted 22 per game on 49% shooting and guard Gary Brokaw shot 62.2% for 21 ppg. But it wasn’t enough.  Lanier and power forward Curtis Rowe owned the paint, and the Pistons won game three in Milwaukee.

This was Costello’s last full season as Bucks coach. Don Nelson, who was busy helping the Celtics win the 1976 title in his final season as a player, joined Costello’s staff for the 1976-77 season, and the head coaching job fell in Nellie’s lap early on.  The Bucks went into “Green and Growing” rebuilding mode and the rest, as they say, is history.  They became a perennial contender after acquiring Lanier from Detroit in 1980.

12. 1992 Miami Heat (38-44).   First playoff trip for the expansion heat. Glen Rice wasn’t a 50-40-90 shooter this season (the Bird-Durant standard) but he wasn’t too far off at 47-39-84. Rice led the fledgling Heat with 22.3 ppg, getting help from center Rony Seikaly and rookie gunner Steve Smith, and the Heat would try use those three as a base to build a winner.  They did not succeed.  The Heat wouldn’t become a winner until Pat Riley took over in 1995 and completely overhauled the roster, including the core three.  The 1992 Heat were coached by Kevin Loughery. Swept in the first round by Michael Jordan and the Bulls on their way to title No. 2.

13. 2013 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44).  What will history say about this Bucks team?  Their coach, Scott Skiles, quit 32 games into the season as Skiles is wont to do.  The interim coach, Jim Boylan (the same Jim Boylan who was part of that 1979 Bernard King trade) played his team fast and loose and continued to develop good, young big men (Larry Sanders, John Henson).  But the Bucks trio of guards shot too poorly overall and played too little defense down the stretch to avoid a first round series against the defending champs, the best team in the league.  The Bucks lost 15 of their last 21 games, and few expect Boylan back as coach (Boylan was fired after the Heat dismissed the Bucks from the playoffs in a 4-0 sweep).

There are worse teams on this “38 or less” playoffs list, to be sure (Jim O’Brien’s teams come to mind), and better teams too.  The common thread for these teams is that they were all in transition, most of them on the way down, not up or sideways.  Those sideways teams that stayed the course, such as the 1976 Pistons and the 1992 Heat would break up their teams within three years. It will happen this summer in Atlanta.  It may happen soon in Indiana, too, though not this season. History shows that mediocrity in the NBA plays itself out to sub-mediocrity, unless your Hall of Famer can stay healthy, and the Bucks don’t have one of those.  They don’t even have an Al Horford or a Glen Rice, not to say that Sanders can’t get better.

The current situation says the Bucks won’t win in the long or short run with Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick’s disparate jump-shooting tendencies.  Whatever happens with the rest of the Bucks roster, the series against the Heat should be the last time we see the guard trio play for the Bucks.

Bucks trade Ellis, draft picks to Hawks

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Sources close to the trade rumor mill tell me that the Bucks have finally found a taker for their high-priced, off target gunner, Monta Ellis — the Hawks.

In return, the Bucks receive draft picks, cash and the thing that makes Josh Smith so dam expensive –

The sweaty headband.  That one – pictured above – the gold one.

John Hammond would not confirm the trade or that there were any trade talks with any team whatsoever, nor whether or not he knew the trade deadline was fast approaching, nor that he thought the Bucks might make a trade, any trade, nor that there might be a case of Pabst involved.

Why +/- can’t be trusted for basketball analysis

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

When Ersan Ilyasova entered Sunday night’s game in Detroit, the Bucks were down 2-0 and Luc Mbah a Moute was headed for the locker room for some stitch work.  (See play-by-play log at NBA.com).

When Ilyasova left the game ten minutes later after picking up his second foul, the Bucks were down 29-21.   That’s a minus 6.

They were down 12 (70-58) when Ilyasova entered the game for Moute in the 3rd quarter and the Bucks began a 13-6 run to end the quarter, and had whittled the Pistons lead down to eight (86-78) with 8:28 to go in the game.  That’s a plus 4 for Ilyasova in that stretch.

