Things didn’t turn out as expected in Milwaukee. It’s difficult to predict a team losing 267 player-games to injury. It’s crazy to expect the shooting percentages of an entire team to crash down to near career-low levels. But the Bucks found themselves facing down both disasters this season, and the results were often ugly.
Of course, you don’t encounter those problems without a bit of bad luck. Or a lot of bad luck. In this case, that luck is theoretically illustrated by the gap between the two lines. That upper red line follows Milwaukee’s Pythagorean Expected Win Percentage, which remember is based on point differential. As is turns out, Milwaukee’s final point differential was typical of a thirty-eight win team. This season, 38 wins earned you the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
This bad luck often gets explained by a team’s record in close games. The Bucks were 9-10 in games decided by five points or less. Of course, final margin might not be the best way to consider a team’s success in “close games,” so what if we consider Tom Haberstroh’s modification? Expanding the “close game” moniker to all games that are within five points anytime during the last five minutes, the Bucks’ record becomes 22-25.
Both percentages are close enough to .500 that it’s not totally unreasonable to blame bad bounces for dragging down Milwaukee’s record. After all, we’re talking about games decided by a bucket or two one way or another. A few more misses by Milwaukee’s opponents or a few more makes from the Bucks and we could be talking about how much they outperformed expectations.
So the Bucks were apparently a little unlucky, but the graph shows another interesting trend. Namely, Milwaukee actually had a winning record after the All-Star break. In fact, Milwaukee’s 14-13 record gives them a .519 winning percentage after the break, which outperforms their Pythagorean expectation over that same stretch by about 0.6% (Milwaukee outscored it’s opponents 2510-2501 in total post-break). If we say a few magic words, toss some glitter in the air, and extrapolate that sample out to a full season, the Bucks grade out as a 45 win team.
I can’t help but be a little excited by that number (which is a bit sad in itself). Obviously it’s treacherous to trust small samples, but there are reasons to believe 45 wins is a better measure of this team than 35. For starters, they finally started to get kinda-sorta-healthy after the break. They shot a little better while their opponents shot a little worse. They fouled less and forced more turnovers. In general, they looked much more like the team that won 46 a year ago.
Unfortunately, the only thing this winning stretch accomplished was worsening Milwaukee’s draft position. Pre-break, the Bucks were on pace to win only 31 games, which sounds awful, but would have bumped them up two spots in the draft. It’s always something, isn’t it? Still, these numbers suggest that–with a little luck–Milwaukee may indeed wake from this nightmarish season next year.