Alcindor’s surprisingly modest rookie season

Last week I posted a Win Chart outlining Marques Johnson’s outstanding 1976-77 rookie season.  At the time I said it was the second best Milwaukee Bucks rookie season, behind only Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor.  But I was actually just assuming it was behind Big Lew.  I was basing that on the fact that at a garage sale I once bought an SI cover from Alcindor’s rookie season that proclaimed “Big Lew… dominates the game”. (you had to open the insert to see “dominates the game”.  It was one of those folded covers) 

I guess I was wrong.  I went back and did a Win Chart for 1969-70 Milwaukee Bucks, and believe it or not, my numbers say Big Lew wasn’t even the most productive rookie on THAT particular Bucks team!  That was Bobby Dandridge.  Thus Marques Johnson was the best Bucks rookie of all time.  (Of course you have to remember the competition Kareem suddenly had in front of him as a rookie — Wilt, Nate Thurmond, Willis Reed, Wes Unseld, Walt Bellamy… he didn’t see that level of competition at UCLA).

Click Here to view the 1969-70 Milwaukee Bucks Win Chart

Now, going back past 1974 involves some guessing.  But utilizing some ideas I got from this baseball article, I now have a high degree of confidence in how to fill in the gaps, particularly the gaps that exist from 1970-74 (where there’s at least some Oppo statistics).  Thus I threw out the Win Charts I had done previously for the Milwaukee Bucks Kareem seasons and will be redoing them (based on my new assumptions, Kareem’s numbers go way up after his rookie season).  The rookie Win Chart is not a redo, however.  I had never actually done Kareem’s rookie season until today.

Thus I was surprised to see how modest the win numbers were for Kareem.  But, if you look at his “known” statistics, clearly he wasn’t nearly as productive in Year One as he would be down the line.  (“Win Shares”, the basketball-reference.com win metric, got similar modest results for Kareem’s rookie campaign, though slightly better.  They got worse numbers for Dandridge, because their system tends to value possession conversion but not possession creation.)

By my numbers, Bob Dandridge actually slightly outperformed Kareem in the 1969-70 season when both were rookies, but Kareem played far more minutes and thus posted more wins than the “Greyhound”.  But together the two added a whopping 18.9 wins to the Bucks ledger.  The team’s total improvement that season was 28 wins, but by pythagorean calculation, the improvement was closer to 24 wins.  When you consider that the season before the Bucks got virtually nothing out of either the small forward or center positions in their inaugural season, you can see how the two had such an impact.

In fact, comparing the team’s second season to its first (which you can do by looking at the Win Chart I did from the Bucks inaugural season of 1968-69) you can see that Jonny Mac posted almost identical numbers from season to season, whereas someone named Zaid Abdul-Aziz got much more productive, possibly because of his switch over to power forward, a position that more naturally accomodated his size.

In the next couple days I will continue to post the charts from the Kareem seasons, and as you will see, the Bucks improvement from a 52 pythagorean win team to a consistent 68-69 win pythagorean team (they didn’t post that many wins, but that’s how many their statistics said they should have won) will be credited almost entirely to the addition of Oscar Robertson and the stunning explosion of production out of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

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One Response to “Alcindor’s surprisingly modest rookie season”

  1. That Bucks Championship Season « Courtside Analyst Says:

    […] I outlined Kareem’s rather mild debut season in the NBA.  His second season was as big a breakout as I’ve ever calculated, from the beginning all […]

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