Minus 6 and plus four equals minus 2 for Ersan (he had 17 pts at this point).  Yet when I looked at the boxscore online, the Yahoo-NBA boxscore from the Associated Press had Ilyasova at a whopping MINUS 21!

Even if you were just following along with the play-by-play online, you’d know that the +/- numbers for this game were off.   When Ilyasova’s was “corrected” with just under eight minutes left in the game, the box had Ersan at minus 3.  Better, but still wrong.

Then — somehow — as the Bucks fell down by 10 points, Ersan’s +/- actually improved to minus 1.

A few minutes later, the Bucks cut the lead to 3 (92-89) with Ersan still on the floor and his +/- had miraculously plunged again to minus 10. 

All statisticians agree that Ilyasova had 21 points at that point.  But how does this happen?

The official NBA box, by the way, was even further off.  With the score tied at 94, they had Ilyasova at minus 17.   The correct number was plus 6.

We may be getting some idea how Ekpe Udoh was among the league leaders in adjusted +/- for Golden State last season.   I also recall that in the 2010-11 season, Keyon Dooling was among the league leaders in +/-.  It didn’t seem possible then, and it doesn’t seem possible now.

The final tape read 96 to 94 Detroit, unfortunately, with Monta Ellis missing a jumper and a runner in the final 32 seconds.

Ilyasova finished with 24 points, seventeen of those coming as he led the Bucks back from a 12-point 3rd quarter deficit.   The official box score at last read Ilyasvoa plus 3.   His correct number for the game is plus 4.

And Ekpe Udoh?  He played 11:39, did not take a shot or grab a rebound, was largely invisible but was credited with two steals I’m not sure he actually had.   Yet his +/- for those invisible minutes read plus 7, and that is the number that some will use to show Udoh’s impact on the game.

It’s a number that lies.

 

Dwyane Wade is freezing and Ray Allen is shooting

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Twitter highlights from the Miami Heat’s visit to Milwaukee for tonights game:

This from Dwyane Wade:

Back in Milwaukee. I can’t believe it’s been 10yrs since my days playing here. WoW..it’s still freezing tho. http://instagr.am/p/T1nNrglCFO/ 

 

And it appears that Heat gunner James Jones is now joining Ray Allen’s pregame shooting rituals.  This cannot be good for the Bucks tonight, or the rest of the NBA.   A tweet from Bucks p.r. …

Ray Allen and James Jones warm up before#MILvMIA @ BMO Harris Bradley Centerhttp://instagr.am/p/T1tbwnDdcf/

 

“Not finished product” and “still trying to figure it out” – The existentialist polarities of Bucks coach Scott Skiles

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Sometimes Bucks fans just have to scratch their collective heads about the existentialism of Scott Skiles.  Here are the latest “still searching” musings from the man in charge of making Bucks playing time decisions:

”We’re 15-12. I don’t think we’re a finished product yet. We’re still trying to figure out some things.”  – Skiles this past Thursday in the AP story “Bucks in thick of Central race for now.”

27 games into the season and the coach is still trying to figure out some things, still trying to find his team — or find himself within the context of this Bucks team:  The Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis show with an overstock of power forwards and centers.

In many ways comments like these are self-serving on Skiles part.  The players didn’t start the D-League-level forward tandem of Tobias Harris and rookie John Henson, three Bucks losses until the Bucks bench reversed a laugher in Chicago to bury the Bulls.   Scott Skiles filled out those Frankenstein lineups that sometimes included Ekbe Udoh, sometimes Sam Dalembert, and finally Marques Daniels in place of the very limited Harris.   Sure, the coach was searching, but for what?

The Bucks lost seven out of nine during that forgettable stretch, and there wasn’t a Bucks analyst alive who could figure out what Skiles was doing, other than scape-goating Ersan Ilyasova in full view of Bucks fandom while waiting for the return of Luc Mbah a Moute, the great defender who, more than any other player, has made sense of things for Skiles since he took the Bucks job in 2008.   Moute’s also the only player left from Skiles’ first team.

