Maybe the Bucks' glass is half full
Watching the inspired, terrific play of the Milwaukee Bucks against the World Champion Spurs, I began to think: if they can compete with the Spurs in San Antonio, their blowout losses must be to some degree self inflicted wounds. If they are, then their overall point differential has to be considered misleading. It would then follow that any calculations made using that statistic, namely the team's expected future winning percentage, would have to be deemed unreliable. Here's what I mean:
The Pythagorean calculation is a generally accurate formula for predicting a team's expected winning percentage, but the formula must necessarily assume a consistent level of talent and effort. But what if that assumption doesn't hold? That would throw everything off, right? That could be the case with our Milwaukee Bucks. If the Bucks are "tanking" games once those games are out of reach, by my reckoning they are creating larger loss margins than their comparative abilities should produce. In turn, the gloomy prediction I made based upon the Bucks Pythagorean number is potentially inaccurate. The key question is: Are the Bucks blowout losses exacerbated by their situational lack of effort?
I'm beginning to think so. Consider the following: According to 82games.com, the Bucks are both the second best clutch offensive team and the second best clutch defensive team in the Association (clutch being defined as the final five minutes of games where the team is within +/- 5 points of their opponent). Obviously, in clutch situations the Bucks statistics -- particularly on defense -- are far superior to their overall statistics. The explanation for this discrepancy seems obvious. The Bucks must have a wildly fluctuating level of effort.
After all, the Bucks don't suddenly become a better team late in close games. That doesn't make sense (if anything the opposite would be expected). What does make sense is the Bucks must step up their level of play and their concentration when they think a game is winnable, and loosen it up somewhat when they don't.
I saw this phenomenon in living color on Saturday night at the Bradley Center when the team played Denver. In the first half, the Bucks played without any intensity whatsoever. They were lackadaisical on offense, and completely indifferent on defense. At halftime they were behind by 17 points. At the start of the second half they came out of the locker room with real passion and almost instantly cut the Denver lead to 5. During their rally, they shut down the lane defensively, challenged all shooters, and got out on the break. Their passing was much crisper. They were a different team. Just as quickly, however, it all went away again. You could feel it happen. The Bucks became discouraged when they were whistled for some technical fouls and Denver G Earl Boykins made some cold-blooded three pointers and the lead swelled back to double figures. The passion left the team. Their level of play diminished noticeably.
If this new theory is right, and a fluctuating level of effort does explain the strange coexistence of the team's winning record and the team's negative point differential, then it puts a whole new spin on my outlook. If the talent to compete with the elite teams is already there, the necessary effort for victory can come through motivation and increased maturity. Mental toughness usually develops over time. Stay tuned.
AP photos taken by Gloria Ferniz