That Bucks Championship Season

I’ve broken down the Milwaukee Bucks 1970-71 season before, but today I did it using what I think is a bit more reliable, more intensive system, and today I also include the Bucks 1971 Playoffs Win Chart.

Click Here to view the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks regular season 

Huge Breakout for Kareem

The results I got this time around I have 97% confidence in, but they actually aren’t that much different from the results I got when I was just making a series of assumptions.  All I can say is you can count on the remarkable consistency of basketball players, and especially units of similar basketball players.

Yesterday 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 the way to the 1971 World Championship.  (actually, Greg Oden was on a similar path prior to his knee injury.  I’m interested to watch where his numbers go next season).

How big was Kareem’s 1971?  Kareem’s season rivals the best seasons of Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, or Wilt Chamberlain, although the last two I am reasonably certain posted at least a few seasons superior to Kareem’s 1971 campaign (anything pre-1971 involves a lot of gap filling, but it can still be done with reliability).  Jordan’s best seasons were in the same ball park, and LeBron is touching that area.   In short, the “Big Fella” was historically impressive in ’71.  It verifies what I’ve always suspected — the Bucks, not the Lakers, got the best Kareem had to offer.  My next few posts will make that even more clear.  (what I’m finding — this post and the previous post on the career of Jerry Lucas — tends to verify what Berri and Schmidt contended in Stumbling on Wins and the Wall Street Journal picked up on.  Namely, that basketball players productivity tends to peak around 24 years of age.  I guess I was skeptical at first, but I always bow to the evidence.)

The other big improvement with the ’71 Bucks, and it was something they would continue on through the Kareem years, was defense.  The team’s defense in ’70 was okay, but it was outstanding in ’71 and ratcheted up in the playoffs. 

You could give all the credit to Kareem, but I don’t know.  Certainly he deserves a large share, but you notice that the defense he brought to Los Angeles wasn’t nearly as good, and the defense in his first season wasn’t nearly as good.   I would tend therefore, to give a good deal of credit to Oscar Robertson, but then how do you explain the Cincinnati Royals of the 1960s?  They were offensive teams that were always a good defense away from threatening the Celtics dynasty.

I think it may be a combination of the two, actually.  It might be the size that each brought, and then the combination thereof.  Kareem clogged the middle, and the Bucks had excellent size in the front court with Robertson and McGlocklin, albeit neither was lightning quick.

“…its over…its over!!! The Bucks are champions!”
                                               —Eddie Doucette (Original “Voice of the Bucks”)

In the Bucks awesome 1971 playoff run, a 12-2 roll job, the team received major contributions from all the usual sources, plus as the chart below shows, PF/SF Greg Smith and PG Lucius Allen stepped up their regular season production.  Jonny Mac was not quite as effective in the post season, but that might have been matchup driven.

Click Here to view the Bucks 1970-71 Playoff Win Chart 

One last thing.  Many, including myself, believed the Bucks lost the 1974 World Championship because of “turnover problems”.  That may not have been the case.  In fact, to get the full picture of the 1971 playoff run, I first began my work by borrowing the exact per possession averages for all of the missing stats from the stats the Bucks posted during the 1974 playoffs.  When I did that, meaning when I simply plugged in the exact rates acheived by the 1974 team, I got the exact numbers I needed for 1971 — 12.4 wins.  In other words, the Bucks Team and Opponent (a) Blocks; (b) Steals; and (c) Turnovers — per possession — were most probably no different at all during their triumphant 1971 steamrolling of the NBA as they were in 1974, when everyone bitched because of the “turnover” problem.  (that’s second hand information).

It may simply have been that the Bucks just weren’t quite as good a team in 1974, and they ran into a Boston Celtics team that was just good enough to knock them off.  I’ll examine that season more closely in a couple of days.

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3 Responses to “That Bucks Championship Season”

  1. neal frazier Says:

    I have a question that maybe one of you wins produced guys could answer – how is it that players max out at 24 but that championship teams are almost always comprised mostly of older guys? (Maybe I am mistaken about the makeup of championship teams, they just seem older than others.)

    • tywill33 Says:

      Lets assume you’re right, here’s my unproven theory.

      Most championships are won on defense, or rather by staunch defense. And there is a tendency for older teams to play better defense.

      I can’t back that up, but that’s my belief, with the 80s Lakers being the obvious exception.

  2. arturogalletti Says:

    Ty,
    Love your stuff. I have put up some stuff on this. Peak age is moving over time with players hitting their peaks at older ages (http://wp.me/pYIAy-1V).

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