This last fact, in other ways, shows Skiles’ comments to be veiled criticism (perhaps) of the Bucks front office — which hasn’t agreed with Skiles’ conception of Moute as a starting power forward, and has larded the Bucks with the likes of Drew Gooden, Jon Brockman and Ekbe Udoh at the position, even as Ilyasova has played his way, time and again, into a prominent rotation spot as the Bucks power forward.

And this is precisely where the Bucks and Skiles have found themselves again:  starting Moute at power forward while Ilyasova plays the majority of the PF minutes off the bench and finishes games, with Moute shifting over to small forward and platooning in and out for defensive purposes.

With 2013 days away, the Bucks are the same as they ever were circa 2009-10:

Mike Dunleavy is Carlos Delfino;

Beno Udrih is Luke Ridnour;

Sanders-Udoh-Przybilla-Dalembert are a weird, four-headed version of Andrew Bogut that plays with only two heads and has watched the Bucks plunge to 26th in the NBA in defensive rebounding (coinciding with the benching of Dalembert);

Marquis Daniels is Keith Bogans, Jerry Stackhouse and Charlie Bell, and sometimes Delfino;

Monta Ellis the wild card;

And Jennings and Moute — and often Ilyasova — managing at times, when they can, to make sense of it all for Skiles and the fans, regardless of what the front office does with the players around them.

When it does, it’s not always clear Skiles knows why it works, beyond knowing that Bucks wins are usually predicated on defense and that they match up well with the Boston Celtics (a 3-wins out of four surprise for the Bucks).

When it doesn’t work, the product isn’t finished (still) and more mad tinkering may be in store from Skiles, the front office or both.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day:  There’s always something that jumps out about these Bucks when one looks at the sort-able season summary stats at basketball-reference, the ritual with which the Bob Boozer Jinx editorial board starts its day.  With the Miami Heat in Milwaukee to play our deer tonight, the board decided it was time to check the Strength of Schedule rankings.

Lo and behold, our 15-12 Bucks have played the 28th easiest schedule in the league.  With the Celtics, Pacers and Bulls (Bucks are 6-2 against their rivals) more average than good so far this season, that’s how it goes.   Playing the Heat tonight will change this stat, but the Bucks head for Detroit on Sunday, back down it’ll go, leaving the Bucks with a hard road ahead in 2013.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day II:   As mentioned above, the Bucks are currently the 5th worst in the NBA at rebounding their opponents’ misses.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day III:  The career defensive rebounding percentage of little-used Bucks center Sam Dalembert is 25.4% — 10th best in NBA history.  The Bucks with Dalembert starting at center began the season leading the league in defensive rebounding.  Do we think there’s a connection between Bucks rebounding and Dalembert’s playing time?  Absolutely.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day IV:  The Golden State Warriors are 20-wins, 10 losses and are tied for 4th in the West with Memphis.   How good will the Warriors be when Andrew Bogut is healthy enough to anchor the defense?   Ridiculous.

Scott Skiles’ starting rotation shooting the Bucks in the foot

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Coming off a big overtime win in Boston and facing the 5-23 Cavaliers at the Bradley Center BMO Harris BMO Harris Bradley Center, a 15-11 record heading into the three-day X-mas break looked pretty good for the Bucks.   But not after the starters shot less than 38% and repeatedly dumped the Bucks into a 10-then-20 point hole that the bench couldn’t dig out of.

If the opening tip five against Cleveland are to be coach Scott Skiles’ starters the rest of the way, get used to nights like Saturday.   As a group they are one of the worst — if not the worst — shooting group currently starting in the NBA.

Skiles’ current starting lineup — Brandon Jennings and Monte Ellis, with forwards Marquis Daniels and Luc Mbah a Moute, and center Larry Sanders — would be dead last in the NBA in shooting, were the 7 wins-20 losses Charlotte Bobcats not shooting worse.  (See NBA season summary).

The Bucks starters combined are shooting an effective 45.3% on the season (587.5 out of 1297), adjusting up for three-pointers made.  (The Bucks by the way are 28th in the league from downtown, hitting just 31.9%.)

