Exonerating Anthony Mason
One of the enduring myths in recent Milwaukee Bucks history is that Anthony Mason scuttled what was an emerging Milwaukee Bucks championship team.
When Mason joined the Bucks in 2001-02, the team went from Eastern Conference runners-up the previous season back to mediocre also-rans, and I blamed him. In fact, most every Bucks fan I know blamed him. Problem is, I don't think he was ever to blame.
In doing my "Quarter Pole" analysis of this season's Bucks (which I will post later today), I calculated the Win Contributions for each member of this season's roster, and then for comparisons sake I did the same for each roster member of the last really good Bucks team, the aforementioned Eastern Conference runners-up.
When I was done... just for fun... I decided to jump ahead one season and calculate Anthony Mason's 01-02 Win Contribution to assess the damage he did. I was expecting to see some seriously negative numbers. That wasn't the case.
Instead I found a slew of alternative reasons for the Bucks 11 game decline in '01-'02, none of which involved Mason. In doing so, I also uncovered the real villian we should have been blaming all along: Tim Thomas.
Before I explain what I mean, take a look at the calculations for each season. (The first number is the particular player's "position adjusted Win Score". That represents the player's contribution to victory compared with the average player at his position. The second number is my own invention: the player's Win Contribution. It is meant to represent the player's impact -- positive or negative -- on the team. Its simply a multiplication of the player's position adjusted Win Score by his percentage of courttime. If you add up all of the player's Win Contributions, you can calculate the expected win total within 1 game, so it works pretty well.)
2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks
1. Ray Allen.....+5.38 (+0.855)
2. Ervin Johnson.....+3.04 (+0.306)
3. Glenn Robinson.....+1.48 (+0.211)
4. Sam Cassell.....+1.36 (+0.187)
5. Scott Williams.....+1.86 (+0.120)
6. Jerome Kersey.....+0.89 (+0.011)
7. Rafer Alston.....-0.93 (-0.013)
8. Michael Redd.....-13.64 (-0.024)
9. Jerome Caffey.....-0.81 (-0.060)
10. Joel Pryzbilla.....-4.48 (-0.061)
11. Darvin Ham.....-2.30 (-0.063)
12. Lindsey Hunter.....-0.63 (-0.064)
13. Tim Thomas.....-0.96 (-0.101)
14. Mark Pope.....-5.22 (-0.249)
Aggregate Win Contributions: +1.055
Expected Win Translation: 53 wins
Actual Win Total: 52 wins
2001-02 Milwaukee Bucks
1. Ray Allen.....+3.96 (+0.508)
2. Sam Cassell.....+2.44 (+0.322)
3. Michael Redd.....+3.21 (+0.231)
4. Glenn Robinson.....+1.38 (+0.164)
5. Anthony Mason.....+0.93 (+0.095)
6. Rafer Alston.....+0.66 (+0.020)
7. Ervin Johnson.....+0.13 (+0.011)
8. Joel Pryzbilla.....-0.87 (-0.049)
9. Jerome Caffey.....-5.29 (-0.076)
10. Mark Pope.....-3.96 (-0.086)
11. Greg Anthony.....-3.82 (-0.107)
12. Darvin Ham.....-4.65 (-0.285)
13. Tim Thomas.....-3.17 (-0.320)
Aggregate Win Contributions: +0.428
Expected Win Translation: 43 games
Actual Win Total: 41 games
The Real Reasons for the Collapse in '01-'02
So as you can see, while there was a slight dropoff from Scott Williams to Anthony Mason, it was only slight. The fact of the matter was that Mason was an above average power forward. Here are the real reasons for the collapse:
1. Tim Thomas' poor play
Because of injuries, the Bucks were forced to turn increasingly to the overpaid, underachieving F Tim Thomas. He did not deliver. His play went from slightly below average in 00-01 to way below average in 01-02. It killed the Bucks. Can you believe this was a maximum dollar guy? Perhaps the biggest ripoff in NBA free agent history.
2. George Karl's rotation fetishes
George Karl had no business playing Darvin Ham or Mark Pope, yet for some reason he did... and way too much. He also should have recognized how poorly Tim Thomas played and given those minutes to the emerging Michael Redd. Plus, he should not have played ESPN's Greg Anthony as often as he did.
3. Ray Allen's regression to the mean
Its hard to blame your best win contributor for a decline in wins, but the fact is that Ray Allen's regression from All-World in 2000-01 to merely All-Star in 2001-02 cost the Bucks some games. In fact, if you want to get technical, his .347 point decline in Win Contribution was the single greatest reason for the Bucks descent.
4. EJ's age related decline
The old warhorse, Ervin Johnson, was 34 when the 01-02 season began. The fact is, he was a huge and very underappreciated Win Contributor in the preceding seasons, but he could no longer sustain his productivity. He was still an above average center in 01-02, but he was no longer the bigtime win producer he was in 00-01.