Bucks Diary

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Losing Lucius probably DID cost the Bucks a second World Championship


In my spare time, I'm working on an historical abstract for the Milwaukee Bucks franchise, using the sabermetric formulas I use on this blog to determine how many wins each Buck produced for the franchise, what each Buck's Total Win Contribution was each season, etc. (I'll explain in another post how I've overcome the lack of defensive information and other statistical deficiencies of the early Bucks years. Basically it involves using the known information to estimate the unknown... inductive reasoning I guess).

I eventually want to use the resulting abstract to write a magnum opus on the franchise's 40 plus seasons patterned after this book. If I do, I'm sure it will absolutely rock the NYT bestseller list (I think the highest selling Bucks specific book on Amazon is like 3,000,000 something).

Anyway, I'm up to the 1973-74 season, the year the Bucks won the Western Conference Championship and sniffed their last golden basketball, only to be upset by a Boston Celtic team with a vastly inferior efficiency differential. Because of that differential, it could be argued that the Celtics 1974 championship was the biggest upset in modern NBA Finals history. But my Win Profile of the 73-74 team explains the loss and explains why, given the circumstances at the time the Finals was played, it probably wasn't that much of an upset at all. (note: The explanation will be familiar to Bucks fans of the era.)


72 games into the '73-'74 season the team lost point guard Lucius Allen to a devastating knee injury. Many Bucks fans from back then have told me that loss cost the team the '74 title. They were probably right.

Lucius Allen was the second best player on the '73-'74 Bucks. I estimate his regular season Win Contribution at +0.241. If you take Allen off the team and give his regular season minutes entirely to backup Ron Williams, that's a Total Win Contribution loss of -0.301. That's not a devastating dropoff, but it is one that suddenly levels the Bucks with the Eastern Champion Boston Celtics (the Bucks team TWC drops to +1.203 from +1.504; the Celtics team TWC for the 73-74 season was +1.190). And that's basically what we saw in the Finals... a dead even series that the Celtics won in 7 games. To illustrate just how razor close the series was, two of the seven games went into overtime (including the greatest game in Bucks history... Game 6... which went into double OT) and the visiting team won 4 of the seven, including the final two.

It should be noted that the great Oscar Robertson did his best to help fill in at the point when Allen went down, but injuries and the physical demands of an old school career had basically sapped him of his once legendary point guard skills. The iconic highlight from the 1974 Finals showed that clearly. In the footage Oscar loses the ball and looks glacial attempting to recover it whilst a young speedy Dave Cowens dives on the floor to make the steal (and quite obviously travel... he skidded about 20 frickin' feet!! BTW, its the second clip on the linked video).

Note: My historical abstract uses completely different methods and completely different assumptions for distributing wins among players than the methods and assumptions behind basketball-reference's "Win Shares" metric. Nevertheless, if you scroll down this page to the "Advanced" column and compare the results they got with the results I got in my above linked Win Profile, the similarities are amazing -- especially given the statistical shortcomings. I think it means my methodology is solid. As I said, I will go into greater detail about that methodology sometime in the future. I'll also post my results season-by-season.

Second Note: You can watch highlights from Game 7 of that historic Finals... played at the Milwaukee Arena... right here. If you do, please note the sweet, sweet, barbershop pole 70's tearaways the Milwaukee Bucks warmed up in.

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