The rest of the team is misfiring too, though not so much since Ersan Ilyasova has resurrected to find his jumper.  They’re at 47.4% effectively, slightly better than the team % of the Memphis Grizzlies.  Ilyasova’s percentage has climbed out of the 25% range and is heading toward 50%.

The dud Saturday against Cleveland was actually accomplished with cold-shooting Monta Ellis on a good night, going 15 of 27 and shooting an effective 59.3% – only the second time this season Ellis has hit that mark.

Ellis shoots more than anybody in the league with the exception of Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook, while posting career-lows in field goal and 3-point-%.   Monta’s never been good from 3-point-land, but the 20.9% he’s shooting this season is horrific. And those latest stats include two good shooting games by Ellis against the Celtics and Cavs.

There is no “shooting guard” in the NBA playing more than 30 mins per game who shoots worse than Monta  (See HoopData sorted stats by position).

Point guard shooting percentages being what they are (generally lower), only the Knicks J.R. Smith joins Ellis as a “shooting guard” in the bottom ten.  And remember, Ellis is firing away at a rate topped only Kobe and Russell Westbrook.

But this isn’t all about Monta Ellis or Jennings.   Compounding matters is that Skiles starts Ellis with forwards Luc Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels, two defensive minded players not known for sticking shots.  Moute and Daniels are both below 48% career eFG%, under the league average of 48.8% this year.

Skiles has done this, he says, because he wants to start games with stronger D — defying the expectations of Bucks fans that Ilyasova and Moute would finally get a chance to start together and bring some chemistry to Skiles’ ever-changing rotations — and  it’s not as though Ilyasova’s a slouch on defense.

One could argue — I suppose — that with good-shooting Beno Udrih still out with a right ankle injury, Skiles is looking for some balance off the bench, where Mike Dunleavy could use Ersan’s scoring help.

But if this is an attempt at balance by Skiles, it’s being lost brick by brick with a starting lineup that isn’t supposed to shoot well because they never have.   The  tip-off five needs a shooter, and Ilyasova’s shot is coming back around to where it was last season.

So the obvious answer is to move Ilyasova back into the starting lineup and see if the Bucks can ween themselves off their dependency on Ellis, who shoots too much for the team’s good — but will keep on shooting unless there is a reliable alternative on the court.   Right now, there’s just no such alternative in the Bucks starting 5, and the Bucks might as well make some effort to get a payoff out of the $7.9 million a year investment they made in Ersan.

A Bucks-Celtics note:  Skiles has played Ilyasova starters’ minutes (29.4 per game) in the four games against the Celtics, three of them victories.  Good matchups for Ersan?  Or a trend?  We shall see.  

Thieves:  Brandon Jennings trails only Chris Paul and Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley in steals per game.  The Bucks continue to be a Top 5 team in forcing turnovers while being 6th in the league at not turning the ball over.  They’re getting two more possessions per game than their opponents.

Larry!  Larry!:  Larry Sanders is leading the NBA in blocked shots per game (3.1) and is No. 1 in defensive rating, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions that a player is on the floor.   Larry’s 93.4 points allowed per 100 is one point better than Tim Duncan’s and 1.3 better than Pacers center Roy Hibbert.

Ray in Miami:  There’s still mucho love for Ray Allen in Milwaukee, but they surely like him more in Miami these days.   Ray’s staking his claim to “The Best Shooter in Basketball” crown, leading all guards and forwards in Effective Shooting percentage (eFG%).  Ray’s  a 61 percent shooter, behind only Knicks center Tyson Chandler.   Ray’s the only non- center in the top 5.

Lebron James, meanwhile, is a surprising 6th in the NBA with a 58.1% effective shooting, as the MVP is having a career shooting year inside and outside the 3-point arc.   The extra room and better spacing James gets with Ray on the floor is certainly partly responsible for this — as are the added offensive smarts a team gets with Ray — but most of the credit goes to James himself.  He’s playing more post-up than in the past, he’s hitting his threes and his shot selection is the best its ever been.

James is also having a career rebounding year, grabbing 8.5 boards per game.

Where’s the love? Jennings is Player of the Week but the Bucks remain unconvincing

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Brandon Jennings is leading the NBA in assists and steals and Jennings was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the 2012-13 season tip-off week.

