Revising Expectations Upwards in Milwaukee

Posted on September 7, 2009 by


The Milwaukee Bucks finished with a 50-32 mark in Don Nelson’s final season as head coach.  That season marked the 7th consecutive season the Bucks finished with at least 50 wins.  One suspects that Nelson takes some credit for this record.  And although Wins Produced mostly credits Sidney Moncrief for Milwaukee’s success in the 1980s (a point made a few days ago), Nelson’s perspective is bolstered by the fact that Bucks have only have only reached 50 wins once in the 22 years since he left town. 

This past season was consistent with the post-Nelson era.  The Bucks finished with only 34 wins, a record that ranked 11th in the Eastern Conference.  The team’s efficiency (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency), though, was -1.1; a mark that tied the Pacers for 9th in the conference.  Translating this number into Wins Produced shows us that the Bucks should have expected to win 38 games, or just one game less than the Detroit Pistons.  In sum, the Bucks were nearly a playoff team last season.

Turning to the individual players – reported in Table One – one can see who was responsible for these wins.  Leading the way was Ramon Sessions, who finished the 2008-09 season with 9.0 Wins Produced and a 0.198 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  Sessions was not the only above average talent.  An average player posts a 0.100 WP48; and Luc Mbah a Moute, Andrew Bogut, Luke Ridnour, and Michael Redd all played more than 500 minutes and posted a WP48 mark that was above par.

Table One: Milwaukee Bucks in 2008-09

Bogut and Redd, though, played fewer than half the team’s games.  One suspects that if Bogut and Redd had been available the entire year, Milwaukee could have been a playoff team.  No, the Bucks may not have won 50 games.  But certainly they could have challenged the Hawks – a team with only 44.9 Wins Produced last year (or just seven more than the injured Bucks) — for the fourth seed in the East.

Of course, the injuries did happen and the Bucks missed the playoffs. In the off-season the team’s two leading scorers (in terms of total points scored) – Richard Jefferson and Charlie Villanueva – went elsewhere.  And now Ramon Sessions has signed an offer sheet with the Minnesota Timberwolves.  If Sessions leaves, a significant number of Wins Produced also departs.  Given these departures, we shouldn’t be surprised that the experts at ESPN expect the Bucks to finish the 2009-10 season ranked 14th (out of 15 teams) in the Eastern Conference.

Then again, the Bucks haven’t just lost players.  A few new faces have also come to town.  And some of the new faces have actually been productive players in the past.  In fact, when we actually look at the team’s current depth chart (a depth chart from that ignores Hakim Warrick) there’s reason for hope in Milwaukee.

First String

PG: Luke Ridnour, 0.106 WP48

SG: Michael Redd, 0.133 WP48

SF: Luc Mbah a Moute, 0.116 WP48 [at PF; 0.194 WP48 if he played SF]

PF: Hakim Warrick, 0.082 WP48

C: Andrew Bogut, 0.204 WP48

Second String

PG: Brandon Jennings (rookie)

SG: Charlie Bell, 0.037 WP48

SF: Carlos Delfino, 0.180 WP48 [at SG in 2007-08; 0.141 if he played SF]

PF: Kurt Thomas, 0.191 WP48

C: Francisco Elson, 0.011 WP48

Of these ten players, six are above average performers.  If these players maintain this production, then the Bucks will not be one of these worst teams in the Eastern Conference in 2009-10.  In fact, it’s possible this team will challenge the Hawks and Wizards for the fourth seed.  In other words, the Bucks could actually reach the second round of the playoffs (where they will probably get blown out by the Cavaliers, Magic, or Celtics).

Before Milwaukee fans get too excited, there are a few bumps on the road to this vision. For all this to happen…

  • Bogut and Redd need to be healthy. 
  • Joe Alexander – the team’s lottery choice in 2008 – needs to stay on the bench (or get much better).
  • Unless Jennings can come in and be above average as a rookie (not a common occurrence), Ridnour has to continue as the team’s starting point guard.
  • Delfino has to play and be productive as a small forward (where currently lists him on the depth chart).

In sum, there are some issues that need to be resolved.  But if these issues are resolved the Bucks will be better than expected.  And if that happens, Scott Skiles – the team’s head coach – might be Coach of the Year; an honor not given to a Milwaukee coach since Don Nelson coached Sidney Moncrief. 

Let me close with another persepctive on the Bucks. Ty Willihnganz of Bucks Diary [] also expects Milwaukee to be in playoff contention in 2009-10.  Here is how he summarizes Milwaukee’s prospects:

All in all, I think 40 wins is the STARTING POINT as far as what to expect from the Bucks in 2009-10, based upon each player’s career norms.  And remember, NO ONE has ever accused me of being in the tank for the Bucks.  If anything, I bend over in an attempt to err on the side of caution and pessimism.  The bottom line is, I think, that the people who are projecting the Bucks among the worst in the NBA are Know-Nothing Pinheads who, like most analysts, wildly overvalue the contributions made by below average to average players like Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson.  The truth is, there is simply no credible evidence to support the notion of a dramatic Bucks collapse… in fact, everything points to improvement (Skiles is loving it… he’s going to look like the overachieving hero).  So cheer up Bucks fans.  We are nowhere near championship ground yet, but the team ought to show improvement, ought to play respectable defense, and frankly, ought to make the playoffs in 2009-10.   Get your 10 packs ordered!

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.