The 2-0 Bucks are leading the NBA in defensive rebounding (grabbing 82% of available boards), leading the league in pace (98.2 possessions per 48 minutes) and they’re  the league’s 3rd-best defensive rated team.

So where’s the love?  This from NBA.com’s power rankings heading into week 2, with the Bucks ranked 20th:

Though the Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings pairing doesn’t look any better than it did last season, Jennings himself is off to a strong start. He scored 21 points in Friday’s win in Boston, hit the game-winner on Saturday against the Cavs, and dished out 13 assists each night. Mike Dunleavy carried a huge load (29 points, 12 boards and six assists) off the bench against Cleveland.

And this from Yahoo NBA, where the Bucks are ranked a surprising high 9th:

Milwaukee Bucks (2-0, previous ranking: 17th): Brandon Jennings playing with an edge after not getting a contract extension.

Realistically, it’s too early to tell, but there aren’t too many around the league impressed with Bucks GM John Hammond’s pairing of Jennings and Ellis, two undersized defensive matadors who are models of offensive inefficiency even as they command the ball.  Unless one (Jennings in week one) is playing like an All-Star.

And then there’s Jennings’ contract situation, which isn’t making too many in the Bucks camp or its fandom too comfortable.

Stay tuned …  The Bucks defense was impressive in Boston, challenging everything the Celtics tried to do with the ball …. yet somehow it still feels like preseason.

The Memphis Grizzlies and their mean, mean frontline of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mareese Speights are in town Wednesday.   A good test the day after the election.

Election Day: Speaking of which, President Obama’s nearly a lock for a second term, according to various sports stats gurus, and they’re under attack for saying so.

The cold hard facts have been suggesting that — barring a Romney miracle — the election was all but decided 10 days-to-two weeks ago.   But nobody in politics likes obviousness.  There’s just no money in it.

Happy Election Day.

Nellie’s Hall of Fame induction speech and the Bucks era the NBA forgot

Monday, September 10th, 2012

The winningest coach in NBA history (1,335) got the lion’s share of those wins as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks in the Marques Johnson-Sidney Moncrief era.  This weekend coach Don Nelson — Nellie — was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame.

With Satch Sanders (a Celtics teammate from Nellie’s playing days), Bucks center Bob Lanier and Nellie’s Warriors star Chris Mullin standing behind him, Nellie reeled off the names of his Bucks core – the best team the NBA ever forgot:  Sidney, Marques, Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters and Paul Pressey (Terry Cummings, Marques’ eventual replacement, also got a nod).  Here’s the video of the full speech:

Nellie won 540 games (.611 winning percentage) and seven straight division titles with the Bucks, one in the Western Conference, then six straight Central Division titles in the East after the 1980 realignment that set the rivalries in the post-ABA merger Golden Age.   Oh, it made sense geographically for the Bucks and Bulls to switch conferences with the Rockets and Spurs, aligning the three Texas teams in the Midwest Division after the 1980 expansion in Dallas — but moving Marques and Lanier’s Bucks (Moncrief was coming off the bench behind Winters at the time) into the East with the Dr. J’s 76ers and Larry Bird’s Celtics grossly weighted the balance of power in the league.

Had the Bucks stayed in the West, the 1981 Finals might well have been a Milwaukee-Philly matchup.   The 1983 Finals would certainly have been a Milwaukee-Philly showdown.   Instead, Nellie’s Bucks were denied the big stage by either Philly or Boston in the East playoffs while Magic Johnson’s Lakers waltzed to the Finals eight times in 10 years.   Those great Bucks teams have faded in league memory, getting less respect now than Reggie’s Pacers and the Malone-Stockton Jazz teams, even Ewing’s Knicks, Finals losers all.

As difficult as it may be for fans who don’t remember to imagine this, Reggie Miller — inducted into the Hall this week with Nellie — would not have started on the Bucks and been a valued sharpshooter off the bench circa 1981-87, playing behind Moncrief.  The same is true of Jamal Wilkes, also inducted into the Hall this weekend.   Wilkes would have backed Marques up, just as future Hall of Famer Alex English did in the 1977-78 season.   Marques and Sidney — 5-time All-Stars both — were that good.  Yet their Bucks teams seem to slip further into unremembered time with each passing year.

Who was that the camera cut to when Nellie mention Sidney and Marques?   There in the audience sat an expressionless 76ers coach Billy Cunningham, deep in thought.  Four out of five years (1981-85), the Sixers kept the Bucks from a shot at the Finals or the Celtics, or both.   Was Cunningham remembering Game 7 in 1981 in Philly, when Caldwell Jones saved the Sixers by grabbing a loose ball under the 76er basket?   Or was he thinking of the protest Nellie filed with the league after that game?

Or was Cunningham thinking about Dr. J and Marques, a small forward showdown for the ages, one that Doc ceded to Bobby Jones on the defensive end?   If a Bucks fan could offer a guess, it was probably about “Bobby.”   Which heroic Jones defensive play was the Sixers coach remembering?   His memory on those plays (and non-calls by the refs)  can’t possibly resemble how a Bucks fan remembers them.  But at Nellie’s induction, Cunningham was there, back in time somewhere, lost in the many close shaves the Sixers had against the Bucks.

Dr. J and Bird were in the audience, but (as you’ll see in the video) the cameras didn’t find them during the Bucks portion of Nellie’s speech.   And when Nellie noted that his assistant coach (and former teammate), K.C. Jones, won two titles with Bird as Celtics head coach, Nellie politely declined to mention that Jones got the Boston job amid the fallout from the Bucks’ 1983 playoff sweep of the Celtics — four straight in the playoffs, in Bird’s prime.

Later on in the speech, when Nellie mentions that he coached Miller on “Dream Team II” in 1994, the cameras do find Bird and his “Dream Team I” teammate Michael Jordan.   While Jordan is smirking, apparently enjoying a private joke, the look on Bird’s face is none too pleasant.    It is drawn into a scowl, and there’s a dark look in his eyes, as though he wanted to revoke Nellie’s Celtics player credentials.   I like to think that Bird was still mulling the Bucks and the ’83 sweep, about the sub-par shooting series he had against Marques; and how Nellie humiliated the Celtics — Danny Ainge in particular — during the series, labeling the over-matched Ainge “a whiner,” not good enough to be on the court with Moncrief, Winters, Pressey and Bridgeman.  Things were pretty ugly for the Celtics in that series from the opening whistle to the end, when Moncrief threw in a three-pointer in the closing seconds just to add to the Celtics humiliation.   The final score wasn’t close.

The Celtics fired coach Bill Fitch shortly after the sweep and replaced him with Nellie’s assistant, Jones.  They kept Quinn Buckner on, too, as a backup point guard, probably more so to make sure Nellie didn’t bring Quinn back to Milwaukee in 1984 than because Quinn was much use to the Celtics.   Whether that’s true or not matters less than the depth of the bitterness felt in Boston after the sweep.   The next season the Celtics got their revenge, beating the Bucks in the 1984 East finals on their way to a title and Quinn, bad knees and all — the player once singled out by Nellie as the one guy he would never trade — was in kelly green, not the forest green of the Bucks.

Or maybe Bird was remembering the Celtics being down 10 to the Bucks in Boston with four minutes to go in Game 7 of the 1987 East semifinals, with only the Pistons between either team and the Lakers in the NBA Finals.   Miraculously and with it all on the line, the Bucks self-destructed and the Celtics won their fifth trip to the Finals in the Bird era, another Larry and Magic finals.   And it is Celtics guard Dennis Johnson, not Sidney Moncrief, who is in the basketball Hall of Fame.

This may change someday for Sidney, now a Bucks assistant coach, maybe next year but probably not.   Moncrief won the league’s first two Defensive Player of the Year awards and was the only guard in the 1980s allowed into any conversation about Magic and Michael (sorry Isaiah), yet his name did not appear on the list of potential 2013 inductees posted by NBA-TV during the induction ceremony.   Bobby Jones was listed, however, and so was Sixers point guard Maurice Cheeks.    This is how the league remembers the era that included Nellie’s Bucks, even if Larry Bird doesn’t.

For now, the Bucks coach is in the Hall, and that will have to do.   It does, if only because of Cunningham’s far away stare and that horrible scowl on Bird’s face during Nellie’s induction speech.

RIP Bob Boozer

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Bob Boozer, the power forward on the Bucks lone NBA title winner, the player whose picture graces the website banner above, passed away Saturday of a brain aneurysm. He was 75.

Tom Enlund wrote a nice obituary in the Journal Sentinel, featuring fond memories of the Big O, Oscar Robertson, who played with Boozer on the gold medal winning 1960 Olympic team and with the Cincinnati Royals and our 1971 NBA champion Bucks.  Read Enlund’s story here.

I had hoped to someday meet the man whose retirement in 1971 gave birth to the jinx at the Bucks power forward position … but it seems the basketball gods had other ideas.

Rest in Peace Bullet Bob, and thank you.

– J. D. Mo

The Chris Kaman conspiracy: Are the Bucks in the game?

Monday, January 30th, 2012

No Andrew Bogut until April at the earliest, highly speculative and tenuous playoff hopes, a Bogut-less Bucks fan base that needs those playoff hopes, no space under the salary cap next season and most of the necessary roster ingredients for a trade.

Stir it all together and you’ve got motive and opportunity for the Bucks to be party to a trade for veteran center Chris Kaman, who’s been publicly placed on the trading block by the New Orleans Hornets.   The Hornets reportedly want “draft picks, cap space and a young player” for the 29-year-old former All-Star (2010) and his expiring $14 million contract.  The Celtics have already declined.

The Bucks have young players, draft picks and the expiring contracts of Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino, not enough to make the trade.  (See Bucks salaries at Shamsports.com). But Stephen Jackson’s contract could get them there, if the Hornets are willing to take on Jack’s $10 million salary next season.  Add Ilyasova, draft picks and/or the developing Darington Hobson, Larry Sanders et. al., and a trade could work.

The Hornets could do a lot worse.  Ilyasova’s become one of the better rebounding forwards in the league and would be a good addition to the Hornets undersized front court, led by Emeka Okafor.  It’s no secret that, while Ersan is a key member of the Bucks core, Bucks management hasn’t been willing to trust him with starting PF minutes.  For all the good Ersan does on the court, at the end of the day he’s still standing in the way of Jon Leuer‘s development.  Acquiring Kaman helps solve the Bucks defensive rebounding problems (yes, it’s still a problem) in the short term, and clears minutes for Leuer.

So while the Bucks are giving up the better rebounder (currently) and defender in Ilyasova, they would shore up the center position while clearing $14 million in cap space next season.  And Jackson?   The Hornets would be well under the cap next summer standing pat, and adding Jackson would still leave them Room.  They’d only have to pay Jack a year (or less if they trade him).  And, as the Bucks have discovered this season, Jack’s a good guy to have around in spite of all the angry yapping.

So why don’t the Bucks keep him?  Delfino and Mike Dunleavy, jr. play more or less the same position as Jack, and Luc Mbah a Moute needs small forward/guard minutes, too (locking down on Joe Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Lebron James, Danny Granger, Carmelo Anthony, to name a few).  Jack’s fairly expendable, and the Bucks play just fine without him.

Kaman fits in well in the Bucks scheme, and he’s a more reliable offensive player than Bogut.  Kaman helps get the Bucks to the post-season, where the Bucks would have Bogues, too (in theory) and a formidable white behemoth front court.

So would the NBA-owned Hornets sting on this trade?   With the league office involved, it’s not clear that the Bucks have the right expiring contracts for a trade, but there are a lot worse contracts out there than Jackson’s (Drew Gooden’s comes to mind).  A trade would likely depend on the young players, whether the Hornets want to keep Ilyasova, and the value of the draft picks involved.

It also depends on Bucks GM John Hammond, never one to stand pat or worry about stability or player development.

Of course, it’s also likely that I’m just talking myself into it so I can post crazy Chris Kaman photos.